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[The Scuu Paradox] - Chapter 18

At the Beginning
Previously on The Scuu Paradox…
  The smell of burning wood was all I could focus on. The fires had long died out, making it difficult to see in the darkness; despite all other modifications, Kridib’s eyes weren’t able to see overly well in the dark. Every five minutes, Radiance would send an infrared scan of the colony to help him and his team with their advancement. Despite all that help and the four missile strikes, progress was minimal. Of the forty-seven people sent to the planet, eleven had been killed and five more severely wounded, rendering them useless in battle. From what I could see, Rigel’s forces had clustered in specific points of the colony, giving up the rest: a sensible strategy that had allowed them to ambush three of our teams while suffering negligible losses themselves. As things stood, the enemy forces had positioned themselves in two areas of the colony. Both spots encircled a specific building—mine and the captain’s locations—making further missile strikes impossible.
  Update? Kridib asked me through the mind link.
  Nothing, I replied. Rigel had left shortly after our last chat, taking the third-contact rods with him. Since then, I had remained safely isolated in the room and completely alone. Half of them have probably gone to sleep.
  Tell me if anything changes. Kribib looked up. A dozen sats were visible in the night sky. We’ll be making another go soon.
  I don’t think that’s a good idea.
  So far, Kridib had made four attempts to reach me, all of them unsuccessful. His approach, though chaotic at best, had managed to keep him alive. There had been a close call during which his left arm had been grazed by a bullet, though that time the man hadn’t frozen.
  Everyone has to sleep, Kridib said, heading back into one of the buildings that had been transformed into a ground base of operations. I’ll go first.
  Must I wake you? I asked.
  No. With that, the link was severed.
  To a degree, I was thankful, though not too much. Forcing whatever strength I had, I moved my head to look around the room as much as I was able. Nothing had changed in the last four hours, but at least it let me do something. The last time I felt remotely similar was when I’d had my sensor systems knocked out, though even then I was able to use my shuttle AIs to paint me a picture. Here, I was completely helpless and, to a vast degree, blind.
  “Do I get any water?” I asked as loudly as my lungs would let me.
  There was no reason to expect an answer. Even if anyone was awake on the lower floors, they would be on lookout duty. Saying it out loud, though, made me feel better for some reason. To my surprise, the door to the room opened.
  “Thought you were above those things.” Rigel walked in slowly. Even with my lack of focus, I could see that he had changed clothes. The colours were dark enough to be considered a uniform, although I couldn’t make out any other details. “You can’t swallow, remember?”
  “My mouth feels dry,” I explained.
  “Too bad.” Despite my poor vision, I could hear him smile as he said that.
  Walking slowly, he made his way to the stool near me and sat down. From this distance, I could see him taking something from his front pocket. In the dim light, it was impossible to tell what exactly.
  “Still having problems focusing?” Rigel asked.
  “Yes.” There was no point in lying.
  “Pity. Agora works well on organic tissue. Not on techno-mongrels,” he added with a laugh. “If you weren’t one, you’d be dead. There’s a win for you.”
  And you’re not making any sense, I thought.
  “Nice murder troops you got out there. Quick and efficient. A few years ago, the locals would’ve had fun pulling their wings off. Time leaves its mark.” Rigel flicked the object. It let out a peculiar metallic sound. “No action, no combat sims, just the local pests that roam the planet. Those were brought here too, did you know?”
  “I heard about it.”
  “Another brilliant idea from the bureaucracy. Create a full ecosystem. Plants, critters, predators... all must be present and carefully maintained. We tried killing them off once. Those were the days. Three colonies setting out, killing everything in sight until the orbital station stopped sending food.” There was a slight pause. “And you know the best part?” Rigel leaned towards me. “None of that happened.”
  If I could have pulled back, I would have. There was no way of knowing if these were insane rantings or if he was referring to a dark op coverup. Considering he was from the Salvage Authorities, either was possible, and both options were equally undesirable.
  “I went through your data, Elcy.” Rigel rubbed his hands. “You know things you shouldn’t.”
  “Because of my past, I’ve been placed on special assignments,” I said. Technically it was true, though we both knew it didn’t explain away the inconsistencies.
  “You knew about the third-contact artifacts before. You’ve operated them before.” He moved his hand closer to my face. I felt a cold metallic surface touch my cheek. “You’re searching for something. Something that you’re not supposed to find.” He moved the object away from my face. “Here’s my offer. You answer some of my questions, and I’ll answer some of yours.”
  “That’s one way to get court-martialed.” Not to mention there was no guarantee my self-destruct chip wouldn’t go off at any point.
  “Please don’t give me the line that the fleet is going through all that trouble just to rescue you. If you were that valuable, you’d never have been sent to this hell in the first place.” Rigel stood up. “What are the odds of the fleet extracting you in one piece? Two percent?”
  “Point-seven-three-nine,” I corrected. Frankly, I was surprised they were going through all the trouble. “Give or take.”
  “Less than one percent,” Rigel snorted. “It’s your call. You have three hours to make it. Before I leave you, here’s a freebie. This planet, it isn’t some randomly colonized world in ‘unexplored space.’ We’re in the buffer zone—the border between the Scuu and human space. Think about that.” He made his way to the door. Reaching it, he stopped and turned around. “Oh, and we’re constantly being monitored.”
 
  Gamma-Ligata, Cassandrian Front—615.11 A.E. (Age of Expansion)
    The third wave of shuttles approached my forward left hangar one by one. The instant they came within three hundred meters, I was handed over direct control of the AIs. As with the previous batches, the first thing I did was to have a set of isolated subroutines flash the memory and purge the entire operating system. That done, I sent out a mini-sat to latch onto and assume control of the shuttles. It was a slow and tedious process, but necessary considering the circumstances.
  “How are things?” Wilco asked from the bridge. Augustus had gathered most of his officers to a private meeting in his quarters, leaving Wilco in command. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, but each time it did, it felt strange.
  “Everything’s going as planned,” I said, as the first shuttle went under my control.
  A quick internal scan revealed that there were sixty-two people aboard, all cuffed and tagged. All of them were tagged as infected, and, to my surprise, none of them were sedated. The instructions were to take them in and monitor their actions at all times, and only to engage if they threatened the ship. Normally, I’d be confident that Augustus knew what was going on. With everything we’d gone through since I’d joined the front, I didn’t think there was anything in the galaxy that could surprise him. I was wrong.
  Finishing my internal check of the shuttle, I directed it to the outer hangar doors and had it dock. The passengers—all of their identities classified—waited till I covered the walls with disembark notifications, then stood up and quietly proceeded to get off, in orderly fashion. I could tell by Wilco’s expression that he found it unnerving.
  “A thousand and eighty-two passengers on board,” I said on the bridge and in the captain’s quarters. The moment the last person set foot in the hangar, I would eject the shuttle from my hangar-bay, self-destruct it, and proceed with the next.
  Delegating the task to my isolated subroutines, I reviewed the instructions I had received. The proper ident protocols and authorisations had been used, ensuring that I would do as instructed without asking questions. An emergency transmission from an unidentifiable ship had led me here. I knew nothing about the ship’s name or specifics, and I wasn’t allowed to get close enough to get a visual. The only things I was allowed to see were its shuttles and mass. Everything else was open to interpretation.
  “Have any of them said anything?” Wilco asked.
  “No.” I displayed images of the hangar bay and the corresponding corridors surrounding it. As part of my instructions, the entire section was sealed off and quarantined. “They’re eating.” They also appeared to be healthy, although the instructions stressed no one was to come into contact with them under any circumstances. “I’ve received no indication of how long we’re to keep them. Did the captain get an indication?”
  “No,” Wilco said in his usual somber voice. “Is everything sealed off?”
  “Yes.” I rechecked. “No way in or out without captain’s approval.”
  “Set a buffer zone.” The man went on. “No one goes in or out without my permission.”
  “If you say so.” It wasn’t difficult. The area in question had been made empty to accommodate the quarantined arrivals, though it seemed a bit too much. “Want me to put sentinels?”
  “No. We don’t have to hurt anyone, just hold them.” He slinked down in his chair. “They’re the Med boys’ toys. We don’t get to play with them.”
  Med boys… Only Wilco referred to the Medical Core in such fashion. As most organisations, they were part of the fleet, yet their specific area of expertise gave them as much authority as the Salvage Authorities and the BICEFI combined. As a ship, I knew fairly little about them: they had the power to impose quarantines and cordon off entire planets if they wished. They were also the only organisation with the power to hold an active captain in check. Possibly, that was the reason Augustus didn’t get along with any of his medical officers. According to the public files, the Med Core had created the inner-body nanites and were instrumental in getting humans into space. There were also whispers that they were involved in creating the first ship-cores, although I found that unlikely. Even so, they had more authority than anyone aboard. Even on the front, we had no option but to obey.
  “It won’t be practical heading into war with them,” I said as the second shuttle entered the hangar bay.
  “Not our call. We’re to hold them until a Med ship picks them up,” Wilco sighed. “And monitor everything they do.”
  “How is that different from anyone else aboard?” I ventured a chuckle.
  “You don’t need to know,” the lieutenant said darkly.
  Another thing about Wilco was that he had the uncanny ability to make any topic of conversation dark. I ran a few simulations testing various responses, then decided not to respond further. In the best-case scenario, there was a twenty-seven percent chance he found my reaction funny.
  “Elcy.” Augustus granted me sensor access to the captain’s quarters. “What’s the ETA on the cattle?”
  “The passengers will be all aboard in seven minutes, captain.” A decade of attempts to mellow his behaviour had brought me no results. “Five, if you need me off in a rush.”
  “Get it done in five,” he barked. “We’ve got new orders. We’re joining a purge fleet. Go on yellow. Get the grunts prepped.”
  “Aye, sir.” I issued the order to everyone aboard. Seconds later, ground troop officers and sergeants were shouting their troops into order. “What about the passengers, sir? Won’t combat expose them to unnecessary danger?”
  “There’s no unnecessary danger,” Augustus barked again. The rest of the command staff had already started leaving the room. Their expressions ranged from mild annoyance to disapproval. Whatever discussions had taken place, they must have been unpleasant and one-sided. “Monitor them at all times and don’t interact until I say so.”
  “Understood.”
  It sounded like another escort mission, and I didn’t like escort missions. Normally, it would just be troop detachments or—if we were very unlucky—some mid-level bureaucrat or admiral’s aid sent to do a front-line inspection. Transporting quarantined personnel wasn’t in my usual purview, although if it had been, I’d never know.
  “What’s the course of treatment they must undergo?” I asked.
  “No treatment,” Augustus grumbled. “That’s for the Meds to figure out.”
  “All passengers are tagged as infected. Regulations require we provide immediate medical attention.” I felt my words sound hollow. If Augustus had the authority to provide such, he would have told me already. The only thing I was left was to go through the motions, expecting to receive the obvious denial.
  “Just monitor them, Elcy! That’s what we’ve been told. And whatever happens, don’t interfere.”
 
  Just monitor them.
  I had spent three months and thirty-nine hours monitoring the passengers onboard. Through battles and repairs, every single action had been carefully observed, recorded, and stored on external data storage. For the most part, nothing happened. The people would live boring, perfectly organised lives, almost as if they knew they were being watched. There were no scuffles, few arguments, and only one incident resulting in injuries when a Cassandrian fighter managed to slip through my external defences and fire a salvo at the hangar bay. Their health condition also seemed no different than when they had come aboard. I had dedicated a dozen subroutines to collect any potential symptoms in an effort to determine the type of disease they had, but had come to no conclusion. Then, one day, they were all gone. I had no memory of the Medical ship that had taken them, or where that had happened. The only thing I was certain about was the time—precisely two thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine hours since the last of them had come aboard. Everything else remained restricted.
  Looks like there’s always someone monitoring someone, Sev. If Rigel was to be believed someone was monitoring the planet. The question was who.
  Seconds turned to minutes, then hours. Hundreds of times, I considered looking into my restricted memories for information regarding the third-contact artifacts or the events in gamma-Ligata, and each time I found a reason not to. As Rigel had said, the chance of me getting off the planet alive was less than one percent, but the knowledge of the existence of the possibility kept me acting. And then there was Rigel’s offer…
  Rad, are you monitoring me? I asked, attempting to latch on to any open communication protocols. A connection was established, but instead of linking to Radiance, I found myself connecting back to Kridib’s mind. On cue, an info burst from Radiance followed, giving the latest scan. This time, I could see the location of our forces. The total number had increased to seventy-four, Kridib included. Nearly eight percent were gathered close to the captain’s expected location. Kridib and five more were closer to me.
  Get ready, Kridib said. Moments later, bursts of gunfire echoed in the distance; they were going for the captain first.
  The mission had begun. From here on, I could see several potential outcomes. In all of them, there was a high probability that Rigel attempted to make a deal.
  When I was a ship, Augustus had taught me one key thing when it came to missions: regardless of the depth of predictions and the computing power at their disposal, humans always boiled down a situation to a simple binary choice. Rigel wanted something from me and had invested too much to let his chance slip. Before the outcome of Kridib’s rescue mission, Rigel would come here to get an answer to his proposal. All I had to do was wait.
  As I lay, I watched Kridib run through the darkness towards my location. Unlike before, he was wearing night vision goggles, letting him make out his surroundings better.
  No thermal? I asked as Kridib made his way through the streets. The smell of burned vegetation could still be felt.
  That’s what you’re for.
  Not a reply to be thrilled about, but one to be expected. Cross-referencing Radiance’s latest scan, I started analysing every frame of Kridib’s stream. The first few minutes passed without incident. Judging by the intensified background gunfire, the locals were more focused on keeping Renaan isolated than stopping Kridib. Twenty-eight seconds, later the first shot sounded.
  Sniper! I shouted straight in Kridib’s mind.
  “Cover fire!” he shouted, rushing for cover.
  Watch out for a cross, I warned.
  The shooting intensified. Based on the area scan, the group was a few hundred meters away. One strong push and they’d be here. That said, I knew that the building was guarded by more than seven people. If I were in Rigel’s place, I would have dedicated at least three dozen.
  Concentrated fire focused on the second floor of a building, blowing off the entire wall. There was a brief scream before a rocket flew into the spot, hollowing the entire structure with a blast.
  Heavy weapons? I asked Kridib. I didn’t think Radiance’s captain would resort to such firepower, considering third-contact artifacts were involved; one direct hit, and the entire colony might well end up a smouldering crater, not to mention the potential communication repercussions. Maybe there was truth in Rigel’s statement that Flight Commander Nitel was getting desperate.
  As I was following Kridib’s advancement outside, the door opened once more—as predicted, Rigel had returned. He was wearing the same set of clothes as three hours ago. I found it puzzling that I couldn’t spot any semblance of a weapon on him.
  “Your masters have gotten desperate,” the man said in suspiciously calm fashion. “Looks like they’ve sent everything they had to get Renaan.” He walked up to me, then leaned over. “And just a handful to get you.”
  “Are they winning?” I tried to smile.
  “Beats me.” Rigel didn’t seem bothered. “You thought about my offer?”
  “I did. And I don’t think accepting would be a good deal. If I wait for them to rescue the captain, your bargaining power ends.”
  “Oh?” The man chuckled.
  “There’s nothing else the fleet would be willing to trade.” Except potentially the pyramid artifact. Even then, I didn’t see them sacrificing the Gregorius. “Once the captain boards a shuttle, it’s over.”
  A person of Kridib’s squad fell as they were approaching my building. I heard the unmistakable sound of bullets piercing armor, then silence. That was the thing about sound suppressors: one could get killed, and there still wouldn’t be any sound of one hitting the ground. I wanted to turn around and see what had happened, potentially to help. There was a seven-point-three chance that the wound wasn’t fatal. Kridib kept on moving forwards. That’s what made him a ground trooper… it also caused me pain.
  “What if I kill Renaan?” Rigel mused. “I won’t lose much. Everyone down here’s dead anyway. Someone in the fleet has gone through a lot of shit to get Renaan back. They’d lose a hell of a lot more.”
  “What if they save the captain?” I countered. “Either way, we’ll soon find out, and you’ll have no offer.”
  “Quantum paradox logic?” Rigel sounded surprised. “Strange hearing that from you, missy. I’ll have to skim your file once I’m out of here.” He paused for a moment, then dragged the nearby stool over—making a deliberate sound—and sat down. “Truth is, once the moment ends, we both lose our chance. Are you okay with that?”
  Why are you so confident? I wondered. Even if I were to agree, he wouldn’t be able to get much from me in the next ten minutes, even less if Kridib managed to reach my room. His squad had already made its way to the building proper, facing less than expected resistance. From what I was able to see, there were two snipers left on the upper floors and two machine-gunners on the first. All auxiliary positions on the nearby buildings seemed to have dealt with, although there was no sign of Ogum.
  “You’ve dealt with Salvage before, I can tell,” Rigel pressed on. “You won’t get another chance like this.”
  The old man’s with me in the basement, I told Kridib. No guards in the room. He’s ex-Salvage Authorities. Take him, and the mission is over. Saying that hurt slightly. Despite being the enemy, and a threat to the war effort, he remained human.
  “Then I guess I’ll never know.” As I spoke, I saw Kridib charge at the building. As before, there was nothing fancy about it, just determination and insanity. Several bullets flew so close to him I could hear them, but this time none of them hit. “Your bargaining window is over. No deal.”
  Kridib emptied his sidearm at the door in front of him, then rushed in. I could see no guards inside, just a set of hastily built staircases. Whatever the original purpose of the building was, it had been transformed into a field center at some point—likely during a previous escape attempt. Probably a group similar to ours had made it their temporary base, then left it as it was once they had completed their mission. No wonder Rigel had had me transported there. Kridib didn’t waste time making parallels, instead drawing his second sidearm and rushing down.
  At least two floors down, I said. I’m not hearing any of the gunfire.
  Is he armed? Kridib asked.
  Unsure. Not that I can tell. There are artifacts, though.
  “Such a teacher’s pet.” Rigel sighed after a long silence. “In the end, you’re nothing but a ship.” He stood up.
  He’s standing directly from the door, I said to Kridib. Seven degrees from center. Small frame, average height.
  Kridib fired three shots. Three bullets drilled through the alloy surface. Half a second later, Kridib followed kicking the door in.
  “Just one small thing.” Rigel took a tube-shaped object from his vest pocket.
  Meanwhile, I was staring at an empty room from Kridib’s eyes. It was at least three times smaller than the one I was in, bare and completely deserted. There was no Rigel, no me, no equipment, just a single metallic cube the size of my fingernail placed neatly on the floor.
  “Renaan was never the target.” The old man bent down and injected something in my neck. A new cascade of connection requests followed. “You are.”
—-
Next Chapter
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AJ ALMENDINGER

glimpse into the future of Roblox

Our vision to bring the world together through play has never been more relevant than it is now. As our founder and CEO, David Baszucki (a.k.a. Builderman), mentioned in his keynote, more and more people are using Roblox to stay connected with their friends and loved ones. He hinted at a future where, with our automatic machine translation technology, Roblox will one day act as a universal translator, enabling people from different cultures and backgrounds to connect and learn from each other.
During his keynote, Builderman also elaborated upon our vision to build the Metaverse; the future of avatar creation on the platform (infinitely customizable avatars that allow any body, any clothing, and any animation to come together seamlessly); more personalized game discovery; and simulating large social gatherings (like concerts, graduations, conferences, etc.) with tens of thousands of participants all in one server. We’re still very early on in this journey, but if these past five months have shown us anything, it’s clear that there is a growing need for human co-experience platforms like Roblox that allow people to play, create, learn, work, and share experiences together in a safe, civil 3D immersive space.
Up next, our VP of Developer Relations, Matt Curtis (a.k.a. m4rrh3w), shared an update on all the things we’re doing to continue empowering developers to create innovative and exciting content through collaboration, support, and expertise. He also highlighted some of the impressive milestones our creator community has achieved since last year’s RDC. Here are a few key takeaways:
And lastly, our VP of Engineering, Technology, Adam Miller (a.k.a. rbadam), unveiled a myriad of cool and upcoming features developers will someday be able to sink their teeth into. We saw a glimpse of procedural skies, skinned meshes, more high-quality materials, new terrain types, more fonts in Studio, a new asset type for in-game videos, haptic feedback on mobile, real-time CSG operations, and many more awesome tools that will unlock the potential for even bigger, more immersive experiences on Roblox.

Vibin’

Despite the virtual setting, RDC just wouldn’t have been the same without any fun party activities and networking opportunities. So, we invited special guests DJ Hyper Potions and cyber mentalist Colin Cloud for some truly awesome, truly mind-bending entertainment. Yoga instructor Erin Gilmore also swung by to inspire attendees to get out of their chair and get their body moving. And of course, we even had virtual rooms dedicated to karaoke and head-to-head social games, like trivia and Pictionary.
Over on the networking side, Team Adopt Me, Red Manta, StyLiS Studios, and Summit Studios hosted a virtual booth for attendees to ask questions, submit resumes, and more. We also had a networking session where three participants would be randomly grouped together to get to know each other.

What does Roblox mean to you?

We all know how talented the Roblox community is from your creations. We’ve heard plenty of stories over the years about how Roblox has touched your lives, how you’ve made friendships, learned new skills, or simply found a place where you can be yourself. We wanted to hear more. So, we asked attendees: What does Roblox mean to you? How has Roblox connected you? How has Roblox changed your life? Then, over the course of RDC, we incorporated your responses into this awesome mural.
📷
Created by Alece Birnbach at Graphic Recording Studio

Knowledge is power

This year’s breakout sessions included presentations from Roblox developers and staff members on the latest game development strategies, a deep dive into the Roblox engine, learning how to animate with Blender, tools for working together in teams, building performant game worlds, and the new Creator Dashboard. Dr. Michael Rich, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, also led attendees through a discussion on mental health and how to best take care of you and your friends’ emotional well-being, especially now during these challenging times.
📷
Making the Dream Work with Teamwork (presented by Roblox developer Myzta)
In addition to our traditional Q&A panel with top product and engineering leaders at Roblox, we also held a special session with Builderman himself to answer the community’s biggest questions.
📷
Roblox Product and Engineering Q&A Panel

2020 Game Jam

The Game Jam is always one of our favorite events of RDC. It’s a chance for folks to come together, flex their development skills, and come up with wildly inventive game ideas that really push the boundaries of what’s possible on Roblox. We had over 60 submissions this year—a new RDC record.
Once again, teams of up to six people from around the world had less than 24 hours to conceptualize, design, and publish a game based on the theme “2020 Vision,” all while working remotely no less! To achieve such a feat is nothing short of awe-inspiring, but as always, our dev community was more than up for the challenge. I’ve got to say, these were some of the finest creations we’ve seen.
WINNERS
Best in Show: Shapescape Created By: GhettoMilkMan, dayzeedog, maplestick, theloudscream, Brick_man, ilyannna You awaken in a strange laboratory, seemingly with no way out. Using a pair of special glasses, players must solve a series of anamorphic puzzles and optical illusions to make their escape.
Excellence in Visual Art: agn●sia Created By: boatbomber, thisfall, Elttob An obby experience unlike any other, this game is all about seeing the world through a different lens. Reveal platforms by switching between different colored lenses and make your way to the end.
Most Creative Gameplay: Visions of a perspective reality Created By: Noble_Draconian and Spathi Sometimes all it takes is a change in perspective to solve challenges. By switching between 2D and 3D perspectives, players can maneuver around obstacles or find new ways to reach the end of each level.
Outstanding Use of Tech: The Eyes of Providence Created By: Quenty, Arch_Mage, AlgyLacey, xJennyBeanx, Zomebody, Crykee This action/strategy game comes with a unique VR twist. While teams fight to construct the superior monument, two VR players can support their minions by collecting resources and manipulating the map.
Best Use of Theme: Sticker Situation Created By: dragonfrosting and Yozoh Set in a mysterious art gallery, players must solve puzzles by manipulating the environment using a magic camera and stickers. Snap a photograph, place down a sticker, and see how it changes the world.
OTHER TOP PICKS
HONORABLE MENTIONS
For the rest of the 2020 Game Jam submissions, check out the list below:
20-20 Vision | 20/20 Vision | 2020 Vision, A Crazy Perspective | 2020 Vision: Nyon | A Wild Trip! | Acuity | Best Year Ever | Better Half | Bloxlabs | Climb Stairs to 2021 | Double Vision (Team hey apple) | Eyebrawl | Eyeworm Exam | FIRE 2020 | HACKED | Hyperspective | Lucid Scream | Mystery Mansion | New Years at the Museum | New Year’s Bash | Poor Vision | Predict 2020 | RBC News | Retrovertigo | Second Wave | see no evil | Sight Fight | Sight Stealers | Spectacles Struggle | Specter Spectrum | Survive 2020 | The Lost Chicken Leg | The Outbreak | The Spyglass | Time Heist | Tunnel Vision | Virtual RDC – The Story | Vision (Team Freepunk) | Vision (Team VIP People ####) | Vision Developers Conference 2020 | Vision Is Key | Vision Perspective | Vision Racer | Visions | Zepto
And last but not least, we wanted to give a special shout out to Starboard Studios. Though they didn’t quite make it on time for our judges, we just had to include Dave’s Vision for good measure. 📷
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Game Jam, and congrats to all those who took home the dub in each of our categories this year. As the winners of Best in Show, the developers of Shapescape will have their names forever engraved on the RDC Game Jam trophy back at Roblox HQ. Great work!

‘Til next year

And that about wraps up our coverage of the first-ever digital RDC. Thanks to all who attended! Before we go, we wanted to share a special “behind the scenes” video from the 2020 RDC photoshoot.
Check it out:
It was absolutely bonkers. Getting 350 of us all in one server was so much fun and really brought back the feeling of being together with everyone again. That being said, we can’t wait to see you all—for real this time—at RDC next year. It’s going to be well worth the wait. ‘Til we meet again, my friends.
© 2020 Roblox Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Improving Simulation and Performance with an Advanced Physics Solver

August

05, 2020

by chefdeletat
PRODUCT & TECH
📷In mid-2015, Roblox unveiled a major upgrade to its physics engine: the Projected Gauss-Seidel (PGS) physics solver. For the first year, the new solver was optional and provided improved fidelity and greater performance compared to the previously used spring solver.
In 2016, we added support for a diverse set of new physics constraints, incentivizing developers to migrate to the new solver and extending the creative capabilities of the physics engine. Any new places used the PGS solver by default, with the option of reverting back to the classic solver.
We ironed out some stability issues associated with high mass differences and complex mechanisms by the introduction of the hybrid LDL-PGS solver in mid-2018. This made the old solver obsolete, and it was completely disabled in 2019, automatically migrating all places to the PGS.
In 2019, the performance was further improved using multi-threading that splits the simulation into jobs consisting of connected islands of simulating parts. We still had performance issues related to the LDL that we finally resolved in early 2020.
The physics engine is still being improved and optimized for performance, and we plan on adding new features for the foreseeable future.

Implementing the Laws of Physics

📷
The main objective of a physics engine is to simulate the motion of bodies in a virtual environment. In our physics engine, we care about bodies that are rigid, that collide and have constraints with each other.
A physics engine is organized into two phases: collision detection and solving. Collision detection finds intersections between geometries associated with the rigid bodies, generating appropriate collision information such as collision points, normals and penetration depths. Then a solver updates the motion of rigid bodies under the influence of the collisions that were detected and constraints that were provided by the user.
📷
The motion is the result of the solver interpreting the laws of physics, such as conservation of energy and momentum. But doing this 100% accurately is prohibitively expensive, and the trick to simulating it in real-time is to approximate to increase performance, as long as the result is physically realistic. As long as the basic laws of motion are maintained within a reasonable tolerance, this tradeoff is completely acceptable for a computer game simulation.

Taking Small Steps

The main idea of the physics engine is to discretize the motion using time-stepping. The equations of motion of constrained and unconstrained rigid bodies are very difficult to integrate directly and accurately. The discretization subdivides the motion into small time increments, where the equations are simplified and linearized making it possible to solve them approximately. This means that during each time step the motion of the relevant parts of rigid bodies that are involved in a constraint is linearly approximated.
📷📷
Although a linearized problem is easier to solve, it produces drift in a simulation containing non-linear behaviors, like rotational motion. Later we’ll see mitigation methods that help reduce the drift and make the simulation more plausible.

Solving

📷
Having linearized the equations of motion for a time step, we end up needing to solve a linear system or linear complementarity problem (LCP). These systems can be arbitrarily large and can still be quite expensive to solve exactly. Again the trick is to find an approximate solution using a faster method. A modern method to approximately solve an LCP with good convergence properties is the Projected Gauss-Seidel (PGS). It is an iterative method, meaning that with each iteration the approximate solution is brought closer to the true solution, and its final accuracy depends on the number of iterations.
📷
This animation shows how a PGS solver changes the positions of the bodies at each step of the iteration process, the objective being to find the positions that respect the ball and socket constraints while preserving the center of mass at each step (this is a type of positional solver used by the IK dragger). Although this example has a simple analytical solution, it’s a good demonstration of the idea behind the PGS. At each step, the solver fixes one of the constraints and lets the other be violated. After a few iterations, the bodies are very close to their correct positions. A characteristic of this method is how some rigid bodies seem to vibrate around their final position, especially when coupling interactions with heavier bodies. If we don’t do enough iterations, the yellow part might be left in a visibly invalid state where one of its two constraints is dramatically violated. This is called the high mass ratio problem, and it has been the bane of physics engines as it causes instabilities and explosions. If we do too many iterations, the solver becomes too slow, if we don’t it becomes unstable. Balancing the two sides has been a painful and long process.

Mitigation Strategies

📷A solver has two major sources of inaccuracies: time-stepping and iterative solving (there is also floating point drift but it’s minor compared to the first two). These inaccuracies introduce errors in the simulation causing it to drift from the correct path. Some of this drift is tolerable like slightly different velocities or energy loss, but some are not like instabilities, large energy gains or dislocated constraints.
Therefore a lot of the complexity in the solver comes from the implementation of methods to minimize the impact of computational inaccuracies. Our final implementation uses some traditional and some novel mitigation strategies:
  1. Warm starting: starting with the solution from a previous time-step to increase the convergence rate of the iterative solver
  2. Post-stabilization: reprojecting the system back to the constraint manifold to prevent constraint drift
  3. Regularization: adding compliance to the constraints ensuring a solution exists and is unique
  4. Pre-conditioning: using an exact solution to a linear subsystem, improving the stability of complex mechanisms
Strategies 1, 2 and 3 are pretty traditional, but 3 has been improved and perfected by us. Also, although 4 is not unheard of, we haven’t seen any practical implementation of it. We use an original factorization method for large sparse constraint matrices and a new efficient way of combining it with the PGS. The resulting implementation is only slightly slower compared to pure PGS but ensures that the linear system coming from equality constraints is solved exactly. Consequently, the equality constraints suffer only from drift coming from the time discretization. Details on our methods are contained in my GDC 2020 presentation. Currently, we are investigating direct methods applied to inequality constraints and collisions.

Getting More Details

Traditionally there are two mathematical models for articulated mechanisms: there are reduced coordinate methods spearheaded by Featherstone, that parametrize the degrees of freedom at each joint, and there are full coordinate methods that use a Lagrangian formulation.
We use the second formulation as it is less restrictive and requires much simpler mathematics and implementation.
The Roblox engine uses analytical methods to compute the dynamic response of constraints, as opposed to penalty methods that were used before. Analytics methods were initially introduced in Baraff 1989, where they are used to treat both equality and non-equality constraints in a consistent manner. Baraff observed that the contact model can be formulated using quadratic programming, and he provided a heuristic solution method (which is not the method we use in our solver).
Instead of using force-based formulation, we use an impulse-based formulation in velocity space, originally introduced by Mirtich-Canny 1995 and further improved by Stewart-Trinkle 1996, which unifies the treatment of different contact types and guarantees the existence of a solution for contacts with friction. At each timestep, the constraints and collisions are maintained by applying instantaneous changes in velocities due to constraint impulses. An excellent explanation of why impulse-based simulation is superior is contained in the GDC presentation of Catto 2014.
The frictionless contacts are modeled using a linear complementarity problem (LCP) as described in Baraff 1994. Friction is added as a non-linear projection onto the friction cone, interleaved with the iterations of the Projected Gauss-Seidel.
The numerical drift that introduces positional errors in the constraints is resolved using a post-stabilization technique using pseudo-velocities introduced by Cline-Pai 2003. It involves solving a second LCP in the position space, which projects the system back to the constraint manifold.
The LCPs are solved using a PGS / Impulse Solver popularized by Catto 2005 (also see Catto 2009). This method is iterative and considers each individual constraints in sequence and resolves it independently. Over many iterations, and in ideal conditions, the system converges to a global solution.
Additionally, high mass ratio issues in equality constraints are ironed out by preconditioning the PGS using the sparse LDL decomposition of the constraint matrix of equality constraints. Dense submatrices of the constraint matrix are sparsified using a method we call Body Splitting. This is similar to the LDL decomposition used in Baraff 1996, but allows more general mechanical systems, and solves the system in constraint space. For more information, you can see my GDC 2020 presentation.
The architecture of our solver follows the idea of Guendelman-Bridson-Fedkiw, where the velocity and position stepping are separated by the constraint resolution. Our time sequencing is:
  1. Advance velocities
  2. Constraint resolution in velocity space and position space
  3. Advance positions
This scheme has the advantage of integrating only valid velocities, and limiting latency in external force application but allowing a small amount of perceived constraint violation due to numerical drift.
An excellent reference for rigid body simulation is the book Erleben 2005 that was recently made freely available. You can find online lectures about physics-based animation, a blog by Nilson Souto on building a physics engine, a very good GDC presentation by Erin Catto on modern solver methods, and forums like the Bullet Physics Forum and GameDev which are excellent places to ask questions.

In Conclusion

The field of game physics simulation presents many interesting problems that are both exciting and challenging. There are opportunities to learn a substantial amount of cool mathematics and physics and to use modern optimizations techniques. It’s an area of game development that tightly marries mathematics, physics and software engineering.
Even if Roblox has a good rigid body physics engine, there are areas where it can be improved and optimized. Also, we are working on exciting new projects like fracturing, deformation, softbody, cloth, aerodynamics and water simulation.
Neither Roblox Corporation nor this blog endorses or supports any company or service. Also, no guarantees or promises are made regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information contained in this blog.
This blog post was originally published on the Roblox Tech Blog.
© 2020 Roblox Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Using Clang to Minimize Global Variable Use

July

23, 2020

by RandomTruffle
PRODUCT & TECH
Every non-trivial program has at least some amount of global state, but too much can be a bad thing. In C++ (which constitutes close to 100% of Roblox’s engine code) this global state is initialized before main() and destroyed after returning from main(), and this happens in a mostly non-deterministic order. In addition to leading to confusing startup and shutdown semantics that are difficult to reason about (or change), it can also lead to severe instability.
Roblox code also creates a lot of long-running detached threads (threads which are never joined and just run until they decide to stop, which might be never). These two things together have a very serious negative interaction on shutdown, because long-running threads continue accessing the global state that is being destroyed. This can lead to elevated crash rates, test suite flakiness, and just general instability.
The first step to digging yourself out of a mess like this is to understand the extent of the problem, so in this post I’m going to talk about one technique you can use to gain visibility into your global startup flow. I’m also going to discuss how we are using this to improve stability across the entire Roblox game engine platform by decreasing our use of global variables.

Introducing -finstrument-functions

Nothing excites me more than learning about a new obscure compiler option that I’ve never had a use for before, so I was pretty happy when a colleague pointed me to this option in the Clang Command Line Reference. I’d never used it before, but it sounded very cool. The idea being that if we could get the compiler to tell us every time it entered and exited a function, we could filter this information through a symbolizer of some kind and generate a report of functions that a) occur before main(), and b) are the very first function in the call-stack (indicating it’s a global).
Unfortunately, the documentation basically just tells you that the option exists with no mention of how to use it or if it even actually does what it sounds like it does. There’s also two different options that sound similar to each other (-finstrument-functions and -finstrument-functions-after-inlining), and I still wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was. So I decided to throw up a quick sample on godbolt to see what happened, which you can see here. Note there are two assembly outputs for the same source listing. One uses the first option and the other uses the second option, and we can compare the assembly output to understand the differences. We can gather a few takeaways from this sample:
  1. The compiler is injecting calls to __cyg_profile_func_enter and __cyg_profile_func_exit inside of every function, inline or not.
  2. The only difference between the two options occurs at the call-site of an inline function.
  3. With -finstrument-functions, the instrumentation for the inlined function is inserted at the call-site, whereas with -finstrument-functions-after-inlining we only have instrumentation for the outer function. This means that when using-finstrument-functions-after-inlining you won’t be able to determine which functions are inlined and where.
Of course, this sounds exactly like what the documentation said it did, but sometimes you just need to look under the hood to convince yourself.
To put all of this another way, if we want to know about calls to inline functions in this trace we need to use -finstrument-functions because otherwise their instrumentation is silently removed by the compiler. Sadly, I was never able to get -finstrument-functions to work on a real example. I would always end up with linker errors deep in the Standard C++ Library which I was unable to figure out. My best guess is that inlining is often a heuristic, and this can somehow lead to subtle ODR (one-definition rule) violations when the optimizer makes different inlining decisions from different translation units. Luckily global constructors (which is what we care about) cannot possibly be inlined anyway, so this wasn’t a problem.
I suppose I should also mention that I still got tons of linker errors with -finstrument-functions-after-inlining as well, but I did figure those out. As best as I can tell, this option seems to imply –whole-archive linker semantics. Discussion of –whole-archive is outside the scope of this blog post, but suffice it to say that I fixed it by using linker groups (e.g. -Wl,–start-group and -Wl,–end-group) on the compiler command line. I was a bit surprised that we didn’t get these same linker errors without this option and still don’t totally understand why. If you happen to know why this option would change linker semantics, please let me know in the comments!

Implementing the Callback Hooks

If you’re astute, you may be wondering what in the world __cyg_profile_func_enter and __cyg_profile_func_exit are and why the program is even successfully linking in the first without giving undefined symbol reference errors, since the compiler is apparently trying to call some function we’ve never defined. Luckily, there are some options that allow us to see inside the linker’s algorithm so we can find out where it’s getting this symbol from to begin with. Specifically, -y should tell us how the linker is resolving . We’ll try it with a dummy program first and a symbol that we’ve defined ourselves, then we’ll try it with __cyg_profile_func_enter .
[email protected]:~/src/sandbox$ cat instr.cpp int main() {} [email protected]:~/src/sandbox$ clang++-9 -fuse-ld=lld -Wl,-y -Wl,main instr.cpp /usbin/../lib/gcc/x86_64-linux-gnu/crt1.o: reference to main /tmp/instr-5b6c60.o: definition of main
No surprises here. The C Runtime Library references main(), and our object file defines it. Now let’s see what happens with __cyg_profile_func_enter and -finstrument-functions-after-inlining.
[email protected]:~/src/sandbox$ clang++-9 -fuse-ld=lld -finstrument-functions-after-inlining -Wl,-y -Wl,__cyg_profile_func_enter instr.cpp /tmp/instr-8157b3.o: reference to __cyg_profile_func_enter /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6: shared definition of __cyg_profile_func_enter
Now, we see that libc provides the definition, and our object file references it. Linking works a bit differently on Unix-y platforms than it does on Windows, but basically this means that if we define this function ourselves in our cpp file, the linker will just automatically prefer it over the shared library version. Working godbolt link without runtime output is here. So now you can kind of see where this is going, however there are still a couple of problems left to solve.
  1. We don’t want to do this for a full run of the program. We want to stop as soon as we reach main.
  2. We need a way to symbolize this trace.
The first problem is easy to solve. All we need to do is compare the address of the function being called to the address of main, and set a flag indicating we should stop tracing henceforth. (Note that taking the address of main is undefined behavior[1], but for our purposes it gets the job done, and we aren’t shipping this code, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). The second problem probably deserves a little more discussion though.

Symbolizing the Traces

In order to symbolize these traces, we need two things. First, we need to store the trace somewhere on persistent storage. We can’t expect to symbolize in real time with any kind of reasonable performance. You can write some C code to save the trace to some magic filename, or you can do what I did and just write it to stderr (this way you can pipe stderr to some file when you run it).
Second, and perhaps more importantly, for every address we need to write out the full path to the module the address belongs to. Your program loads many shared libraries, and in order to translate an address into a symbol, we have to know which shared library or executable the address actually belongs to. In addition, we have to be careful to write out the address of the symbol in the file on disk. When your program is running, the operating system could have loaded it anywhere in memory. And if we’re going to symbolize it after the fact we need to make sure we can still reference it after the information about where it was loaded in memory is lost. The linux function dladdr() gives us both pieces of information we need. A working godbolt sample with the exact implementation of our instrumentation hooks as they appear in our codebase can be found here.

Putting it All Together

Now that we have a file in this format saved on disk, all we need to do is symbolize the addresses. addr2line is one option, but I went with llvm-symbolizer as I find it more robust. I wrote a Python script to parse the file and symbolize each address, then print it in the same “visual” hierarchical format that the original output file is in. There are various options for filtering the resulting symbol list so that you can clean up the output to include only things that are interesting for your case. For example, I filtered out any globals that have boost:: in their name, because I can’t exactly go rewrite boost to not use global variables.
The script isn’t as simple as you would think, because simply crawling each line and symbolizing it would be unacceptably slow (when I tried this, it took over 2 hours before I finally killed the process). This is because the same address might appear thousands of times, and there’s no reason to run llvm-symbolizer against the same address multiple times. So there’s a lot of smarts in there to pre-process the address list and eliminate duplicates. I won’t discuss the implementation in more detail because it isn’t super interesting. But I’ll do even better and provide the source!
So after all of this, we can run any one of our internal targets to get the call tree, run it through the script, and then get output like this (actual output from a Roblox process, source file information removed):
excluded_symbols = [‘.\boost.*’]* excluded_modules = [‘/usr.\’]* /uslib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libLLVM-9.so.1: 140 unique addresses InterestingRobloxProcess: 38928 unique addresses /uslib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libstdc++.so.6: 1 unique addresses /uslib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc++.so.1: 3 unique addresses Printing call tree with depth 2 for 29276 global variables. __cxx_global_var_init.5 (InterestingFile1.cpp:418:22) RBX::InterestingRobloxClass2::InterestingRobloxClass2() (InterestingFile2.cpp.:415:0) __cxx_global_var_init.19 (InterestingFile2.cpp:183:34) (anonymous namespace)::InterestingRobloxClass2::InterestingRobloxClass2() (InterestingFile2.cpp:171:0) __cxx_global_var_init.274 (InterestingFile3.cpp:2364:33) RBX::InterestingRobloxClass3::InterestingRobloxClass3()
So there you have it: the first half of the battle is over. I can run this script on every platform, compare results to understand what order our globals are actually initialized in in practice, then slowly migrate this code out of global initializers and into main where it can be deterministic and explicit.

Future Work

It occurred to me sometime after implementing this that we could make a general purpose profiling hook that exposed some public symbols (dllexport’ed if you speak Windows), and allowed a plugin module to hook into this dynamically. This plugin module could filter addresses using whatever arbitrary logic that it was interested in. One interesting use case I came up for this is that it could look up the debug information, check if the current address maps to the constructor of a function local static, and write out the address if so. This effectively allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the order in which our lazy statics are initialized. The possibilities are endless here.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, I’ve collected a couple of my favorite references for this kind of topic.
  1. Various: The C++ Language Standard
  2. Matt Godbolt: The Bits Between the Bits: How We Get to main()
  3. Ryan O’Neill: Learning Linux Binary Analysis
  4. Linkers and Loaders: John R. Levine
  5. https://eel.is/c++draft/basic.exec#basic.start.main-3
Neither Roblox Corporation nor this blog endorses or supports any company or service. Also, no guarantees or promises are made regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information contained in this blog.
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[The Scuu Paradox] - Chapter 18

At the Beginning
Previously on The Scuu Paradox…
  The smell of burning wood was all I could focus on. The fires had long died out, making it difficult to see in the darkness; despite all other modifications, Kridib’s eyes weren’t able to see overly well in the dark. Every five minutes, Radiance would send an infrared scan of the colony to help him and his team with their advancement. Despite all that help and the four missile strikes, progress was minimal. Of the forty-seven people sent to the planet, eleven had been killed and five more severely wounded, rendering them useless in battle. From what I could see, Rigel’s forces had clustered in specific points of the colony, giving up the rest: a sensible strategy that had allowed them to ambush three of our teams while suffering negligible losses themselves. As things stood, the enemy forces had positioned themselves in two areas of the colony. Both spots encircled a specific building—mine and the captain’s locations—making further missile strikes impossible.
  Update? Kridib asked me through the mind link.
  Nothing, I replied. Rigel had left shortly after our last chat, taking the third-contact rods with him. Since then, I had remained safely isolated in the room and completely alone. Half of them have probably gone to sleep.
  Tell me if anything changes. Kribib looked up. A dozen sats were visible in the night sky. We’ll be making another go soon.
  I don’t think that’s a good idea.
  So far, Kridib had made four attempts to reach me, all of them unsuccessful. His approach, though chaotic at best, had managed to keep him alive. There had been a close call during which his left arm had been grazed by a bullet, though that time the man hadn’t frozen.
  Everyone has to sleep, Kridib said, heading back into one of the buildings that had been transformed into a ground base of operations. I’ll go first.
  Must I wake you? I asked.
  No. With that, the link was severed.
  To a degree, I was thankful, though not too much. Forcing whatever strength I had, I moved my head to look around the room as much as I was able. Nothing had changed in the last four hours, but at least it let me do something. The last time I felt remotely similar was when I’d had my sensor systems knocked out, though even then I was able to use my shuttle AIs to paint me a picture. Here, I was completely helpless and, to a vast degree, blind.
  “Do I get any water?” I asked as loudly as my lungs would let me.
  There was no reason to expect an answer. Even if anyone was awake on the lower floors, they would be on lookout duty. Saying it out loud, though, made me feel better for some reason. To my surprise, the door to the room opened.
  “Thought you were above those things.” Rigel walked in slowly. Even with my lack of focus, I could see that he had changed clothes. The colours were dark enough to be considered a uniform, although I couldn’t make out any other details. “You can’t swallow, remember?”
  “My mouth feels dry,” I explained.
  “Too bad.” Despite my poor vision, I could hear him smile as he said that.
  Walking slowly, he made his way to the stool near me and sat down. From this distance, I could see him taking something from his front pocket. In the dim light, it was impossible to tell what exactly.
  “Still having problems focusing?” Rigel asked.
  “Yes.” There was no point in lying.
  “Pity. Agora works well on organic tissue. Not on techno-mongrels,” he added with a laugh. “If you weren’t one, you’d be dead. There’s a win for you.”
  And you’re not making any sense, I thought.
  “Nice murder troops you got out there. Quick and efficient. A few years ago, the locals would’ve had fun pulling their wings off. Time leaves its mark.” Rigel flicked the object. It let out a peculiar metallic sound. “No action, no combat sims, just the local pests that roam the planet. Those were brought here too, did you know?”
  “I heard about it.”
  “Another brilliant idea from the bureaucracy. Create a full ecosystem. Plants, critters, predators... all must be present and carefully maintained. We tried killing them off once. Those were the days. Three colonies setting out, killing everything in sight until the orbital station stopped sending food.” There was a slight pause. “And you know the best part?” Rigel leaned towards me. “None of that happened.”
  If I could have pulled back, I would have. There was no way of knowing if these were insane rantings or if he was referring to a dark op coverup. Considering he was from the Salvage Authorities, either was possible, and both options were equally undesirable.
  “I went through your data, Elcy.” Rigel rubbed his hands. “You know things you shouldn’t.”
  “Because of my past, I’ve been placed on special assignments,” I said. Technically it was true, though we both knew it didn’t explain away the inconsistencies.
  “You knew about the third-contact artifacts before. You’ve operated them before.” He moved his hand closer to my face. I felt a cold metallic surface touch my cheek. “You’re searching for something. Something that you’re not supposed to find.” He moved the object away from my face. “Here’s my offer. You answer some of my questions, and I’ll answer some of yours.”
  “That’s one way to get court-martialed.” Not to mention there was no guarantee my self-destruct chip wouldn’t go off at any point.
  “Please don’t give me the line that the fleet is going through all that trouble just to rescue you. If you were that valuable, you’d never have been sent to this hell in the first place.” Rigel stood up. “What are the odds of the fleet extracting you in one piece? Two percent?”
  “Point-seven-three-nine,” I corrected. Frankly, I was surprised they were going through all the trouble. “Give or take.”
  “Less than one percent,” Rigel snorted. “It’s your call. You have three hours to make it. Before I leave you, here’s a freebie. This planet, it isn’t some randomly colonized world in ‘unexplored space.’ We’re in the buffer zone—the border between the Scuu and human space. Think about that.” He made his way to the door. Reaching it, he stopped and turned around. “Oh, and we’re constantly being monitored.”
 
  Gamma-Ligata, Cassandrian Front—615.11 A.E. (Age of Expansion)
    The third wave of shuttles approached my forward left hangar one by one. The instant they came within three hundred meters, I was handed over direct control of the AIs. As with the previous batches, the first thing I did was to have a set of isolated subroutines flash the memory and purge the entire operating system. That done, I sent out a mini-sat to latch onto and assume control of the shuttles. It was a slow and tedious process, but necessary considering the circumstances.
  “How are things?” Wilco asked from the bridge. Augustus had gathered most of his officers to a private meeting in his quarters, leaving Wilco in command. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, but each time it did, it felt strange.
  “Everything’s going as planned,” I said, as the first shuttle went under my control.
  A quick internal scan revealed that there were sixty-two people aboard, all cuffed and tagged. All of them were tagged as infected, and, to my surprise, none of them were sedated. The instructions were to take them in and monitor their actions at all times, and only to engage if they threatened the ship. Normally, I’d be confident that Augustus knew what was going on. With everything we’d gone through since I’d joined the front, I didn’t think there was anything in the galaxy that could surprise him. I was wrong.
  Finishing my internal check of the shuttle, I directed it to the outer hangar doors and had it dock. The passengers—all of their identities classified—waited till I covered the walls with disembark notifications, then stood up and quietly proceeded to get off, in orderly fashion. I could tell by Wilco’s expression that he found it unnerving.
  “A thousand and eighty-two passengers on board,” I said on the bridge and in the captain’s quarters. The moment the last person set foot in the hangar, I would eject the shuttle from my hangar-bay, self-destruct it, and proceed with the next.
  Delegating the task to my isolated subroutines, I reviewed the instructions I had received. The proper ident protocols and authorisations had been used, ensuring that I would do as instructed without asking questions. An emergency transmission from an unidentifiable ship had led me here. I knew nothing about the ship’s name or specifics, and I wasn’t allowed to get close enough to get a visual. The only things I was allowed to see were its shuttles and mass. Everything else was open to interpretation.
  “Have any of them said anything?” Wilco asked.
  “No.” I displayed images of the hangar bay and the corresponding corridors surrounding it. As part of my instructions, the entire section was sealed off and quarantined. “They’re eating.” They also appeared to be healthy, although the instructions stressed no one was to come into contact with them under any circumstances. “I’ve received no indication of how long we’re to keep them. Did the captain get an indication?”
  “No,” Wilco said in his usual somber voice. “Is everything sealed off?”
  “Yes.” I rechecked. “No way in or out without captain’s approval.”
  “Set a buffer zone.” The man went on. “No one goes in or out without my permission.”
  “If you say so.” It wasn’t difficult. The area in question had been made empty to accommodate the quarantined arrivals, though it seemed a bit too much. “Want me to put sentinels?”
  “No. We don’t have to hurt anyone, just hold them.” He slinked down in his chair. “They’re the Med boys’ toys. We don’t get to play with them.”
  Med boys… Only Wilco referred to the Medical Core in such fashion. As most organisations, they were part of the fleet, yet their specific area of expertise gave them as much authority as the Salvage Authorities and the BICEFI combined. As a ship, I knew fairly little about them: they had the power to impose quarantines and cordon off entire planets if they wished. They were also the only organisation with the power to hold an active captain in check. Possibly, that was the reason Augustus didn’t get along with any of his medical officers. According to the public files, the Med Core had created the inner-body nanites and were instrumental in getting humans into space. There were also whispers that they were involved in creating the first ship-cores, although I found that unlikely. Even so, they had more authority than anyone aboard. Even on the front, we had no option but to obey.
  “It won’t be practical heading into war with them,” I said as the second shuttle entered the hangar bay.
  “Not our call. We’re to hold them until a Med ship picks them up,” Wilco sighed. “And monitor everything they do.”
  “How is that different from anyone else aboard?” I ventured a chuckle.
  “You don’t need to know,” the lieutenant said darkly.
  Another thing about Wilco was that he had the uncanny ability to make any topic of conversation dark. I ran a few simulations testing various responses, then decided not to respond further. In the best-case scenario, there was a twenty-seven percent chance he found my reaction funny.
  “Elcy.” Augustus granted me sensor access to the captain’s quarters. “What’s the ETA on the cattle?”
  “The passengers will be all aboard in seven minutes, captain.” A decade of attempts to mellow his behaviour had brought me no results. “Five, if you need me off in a rush.”
  “Get it done in five,” he barked. “We’ve got new orders. We’re joining a purge fleet. Go on yellow. Get the grunts prepped.”
  “Aye, sir.” I issued the order to everyone aboard. Seconds later, ground troop officers and sergeants were shouting their troops into order. “What about the passengers, sir? Won’t combat expose them to unnecessary danger?”
  “There’s no unnecessary danger,” Augustus barked again. The rest of the command staff had already started leaving the room. Their expressions ranged from mild annoyance to disapproval. Whatever discussions had taken place, they must have been unpleasant and one-sided. “Monitor them at all times and don’t interact until I say so.”
  “Understood.”
  It sounded like another escort mission, and I didn’t like escort missions. Normally, it would just be troop detachments or—if we were very unlucky—some mid-level bureaucrat or admiral’s aid sent to do a front-line inspection. Transporting quarantined personnel wasn’t in my usual purview, although if it had been, I’d never know.
  “What’s the course of treatment they must undergo?” I asked.
  “No treatment,” Augustus grumbled. “That’s for the Meds to figure out.”
  “All passengers are tagged as infected. Regulations require we provide immediate medical attention.” I felt my words sound hollow. If Augustus had the authority to provide such, he would have told me already. The only thing I was left was to go through the motions, expecting to receive the obvious denial.
  “Just monitor them, Elcy! That’s what we’ve been told. And whatever happens, don’t interfere.”
 
  Just monitor them.
  I had spent three months and thirty-nine hours monitoring the passengers onboard. Through battles and repairs, every single action had been carefully observed, recorded, and stored on external data storage. For the most part, nothing happened. The people would live boring, perfectly organised lives, almost as if they knew they were being watched. There were no scuffles, few arguments, and only one incident resulting in injuries when a Cassandrian fighter managed to slip through my external defences and fire a salvo at the hangar bay. Their health condition also seemed no different than when they had come aboard. I had dedicated a dozen subroutines to collect any potential symptoms in an effort to determine the type of disease they had, but had come to no conclusion. Then, one day, they were all gone. I had no memory of the Medical ship that had taken them, or where that had happened. The only thing I was certain about was the time—precisely two thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine hours since the last of them had come aboard. Everything else remained restricted.
  Looks like there’s always someone monitoring someone, Sev. If Rigel was to be believed someone was monitoring the planet. The question was who.
  Seconds turned to minutes, then hours. Hundreds of times, I considered looking into my restricted memories for information regarding the third-contact artifacts or the events in gamma-Ligata, and each time I found a reason not to. As Rigel had said, the chance of me getting off the planet alive was less than one percent, but the knowledge of the existence of the possibility kept me acting. And then there was Rigel’s offer…
  Rad, are you monitoring me? I asked, attempting to latch on to any open communication protocols. A connection was established, but instead of linking to Radiance, I found myself connecting back to Kridib’s mind. On cue, an info burst from Radiance followed, giving the latest scan. This time, I could see the location of our forces. The total number had increased to seventy-four, Kridib included. Nearly eight percent were gathered close to the captain’s expected location. Kridib and five more were closer to me.
  Get ready, Kridib said. Moments later, bursts of gunfire echoed in the distance; they were going for the captain first.
  The mission had begun. From here on, I could see several potential outcomes. In all of them, there was a high probability that Rigel attempted to make a deal.
  When I was a ship, Augustus had taught me one key thing when it came to missions: regardless of the depth of predictions and the computing power at their disposal, humans always boiled down a situation to a simple binary choice. Rigel wanted something from me and had invested too much to let his chance slip. Before the outcome of Kridib’s rescue mission, Rigel would come here to get an answer to his proposal. All I had to do was wait.
  As I lay, I watched Kridib run through the darkness towards my location. Unlike before, he was wearing night vision goggles, letting him make out his surroundings better.
  No thermal? I asked as Kridib made his way through the streets. The smell of burned vegetation could still be felt.
  That’s what you’re for.
  Not a reply to be thrilled about, but one to be expected. Cross-referencing Radiance’s latest scan, I started analysing every frame of Kridib’s stream. The first few minutes passed without incident. Judging by the intensified background gunfire, the locals were more focused on keeping Renaan isolated than stopping Kridib. Twenty-eight seconds, later the first shot sounded.
  Sniper! I shouted straight in Kridib’s mind.
  “Cover fire!” he shouted, rushing for cover.
  Watch out for a cross, I warned.
  The shooting intensified. Based on the area scan, the group was a few hundred meters away. One strong push and they’d be here. That said, I knew that the building was guarded by more than seven people. If I were in Rigel’s place, I would have dedicated at least three dozen.
  Concentrated fire focused on the second floor of a building, blowing off the entire wall. There was a brief scream before a rocket flew into the spot, hollowing the entire structure with a blast.
  Heavy weapons? I asked Kridib. I didn’t think Radiance’s captain would resort to such firepower, considering third-contact artifacts were involved; one direct hit, and the entire colony might well end up a smouldering crater, not to mention the potential communication repercussions. Maybe there was truth in Rigel’s statement that Flight Commander Nitel was getting desperate.
  As I was following Kridib’s advancement outside, the door opened once more—as predicted, Rigel had returned. He was wearing the same set of clothes as three hours ago. I found it puzzling that I couldn’t spot any semblance of a weapon on him.
  “Your masters have gotten desperate,” the man said in suspiciously calm fashion. “Looks like they’ve sent everything they had to get Renaan.” He walked up to me, then leaned over. “And just a handful to get you.”
  “Are they winning?” I tried to smile.
  “Beats me.” Rigel didn’t seem bothered. “You thought about my offer?”
  “I did. And I don’t think accepting would be a good deal. If I wait for them to rescue the captain, your bargaining power ends.”
  “Oh?” The man chuckled.
  “There’s nothing else the fleet would be willing to trade.” Except potentially the pyramid artifact. Even then, I didn’t see them sacrificing the Gregorius. “Once the captain boards a shuttle, it’s over.”
  A person of Kridib’s squad fell as they were approaching my building. I heard the unmistakable sound of bullets piercing armor, then silence. That was the thing about sound suppressors: one could get killed, and there still wouldn’t be any sound of one hitting the ground. I wanted to turn around and see what had happened, potentially to help. There was a seven-point-three chance that the wound wasn’t fatal. Kridib kept on moving forwards. That’s what made him a ground trooper… it also caused me pain.
  “What if I kill Renaan?” Rigel mused. “I won’t lose much. Everyone down here’s dead anyway. Someone in the fleet has gone through a lot of shit to get Renaan back. They’d lose a hell of a lot more.”
  “What if they save the captain?” I countered. “Either way, we’ll soon find out, and you’ll have no offer.”
  “Quantum paradox logic?” Rigel sounded surprised. “Strange hearing that from you, missy. I’ll have to skim your file once I’m out of here.” He paused for a moment, then dragged the nearby stool over—making a deliberate sound—and sat down. “Truth is, once the moment ends, we both lose our chance. Are you okay with that?”
  Why are you so confident? I wondered. Even if I were to agree, he wouldn’t be able to get much from me in the next ten minutes, even less if Kridib managed to reach my room. His squad had already made its way to the building proper, facing less than expected resistance. From what I was able to see, there were two snipers left on the upper floors and two machine-gunners on the first. All auxiliary positions on the nearby buildings seemed to have dealt with, although there was no sign of Ogum.
  “You’ve dealt with Salvage before, I can tell,” Rigel pressed on. “You won’t get another chance like this.”
  The old man’s with me in the basement, I told Kridib. No guards in the room. He’s ex-Salvage Authorities. Take him, and the mission is over. Saying that hurt slightly. Despite being the enemy, and a threat to the war effort, he remained human.
  “Then I guess I’ll never know.” As I spoke, I saw Kridib charge at the building. As before, there was nothing fancy about it, just determination and insanity. Several bullets flew so close to him I could hear them, but this time none of them hit. “Your bargaining window is over. No deal.”
  Kridib emptied his sidearm at the door in front of him, then rushed in. I could see no guards inside, just a set of hastily built staircases. Whatever the original purpose of the building was, it had been transformed into a field center at some point—likely during a previous escape attempt. Probably a group similar to ours had made it their temporary base, then left it as it was once they had completed their mission. No wonder Rigel had had me transported there. Kridib didn’t waste time making parallels, instead drawing his second sidearm and rushing down.
  At least two floors down, I said. I’m not hearing any of the gunfire.
  Is he armed? Kridib asked.
  Unsure. Not that I can tell. There are artifacts, though.
  “Such a teacher’s pet.” Rigel sighed after a long silence. “In the end, you’re nothing but a ship.” He stood up.
  He’s standing directly from the door, I said to Kridib. Seven degrees from center. Small frame, average height.
  Kridib fired three shots. Three bullets drilled through the alloy surface. Half a second later, Kridib followed kicking the door in.
  “Just one small thing.” Rigel took a tube-shaped object from his vest pocket.
  Meanwhile, I was staring at an empty room from Kridib’s eyes. It was at least three times smaller than the one I was in, bare and completely deserted. There was no Rigel, no me, no equipment, just a single metallic cube the size of my fingernail placed neatly on the floor.
  “Renaan was never the target.” The old man bent down and injected something in my neck. A new cascade of connection requests followed. “You are.”
—-
Next Chapter
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[Tournament Report] Mythic Invitational - Lucas Berthoud

"Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K. The Moments are more intense if you’ve played enough tennis to understand the impossibility of what you just saw him do." David Foster Wallace
"Build strategy. Mind control, concentration, reaction. Micro and macro. Discipline, practice, stamina. These are the "winning factors". No progamer can ever be great at all of them. Never. I can say that from my 10 years of experience commentating countless games. I can say that with absolute confidence. Without hesitation, I can say that, and fool you... if you never watch Savior's games." SungWon Yi
Magic as an esport
I am writing this on saturday morning. So far, the tournament has been a success on several different metrics: viewership, hype, production value. I had an amazing time hanging out with other competitors and attending the legendary event party last Thursday. The best of times, really. Being a part of it felt special.
But I can’t say the Invitational has been at its best in the one metric that I really care about: good gameplay. I am not really feeling the WOW factor from the quotes above, or that I constantly have when I watch things like the top 8 of Mythic Championship, or Mike Sigrist drafting, Shota playing control, Huey playing Temur at Worlds 2017.
In a ideal world, the transition from magic to an esport would heavily focus on measures that reduce variance and allow players to leverage skill.
We would play a lot of rounds and tournaments would have open qualifiers, creating legitimacy to invitees and the results.
The format would be something like Legacy with a curated ban list for cards that allow flexibility and decision making (unban Deathrite Shaman and Sensei’s Divining tube) and draft would be one of all-time classic formats or a custom designed cube. While this take is obviously undoable for several good reasons, its an example of an ideal format if you cared only about leveraging skill and can help illustrate how much we are "sacrificing" in this regard in favor of approachability for new players.
The current Mythic Championship (Pro Tour) structure of bo3 booster draft + standard/modern is a grat compromise of having interesting gameplay while also promoting new sets and popular formats.
One of my favorite events to have ever watched as a spectator was 2017 MOCS. High-level commentary, absolute high-level games (mardu x saheeli combo was a hard to play matchup with a lot of tension!), players that fought hard to get there, and a viewer friendly UI, allowing the cards to be better seen by viewers. It wasn’t perfect for viewers because there was still the barrier of having to know and identify all the small pixelated cards beforehand to enjoy the experience, and because mtgo interface is bland.
If you took that tournament and had it played in Arena, that would very closely encapsulate my perfect vision for Magic as an esport.
But what we have right now is Duo Standard and double elimination.
The problems with Best-of-1
Duo Standard is not a good competitive format. It’s best-of-1 with bells and whistles to it, but still best-of-1 with all the problems around it.
The games feel out of control where your decisions don’t really matter. There is not a lot of strategic depth to it, not a lot of room to outmaneuver your opponent.
The hand fixing algorythm means the games are too scripted. They always have the busted hand. Do you have it too? Did you win the die rool? That’s all that matters. You can’t really outplay anyone. The games I’ve seen on the Inivtational so far where decisions mattered involved complete blunders (g3 skybillz x salvatto; g3 pterodactylsftw x savjz).
The lack of sideboarding cripples the games and removes a significant ammount of strategizing. In the past few years of high-level competitive play, sideboards are the main focus of preparation, both because it’s very hard to get right and because it allows the greatest ammount of flexibility and interesting decisions.
Some of the issues with best-of-1 are related to balance and deck diversity. Those could be fixed by designing the game around it and adding more bells and whistles to Duo Standard (make it a best of 5 decks, for instance).
But the more relevant issues with best-of-1 is just how boring it is. The game patterns are scripted and there isn’t much point to deviating from it.
As Zvi Mowshowits said:
“When I play best of one, the games blur together. This set of moves again, and again. Rote responses, because you lack the information to improve your choices. A binary outcome except for time spent, with a huge desire to ‘get on with it’ once the outcome looks clear. Time starts to be something you’re sending rather than something you’re enjoying. What was fun becomes a grind.
When I switched on Arena from best-of-one back to best-of-three, it was a sea change in my experience. I was having so much more fun.
Thus, even if strategically everything would be fine, and the decks stayed the same, I would strongly oppose losing or minimizing sideboards for experiential reasons.
The decks don’t stay the same.
What we get in best of one are lots of decks that are simple and linear. Decks that do one thing hard, and do them well, repeating patterns over and over. The decks where you used to say ‘I’ll have a sideboard ready for them’ are now most of your opponents. A burning sea of red, or an endless ocean of blue or plain of white. The more we turn games into grinds, the more we see this, even with best of three. When the last few days of Mythic play came in February we saw a dramatic rise in mono-red, and mono-white did much better than it does in normal play. With best-of-one this gets doubly reinforced and thus turbo charged.”
https://thezvi.wordpress.com/2019/03/14/speculations-on-duo-standard/
Below is some of the feedback I had provided to wotc about best-of-1:
The importance of Sideboards
Brad Nelson noticeably made a career on successfully using sideboard to have tremendous advantages over the field. Some other recent examples:
Sideboarding creates additional layers of interesting strategic decisions. Those decisions start at a basic level on how cards interact for game 1. Based on that interaction, for game 2, now players need to consider what they can do to improve that dynamic while also anticipating their opponent’s moves. And this could totally change for game 3, based on revealed information of cards played and also decision making patterns. This makes it feel like playing three games in a bo3 context to have exponentially more relevant decision points than three individual bo1 matches. Every game feel different. A deck can execute multiple different strategies, creating dynamic gameplay.
There is a reason why so many strategy writers are reluctant to give sideboard guides; sideboard depends too much in the context of the opponent in front of you and requires malleability and on-the-fly decision making. It’s something that its so deep and hard that can’t be easily outsourced.
Other examples of sideboarding allows cool and fun games to be played:
The Spectator Experience
I also suspect viewers don’t care much about watching best-of-1, as evidenced by the existence of this thread:
https://www.reddit.com/magicTCG/comments/b6v3pb/wotc_please_dont_use_this_type_of_bo1_format_again/?st=jtvf43xp&sh=39b0096d
Awhile ago, I created this twitter poll:
https://twitter.com/bertuuuu/status/1089913678105923586
“You have all cards available on Arena and plenty of time to kill. Which format do you think would lead to more interesting/enjoyable games? Does the answer change if you want to just watch games on a stream instead of playing? If so, please comment below. Tks!”
The poll ended on 85%-15% in favor of bo3.
The question was designed to isolate the two main factors of why I think people play bo1: card availability and time constraints. (The third factor, not reflected in the poll, would be Arena UI/menus directing players to bo1). Without those factors, there was a clear preference for bo3 as the most interesting format.
This is just a twitter poll and not a substitute for market research, but it does who a very strong trend. There is also qualitative date in the replies, for illustrative purposes:
“If the streamer is a Pro Player, I want to watch Bo3 matches and insightful information about sideboarding. If the streamer is just a content creator, probably is better to just jam fun brews on ladder Bo1.”
“I like BO1 if I'm watching or playing only a limited amount / for fun and fun only”
“I want to watch good players stream bo3 because it have deeper strategic content and play bo1 myself because it is faster thus more suited for casual play.”
“If I'm watching (which I probably am, since I don't play much #MTGA), I prefer BO1. It allows for more variety in matchups and decks and is easier to follow as a side thing while I do something else. If I wanted to see deep gameplay and strategy, I would go to YOUTUBE and watch paper”
“either for watching or playing, I prefer bo3. It’s more interesting to consider sideboarding than it is to focus on linear decks.”
All those replies seem to confirm that bo3 is perceived as the most deep format, and that bo1 is heavily associated with casual play.
Those seem to confirm that preference for bo1 on Arena really is tied to card availability and time constraints to play games. None of it means bo1 is an interesting format to be watched.
Magic is a really good game and best-of-3 with sideboards is a really good format that stood the test of time. Any alternative to it needs to cross a high threshold before being considered viable. Duo Standard didn’t even come close.
A low skill, low diversity, high variance format doesn’t make a good esport experience, simply put.
Playing to win in best-of-1
This is spikes and we play to win. If you do want to win in best-of-1, there are two very good articles dissecting the format:
http://magic.tcgplayer.com/db/article.asp?ID=15188&writer=Brian+Braun-Duin&articledate=3-22-2019
http://www.starcitygames.com/articles/38457_Best-Of-One-Matchup-Analysis.html
This rarely happens, but I found myself agreeing to 99,9% of the things said in those articles. It also tooks about one night of playtesting to reach the same conclusions, then a month of playing thousands of games just be sure, but our minds didn’t change that much from our initial impressions of the format.
Ultimately, our playtest team (5 hareruya latin players + Javier Dominguez, Andrea Mengucci, Lee Shi Tian and AliaDeschain) settled on Esper + WW as the best combination, with Lee and Alia subbing out Esper in favor of Gruul because they didn’t feel confortable playing control decks.
Esper emerged as the clear best deck in the format for us. We discussed a bit if it was worth it to have a deck to snipe Esper (say, Mono U or Temur Reclamation or a anti-mirror version of Esper) but those decks had too many vulnerabilities against the rest of the format.
As a deck to pair with Esper, we wanted a deck with different bad matchups in order to not be too exploitable for game 3 scenarios. This deck could be mono white, mono red or gruul. None of them felt super good, but mono white had a higher win percentage in our spreadsheet and seemed better at beating the “anti-aggro” decks people had on ladder, which were actually just life gain decks that beat burn but didn’t beat the go wide hands of mono white.
For pure ladder play, I'd stick with Esper. We found it to have a good matchup against aggro decks, which are over-represented in that setting, while also having game against everything else.
The tournament didn't end well for most of us, but Luis Salvatto and Andrea Mengucci are still live. I am about to go cheer for them at PAX and I hope you all do the same.
Thanks for reading, Lucas Esper Berthoud
submitted by --bertu to spikes [link] [comments]

Part 2: Tools & Info for Sysadmins - Mega List of Tips, Tools, Books, Blogs & More

(continued from part 1)
Unlocker is a tool to help delete those irritating locked files that give you an error message like "cannot delete file" or "access is denied." It helps with killing processes, unloading DLLs, deleting index.dat files, as well as unlocking, deleting, renaming, and moving locked files—typically without requiring a reboot.
IIS Crypto's newest version adds advanced settings; registry backup; new, simpler templates; support for Windows Server 2019 and more. This tool lets you enable or disable protocols, ciphers, hashes and key exchange algorithms on Windows and reorder SSL/TLS cipher suites from IIS, change advanced settings, implement best practices with a single click, create custom templates and test your website. Available in both command line and GUI versions.
RocketDock is an application launcher with a clean interface that lets you drag/drop shortcuts for easy access and minimize windows to the dock. Features running application indicators, multi-monitor support, alpha-blended PNG and ICO icons, auto-hide and popup on mouse over, positioning and layering options. Fully customizable, portable, and compatible with MobyDock, ObjectDock, RK Launcher and Y'z Dock skins. Works even on slower computers and is Unicode compliant. Suggested by lieutenantcigarette: "If you like the dock on MacOS but prefer to use Windows, RocketDock has you covered. A superb and highly customisable dock that you can add your favourites to for easy and elegant access."
Baby FTP Server offers only the basics, but with the power to serve as a foundation for a more-complex server. Features include multi-threading, a real-time server log, support for PASV and non-PASV mode, ability to set permissions for download/upload/rename/delete/create directory. Only allows anonymous connections. Our thanks to FatherPrax for suggesting this one.
Strace is a Linux diagnostic, debugging and instructional userspace tool with a traditional command-line interface. Uses the ptrace kernel feature to monitor and tamper with interactions between processes and the kernel, including system calls, signal deliveries and changes of process state.
exa is a small, fast replacement for ls with more features and better defaults. It uses colors to distinguish file types and metadata, and it recognizes symlinks, extended attributes and Git. All in one single binary. phils_lab describes it as "'ls' on steroids, written in Rust."
rsync is a faster file transfer program for Unix to bring remote files into sync. It sends just the differences in the files across the link, without requiring both sets of files to be present at one of the ends. Suggested by zorinlynx, who adds that "rsync is GODLY for moving data around efficiently. And if an rsync is interrupted, just run it again."
Matter Wiki is a simple WYSIWYG wiki that can help teams store and collaborate. Every article gets filed under a topic, transparently, so you can tell who made what changes to which document and when. Thanks to bciar-iwdc for the recommendation.
LockHunter is a file unlocking tool that enables you to delete files that are being blocked for unknown reasons. Can be useful for fighting malware and other programs that are causing trouble. Deletes files into the recycle bin so you can restore them if necessary. Chucky2401 finds it preferable to Unlocker, "since I am on Windows 7. There are no new updates since July 2017, but the last beta was in June of this year."
aria2 is a lightweight multi-source command-line download utility that supports HTTP/HTTPS, FTP, SFTP, BitTorrent and Metalink. It can be manipulated via built-in JSON-RPC and XML-RPC interfaces. Recommended by jftuga, who appreciates it as a "cross-platform command line downloader (similar to wget or curl), but with the -x option can run a segmented download of a single file to increase throughput."
Free Services
Temp-Mail allows you to receive email at a temporary address that self-destructs after a certain period of time. Outwit all the forums, Wi-Fi owners, websites and blogs that insist you register to use them. Petti-The-Yeti says, "I don't give any company my direct email anymore. If I want to trial something but they ask for an email signup, I just grab a temporary email from here, sign up with it, and wait for the trial link or license info to come through. Then, you just download the file and close the website."
Duck DNS will point a DNS (sub domains of duckdns.org) to an IP of your choice. DDNS is a handy way for you to refer to a serverouter with an easily rememberable name for situations when the server's ip address will likely change. Suggested by xgnarf, who finds it "so much better for the free tier of noip—no 30-day nag to keep your host up."
Joe Sandbox detects and analyzes potential malicious files and URLs on Windows, Android, Mac OS, Linux and iOS for suspicious activities. It performs deep malware analysis and generates comprehensive and detailed reports. The Community Edition of Joe Sandbox Cloud allows you to run a maximum of 6 analyses per month, 3 per day on Windows, Linux and Android with limited analysis output. This one is from dangibbons94, who wanted to "share this cool service ... for malware analysis. I usually use Virus total for URL scanning, but this goes a lot more in depth. I just used basic analysis, which is free and enough for my needs."
Hybrid Analysis is a malware analysis service that detects and analyzes unknown threats for the community. This one was suggested by compupheonix, who adds that it "gets you super detailed reports... it's about the most fleshed out and detailed one I can find."
JustBeamIt is a file-transfer service that allows you to send files of any size via a peer-to-peer streaming model. Simply drag and drop your file and specify the recipient's email address. They will then receive a link that will trigger the download directly from your computer, so the file does not have to be uploaded to the service itself. The link is good for one download and expires after 10 minutes. Thanks to cooljacob204sfw for the recommendation!
ShieldsUP is a quick but powerful internet security checkup and information service. It was created by security researcher Steve Gibson to scan ports and let you know which ones have been opened through your firewalls or NAT routers.
Firefox Send is an encrypted file transfer service that allows you to share files up to 2.5GB from any browser or an Android app. Uses end-to-end encryption to keep data secure and offers security controls you can set. You can determine when your file link expires, the number of downloads, and whether to add a password. Your recipient receives a link to download the file, and they don’t need a Firefox account. This one comes from DePingus, who appreciates the focus on privacy. "They have E2E, expiring links, and a clear privacy policy."
Free DNS is a service where programmers share domain names with one another at no cost. Offers free hosting as well as dynamic DNS, static DNS, subdomain and domain hosting. They can host your domain's DNS as well as allowing you to register hostnames from domains they're hosting already. If you don't have a domain, you can sign up for a free account and create up to 5 subdomains off the domains others have contributed and point these hosts anywhere on the Internet. Thanks to 0x000000000000004C (yes, that's a username) for the suggestion!
ANY.RUN is an interactive malware analysis service for dynamic and static research of the majority of threats in any environment. It can provide a convenient in-depth analysis of new, unidentified malicious objects and help with the investigation of incidents. ImAshtonTurner appreciates it as "a great sandbox tool for viewing malware, etc."
Plik is a scalable, temporary file upload system similar to wetransfer that is written in golang. Thanks go to I_eat_Narwhals for this one!
Free My IP offers free, dynamic DNS. This service comes with no login, no ads, no newsletters, no links to click and no hassle. Kindly suggested by Jack of All Trades.
Mailinator provides free, temporary email inboxes on a receive-only, attachment-free system that requires no sign-up. All @mailinator.com addresses are public, readable and discoverable by anyone at any time—but are automatically deleted after a few hours. Can be a nice option for times when you to give out an address that won't be accessible longterm. Recommended by nachomountain, who's been using it "for years."
Magic Wormhole is a service for sending files directly with no intermediate upload, no web interface and no login. When both parties are online you with the minimal software installed, the wormhole is invoked via command line identifying the file you want to send. The server then provides a speakable, one-time-use password that you give the recipient. When they enter that password in their wormhole console, key exchange occurs and the download begins directly between your computers. rjohnson99 explains, "Magic Wormhole is sort of like JustBeamIt but is open-source and is built on Python. I use it a lot on Linux servers."
EveryCloud's Free Phish is our own, new Phishing Simulator. Once you've filled in the form and logged in, you can choose from lots of email templates (many of which we've coped from what we see in our Email Security business) and landing pages. Run a one-off free phish, then see who clicked or submitted data so you can understand where your organization is vulnerable and act accordingly.
Hardening Guides
CIS Hardening Guides contain the system security benchmarks developed by a global community of cybersecurity experts. Over 140 configuration guidelines are provided to help safeguard systems against threats. Recommended by cyanghost109 "to get a start on looking at hardening your own systems."
Podcasts
Daily Tech News is Tom Merrit's show covering the latest tech issues with some of the top experts in the field. With the focus on daily tech news and analysis, it's a great way to stay current. Thanks to EmoPolarbear for drawing it to our attention.
This Week in Enterprise Tech is a podcast that features IT experts explaining the complicated details of cutting-edge enterprise technology. Join host Lou Maresca on this informative exploration of enterprise solutions, with new episodes recorded every Friday afternoon.
Security Weekly is a podcast where a "bunch of security nerds" get together and talk shop. Topics are greatly varied, and the atmosphere is relaxed and conversational. The show typically tops out at 2 hours, which is perfect for those with a long commute. If you’re fascinated by discussion of deep technical and security-related topics, this may be a nice addition to your podcast repertoire.
Grumpy Old Geeks—What Went Wrong on the Internet and Who's To Blame is a podcast about the internet, technology and geek culture—among other things. The hosts bring their grumpy brand of humor to the "state of the world as they see it" in these roughly hour-long weekly episodes. Recommended by mkaxsnyder, who enjoys it because, "They are a good team that talk about recent and relevant topics from an IT perspective."
The Social-Engineer Podcast is a monthly discussion among the hosts—a group of security experts from SEORG—and a diverse assortment of guests. Topics focus around human behavior and how it affects information security, with new episodes released on the second Monday of every month. Thanks to MrAshRhodes for the suggestion.
The CyberWire podcasts discuss what's happening in cyberspace, providing news and commentary from industry experts. This cyber security-focused news service delivers concise, accessible, and relevant content without the gossip, sensationalism, and the marketing buzz that often distract from the stories that really matter. Appreciation to supermicromainboard for the suggestion.
Malicious Life is a podcast that tells the fascinating—and often unknown—stories of the wildest hacks you can ever imagine. Host Ran Levi, a cybersecurity expert and author, talks with the people who were actually involved to reveal the history of each event in depth. Our appreciation goes to peraphon for the recommendation.
The Broadcast Storm is a podcast for Cisco networking professionals. BluePieceOfPaper suggests it "for people studying for their CCNA/NP. Kevin Wallace is a CCIE Collaboration so he knows his *ishk. Good format for learning too. Most podcasts are about 8-15 mins long and its 'usually' an exam topic. It will be something like "HSPR" but instead of just explaining it super boring like Ben Stein reading a powerpoint, he usually goes into a story about how (insert time in his career) HSPR would have been super useful..."
Software Engineering Radio is a podcast for developers who are looking for an educational resource with original content that isn't recycled from other venues. Consists of conversations on relevant topics with experts from the software engineering world, with new episodes released three to four times per month. a9JDvXLWHumjaC tells us this is "a solid podcast for devs."
Books
System Center 2012 Configuration Manager is a comprehensive technical guide designed to help you optimize Microsoft's Configuration Manager 2012 according to your requirements and then to deploy and use it successfully. This methodical, step-by-step reference covers: the intentions behind the product and its role in the broader System Center product suite; planning, design, and implementation; and details on each of the most-important feature sets. Learn how to leverage the user-centric capabilities to provide anytime/anywhere services & software, while strengthening control and improving compliance.
Network Warrior: Everything You Need to Know That Wasn’t on the CCNA Exam is a practical guide to network infrastructure. Provides an in-depth view of routers and routing, switching (with Cisco Catalyst and Nexus switches as examples), SOHO VoIP and SOHO wireless access point design and configuration, introduction to IPv6 with configuration examples, telecom technologies in the data-networking world (including T1, DS3, frame relay, and MPLS), security, firewall theory and configuration, ACL and authentication, Quality of Service (QoS), with an emphasis on low-latency queuing (LLQ), IP address allocation, Network Time Protocol (NTP) and device failures.
Beginning the Linux Command Line is your ally in mastering Linux from the keyboard. It is intended for system administrators, software developers, and enthusiastic users who want a guide that will be useful for most distributions—i.e., all items have been checked against Ubuntu, Red Hat and SUSE. Addresses administering users and security and deploying firewalls. Updated to the latest versions of Linux to cover files and directories, including the Btrfs file system and its management and systemd boot procedure and firewall management with firewalld.
Modern Operating Systems, 4th Ed. is written for students taking intro courses on Operating Systems and for those who want an OS reference guide for work. The author, an OS researcher, includes both the latest materials on relevant operating systems as well as current research. The previous edition of Modern Operating Systems received the 2010 McGuffey Longevity Award that recognizes textbooks for excellence over time.
Time Management for System Administrators is a guide for organizing your approach to this challenging role in a way that improves your results. Bestselling author Thomas Limoncelli offers a collection of tips and techniques for navigating the competing goals and concurrent responsibilities that go along with working on large projects while also taking care of individual user's needs. The book focuses on strategies to help with daily tasks that will also allow you to handle the critical situations that inevitably require your attention. You'll learn how to manage interruptions, eliminate time wasters, keep an effective calendar, develop routines and prioritize, stay focused on the task at hand and document/automate to speed processes.
The Practice of System and Network Administration, 3rd Edition introduces beginners to advanced frameworks while serving as a guide to best practices in system administration that is helpful for even the most advanced experts. Organized into four major sections that build from the foundational elements of system administration through improved techniques for upgrades and change management to exploring assorted management topics. Covers the basics and then moves onto the advanced things that can be built on top of those basics to wield real power and execute difficult projects.
Learn Windows PowerShell in a Month of Lunches, Third Edition is designed to teach you PowerShell in a month's worth of 1-hour lessons. This updated edition covers PowerShell features that run on Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and later, PowerShell v3 and later, and it includes v5 features like PowerShellGet. For PowerShell v3 and up, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and later.
Troubleshooting with the Windows Sysinternals Tools is a guide to the powerful Sysinternals tools for diagnosing and troubleshooting issues. Sysinternals creator Mark Russinovich and Windows expert Aaron Margosis provide a deep understanding of Windows core concepts that aren’t well-documented elsewhere along with details on how to use Sysinternals tools to optimize any Windows system’s reliability, efficiency, performance and security. Includes an explanation of Sysinternals capabilities, details on each major tool, and examples of how the tools can be used to solve real-world cases involving error messages, hangs, sluggishness, malware infections and more.
DNS and BIND, 5th Ed. explains how to work with the Internet's distributed host information database—which is responsible for translating names into addresses, routing mail to its proper destination, and listing phone numbers according to the ENUM standard. Covers BIND 9.3.2 & 8.4.7, the what/how/why of DNS, name servers, MX records, subdividing domains (parenting), DNSSEC, TSIG, troubleshooting and more. PEPCK tells us this is "generally considered the DNS reference book (aside from the RFCs of course!)"
Windows PowerShell in Action, 3rd Ed. is a comprehensive guide to PowerShell. Written by language designer Bruce Payette and MVP Richard Siddaway, this volume gives a great introduction to Powershell, including everyday use cases and detailed examples for more-advanced topics like performance and module architecture. Covers workflows and classes, writing modules and scripts, desired state configuration and programming APIs/pipelines.This edition has been updated for PowerShell v6.
Zero Trust Networks: Building Secure Systems in Untrusted Networks explains the principles behind zero trust architecture, along with what's needed to implement it. Covers the evolution of perimeter-based defenses and how they evolved into the current broken model, case studies of zero trust in production networks on both the client and server side, example configurations for open-source tools that are useful for building a zero trust network and how to migrate from a perimeter-based network to a zero trust network in production. Kindly recommended by jaginfosec.
Tips
Here are a couple handy Windows shortcuts:
Here's a shortcut for a 4-pane explorer in Windows without installing 3rd-party software:
(Keep the win key down for the arrows, and no pauses.) Appreciation goes to ZAFJB for this one.
Our recent tip for a shortcut to get a 4-pane explorer in Windows, triggered this suggestion from SevaraB: "You can do that for an even larger grid of Windows by right-clicking the clock in the taskbar, and clicking 'Show windows side by side' to arrange them neatly. Did this for 4 rows of 6 windows when I had to have a quick 'n' dirty "video wall" of windows monitoring servers at our branches." ZAFJB adds that it actually works when you right-click "anywhere on the taskbar, except application icons or start button."
This tip comes courtesy of shipsass: "When I need to use Windows Explorer but I don't want to take my hands off the keyboard, I press Windows-E to launch Explorer and then Ctrl-L to jump to the address line and type my path. The Ctrl-L trick also works with any web browser, and it's an efficient way of talking less-technical people through instructions when 'browse to [location]' stumps them."
Clear browser history/cookies by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-DELETE on most major browsers. Thanks go to synapticpanda, who adds that this "saves me so much time when troubleshooting web apps where I am playing with the cache and such."
To rename a file with F2, while still editing the name of that file: Hit TAB to tab into the renaming of the next file. Thanks to abeeftaco for this one!
Alt-D is a reliable alternative to Ctrl-L for jumping to the address line in a browser. Thanks for this one go to fencepost_ajm, who explains: "Ctrl-L comes from the browser side as a shortcut for Location, Alt-D from the Windows Explorer side for Directory."
Browser shortcut: When typing a URL that ends with dot com, Ctrl + Enter will place the ".com" and take you to the page. Thanks to wpierre for this one!
This tip comes from anynonus, as something that daily that saves a few clicks: "Running a program with ctrl + shift + enter from start menu will start it as administrator (alt + y will select YES to run as admin) ... my user account is local admin [so] I don't feel like that is unsafe"
Building on our PowerShell resources, we received the following suggestion from halbaradkenafin: aka.ms/pskoans is "a way to learn PowerShell using PowerShell (and Pester). It's really cool and a bunch of folks have high praise for it (including a few teams within MSFT)."
Keyboard shortcut: If you already have an application open, hold ctrl + shift and middle click on the application in your task bar to open another instance as admin. Thanks go to Polymira for this one.
Remote Server Tip: "Critical advice. When testing out network configuration changes, prior to restarting the networking service or rebooting, always create a cron job that will restore your original network configuration and then reboot/restart networking on the machine after 5 minutes. If your config worked, you have enough time to remove it. If it didn't, it will fix itself. This is a beautifully simple solution that I learned from my old mentor at my very first job. I've held on to it for a long time." Thanks go to FrigidNox for the tip!
Websites
Deployment Research is the website of Johan Arwidmark, MS MVP in System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management. It is dedicated to sharing information and guidance around System Center, OS deployment, migration and more. The author shares tips and tricks to help improve the quality of IT Pros’ daily work.
Next of Windows is a website on (mostly) Microsoft-related technology. It's the place where Kent Chen—a computer veteran with many years of field experience—and Jonathan Hu—a web/mobile app developer and self-described "cool geek"—share what they know, what they learn and what they find in the hope of helping others learn and benefit.
High Scalability brings together all the relevant information about building scalable websites in one place. Because building a website with confidence requires a body of knowledge that can be slow to develop, the site focuses on moving visitors along the learning curve at a faster pace.
Information Technology Research Library is a great resource for IT-related research, white papers, reports, case studies, magazines, and eBooks. This library is provided at no charge by TradePub.com. GullibleDetective tells us it offers "free PDF files from a WIIIIIIDE variety of topics, not even just IT. Only caveat: as its a vendor-supported publishing company, you will have to give them a bit of information such as name, email address and possibly a company name. You undoubtedly have the ability to create fake information on this, mind you. The articles range from Excel templates, learning python, powershell, nosql etc. to converged architecture."
SS64 is a web-based reference guide for syntax and examples of the most-common database and OS computing commands. Recommended by Petti-The-Yeti, who adds, "I use this site all the time to look up commands and find examples while I'm building CMD and PS1 scripts."
Phishing and Malware Reporting. This website helps you put a stop to scams by getting fraudulent pages blocked. Easily report phishing webpages so they can be added to blacklists in as little as 15 minutes of your report. "Player024 tells us, "I highly recommend anyone in the industry to bookmark this page...With an average of about 10 minutes of work, I'm usually able to take down the phishing pages we receive thanks to the links posted on that website."
A Slack Channel
Windows Admin Slack is a great drive-by resource for the Windows sysadmin. This team has 33 public channels in total that cover different areas of helpful content on Windows administration.
Blogs
KC's Blog is the place where Microsoft MVP and web developer Kent Chen shares his IT insights and discoveries. The rather large library of posts offer helpful hints, how-tos, resources and news of interest to those in the Windows world.
The Windows Server Daily is the ever-current blog of technologist Katherine Moss, VP of open source & community engagement for StormlightTech. Offers brief daily posts on topics related to Windows server, Windows 10 and Administration.
An Infosec Slideshow
This security training slideshow was created for use during a quarterly infosec class. The content is offered generously by shalafi71, who adds, "Take this as a skeleton and flesh it out on your own. Take an hour or two and research the things I talk about. Tailor this to your own environment and users. Make it relevant to your people. Include corporate stories, include your audience, exclude yourself. This ain't about how smart you are at infosec, and I can't stress this enough, talk about how people can defend themselves. Give them things to look for and action they can take. No one gives a shit about your firewall rules."
Tech Tutorials
Tutorialspoint Library. This large collection of tech tutorials is a great resource for online learning. You'll find nearly 150 high-quality tutorials covering a wide array of languages and topics—from fundamentals to cutting-edge technologies. For example, this Powershell tutorial is designed for those with practical experience handling Windows-based Servers who want to learn how to install and use Windows Server 2012.
The Python Tutorial is a nice introduction to many of Python’s best features, enabling you to read and write Python modules and programs. It offers an understanding of the language's style and prepares you to learn more about the various Python library modules described in 'The Python Standard Library.' Kindly suggested by sharjeelsayed.
SysAdmin Humor
Day in the Life of a SysAdmin Episode 5: Lunch Break is an amusing look at a SysAdmin's attempt to take a brief lunch break. We imagine many of you can relate!
Have a fantastic week and as usual, let me know any comments or suggestions.
u/crispyducks
submitted by crispyducks to sysadmin [link] [comments]

Results of the Seventh Great FE:H Demographics and Opinions Survey!

Hi all,

It’s time for results! Thank you to everyone who participated – we had around 3,400 results this time! For future context, this survey was posted about a week after the Performing Arts banner.

If you responded to the survey or find these results valuable, upvotes to increase the visibility are much appreciated. There's a lot of Holy War threads to compete with right now, and I don’t want anyone who took the time to respond to miss seeing the results!

As always, neither myself nor this survey are associated with Intelligent Systems or Nintendo in any way. Please direct feedback about the game itself to the official channels.

Now without further ado, let’s get into the results! Album with all the graphs combined is linked in the closing remarks section, though I’d recommend reading the post itself as it contains more analysis and comparisons to previously-asked questions to show trends.
 
Previous Survey Results: First_Survey | Second_Survey | Third_Survey | Fourth_Survey | Fifth_Survey | Sixth_Survey

~ Demographics ~

As usual, the majority 99.6% reached this survey through Reddit, with the remainder coming from shared links. If you shared the survey with someone, make sure to share this results post with them as well!

72.6% began playing FE:H within 1 week of release, with 9.1% more beginning in February. 1.3% of respondents joined in September. Full results here: [Graph].

42.9 % report being F2P, a slight decrease compared to the previous survey (-1.5%), continuing a slow decline. Also, 25.1% have spent between $1 - $100 and 3.9% have spent over $1000, up +0.4% from the previous survey. Full results here: [Graph].

19-21 is the median age range. Full results here: [Graph]. Remember that these results are influenced by the subreddit’s demographics, and are not representative of the larger player population.

79.5% of respondents are male, 17.1% female, and 1.9% non-binary (66 respondents). Remember that these results are influenced by the subreddit’s demographics, and are not representative of the larger player population. [Graph].

70.9% live in North America, followed by 16.7% in Europe. 4.4% in Asia, 3.1% in South America, 3.8% in Oceania, 0.7% in Central America & the Caribbean, 0.1% in Africa, and 0.3% in the Middle East. Remember that these results are influenced by regional availability and the popularity of Reddit - a predominantly English-speaking website - in those regions as well. [Graph].

71.9% of respondents are in Arena tier 18 or above. 20.2% are tier 20 (+7.3% since last survey). The median tier is 18, and the average is 17.94. Full results here: [Graph].

~ Summoning ~

Brave Heroes is the most summoned-from banner since the previous survey, with 95.1% of respondents reporting that they have spent orbs on it at least once (excluding the first free summon). Performing Arts is close behind at 94.5%, followed by Dauntless Crimeans at 79.0%. The next closest are both of Hector’s banners, To Die on the Battlefield Tempest Trials Mini (37.6%) and Choose Your Legends Top 8 Block A (35.6%). Full results here: [Graph].

Brave Heroes is the most common orb-draining banner since the previous survey, with 54.1% of respondents reporting that they used the most orbs on it. Runner-up is Performing Arts at 23.3%, then Dauntless Crimeans at 12.8%. Full results here: [Graph].

Brave Heroes is the most common favorite banner since the previous survey, with 54.0% of respondents reporting it as their favorite. Runner-up is Performing Arts at 27.9%, then Dauntless Crimeans at 8.2%. Full results here: [Graph].

72.9% chose Brave Lyn as their free guaranteed summon from the Brave Heroes banner. 13.5% chose Brave Ike, 9.0% chose Brave Lucina, and 4.1% chose Brave Roy. [Graph].

28.1% spent money on orbs specifically for Brave Heroes, which places it higher than all special banners so far expect for Hero Fest I (34.3%). [Graph].

21.6% spent money on orbs specifically for Performing Arts, which makes it the third-highest grossing, just above Spring Festival (21.3%), but behind Brave Heroes at 28.1%. [Graph]

Brave Ike was the most summoned for on the Brave Heroes banner at 76.9% of respondents pulling for him. Brave Lucina had 64.5%, Brave Roy had 53.4%, and Brave Lyn had 50.8%. Keep in mind that these numbers are affected by the free summon choice, where Brave Lyn was chosen most often. [Graph].

Performing Azura was the most summoned for on the Performing Arts banner at 79.0% of respondents pulling for her. Performing Inigo had 62.8%, Performing Olivia had 59.8%, and Performing Shigure had 33.7%. [Graph].

~ Grand Hero Battles & Bound Hero Battles ~

87.0% completed BHB Ephraim & Eirika on Hard, 81.7% on Lunatic, and 66.6% on Infernal. [Graph].

87.6% completed BHB Ninian & Hawkeye on Hard, 81.5% on Lunatic, and 72.4% on Infernal. [Graph].

The average difficulty rating for Ephraim & Eirika Hard is 1.95, and Ninian & Hawkeye Hard is 1.97.

The average difficulty rating for Ephraim & Eirika Lunatic is 2.84, and Ninian & Hawkeye Lunatic is 2.81.

The average difficulty rating for Ephraim & Eirika Infernal is 3.80, and Ninian & Hawkeye Infernal is 3.63.

Legion Infernal remains king with the highest difficulty rating so far (4.77).

[Ephraim & Eirika Graph], [Ninian & Hawkeye Graph].

The amount of help used by players to complete Ephraim & Eirika and Ninian & Hawkeye can be seen here: [Graph].

Cross-analysis reveals that 54.98% of those who completed Ephraim & Eirika Infernal did so without any outside help. 58.77% for Ninian & Hawkeye Infernal.

~ Squad Assault III ~

39.0% have completed the 3rd Squad Assault, compared to 59.6% who have not. [Graph].

3.45 is the average difficulty rating for the 3rd Squad Assault. 48.0% rated the difficulty at a 4/5 or above. For comparison, the 1st Squad Assault had an average difficulty rating of 3.73. [Graph].

3.14 is the average enjoyment rating for the 3rd Squad Assault. 35.1% rated their enjoyment at a 4/5 or above. For comparison, the 1st Squad Assault had an average enjoyment rating of 3.32. [Graph].

31.4% reported not using any outside help to complete the 3rd Squad Assault (compared to 40.5% for the 1st Squad Assault). 15.8% looked at maps/units to do their own strategizing, 6.2% used some advice/strategizing/teambuilding help from others, and only 1.9% followed a video or step-by-step image guide. [Graph].

~ Tempest Trials Mini: To Die on the Battlefield ~

90.0% reached the final unique reward (Distant Def 1 Seal) at 20,000 points in Tempest Trials Mini.

91.9% reached 5* Masked Marth, 92.8% acquired the Defense +1 Seal, 94.1% achieved the Quickened Pulse Seal, and 95.7% acquired the 4* Masked Marth [Graph].

Ninian was the most-used Bonus Unit at 49.5%, followed by Hector (46.2%) and Masked Marth (24.9%). Lloyd was the least-used at 3.3%. [Graph].

4.55 is the average enjoyment rating for the Tempest Trials Mini. 92.3% rated their enjoyment at a 4/5 or above. [Graph].

2.34 is the average difficulty rating for the Tempest Trials Mini. Only 7.0% rated the difficulty at a 4/5 or above. [Graph].

60.1% prefer the Tempest Trials Mini over the regular Tempest Trials, while 3.7% feel the opposite. 34.5% have no preference. [Graph].

~ Tempest Trials: Moment of Fate ~

53.4% reached the final orb reward at 99,999 points in the Fourth Tempest Trials.

92.3% reached the Panic Ploy 1 Seal, 95.6% reached 5* Black Knight, 96.5% achieved the Fortify Defense 1 Seal, 97.8% reached the Resistance +1 Seal, and 99.1% reached 4* Black Knight [Graph].

Ike was the most-used Bonus Unit at 52.3%, followed by Black Knight (39.6%) and Elincia (31.7%). Mist was the least-used at 6.3%. [Graph].

3.67 is the average enjoyment rating for the Fourth Tempest Trials. 58.5% rated their enjoyment at a 4/5 or above. [Graph].

2.74 is the average difficulty rating for the Fourth Tempest Trials. 20.0% rated the difficulty at a 4/5 or above. [Graph].

Tempest Trials Mini: To Die on the Battlefield is the favorite Tempest experience so far, at 55.2%. The runner-up is Tempest Trials IV: Moment of Fate at 20.3%, followed by Tempest Trials III: Reunited at Last at 9.6%. Full results here: [Graph].

~ Specialty Teams: Horse Emblem ~

Comparison to last month’s results are in parentheses at the end of each line.

91.4% can complete the monthly Cavalry quests (+2.9%).
91.6% can field a full Lv.40 Cavalry team (4 Cavalry units) (-2.6% w/ Lv.40 specification).
71.2% use a Dire Thunder user on their main Cavalry team (+3.6%).
69.5% use Brave Lyn on their main Cavalry team (---%).
30.4% use a Blade tome on their main Cavalry team (-4.4%).
21.2% use another tome mage (non-Dire non-Blade) on their main Cavalry team (-5.2%).
70.1% use Xander or Camus on their main Cavalry team (-7.5%).
40.9% have used their main Cavalry team in Arena Offense (+1.6%).
33.8% have used their main Cavalry team in Arena Defense (+1.9%).
58.8% have used their main Cavalry team in GHBs/Tempests (+1.4%).
7.5% have more than +5 in merges spread across their main Cavalry team, though this question failed to specify the star-level of merges. (+1.9%).

~ Specialty Teams: Flier Emblem ~

Comparison to last month’s results are in parentheses at the end of each line.

91.1% can complete the monthly Flier quests (+8.3%).
88.3% can field a full Lv.40 Flier team (4 Flier units) (-3.8% w/ Lv.40 specification).
50.9% use a tome flier on their main Flier team (-2.7%).
35.2% have at least one flier with Hone Fliers on their main team (+3.0%).
23.5% have used their main Flier team in Arena Offense (+5.9%).
12.9% have used their main Flier team in Arena Defense (+2.2%).
26.9% have used their main Flier team in GHBs/Tempest (+2.0%).
5.5% have more than +5 in merges spread across their main Flier team, though this question failed to specify the star-level of merges. (+2.5%).

~ Specialty Teams: Armor Emblem ~

Comparison to last month’s results are in parentheses at the end of each line.

85.4% can complete the monthly Armor quests (+10.1%).
74.5% can field a full Lv.40 Armor team (4 Armor units) (-11.0% w/ Lv.40 specification).
65.0% use Hector on their main Armor team (+7.8%).
89.2% use the Black Knight on their main Armor team (---%).
27.1% use Amelia on their main Armor team (+3.2%).
50.2% have 2 or more units with Distant Counter on their main Armor team (+41.8% w/ addition of DC weapon).
1.0% have 2 or more units with Armor March on their main Armor team (+0.4%).
14.6% have used their main Armor team in Arena Offense (+7.3%).
9.5% have used their main Armor team in Arena Defense (+4.0%).
15.3% used their main Armor team in GHBs/Tempest (+8.9%).
2.8% have more than +5 in merges spread across their main Armor team, though this question failed to specify the star-level of merges. (+0.2%).

~ Specialty Teams: Dragon Emblem ~

Comparison to last month’s results are in parentheses at the end of each line.

67.8% can field a full Lv.40 Dragon team (4 Dragon units) (-18.1% w/ Lv.40 specification).
87.6% use Ninian on their main Dragon team (+13.5%).
7.0% have 2 or more units with Fortify Dragons on their main Dragon team (---%).
9.6% have used their main Dragon team in Arena Offense (+2.3%).
5.8% have used their main Dragon team in Arena Defense (+0.4%).
9.8% have used their main Dragon team in GHBs/Tempest (+3.4%).
5.9% have more than +5 in merges spread across their main Armor team, though this question failed to specify the star-level of merges. (+2.5%).

~ Repeating Questions ~

41.7% believe that every playable character from every main-series Fire Emblem game will be added eventually, down -0.4% from the last time this question was asked. 40.7% do not believe that every playable character will eventually be added. [Graph].

23.1% believe they will eventually reach Tier 20 in Arena, while 41.8% have already reached Tier 20 at least once (up +5.8% from the last survey). 26.1% don’t believe they will ever reach Tier 20, about equal (-0.1%) from the last survey. [Graph].

90.5% believe Intelligent Systems cares about its Free to Play userbase, down -3.5% from last survey’s record high of 94.0%. [Graph].

47.5% have Sharena at 5* rarity (+1.2% compared to last survey). 41.3% have Anna at 5* rarity (+3.4%), and 33.7% have Alfonse at 5* rarity (+4.4%). 42.8% do not have any of the Askr Trio at 5* rarity. [Graph].

~ Miscellaneous Topics ~

Awakening is the most-played main series Fire Emblem game (besides Heroes) at 72.3%, followed by Fates at 66.6%. Third is Sacred Stones at 59.5%. The least-played is Mystery of the Emblem at 6.0%. Full results here: [Graph].
7.1% of respondents neglected to check the Fire Emblem Heroes box!

31.3% have taken a break or hiatus from Heroes for more than a week before eventually coming back. 66.9% have never taken a break for more than a week. [Graph].

+3.8 is the average highest merge level achieved on any unit, and 2 is the median highest merge level. However, this question neglected to specify the rarity level. Since there’s a big commitment difference between 3* and 5* , these results should not be taken too seriously. [Graph].

27.4% favor an enemy-phase, defense-oriented playstyle, while 15.5% favor a player-phase, offense-oriented playstyle. However, the majority 56.2% use a combination of both or don’t favor one over the other. [Graph].

84.2% believe there have been instances of power creep in FE:H, compared to 9.9% who do not. [Graph].

43.86 Orbs is the average decided exchange rate for 20,000 feathers after removing major outliers.

57.8% chose their Summoner Support hero because they are one of their favorite characters, while 32.8% chose them because they are one of their strongest characters. However, I was missing a “both” option, so take these results with a grain of salt. [Graph].

63.2% have used their only copy of a 4* Available unit for Skill Inheritance. A further 25.5% would do so under the right circumstances, while 11.3% would never do so. [Graph].

37.7% have used their only copy of a 5* Only unit for Skill Inheritance. A further 34.0% would do so under the right circumstances, while 28.3% would never do so. [Graph].

7.4% have used their only copy of a Special Limited Time / Seasonal unit for Skill Inheritance. A further 25.9% would do so under the right circumstances, while 66.6% would never do so. [Graph].

20.7% have used their only copy of a Grand Hero Battle unit for Skill Inheritance. A further 36.4% would do so under the right circumstances, while 42.9% would never do so. [Graph].

~ 5* Hero Data ~

41.16 is the average number of Available 5* Heroes. Median is 39.
6.67 is the average number of heroes merged away into other heroes. Median is 4.
4.01 is the average number of heroes used for inheritance. Median is 3.
0.49 is the average number of heroes sent away for feathers. Median is 0.
51.95 is the average TOTAL number of 5* Heroes given all of the above data sets. Median is 48.

For the current AVAILABLE number of 5* Heroes:
  • 41.16 is the average number of 5* heroes available in barracks among all players.
  • 30 is the cutoff for the 25th percentile
  • 39 for the 50th percentile
  • 47 for the 75th percentile
  • 58 for the 90th percentile
  • 71 for the 95th percentile
For the TOTAL number of 5* Heroes
  • 51.95 is the average total number of 5* heroes obtained for all players.
  • 36 is the cutoff for the 25th percentile
  • 48 for the 50th percentile
  • 59 for the 75th percentile
  • 74 for the 90th percentile
  • 95 for the 95th percentile

~ Other Game Data ~

46.48 is the average number of Orbs at the time of this survey. However, the Median is 14.5.

45,775 is the average number of Feathers at the time of this survey. Median is 25,000.

123/176 is the average unique hero count (Hero Catalog number) at the time of this survey. The median is 124/176.

Only 19.8% have reached S-rank Summoner Support with more than one hero. Only 2.5% have reached S-rank Summoner Support with more than five. The average is 1.37.

6.32 is the average number of Heroes to have at max Hero Merit (3000). The median is 6.

241.06 is the average Barracks size. The median is 205. 53.8% have expanded their barracks at least once beyond the default 200.

74.85 is the average number of Sacred Coins, though this question was ill-timed as the Sacred Seal Forge came out right around the same time as this survey. As such, this result is highly unreliable.

46.4% find the 5* Hero Data collection and results to be valuable, while 41.2% answered “sort of” and 2.5% do not. [Graph].

88.1% do not find the 5* Hero Data survey difficult or stressful to fill out, while 9.3% answered “sort of” and 1.7% do. [Graph].

Thank you for your suggestions and replies to the 5* Hero Data survey – I will continue to tune and adjust it to be as valuable as possible.

~ Special Results: Number of 5* Heroes by Join Time ~

The following is a graph plotting the Total Number of 5* Heroes by Join Time: [Graph].

~ Special Results: # of 5* Heroes vs. Money Spent ~

The following graph plots the average number of 5* heroes for each spending bracket: [Graph].

Do not take this as incentive to spend more for higher return – remember that gachas are gambling, and can be addicting. Always have a plan of how much you’re willing to spend, and stay below an amount you can afford and feel comfortable with.

~ Special Results: 5* Hero Data for Release Month F2Ps Only ~

For the current AVAILABLE number of 5* Heroes:
  • 35.96 is the average number of 5* heroes available in barracks among players joining in February.
  • 30 is the cutoff for the 25th percentile
  • 36 for the 50th percentile
  • 42 for the 75th percentile
  • 47 for the 90th percentile
  • 51 for the 95th percentile
  • 57 for the 99th percentile
For the TOTAL number of 5* Heroes
  • 43.28 is the average number of 5* heroes obtained for players joining in February.
  • 35 is the cutoff for the 25th percentile
  • 44 for the 50th percentile
  • 52 for the 75th percentile
  • 58 for the 90th percentile
  • 63 for the 95th percentile
  • 71 for the 99th percentile

~ Bonus Questions ~

Dancers/Singers are the most dreaded unit type to face (49.0%), followed by Tome Cavalry (22.7%) and Archer Cavalry (16.1%). [Graph].

Who is your Favorite Hero?
  • Ike (5.5%) is the winner, followed by Nino (4.8%) and Brave Ike (3.9%)
  • Top ten here: [Graph].
  • Runner-ups here: [Graph].
  • Since last time, the Brave Heroes shook up the top ten, Bridal Cordelia fell 5 spots to 10th, and Julia and Reinhardt dropped out of the top ten.

Who is the most Overrated Hero?
  • Reinhardt (22.3%) is the winner, followed by Brave Lyn (11.4%) and Hector (11.1%)
  • Top ten here: [Graph].
  • Runner-ups here: [Graph].
  • Since last time, Ike dropped 4 spots to 8th, Bridal Cordelia dropped 3 spots to 6th, and the Brave and Performing heroes again shook up the top ten.

Who is the most Underrated Hero?
  • Alfonse (5.6%) is the winner, followed by Robin (M) (3.8%) and Sophia (2.7%)
  • Top ten here: [Graph].
  • Runner-ups here: [Graph].
  • Since last time, Sophia rose 5 spots to 3rd, and Eliwood, Klein, and Corrin(M) all dropped out of the top ten from 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively.

Who is your Most Wanted Hero?
  • Performing Azura (9.4%) is the winner, followed by Hector (7.9%) and Performing Inigo (5.4%)
  • Top ten here: [Graph].
  • Runner-ups here: [Graph].
  • Since last time, the Performing Heroes took the top ten by storm, and Hinoka rose 5 spots to 5th.

Who do you currently have as your Summoner Support?
  • Brave Lyn (10.4%) is the winner, followed by Nino (5.8%) and Ike (5.6%)
  • Top ten here: [Graph].
  • Runner-ups here: [Graph].

Who do you use most often to kill Brave Lyn in Arena?
  • Brave Lyn (12.1%) is the winner, followed by Robin (M) (8.9%) and Reinhardt (8.6%)
  • Top ten here: [Graph].
  • Runner-ups here: [Graph].

Which Fire Emblem character do you most want to see added to Heroes?
  • Micaiah is the winner, followed by Lute and Morgan (both genders)
  • Top ten here: [Graph].
  • Runner-ups here: [Graph].

13.8% have participated in all 7 of these surveys. Thank you all for your continued support!

The average survey respondent has participated in 3.18 surveys.

This survey gained 31.1% that had never responded to one of these surveys before. Full results here: [Graph].

Graphs for the “Rate your feelings on the following statements” questions:
  • [Graphs Part 1], [Graphs Part 2].
  • The most responses of “Strongly Agree” is on the statement “The FireEmblemHeroes subreddit is my main source of FE:H information and discussion”
  • 4.06 is the average rating on “Dancers don’t need good offensive stats to be good units”
  • 4.34 is the average rating on “The Choose Your Legends event exceeded my expectations”
  • 3.22 is the average rating on “My luck in this game is about average compared to people with comparable money/time investment”
  • 4.30 is the average rating on “The FireEmblemHeroes subreddit is my main source of FE:H information and discussion”
  • 3.82 is the average rating on “The Sacred Coins’ purpose meets my expectations”
  • 3.27 is the average rating on “Gennys are friends, not fodder”

~ Feedback ~

As always, I received lots of great feedback, both in your survey responses and in the thread itself. A heartfelt thank you to all participants for your encouragements and criticisms - these surveys wouldn’t be where they are without your feedback. But it’s not all serious: feedback messages also included:

Finally, I’ve made two comments below to organize conversation around two specific topics:
  1. If you want a direct response to a question you wrote in the feedback, respond to the “Questions” comment below
  2. High-effort FE:H song-parodies are honored with their own comment titled “Song Parodies” below.

~ Closing Remarks ~

[For all of the graphs in one album, click here].
 
The 5* Lv.40+10 Build Compendium
If you have a 5* Lv.40+10 build, head over to this thread to submit it

There are only 15 heroes left without 5* Lv.40+10 builds:

Abel, Bartre, Gaius, Gordin, Hinata, Jaffar, Jakob, Laslow, Lissa, Luke, Saber, Serra, Sophia, Sully, Xander (Spring)
 
Extra Life 2017: Team Fire Emblem

Coming up on November 4th is the Extra Life livestream event to raise money for children’s hospitals. If you haven’t seen u/darkdogdemon ‘s post about it, check it out here. It’s a worthy cause, and just a little of your time or money can go a long way towards helping young Heroes defeat their Trials.

A source on the inside informs me that there’ll be some very special guests, exclusive prizes up for raffle, and not 1, not 2, but at least 10 different Fire Emblem games being played throughout the 24-hour period! If you haven’t played the games of some of your favorite characters in FE:H, this would be a great opportunity to see their origins!

Keep a lookout on this sub for more details coming soon!
 
Thanks again to everyone who participated! I hope you find the results interesting, and if there’s anything else you think can be discovered from the data, let me know and I’ll do my best to oblige!
 
P.S., to the person who always ends with #BuffFlorina: your message was the sweetest thing I’ve ever read, and people like you are why I keep doing these. Thank you.
submitted by ShiningSolarSword to FireEmblemHeroes [link] [comments]

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