Storypost | 2020.04.20

Another week of quarantined programming, video games, and hitting f5 on economic news.

The recent peak was a chance to sell most of my "is this a dip?" stock and ETF holdings for a modest profit. The glaring exception is oil, which is now both a headline and a punchline.

CNBC Cramer crude futures contracts

Oh well, it'll be back. This is what I get for not being a conscientious investor. Speaking of long term investments, bonds are fun and low maintenance. For the uninitiated, here's everything I know about bonds, using etrade's terrible ui as a visual guide:

Etrade bond buying info

At least with etrade as a broker, you're looking at $1000-ish increments of investment. The bonds themselves have a market value independent from their face value against which interest/coupon is paid. It seems like selling bonds requires advertising that you're willing to sell and letting the broker match you up with a buyer. I put out a sell feeler to see if I could make a tidy 10% on one investment and never heard back.

So scrolling up, for whatever reason people want to buy a 6.75% Centurylink bond but not so much a 7.10% Dell bond. I presume this is come combination of return (coupon/maturity) and risk - I stuck with companies I expected to remain in business (or acquired) through these troubling times. Anyway, they're better than 0.0000000001% interest or (in my opinion) even cash. That said, if the bond market were to tank you could be stuck with each holding until maturity. So interleaving maturity and having other investments is important.


Meme The Big Pump Mnuchin Trump Powell

I'm squeamish about calls in this weird pumped market. I haven't dedicated the hours to work out some actual options trading strategies; without a copilot I'm convinced I'm going to do something wrong as soon as I add a leg. Still, a few puts here and there gives me something to f5:
Covid stonk trading pandemic

If nothing else, the unlinked interplay between indexes and headlines has been funny to watch. But the 2020 news just keeps coming:

Kim Jong Un reported dead tweet Katy Tur April 20
Axis & Allies, World War... 1(?)

Axis and Allies World War I Austria Hungary Ottoman Empire

In addition to a few concurrent Wargear matches, Jon is remotely hosting Axis and Allies: 1914. The game is well-suited to tele-wargaming; it's long and deliberate and requires very little interaction from anyone but the attacker and dice roller.

The game itself is an interesting departure from the WWII editions, but maintains most of the core elements.

Axis and Allies battle simulator Java application

The combat was different enough that I had to modify my Anniversary Edition simulator to do tench warfare.
Memes and more

Covid meme change the world bat

The Zoom era is upon us, I've been in chats, movie nights, and even played a revival of the 90s classic You Don't Know Jack. Other chat media is still around, of course.

Zoom Pandemic covid Jackbox trivia Zoom Pandemic covid Tiger King backgrounds Google hangouts chats dog pictures

Rise of the Skywalker opening crawler

I finally gave in and watched Rise of the Skywalker. I guess the good part was all the nostalgia and tearjerkers for movies that weren't this one - deceased characters, Luke's X-Wing, even Liam Neeson('s voice). The bad parts were - well - the plot is just a ho-hum scavenger hunt, the finale was written on the wall from the start, and it really didn't need a heavy-handed "well the moral of the story is that friendships win wars against impossible odds". Oh and some time bending on par with GoT season seven.

Site meta

So I've steadily built a code base for a variety of things to include this site. The project has included things like auto-thumbnailing and tag generation. My post-to-post workflow has been:

1. Dump media into a directory
2. Run a script that autogenerates a starter markdown file based on those images
3. Run a COTS tool to resize and compress graphics, once for screenshots and once for photos
4. Author the post
5. Run the markdown parser/page generator

Combining 2 and 3 wasn't too difficult once I went through the legwork of looking up how to set jpg compression level. I took the opportunity to implement a border crop feature that was useful for removing some black bars from recent SotC screenshots. The final piece was automating the image resize policy. For the moment, it's based on hard-coded known sizes (e.g. 1920x1080 or a D700 sensor).

Classifying images as photos (resize) or screenshots (resize if > 1920x1080) seemed like a pretty standard application of Keras.

A brief sidetrack: Python and Keras suck

Well, not exactly. They're awesome and the best tool for the job, but it's agonizing that no one in the Python community can make interoperability work. This is mostly a Keras/Tensorflow/PyTorch experience, and those admittedly are a more recent thing (but not *that* recent). In a more general sense, you need look no farther than the global agony of moving to Python 3 to see the impact of undercooked technologies.

Back to machine learning, after many, many hours of searching on every new warning or error, I found my golden combination of ML-related software:

imageio                  2.6.1
Keras                    2.3.1
Keras-Applications       1.0.8
Keras-Preprocessing      1.1.0
numpy                    1.18.1
nvidia-ml-py3            7.352.0
pandas                   1.0.3
Pillow                   7.0.0
scikit-image             0.16.2
scikit-learn             0.22.1
scikit-umfpack           0.3.2
scipy                    1.4.1
tensorboard              2.1.1
tensorflow               2.1.0
tensorflow-addons        0.8.3
tensorflow-datasets      2.1.0
tensorflow-estimator     2.1.0
tensorflow-gpu           2.1.0
tensorflow-gpu-estimator 2.1.0
tensorflow-metadata      0.21.1
tensorlayer              2.2.1
tf-slim                  1.0
torch                    1.4.0
torchvision              0.5.0

... all using Cuda 10.1 (not 10.2, that does not work). This worked for my existing code base and is reasonably up to date, so, lock it in.

With that settled, I downloaded about two dozen Keras/TF/Torch projects from Github, hoping to just run their example code. Ticking them off one-by-one, they all fell to one or more of the following:
I've spent hours upon hours slowly creeping toward a setup that works with my hardware and software, reverting to a previous version is not something I want to do because everything else is going to have to change. A lot of these issues came back to Keras removing certain features that everyone used for 1.x projects. They're not superficial changes and the project authors have largely left their projects to be abandonware.

But what about Docker?!? Nope, nope, nope. Not even considering this in a Windows environment trying to hook a web of interdependent machine learning libraries into a Nvidia/.NET framework that provides graphics acceleration.

So what was this rant?

I don't know, think harder about your API. Deprecated stuff can still function, so leave it in. When you shuffle stuff to supporting libraries, they shouldn't only be available on someone's personal web site. Build software for version x or newer.

About that classifier

Ah yes, so I'd been working with a 256x256 classifier on sizeable /photo and /screenshots libraries. It does some convolutions and maxpools down to a reasonable 32x32 before flattening for classification to conceptually two classes (photo/screencap). It trained quickly and learned the training data with high accuracy.

Layer (type)                 Output Shape              Param #
conv_256w_8sz_x16 (Conv2D)   (None, 256, 256, 16)      3088
conv_256w_8sz_x12 (Conv2D)   (None, 256, 256, 12)      12300
conv_256w_4sz_x12 (Conv2D)   (None, 256, 256, 12)      2316
dropout_256w_0.1 (Dropout)   (None, 256, 256, 12)      0
maxpool_256w_x2 (MaxPooling2 (None, 128, 128, 12)      0
conv_128.0w_4sz_x12 (Conv2D) (None, 128, 128, 12)      2316
conv_128.0w_2sz_x12 (Conv2D) (None, 128, 128, 12)      588
dropout_128.0w_0.1 (Dropout) (None, 128, 128, 12)      0
maxpool_128.0w_x2 (MaxPoolin (None, 64, 64, 12)        0
conv_64.0w_4sz_x12 (Conv2D)  (None, 64, 64, 12)        2316
conv_64.0w_2sz_x12 (Conv2D)  (None, 64, 64, 12)        588
dropout_64.0w_0.1 (Dropout)  (None, 64, 64, 12)        0
maxpool_64.0w_x2 (MaxPooling (None, 32, 32, 12)        0
flatten (Flatten)            (None, 12288)             0
output_x4 (Dense)            (None, 4)                 49156
Total params: 72,668
Trainable params: 72,668
Non-trainable params: 0

Validation accuracy flattened around 60-70% though. I turned some knobs:
I was going to dig into hyperparameters and retry with batchnorm, but diverted to a new model based on the idea that a seven convolutional layers is getting toward the feature recognition domain, and this isn't really what I want. I'm looking to characterize input based, perhaps, more on gradients than edges (maxpool bad?). I don't want the model to learn that human faces are generally photos and zombie faces are generally video games. I want it to see the grit of a photo, the depth of field of an SLR photo, the smooth rendering of a screenshot, or even its pixelation for older games.

Maybe a deep network does that anyway, just throw training at it. But it was worth experimenting with a shallower network.

Layer (type)                 Output Shape              Param #
conv_256w_8sz_x16 (Conv2D)   (None, 86, 86, 128)       3584
batch_normalization (BatchNo (None, 86, 86, 128)       512
gaussian_noise (GaussianNois (None, 86, 86, 128)       0
conv2d (Conv2D)              (None, 86, 86, 32)        4128
batch_normalization_1 (Batch (None, 86, 86, 32)        128
dropout (Dropout)            (None, 86, 86, 32)        0
max_pooling2d (MaxPooling2D) (None, 21, 21, 32)        0
flatten (Flatten)            (None, 14112)             0
dropout_1 (Dropout)          (None, 14112)             0
dense (Dense)                (None, 64)                903232
batch_normalization_2 (Batch (None, 64)                256
dropout_2 (Dropout)          (None, 64)                0
output_x4 (Dense)            (None, 4)                 260
Total params: 912,100
Trainable params: 911,652
Non-trainable params: 448

Of course I turned a bunch of knobs (because wheeeeeee!). Strided input and a 4x max pool to get the many convolutional kernels down to a reasonable dense layer. Results: 60-70% accuracy. Blast.

Divinity Original Sin 2 dock

Mine and J's Divinity 2 characters finally departed Fort Joy. Fane has a neat shapeshifter helmet so he can blend in with all the lizardfolk.

Divinity Original Sin 2 painting fire combat

The Red Prince does the tanking...

Divinity Original Sin 2 blood rain electrified

... I mostly just cast blood rain whenever it's up. Particularly out of combat.

Divinity Original Sin 2 treasure room

Anyway, the game is really good.
Guns, Love, and Tentacles mop up

Borderlands 3 DJ Spinsmouth

Before jumping back into Divinity, we finished up all of the GL&T side quests.

Borderlands 3 Banshee Sinister Sounds Borderlands 3 Cilantro Nibblenomicon Borderlands 3 Nibblenomicon

Could have used a raid boss, but I'll settle for the Nibblenomicon.

Review | 2020.04.19

Shadow of the Colossus remaster Agro bird tower riding

Here's a little gallery/writeup on Shadow of the Colossus, the PS+ free update on the PS2 classic. In case anyone's considering a playthrough, I start with a short summary of the gameplay then - with callouts - progress to show each colossus (gameplay spoilers) and finally wrap up with the ending (plot spoilers).

Shadow of the Colossus remaster playtime menu new game plus

SotC has a fairly short playtime, which is mostly why I decided I could squeeze it in my scarce solo gaming time. There's replay value with time attack and possibly some secrets, however as we'll see that really isn't for me.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster before after

As I mentioned, it's an update on a 20-year old title. SotC is what I'd call a 'tight' game - it doesn't sprawl in size or depth like Skyrim or Divinity - it gives the player a simple, direct experience. It's sort of like The Last of Us but replaces character development and shooting with silent mystery and a sword. Both can be completed in under ten hours, both are on rails but don't feel like it.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster forbidden zone

The plot arrives lightly in the beginning and heavily after you fell the last colossus. The intro sequence shows our hero racing to a forbidden land to ask a higher power to save his girl. That's it. It's a tale as old as Atari.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster gf dead

The diety promises to bring her back if the hero defeats sixteen colossi. From here until the end, it's all gameplay.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster faustian bargain kind of

The gameplay is pretty straightfoward, but not easy. Foreach(colossus):

Shadow of the Colossus remaster direction finding sword

Your sword reflects sunlight (if present) toward the next colossus. This mechanic is pretty good; it's more atmospheric than a map marker, but makes finding most colossi reasonably straightforward (pun intended).

Shadow of the Colossus remaster Agro bridge

Using your sword-compass, you ride Agro across a beautiful open world whose diameter is probably 10-15 minutes of continuous riding. Agro is a well-animated, reliable steed who always answers your whistle and sticks around when things get dangerous. He does, however, like slowing down when you gently nudge the reigns to turn him. This isn't great on a map that is very open but has small obstacles scattered everywhere.

SotC only has bosses. The ride between colossi is just to let a little air out of the tires between battles.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 13

Eventually you enter a colossus's domain. After a short intro sequence, you must devise a way to fell the creature. That intro scene is actually quite important; if you fall off of something before you actually get to the colossus you're returned to the temple at the center of the map.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster climbing colossus

Each colossus must be stabbed a few times in one or more achilles heels. Since these heels are typically around their head, you must use the game's main mechanic: climbing. In games that followed the original SotC release, climbing has been both a neat way to add map verticality and a horrible mechanic that slows gameplay and brings many, many insta-deaths. Climbing sequences in SotC are generally brief and rarely lethal, but they are somewhat clumsy. The clumisness is is derived from a few things:
So what's the bottom line here? Execution of the climbing mechanic is maybe a 7/10, even when gauged against modern games like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry. The mechicanic enables the unique playstyle that SotC offers. It is, however, sometimes frustrating and not overwhelmingly gratifying.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster taunt mechanic

Climbing the colossus is more than a matter of walking up to it and pressing X. Each boss is unique and must be conquered in a different way using some combination of climbing, your weapons, the terrain, and its behavior. The strategy for each colossus can be subtle and require a gamefaq.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster weak point mechanic

Each plunge of your sword takes the colossus's health down. He may toss you off or change the location of his weak spot. Eventually, he falls.
The colossi (gameplay spoilers)

Colossus 1

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 1

Colossus 2

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 2

Colossus 3

The third colossus was my first stumble. Either it hadn't been explained or I ignored the fact that holding X to vault was a thing. Tapping it put me in the water under the left stairway until I looked it up online.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 3 Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 3 head

Colossus 4

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 4

Colossus 5

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 5

The first winged colossus was a fun ride. Wind resistance came into play but wasn't OP.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 5 back

Colossus 6

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 6

Colossus 7

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 7

A water colossus, whaaa?

Colossus 8

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 8

The first AoE attack colossus got me a couple times.

Colossus 9

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 9

Turtle colossus really didn't like walking over the geysers. This wasn't a short battle.

Colossus 10

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 10

The sandworm battle felt like it could have been frustrating but actually went very well. Agro did a good job keeping pace and letting me aim.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 10

Colossus 11

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 11

Colossus eleven had me close to ragequitting. I got the dude to charge the fire pedestals, pretty sure I was on the right track.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 11 torch

The faq told me I needed to pick up a torch and wave it at him. This was weird, I'd never picked anything up. I walked over what looked like the torch and mashed various possible buttons. I put away my sword. Nothing. The faq assured me circle would execute the pick up.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster control update no action button

I eventually cycled through the control scheme and found that the 'classic' controls had an action button not present in the default 'modern' mappings. Wow.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 11

With that worked out, I scared the colossus off the cliff and exposed his weak point...

Shadow of the Colossus remaster falling through map

... he promptly rammed me through a hole in the map.

Colossus 12

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 12

Twelve had some difficult jumps but wasn't nearly as frustrating.

Colossus 13

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 13 diving

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 13 chase tail Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 13 climbing back

Colossus 14

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 14

Colossus 15

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 15

Fifteen's unique mechanic of stomping a ramp into the terrain eluded me until I looked it up.

Colossus 16

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 16 climbing

I hoped for a challenge with sixteen and I got it.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 16 distant

Dodging fireballs wasn't too bad, my own impatience had me not timing them well.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster colossus 16 hand

The climb to his head took me at least a dozen frustrating attempts. The grab-lunges and camera angles made it very tough. Luckily once I had reached his head I didn't fall off and get fireballed.

thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster arches scenery thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster waterfalls view scenery thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster riding eagles fields
thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster bridge riding horse
thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster bridge riding horse thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster land bridge thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster waterfall
thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster cave thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster ruins riding thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster concept art desert
thumbnail Shadow of the Colossus remaster concept art ruins

While mechanically it's just filler, the scenery of SotC makes the journey to each colossus rather pleasant. The redwoods, especially.
Ending (plot spoilers)

Shadow of the Colossus remaster corruption smoke

Something seemed a little off about the black smoke that overtakes you after defeating each colossus. Black smoke is rarely good.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster posse

In a rare camera cut to other people, some knights seem to have taken notice.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster Agro falling dead maybe

I was more fond of Agro than the girl based on screen time and utility. This was the most heartbreaking moment of the game.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster bridge posse

Eventually things come to a head as the knight dudes arrive in the forbidden land.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster corrupted protagonist

Oh yeah, I guess the diety was playing me...

Shadow of the Colossus remaster voltron colossus smoke guy

... to create a colossus voltron. But the knights prevail and seal our hero to the temple lake thing.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster Agro girlfriend

Leaving the reanimation wish to, for some reason, still be fulfilled and a limping Agro to happily return.

Shadow of the Colossus remaster garden credits

Storypost | 2020.04.05

Borderlands 3 Hammerlock DLC

Beer exploration covid coronavirus Half Door San Diego

The uncertainity of two weeks ago has given way to various stages of compulsory home isolation.

Beer exploration Mission Brewery San Diego

Our March GBES event was bookended with the staff telling us that breweries and dine-in would be shut down statewide starting the following day.

Covid-19 lockdown Costco in stock out of stock Covid-19 lockdown Costco entry line text message Covid-19 lockdown Lolitas burritos

Still, for the scale of the change, everyone's seemed to carry on in a reasonably professional manner.

Covid-19 lockdown Zoom t-rex costume Covid-19 lockdown Zoom

Friend groups have organized video chat kickbacks, including a screening of Velocipastor.
The meta

Covid memes Kanye laughing at corona memes

The national consciousness has been pretty well conveyed in the memes.

Covid meme drgrayfang corona case

In the early days, the question on everyone's mind was, "is this going to actually affect me?"

Covid meme Mortal Combat kumite canceled

Then there was brief period where companies large and small would use covid as an excuse to send marketing emails.

Covid memes learning about your spouse tweet Laura Norkin

Everone works from home now.

Covid memes 2020 writing Reddit Legodude293 landmanpgh

The timeline looks more dubious every day. Still, I'm not sure anyone's missed sports *that* much.

Covid memes tweet GeorgeAtTheRock daily walk quarantine

Acceptance is one of the stages, right?

Covid memes unicorn hazmat
Guns, Love, and Tentacles

Borderlands 3 Hammerlock eye tentacles bust

In a couple sessions, me and J finished a playthrough of the core content of the new BL3 DLC. Even managed to do it on Mayhem 4 without too much trouble.

Borderlands 3 Hammerlock DLC public library Lovecraftian

It's a huge homage to Lovecraft, from the story to the dialogue to the locations (and their names).

Borderlands 3 Hammerlock DLC Gaige Vladoff AR

So this is one of the more moody and atmospheric BL experiences. It's a nice contrast to the comedic casino heist and the obnoxious main game antagnoists. It's still Borderlands, though, so there's ample humor and over-the-top characters.

Borderlands 3 Hammerlock DLC Kritchy

Unfortunately I have a hard time killing Kritchies.

Borderlands 3 Tentacles Hammerlock Eleanor The Heart

My Fl4k build is focused on critical damage (duh) with Dominate as the other top tier. With Leave No Trace (Critical hits may refund one round to the magazine) and new(?) ARs that have the same effect, I have a few weapon options that behave almost like Infinity Pistols.

Borderlands 3 Hammerlock DLC Gaige Wedding Planner intro

One of the Gaige quest rewards is a class mod that buffs damage with hit stacks, this works really well with the rest of the build.

thumbnail Borderlands 3 easter egg book with Marcus Kincaide into speech thumbnail Borderlands 3 Dirigible thumbnail Borderlands 3 Gaige party planning
thumbnail Borderlands 3 scenic driving on ice
thumbnail Borderlands 3 Den of Inquiry thumbnail Borderlands 3 gondola safest way up poster
thumbnail Borderlands 3 Hammerlock DLC fireside
thumbnail Borderlands 3 Skittermaw Basin load screen thumbnail Borderlands 3 firing spaceship thrusters thumbnail Borderlands 3 Guns Love and Tentacles intro thumbnail Borderlands 3 inventory management emoting impatient thumbnail Borderlands 3 shock damage ads
thumbnail Borderlands 3 portrait tentacle thumbnail Borderlands 3 Vincent battle thumbnail Borderlands 3 Wendigo
Divinity: Original Sin 2

Divinity Original Sin 2 title screen

While waiting for the BL3 DLC to drop, J and I started a Divinity 2 playthrough.

Divinity Original Sin 2 tentacle attack ship

Luckily there are tentacles in this one, too.

Divinity Original Sin 2 prisoner ship

A few hours in, the game feels quite a bit like the first one: very deep and detailed with tons of story and lore.

Divinity Original Sin 2 The Red Prince combat

The combat is still very cerebral. I felt that positioning was practically meaningless in the last game, not a ton has changed. Still, attacks and specials and elements make for a great combat system. Characters have physical and magic armor that seems to significantly reduce the possibility of status effects, meaning basic attacks are back in style, at least til their armor has been depleted.

Divinity Original Sin 2 Fane character creation

I went Fane, J went Red Prince. The motliest of crews.
Escape from Tarkov

Escape from Tarkov terrain

The lolbaters/pubg squad is giving the indie Russian shooter Escape from Tarkov a go.

Escape from Tarkov pistol squad fuel truck

The gameplay is like this (with squads up to five):
Escape from Tarkov loadout

It's a realism-oriented shooter. Without armor you can be dropped in a shot or two and injuries like limb damage and bleeding out are a thing. There are magical heals, but they don't work if you're severely injured. The inventory system is extensive and not intuitive - well, it makes sense that the reload button doesn't work if the next mag is in your backpack, it's just not something you normally think about.

When I first played pubg I found the lack of creature comforts challenging. In EFT you don't have ally callouts or a map or really any standard video game training wheels.

Escape from Tarkov inventory

The try-hard element can be punishing during the action, at least in inventory management you have all the time in the world to figure out which mods work with which guns. Could it be color coded or sorted? Yes. Would that make you feel less like a badass? I guess.

As you can see from the lower grid in the screencap above, weapons are very customizable. Having looted a few fully-kitted PMC loadouts (great feeling, btw), I can say that the difference in a optics and recoil afforded by mods is a massive advantage - the cat's claws, as it were.

Escape from Tarkov scope

Iron sights are usable on the Mosin, but other than that, scavs and destitute PMCs are at a huge disadvantage in ranged combat. Also, not having body armor, scavs and destitute PMCs are at a huge disadvantage in close quarter combat. Asymmetry is awesome, but the game is unbalanced. Sometimes you'll get lucky, drop a PMC, and have good gear until you are next killed. You can also bring a squad and hope to find solo opponents.

Combat engagements are very short; it feels like the first time I played Rainbow 6 after years of Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Turok, etc.

Escape from Tarkov dealers

Gear can be obtained in raids, but there are also a few vendors with neat, criminal underground identities. I think there are three currencies in the game - rubles, dollars, and bitcoin - only one of which can be exchanged for a particular item. Dealers also provide quests (kill/find x of y), which is a lightweight way to have sustaining, orthongal objectives/rewards.

Escape from Tarkov shop mechanic Colt M4A1

In addition to the independent currencies, many items can only be traded for using the random junk you find when inspecting containers scattered around each map. This can be pretty frustrating, e.g. I had my eyes on a grenade build in an attempt to overcome my optics/armor disadvantage. With nades I could choose to fight in buildings and hope for a more even playing field. Turns out grenades must be bartered for with zippos or batteries. Once I do collect enough of these items, I hope it's an unlock-for-purchase mechanic because there's no way I'll collect zippos and batteries at the rate I expend or lose grenades.

Escape from Tarkov hideout

You have a hideout that provides the passive rewards for grinding - healing of your injured PMC, a workbench, bitcoin mining, etc. Twenty minutes to produce toilet paper at the lav?!? Okay one: too soon. Second: that doesn't even make sense. And third: this game mechanic should only be used in free-to-play games as away to get people to buy speedboosters.

Escape from Tarkov MP5 flashlights Reddit post

The verdict is still out.

Three Houses/Crimson Flower/madness (midgame spoilers)

Fire Emblem Three Houses Crimson Flower Byleth Edelgard Hubert

When last we spoke, Byleth had accompanied Edelgard to the imperial capital because the Church of Seiros doesn't set boundaries for their faculty.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Edelgard kill choice Crimson Flower

Now he's protected her and pissed off the church.

Fire Emblem Three Houses edelgard combat pegasus

I expected a difficult playthrough, with a steep xp climb and every unit susceptible to double attack. I got that, but I also got different plotline with new battle scenarios (on the same map set).

A few notes:

Fire Emblem Three Houses impregnable wall tactics

Impregnable Wall (units only deal/recieve 1 dmg for a turn) has been critical. Last playthrough it was a way to defeat the Dark Knight early on, now having two units (Batallion carry-over) able to put up a wall is irreplaceable. The frequency of enemies that can overcome this with Pass has lessened in the mid-game.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Lysithea resonant lightning get rekt

Lysithea is a monster. In fact, for whatever reason physical attacks seem massively nerfed in this playthrough.

Fire Emblem Three Houses pegasus battle Ingrid

I'm sticking to the plan and making flyers out of everyone except tanks and mages. The class-based speed gains, high movement unaffected by terrain, and canto aspects of these characters has been necessary to keep them out of harm's way - that is, most of my units are susceptible to being one-shotted since there's no way to do main quest battles at anything better than enemy level-6. If the level disparity decreases, I may flex my flyers into other classes.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Byleth throne