Bracket Running: Avoiding Disappearing Players

Bear dropped this on Twitter in reply to PerfectLegend, and I thought it worth it to mention something about how I handle it. Using this method, I have never had a problem with the following problem:

Here’s how you make this less of a problem:

Talk about this with your players before you start your bracket.

Issue clear expectations for things like bathroom and smoke breaks, because players will ask you for these things. Let them know that they need to ask for them immediately after one of their matches, and that you have to OK them by looking at the bracket and seeing what time is available for people to do so. Also let them know that when you and they agree on a time limit for these activities, and they go over the time limit, they can be DQ’d.

Know where you are in the bracket and how long matches take.

You can’t be honest with players regarding the time available to them for a break unless you know how much room you have in a bracket for those things. You’re generally only going to be able to give them break time in the first couple of rounds, because that is the only time you have a lot more matches to play than stations.

Make sure you are playing out matches by rounds as much as possible to give players time to rest between their matches. Don’t run one person way through the bracket before you have had other players get their matches in.

Write breaks down on the bracket sheet or a notebook/notepad (if using electronic bracketing, which you shouldn’t be in most cases), and make sure the player sees you do it.

When I have a player ask for a break, I talk to them briefly about what they are leaving to do and ask them how long it will take them to do it. I check the time on my watch, and then tell them exactly when I expect they will be back for their next match. I then write their player name and the agreed-upon return time on the bracket, showing them as I do this, and let them go have their break.

This becomes a two-way agreement; I let them take the break, and they agree they’ll be back by that time. If they aren’t back by that time, I generally give them two to three minutes’ grace period before issuing a DQ loss. (This also means that when budgeting the time for their break, I give them two to three minutes less than I actually have for them.)

Above all, be fair and respectful.

Before every bracket I run, I set expectations that I’m going to respect players’ time, and that in return, I expect certain courtesies from them. It’s only in partnership with your players that you’ll be able to run an efficient and well-received bracket. Respect your players’ time and communicate with them clearly, and they will respect the decisions you may have to make.

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Destiny 2: Month Two Gallery

I find myself hitting the screen capture button fairly often in this game, which is kind of nice. It gives me a record of what I’ve been doing and the things I’ve been messing with in the game.

My son and I are still playing together almost nightly, and it’s been a lot of fun. And we recently joined SafeGamers, giving us some groups we can play with who are respectful of our time and of us—a welcome change from a lot of online gaming experiences.

I’ve managed my first Destiny series raid, and cleared it a few times since then. I expect fewer screenshots next month, if only because I’m exhausting a lot of the content in the game prior to the first DLC release coming this December. (And I included the Legacy screenshots, which showcase some pretty neat art from various experiences I completed in the first game. I’m hoping my next Legacy is much more complete.)

Also, I’m aware there are some resolution problems with the carousel for these images; if you want to see the (much sharper) originals, use the button that appears when you are browsing the images in carousel.

Summer Games Done Quick 2017 Viewing Guide

My summer vacation has started, which usually means it’s almost time for Summer Games Done Quick. GDQ is a twice-annual speedrunning marathon, and each one lasts for a week. The summer one tends to be my favorite; the runs can be a bit more laid back and the charity is preferable to the one they use for the winter marathon.

You can find the channel for GDQ on Twitch any time you want to watch. The full event schedule is posted here, and there are some things you should know about it:

  • The schedule can and will change throughout the event, so if there is a game you are really interested in watching, you should check the schedule the same day of that game and also a bit before it’s supposed to come on the air. Runs are unpredictable, so there’s natural fluidity to the time slots.
  • For different types of games, there are different run categories. Pay attention to things like:
    • 100% or any%, the two most frequent run completion types – one involves collecting or doing everything a game has to offer; the other is just getting to the end of the game as fast as possible.
    • Restrictions like glitchless, 2 players 1 controller, co-op, and the like. This will give you more information regarding the general atmosphere of the run.
  • Runs have an estimated time to completion, which will give you the approximate time you’ll need to watch the run.

Keep in mind when watching these speedruns that many of them will involve the players going through the game in ways you haven’t in the past. If a run doesn’t call for glitchless or other restrictions, you’re likely to see things done to intentionally break the game and skip large amounts of the actual intended gameplay. This takes some getting used to and can look really weird the first time you watch a run for a favorite game.

That said, if you just relax and watch some people play games while using quite frankly amazing execution, muscle memory, and crazy amounts of practice, you can have a pretty good time. I suggest you find games you have played and liked on the schedule and trying to watch those to get started.

If you aren’t sure, here are some runs I think are likely to be great this week:

  • Sunday
    • Luigi’s Mansion any%, no OOB (out-of-bounds). The restriction means the runner can’t break the constraints of the levels to get places the game didn’t intend, so this requires going through a decent amount of the game, and is estimated at around an hour.
    • Metroid Prime 100%. Some people really find these runs interesting because there is good execution necessary, but I frankly find them boring because large amounts of the run take place out-of-bounds. If you want to see a game get broken, watch this.
    • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, any% glitchless. One of the all-time great games, played to full extent, in 36 minutes. Should be fantastic.
  • Monday
    • Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, Ultimate. Watch people wreck this game with what is essentially playing angles very carefully. Looks reckless, is actually super-controlled.
    • Mirror’s Edge, any% glitchless. A game that was designed with multiple paths in mind. Speedrunners have no doubt found all the super-fast ones, and the execution necessary for this should be impressive.
  • Tuesday
    • I Am Bread, any%. I say this because I tried playing this game and found it inscrutable and impossible, and this runner is going to beat it in 15 minutes and make me feel really old in the process.
    • Pokemon Puzzle League, 1P Stadium, Super Hard. Puzzle game execution at this high a level is always impressive.
    • FPS Block of games, starting with Half-Life. Every game here should show super-impressive play, even with glitches.
  • Wednesday
    • Ninja Gaiden 3, any%. Watch this and then remember how hard these games are and hate yourself immediately.
    • Marble Madness, any%. See above.
    • Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Richter any%. The finest 2D Castlevania pre-Symphony, done in 25 minutes. It’s likely you aren’t familiar with this entry in the series (it was on Turbo CD), so you should give it a peek.
    • Mega Man X2, any% race. Four runners play side-by-side, trying to finish first in a live situation. X2 has a super-optimized run that is really impressive to watch and easy to grasp.
  • Thursday
    • Shadow of the Colossus, NTA. I personally don’t think this game is as awesome as a lot of people do, but the run should be impressive.
    • Portal, inbounds. Should be one of the more amazing-looking runs of the whole event.
    • Chrono Trigger, any%, no wrong warp. Puwexil is one of the best RPG runners to watch. His commentary during the run (and the “couch commentary” helping him along) will be great and will explain exactly what’s going on as he does the run. CT is also a great run.
    • Tetris: The Grand Master block. You should watch this because I won’t; once you have seen these runs once, you have seen them all, but this is Tetris at a level that’s more instinct than reaction. TGM is way harder than any Tetris you have played (they will play on arcade hardware).
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, all dungeons, swordless. I don’t even know how you would do this, so I’m going to be watching this one with fascination.
  • Friday
    • Super Mario Series Warpless Relay Race. Great games, done head-to-head, and with relay handoffs to boot.
    • Metroid Block. Always one of the highlights of any GDQ. Usually tight races, high execution, sequence breaking in a lot of cases.
  • Saturday
    • Dark Souls 3, All Bosses. Watch someone rip through this game with way less health than you would ever try to play with and weird items you didn’t think about using.
    • Super Mario 64, 120 star. Every star. Every level. A game that requires crazy-cool execution and looks rad when people pull it off.
    • Earthbound any%, glitchless. An RPG to send the marathon into the sunset, and a run that even today is still being rerouted and changing to be more efficient.

There’s plenty more I could have put in here, but these are the things I’d suggest to anyone who asked me about GDQ and what they should peek in on.

I hope you watch and have some fun doing so. Please consider donating to the event!

Fighting Game Reference Screens, Upgraded

Around a year or so ago, I posted a bunch of reference screens captured from various fighting games, to help streamers plan their UI against the actual game without needing to hook up a capture device or to search for images on Google.

It struck me today that putting that here was probably not the easiest thing to find, or the easiest thing for people to use in their projects, so today, I moved the whole thing over to GitHub as a new repository:

https://github.com/ryanmarkel/fg-reference-screens

Contributions are welcome, and requests for screens should be filed as issues. I hope these are useful to you in your stream production.

Preparing to Run Brackets at Large FGC Events

Combo Breaker 2017 is coming up in a handful of days, and I’ll be on the floor helping run brackets to do my part to make it a great experience for competitors.

I enjoyed my volunteer time a ton last year, and I’m happy to help make this year’s event a similar success. Assuming there are new volunteers this year who haven’t run brackets at a big event before, I thought I’d put together a list of things that have worked for me in running an efficient, well-organized bracket and getting the most out of my volunteer time.

So, here we go, in no particular order other than this first one, which is most important:

Attend the Volunteers Meeting before the Event

This is non-negotiable. Every event will have specific ways they do things. They are not always going to be the same from event to event or even year to year. They are almost certainly different from what you have been running for your locals, house events, or whatever you have run before. Your head TO or other bracket coordinator should have sent you a message with the meeting times. Show up.

When you are there, the most important thing you can do—even if you have been to a million of these—is to listen. Things may have changed from the previous year, and there will be others at the meeting who have not done this before. They need to be able to hear, and for that to happen, everyone in the meeting needs to be listening.

If you have questions, ask them at the meeting. It’s far more efficient for you to have your questions answered before a single bracket has started than to try to track down other staff once there are hundreds of people on the event floor and you are facing a time limit for running your pool.

Do Your Homework

You will have your pool assignments ahead of time so you know when you are needed and can schedule yourself accordingly. Players will have their pool assignments ahead of time so they can plan for their matches.

This means you should know who is in your pools before you get started. You’ll also know what games you will be running. Take the time to see who you’ll be working with, study the rules for the games you have been assigned, and make sure you know when you are supposed to be there.

Know who your game’s TO is and what they look like. Know who the head TO is and what they look like. You need to have this information in your head so you can quickly and efficiently get help if and when you need it. Come prepared.

Wear a Watch

You’ll be responsible for getting your brackets done on time. This means you will need to know the following at all times:

  • How long you have before your next bracket starts
  • Whether you are at the threshold of time for you to start DQ’ing players (varies by event)
  • How much longer you have to get the pool done to end on-time

You need to have a clock somewhere on your person the whole time you are staffing the event. A phone is fine, but phones can get dropped, run out of battery, be misplaced, or the like. (I carry a portable charging battery with me at all events in case my phone starts running low.)

YMMV on this suggestion, but I prefer a watch because it’s less obtrusive, easier to glance at when needed, and far more incident-proof than a phone.

Carry a Notebook

When you run into a sticky situation, or if you need to track what’s going on at any given point during your bracket, notes can save you from problems or time-delaying issues. Assume the following when you are running the bracket:

  • Someone will have to go to the bathroom and will (or should) tell you they are doing so to prevent being DQ’d
  • A player will ask you about the rules for the game you are running
  • You’ll need to look at your own schedule to keep things straight and report to the correct place
  • Someone not even in your bracket will see your staff shirt and ask you a question to which you may or may not immediately know the answer
  • Other staff people may have things they need your help with that you can’t get to immediately

A notebook is your lifeline in most of these situations. Things I recommend for your notebook:

  • Put your schedule in it so you can refer to it at any time
  • If someone asks you something and you need to get to it later, write it down so you don’t forget
  • Jot down the rules and default settings (or anything specific that’s different!) for the games you are running so you have it available instantly
  • Write down player names if they leave and inform you they are doing so, as well as what time they left the pool stations (when they leave, you should tell them how quickly they should be back to avoid a DQ situation)

Last year, I carried my Moleskine around in the venue, but it was overly bulky and not very practical. I recommend a smaller notebook style, like a Moleskine Cahier or a Field Notes notebook. They fit in a pants pocket and are easier to move around with.

Relatedly, when you take a pencil for writing on your brackets (because events use paper brackets), take two so you have a backup.

Early = On Time. Be On Time.

Find out what the expectations are for players and when they should report to a pool station for their brackets. Be there five minutes before that time so you are there when players arrive. Politely clear away any casuals at the station in advance of your brackets by setting time expectations with those players as you get things ready. Mark players on your bracket as they check in with you so you know who is there.

Take Care of Yourself

Don’t forget to eat something. Drink water like it’s going out of style. Wear comfortable shoes you can stand in for a couple of hours at a time without problems. Clear any bathroom breaks you might need before your bracket starts. Get some good sleep the night before.

If you are miserable, you are going to pass that savings on to your players, and they won’t have as good a time. Which brings me to my last point:

Have Fun. Help Players Have Fun.

This is your job when you help run an event.

Yes, you are there to enforce rules, make sure players are not being disruptive or otherwise problematic, and to run your brackets on time. You can do these things and still have a good time, which will result in your players also having a good time.

Bracket runners do not get salty. Be fair. Be calm. Encourage your players to have a good time. Answer their questions. Thank your players for being there when they are out of the pool. Congratulate the players who escape the pool to later brackets.

Anything Else?

If I missed something here you think is important, drop me a reply on Twitter and let me know. I’ll be happy to add things to this guide.

Extra Life 2016: Another Good Year

This year’s Extra Life marathon was another great time. I spent some time playing games with my kids, had a great co-op session with my best friend, and generally enjoyed the 25 hours of video games (with some breaks!) while fundraising for St. Louis-area children’s hospitals.

To date, you have helped me raise just over $700 for this cause.

For that, I thank you all. Your support every year when I do this crazy thing means a ton to me and it’s good to know you are interested in helping with this cause.

And know that it’s not too late! You can still donate to this year’s campaign by going to this page and giving what you are able or moved to do:

http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=196644

I fell short of my goal, but that’s OK. It’s the effort and your assistance that counts. :)

I’ll be working on some additional stream stuff and a different kind of donation goal starting later this month. I’ll be posting about that soon. :)

One Last Invitation for This Year

As I finish my prep work making sure I have everything lined up for Extra Life 2016 starting tomorrow morning, I just wanted to drop one more post in for the evening. I’ll update Twitter and probably Facebook throughout the day to let you know what I’m playing and what’s going on, but I’d really love it if you would stop by and watch my livestream tomorrow (and into Sunday!) for Extra Life.

And if you have the means and the motivation, to consider donating to this very worthy cause.

Sometimes, it’s too easy to get overwhelmed with all the crap that’s out there in the world and think that you can’t make a difference. The thing is: that’s not true. Even a single person doing something meaningful can be enough to change the world, if only for a single other person.

When you watch or chat in the livestream, you brighten my day just that tiny bit more.

When you donate to help fund children’s hospitals here in my hometown of St. Louis, that donation could mean a life-saving dose of a drug. Or a stuffed animal for a kid who is too weak to get out of their hospital bed. Or a piece of equipment a surgeon needs to save a gravely injured child.

And yes, when you donate and get my campaign closer to the $2,000 goal, you are (possibly unfortunately) making a difference, because that puts me one step closer to having to sing a Bieber track live on the internet.

When you share my announcements regarding the stream, you help point others to it, causing more to watch, and possibly more to donate.

Everything you do—this fundraising campaign notwithstanding—causes a difference in the lives of others. Never forget that. This thing I do every year is one thing I know I can do to try and do some good.

I hope I’ll see you tomorrow. You can watch here.

Extra Life Incentives: Rock Band 4

All right; time to detail the first of the donation incentives for Extra Life this weekend!

As always, I’ll be opening my stream with some Rock Band. I have a history of always opening with “The Hellion/Electric Eye” from Judas Priest and then playing what I feel like for the remainder of the hour.

To participate in the donation incentive, either:

  • Make the donation and indicate your choice in the donation comment, or
  • Make the donation and make sure the name you choose matches your name in chat and then tell me what you want in chat

Incentives:

  • Any $10 donation entitles you to choose a track from my library for me to play (details on the library below).
  • Any $25 donation entitles you to force me to change instrument to your choice between Guitar, Bass, and Drums. I will start on Guitar.
  • EXCEPTION TO THE ABOVE: “Free Bird” requires a $100 donation.

I have set aside some time in the schedule for some overflow. If enough donations come in requesting songs, I’ll keep playing!

To view the list of songs you can choose from, go here:

http://rbdb.online

Click the button at the top that says “User Code,” and enter the code:

KOP-37D

This will show you the tracks I have available. Please note that some tracks may not yet be available to me in Rock Band 4; if you choose one of these I’ll let you know and you’ll get to choose an alternate track.

And remember: if I break my $2,000 goal for donations this year, you’ll get an hour of me on Expert Vocals! Tell your friends.

Rock Band will start this upcoming Saturday at 8 a.m. I hope I’ll see you there!

(For more information on my Extra Life marathon, please see this post.)

Our Community Chased wundergeek Out, And Perhaps That Bears Reflection

(title borrowed contextually from this tweet)

I’m really sad about this. wundergeek is closing up her blog Go Make Me a Sandwich, from which I have learned quite a lot over the years about how the gaming (both video and traditional) industry treats women both in depictions and in (lack of) inclusiveness.

She writes:

Before Origins, I ended up crying in a bathroom as I chatted with friends online about the vitriolic response to a thing that I’d written. It made me doubt myself so much that I actually wondered if it would be worthwhile going to Origins. Would I even be welcome there? (Spoiler alert: I was.) Fast forward two months to a different crisis before a different convention, which saw me crying for more than a week in the runup to that convention. Truth is, I’ve done a lot of crying about my blog in the past year. But I didn’t let myself think about that, because I had to keep moving forward. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had to keep my head above water and just. Keep. Fighting.

Or at least that’s how I was approaching things until several weeks ago, when the final straw happened. As is the way with such things, it was so small. Such a quiet thing those most community insiders, even, probably missed. Really, it doesn’t even matter what the event was. What matters is that it represented a tipping point – the moment in which I finally had to confront the fact that I haven’t felt passionate about what I do here for a long, long time. And for most of this year, I’ve felt only resentment. That this stupid blog has cost me so much, and I feel trapped by it. A victim of my own success – forever tarnished by my connection to it, and yet dependent on the income it provides, that I require because of the damage it’s done to my reputation. (See what a vicious cycle that is?) The final straw made me realize that I don’t want to do this anymore, and indeed, that I was rapidly approaching a point where I couldn’t do it anymore.

Of course, this is made harder by the fact that I hate losing. And there will be people who will celebrate, people who call this a victory, which only intensifies my feelings of defeat. My feelings of weakness. I feel like I’m giving up, and it kills me because I’m competitive! I’m contrary! Telling me not to do a thing is enough to make me want to do the thing. I don’t give up on things and I hate losing. But in this situation, I have to accept that there is no winning play. No win condition. I’m one person at war with an entire culture, and there just aren’t enough people who give a damn, and I’m not willing to continue sacrificing my health and well-being on the altar of moral obligation. If this fight is so important, then let someone else fight it for a while.

There’s a lot more on the original post, which you should read, because it underlines in very stark detail what the problem is and how pervasive it is within gaming culture.

I could share a bunch here about how I’ve read it over the years, how it helped bring these things to my attention, or how proud I always was that it was on WordPress.com (NB: I work for the company that runs WordPress.com). But I won’t.

Nor will I say that she needs to keep going, keep fighting, because at the least she has realized that doing so is not a healthy option and is choosing to cut it out of her life to move forward in other things. We should support that.

What I will say is that as a community, we need to take a look at this, realize that people within our community have chased off yet another person who stepped up and said hey, something is wrong with what we are doing and how we treat people, and realize that when we see that kind of crap behavior, we need to call it out and condemn it for what it is.

Because the more this happens, the greater the chilling effect that stops other people from raising their voices and bringing unique viewpoints to the table.

And that harms us all.

How to Use Tech Videos

Viscant with another great post about Street Fighter V on Brokentier:

In the old days your only way of getting new tech was having access to top players. In the old days we also had to walk 10 miles to the arcade. Up hill. In the snow. Both ways. But seriously one of the main reasons I was good at games then was because I grew up in Southern California and was driving distance away from multiple top arcades including Southern Hills Golfland, probably the best fighting game arcade in the whole US. The process of getting tech in those days was just being able to play against guys like Alex Valle, Mike Watson and James Chen and leeching off of them. There really was no shortcut to improving your game in those days; if you didn’t have access to good arcades and good players, improving on your own was near impossible. Even if you were creative enough and resourceful enough to come up with ideas on your own, you couldn’t come up with ideas for every character or get matchup practice by yourself.

In the modern era though, access to good tech is much more equal. If anything we have the opposite problem now. Instead of the average person having no access to good tech, now the problem is having tech everywhere. How do we find the most important tech? How do we prioritize what to work on first? How do we make sure we don’t miss out on anything important?

SFV is coming into the scene in a different world, where the playerbase is much larger and the communication between players is much more frequent and open. This is moreso even than Street Fighter IV. New tech is being found left and right and it’s only the first couple of weeks.

If you are new to the fighting game scene, you don’t know how awesome you have it right now. :)

If you are like me, you are seeing a ton of videos pop up on YouTube explaining how to do very specific things in the game. It can be hard to balance out what to learn and how to apply it. If you want to know more about the best ways to handle this information, check out the full article and follow those basic rules. They’re pretty great.