Monday, April 25, 2011

April On-goings and a Fun Easter Report

For the month of April, we spent most of our time trying to unpack and get settled in our house.  It's amazing how much time you spend cleaning up the yard, or picking out decorations for each room, or painting over ugly stencils, or what have you in  your new home.  We're still not there, but the baby's room is half cleaned out, so we are making definite progress!

The big news of April is that we found out we are having another BOY!  We are ecstatic!  I am so happy that Reid will have a buddy to be friends with, and then fight with, and then hopefully be friends with again once he is older.  It's a wonderful circle of life siblings go through and I'm excited that our boys will have that opportunity. 

Everyone asks how I'm feeling, and pretty good is the answer.  I was pretty sure it was a girl because I just can't kick this nausea and I thought the extra estrogen in my system HAD to be the cause... but I was wrong.  It simply is a different pregnancy.  I'm feeling him kick, but mostly it feels like he's just wiggling around while he still has room in there.  My energy level has been much lower this time around, and I've been assured it is due to chasing my toddler around!  Also, my back aches almost every day, but that is bearable thanks to my heated rice socks.  So really, I'm doing well.... Most days I can get chores done around the house, and usually we make 2 park appearances and a library appearance each week.  So I think it is going well!

This little guy is due August 27th, but my doctor doesn't think I'll make it to then, I've been told not to be more than an hour from the hospital once I hit 34-35 weeks.  What fun a HOT July/August is going to be for me!

So far we have been blessed and loved our new ward.  We attended our first ward activity... it was an Easter Egg Hunt.  Reid had a blast!  They divided the egg collecting sections into 3 age groups: 3 and under, 4-7, and 7-11.  Each child was supposed to get only 1 dozen eggs (because that's what each parent was asked to bring).  However, after collecting 12, Reid noticed there was still more eggs to be collected, so he kept going.  So Matt just kept emptying out the eggs, and Reid thought it was great game and didn't want the fun to stop!  He quickly became efficient and found that if he grabbed 4+ eggs at a time, he could fill up his basket faster, instead of one egg in the basket at a time.

After we finished our egg hunt, we got to play on the playground.  Then Reid got his face painted, we asked him what animal he wanted, and after multiple sounds he chose a sheep.  So he had an adorable sheep on his cheek.  Then we played more on the playground and his Daddy helped him swing and he got to learn about underdogs... which he also loved.

On the way home, Reid crashed (fell asleep)... unfortunately he woke up when he got home, and proceeded to talk, jump, and sing in his crib for 2 hours, while I took my afternoon nap.

That afternoon we went to some friend's house who also moved to TX.  They had a kiddie pool in their backyard.   It was all Matt could do to get Reid's brand new shoes off before he went in clothes and everything.  I thought it was adorable, and why not let the kid be a kid? (clothes and all)  Until I looked outside and saw his diaper bursting out of his shorts, then we got a swim diaper on him and he kept going, just fine.  We continued the fun with hamburger, hot dogs, and lots of yummy side dishes.

Sunday we enjoyed church, some really great Easter talks about the Savior, Matt taught the EQ (the men's class) lesson.  Then we went over to our other friend's house and were fed an absolutely amazing Easter dinner, and fabulous conversation. 

All in all, Easter was a really great success.  We feel like we are getting to know more people and making some really wonderful friends.  We are so grateful at this time to remember the Savior and the blessing of the Atonement in our lives, especially as we are adjusting to our new surroundings, we can feel His love for us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why the Recent SC2 Patch is a Failure

The 1.3.0 patch to the Starcraft 2 client changed the way players view their win / loss statistics... or rather how they don't view them.

The patch notes described this change in a 1-liner:
"Loss counts are no longer displayed in Profile and Ladder pages for players below Master League."

Blizzard, why the hate?

A blue post (Blizzard Employee) on the SC2 Forums reads:

"Win/loss ratios start to matter at the Master's League level because the matchmaking system no longer plays as much of a role, and very good players can rack up many more wins than losses by consistently defeating opponents. Since the matchmaker is no longer as much of a factor, those stats become a more accurate measure of relative success."

"We had a pretty strong rationale for removing losses from the records of players below Master's League. Essentially, prior to that level of play, the losses you've sustained aren't particularly meaningful. Please allow me to explain:

Let's say that you're new to StarCraft II and you play (and lose) a ton of games. You've racked up dozens of losses and a handful of wins, and things look grim. Instead of giving up, you get better, learn effective strategies, and you start playing much more skillfully. Pretty rapidly, the matchmaking system starts pitting you against tougher opponents - but because of the very nature of the matchmaking system, and even though you're making progress and facing tougher opponents, your win/loss rate stays at around 50%. In a scenario like this, it means that your wins will probably never surpass your losses, even though you've become a better player and your wins have become more meaningful than those early losses. Even for someone who starts pretty strong, win/loss numbers should still settle around 50/50 anyway. That doesn't feel good, but worse, those numbers also don't accurately reflect your current level of skill or progress anyway."

Blizzard, I have news for you. Your matchmaking system is fairly broken anyway, and your Leagues and Divisions are pointless. You've successfully replaced one slightly-relevant piece of information with something far less useful.

This change gives players the sense that they're not that terrible by only showing them how many games they've won. Nevermind that you lost 500 games, your 14 wins is wonderful and worth showing. Really, the 14 wins are just as pointless as the 500 losses. If you're going to throw out one statistic, why not both?

The reality is that the wins and losses are both valid statistics, even in ladder matches where they should remain aproximately 50 / 50. The error here is not that the "numbers ... don't accurately reflect your current level of skill or progress" but rather that the interpretation of what these numbers mean is incorrect. People are used to winning far more than they lose. People like to win. They want to see a win ratio of 90 / 10. (90% is an A, after all.) But that's not sustainable for every player, because for someone to win, someone has to lose. Unfortunately, the ladder / division system attempts to boost a player's self-esteem by promoting their mediocrity.

As I mentioned before, the ladder system is completely broken. As it currently exists, there are 7 leagues: bronze, silver, gold, platinum, diamond, master, and grand master. Each league is split into many divisions. Each division has 100 players. Currently, there is no way to tell how many divisions exist in your league.

There is no SC2 Armory, no way to view the other divisions or even know how many other divisions in your league there are. This makes it impossible to size up your competition. The WoW armory was a huge step toward an open-content gaming experience. Much like the advantages that come from open-source, open-content ensures that the community feels the game is being handled fairly, and know what to do to make themselves great. How many books have been written about the game of Chess? Has this diminished it's fun? Has it made the players cheaters? No. Instead, it has inspired some to become better.

Part of the problem with the win / loss system and the ladder / leagues/ divisions is the closed-formula information-hiding employed by the game designers. No one knows exactly what the criteria is to get promoted, or how to improve their MMR. Some may find this mystery intriguing, and, admittedly, at first it is. Until, halfway up the ladder, you find yourself grinding for points, not knowing if you're actually getting better, or if you're simply spinning your wheels.

As of December 2010, Blizzard had sold 4.5 million copies of SC2. On an average night, there are 750,000 people online. Assuming that all accounts are active for the current season, this means that there are 16 players online for every division (100 accounts). That sounds good at first, until you realize that many of them are afk, playing the campaign, custom maps, or vs AI games. Let's be generous and say that 50% of the people online are playing league games. So we're down to 8 players in each division are online. But even if they're playing a league game, they could be playing any match type: 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 4v4. So really, it's most likely 2 players online in each division playing each format.

Have you ever actually played against someone in your same division? I seriously doubt it. Even if you had, how would you have known?

If you're playing 1v1s, you could play one unique match-up from your division. If you're playing 2v2s, then it's you and your ally online with no one to play against from your division. That sounds pretty lame to me.

So, in order to combat this issue, Blizzard lets you play people from other divisions in your same league, or people from the top of the league below you or the bottom of the league above you. In essence, if there's not enough people to play against that are your skill level, it matches you against people who aren't your skill level... because, let's face it: Even playing a badly-matched game is better than sitting for an hour waiting for a match. We all learned that from the Random Dungeon Finder in WoW.

But take a step back and look at what we just rationalized. Now I'm getting a 1-100 ranking in my division for playing against people that aren't from my division. Isn't that more pointless than my win / loss ratio? Why group players if the groups mean nothing? Furthermore, nobody knows what league or division the people I beat are from. Nobody even cares about that part. All they know is that I'm rank X in platinum league. Talk about misinterpretation of data.

Implementing seasons should help lower the number of inactive players ranked in the division and improving the ability to be matched better to your skill level, but the possibility of playing people outside your division makes the entire division system pointless. In fact, the only thing the division system does is make a cosmetic front for people to feel good about themselves. Even at low levels, people can feel good about making their way up the ranks to #1 in the bronze division, even though that ranking means virtually nothing compared to the people in their own division.

What's so wrong with having only one division for each league? That would make it almost impossible to ever reach the #1 rank. You'd either never get promoted, or would have to get promoted from the top 3,000 players in the league. And who wants to look at their progress for the night and see that they moved up from rank 15672 to 15621? When the numbers are that large, it makes you feel insignificant. But when you're in a division of 100 players, you have a (false) sense that you're better than (a seemingly) large group of players. When in reality, you never even played against any of those people you think you're better than. Implementing the divisions is a facade to promote self-image.

In essence, SC2 is a completely different game in the lower leagues than it is in the higher leagues. Hiding the number of player losses in the UI didn't change that one bit. So, why did you do it, Blizzard?

Improved player experience?
Better game play?
Freed up visual space in the UI?
Offered the players more options to assess their performance?

None of the above. I'd argue that it was purely out of motivation to keep the player base from quitting playing the game. More people playing means more people are buying the game. There is only one reason why Blizzard would do such an awful thing. Money.

Now, I'm not one to openly criticize without offering some suggestions that I think would help alleviate the problem. So, if you're reading this, Blizzard, take some notes.

1. Create a new UI menu where all individual player stats can be viewed. Display Wins and Losses as seperate statistics where they aren't linked together. Show them in various ways so that players can analyze them in their own way. For example, create a option to show wins or losses for the current season compared to last season. Or, show wins versus players that were favored / slightly favored / even. This way, the win/loss count becomes meaningful.

2. Create a SC2 Armory. This shouldn't be hard, you already have the infastructure from WoW to do it. Openly publish what the leagues and division layout is. This type of open-content will please the player base.

3. Increase the size of each division and force matches to be played from people within your division only. Yes, that would cause some slowing of the match-making process, which is why I offer #4.

4. Make the divisions tiered. Within each league, make the divisions openly tiered so that people joining the new league are in the lowest division of the next league. This continues the concept of leagues to a finer granularity, while still separating people into groups of 100 and giving them a sense of progression in their play... but it will actually mean something. Doing so would require the promotion and demotion to happen much more quickly.

5. Open-Content the way you promote the players. Open-content the MMRs, and let the players who are matched up know the MMR of their opponent. Perhaps in the score screen, show a graphical chart of the placement of themselves and their opponent's rankings.

6. The set of static achievements is getting stale. On a regular basis, add new achievements that promote people to get better. For example, add an achievement specific to the current season to get promoted to a new league, or to Win a game against a "Favored" opponent.

In all cases, give the player more information, not less. Make the content more transparent, don't try to hide what's going on. If you need to make another menu to find this information, so be it. Digital real-estate is cheap. Display the information in a new way, don't just make it go away.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

21 Months

Reid is growing quickly, and in the shadow of a move and another baby.  I felt that I should blog about a few things he does.  Sorry this post is more journaling for a mom who isn't doing the best job at documenting everything.

Reid has found a large interest in letters and numbers.  In fact he can tell them apart (most of the time).  All numbers are 2 or 8, and all letters are H or O... sometimes he'll say a few more letters.  My favorite thing he does right now is when he's getting ready to run down the hall, or slide down the slide or whatever might require a count off, instead of 1...2..3...go... He says "2...8" and then goes.  It's adorable.

Something that makes me giggle, only as a 12 year old boy should, is that every time we are getting in or out of the car, Reid immediately starts asking "Butt? Butt? Butt?  Pease Mom, butt?... Butt!  Butt!  Pease Mom, Butt!"  I seriously just about lose it each time, I just want to giggle.  What he is asking for is to push the garage door BUTTon.  Yeah... we're working on the TON part of that word.

As we have moved into a 2 story house, Reid is quickly getting faster at stairs, but occasionally, he wants to slide down on his bum with you, and lets you know this, by patting the ground next to him... multiple times.  He's even started doing this when he wants you to sit next to him on the couch.

When he has found something good to do to occupy his time, and he would like you to join him, he waves his arm in a circle, as if to say "Come on".

His zerberts are better and juicier than any of mine!  I crack up every time he finds a bare mid-drift and dives right in for the love zerbert.

Reid loves to play sheet monster.  Where he puts a sheet/towel/blanket over him and wanders around trying to 'get' you, and then wants you to 'get' him back.  It can be fun, but he gets worked up, and yesterday he learned, it is not always a good idea to wander too far (with your vision impaired) when you are on top of the bed!

Reid loves to read!  haha.  He really does, he says "book", and we can spend 30 mins easily reading at one time. (which is a lot for a toddler if you ask me)

Reid is the best pucker-er... the kisses are a bit juicy, but the pucker is IRRESISTIBLE!

When I cry (because let's face it, I'm pregnant... I have emotions), he always comes and sits on my lap and say "Mommy" and gives me a big smile.  I tell him I need a hug, and I always get one.  He knows how to heal a sad heart!

Reid has learned that kisses do heal wounds.  His first major skinned knee, he ran away once he had received his mommy kisses (post washing), and took no interest in the Superman bandaid!  He also has learned that if he hurts mommy, or she gets hurt, he can kiss her owies better too.

Every night when I put him down for bed.  he says "Nigh Mommy", waves, and then puckers for his nightly kiss.  (Not sure how much longer I can lean over the crib for that special moment!)

Reid has come to love the dogs.  He chases them around and often gives them hugs and kisses.  He does torture them a bit and has been known to chase them around the yard... but he doesn't realize it is torture, his heart is pure and he just wants to love them completely.

Reid LOVES water.  He'll splash and kick in the bath... he doesn't even care if he gets his own face.  He loves to lay on his belly and practicing kicking.  We've even tried to teach blowing bubbles, but he doesn't get it, cuz Mommy doesn't put her face in the water either.  (I'm ready for the community pool to open up!)

Reid is a great eater.  He loves most fruits.  He calls all of them "brapes" (grapes).  Strawberries and raspberries are probably his favorites, with grapes, bananas and apples shortly behind.  He also likes veggies.  Tomatoes are his favorite, but he likes carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers too.  He's a great meat eater, chicken is his favorite.  He also loves bacon.  Potatoes are a hit also, hash browns, french fries, you name it.  He's occasionally picky with breads, tortillas and starchy stuff, but general eats it if he can dip it!  (ranch and salsa/sour cream mix are big hits)

And last but not least... Reid misses his Grandmas and Grandpas.  I have a picture of both sets with me and Matt at Matt's graduation party, and he recognizes them and is excited to see their picture.  And twice he has wandered through the house trying to find them.  It was so neat to get to spend time with them before we left Arizona!

I'm so grateful for his spirit and personality.  I can't imagine life without him, and I am thrilled and so blessed to be able to spend EVERY day with him!  Love you Reid!