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Life, Ponies, Towns, and Gnomes

Life's little troubles

I love my sister and my nephew and niece, but I do come to dread their visits from Seattle because they usually bring a nasty bug from the big city.  I was already suffering from a bit of a head cold that left me tired and weak, and now my mom seems to be suffering from something else.  Good thing I'm not scheduled for work for over a week: I'll need the time to recover.

Being as much a computer addict as I am, another thing that makes me feel under the weather is when my computer won't boot.  This happened again this morning when the SSD drive I was using as a boot drive started throwing error 0xc00000e9.  A bit of Google-fu search tells me is a hardware issue possibly related to a loose cable but, even after fiddling with the cables, Windows 7 still refused to boot.  The SSD drive has since been reformatted and does not seem to be having any issues on diagnostic tests, but I don't trust it to be my boot drive anymore.
A chart found on that explains the differences between RAID levels
(Not sure if there were the original source for this chart or not.)
Between my motherboard and various hard drives dying on me, I've had to reinstall Windows more often than I should have over the past year, and am getting really tired of it.  Fortunately, ever since I got this new RAID-capable motherboard, I've been running my two Seagate Barracudas (a model that failed on me three times in the past) in RAID1.  When one of the drives lost power a couple days ago (probably another loose cable) I witnessed for myself how the system simply moved on, undaunted, and how easy it was to rebuild that drive in the background when I restored power to it.

Having now reinstalled Windows 7 to the RAID1, hopefully I will finally have attained such hardware security so as to never need to reinstall Windows 7 again.  In fact, I've warmed up to the idea of running a RAID so much that I'm considering saving up for a larger power supply and more HDD and running a RAID10!  (A pity that would probably require a re-installation of Windows...)

Dem Ponies

The Season 3 opener of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic aired last weekend and, as a card-carrying brony, I've naturally been preoccupied with that as of late.

The Crystal Empire has received a lukewarm response in not being quite as hard-hitting as the previous two-parters, with a villain who was really more of an environmental threat instead of a mustache-twirling type, and it was hard to feel as though the conflict was particularly engaging considering it was mostly just the lead character doubting herself.

That said, the episode was "more pony," and who doesn't want that?  It was not a bad episode, it had great production values, and the genuine feeling of effort throughout that hooked us on the series to begin with.  Besides, I don't expect DHX Media (formerly Studio B) to be able to make every episode better than the last - no TV series of significant length can claim to have done that.

I'm very much looking forward to the remaining 11 episodes of the season, though sorely wishing it was going to be a full-length 24 episode season like the first two.  Perhaps they're working on a movie?  Rumor has it that season 4 is already confirmed, and it's possible they will start airing that sooner.

Out On Towns

Outside of suffering colds, fixing my hard drive, and participating in an Internet fandom, I've largely been "playing" Towns.   Why the quotes about the word, "playing?"  Well, Towns is very playable, but it seems I spend the larger bulk of my time just waiting for my little Townies to finish what I told them to do.
The plan here is to have a keep in the middle of a castle that provides food while having
easy access to food supply methods.  Here were are, 4 months in, and I've yet to start
digging into the dungeon or build the outer walls of the keep, thanks in part to my Townies
being so occupied with harvesting.
Following an individual Townie around reveals the source of the problem with getting things done fairly readily: they tend to switch tasks rapidly without any consideration for the walking distance involved.

For example, if you set an area to be mined, what will typically happen is a townie will arrive, mine one single turf and then immediately dash off to the field to gather some wheat.  There might be thousands of spaces between that mining turf and that wheat turf, but the AI doesn't care!  Consequently, the townies spend so much time walking between destinations that they'll be lucky to complete a half-dozen little things before it's time to eat or sleep!

The solution would be to improve the AI so that, upon completing a task, a townie would search the immediate area and do local tasks, thereby eliminating a great deal of unnecessary walking time.  Instead, it seems that the labor artificial intelligence routine simply grabs the first available job out of its job queue and gives it to the first townie looking for work.  Making matters worse, it tends to put the most recent jobs the head of the queue.  The older a job is, the later it will be completed, causing backlogging.  This also tends to encourage townies to run off and grab fresh drops from a monster-riddled battle front.

I've found that automatic harvesting is the main distracting factor for townies when you want to get work done.  There's almost always a turf of wheat ready to harvest, and the mills chomp wheat endlessly as there's never an upper limit of flour to allow townies to move on to other tasks.  As a result, the townies rarely ever get past the "harvesting" position of the priority list.  
Setting a low priority for your "harvesting" can be an effective way to put your townies to work,
but doing so is much safer when you have a visible food stockpile to know when townies
are about to start starving.
The workaround is to set the "harvesting" priority extremely low, usually in position 7 or 8.  This can potentially come back to haunt you if you run out of materials to make food with, but I leave my "baking and cooking" priority set at position 1, with a wide variety of ingredients available and prepared food stockpiled.  When the food supply gets low, set harvesting back near the top again until the supply is shored up.

If regular priority queue shifting is too much work, a passive solution is to set the automatic wheat harvesting to a smaller number.  This causes, at most, only that number of townies to attempt collecting wheat at once (because it is attempting to reach that number of collected wheat, the maximum townie count will happen in the event the harvested wheat is currently at zero).  While the potential wheat quota is being met, the remaining townies will then be able to reach non-wheat-related jobs lower in the queue.  However, it is an imperfect solution because the greater bulk of the harm is having any townie drop what they are doing in order to walk hundreds (or thousands) of turfs to harvest a single turf of wheat.  Lowering the auto-harvesting wheat quota just makes it so less townies are involved in a given time, but still with no way to discriminate who.

Confusing matters somewhat, it seems the priority list works in a "fuzzy" manner.  If you set "hauling" to priority 1, it will not cause all your townies to stop what they're doing to haul.  However, looking carefully, it seems that doing that will at least assure that a small number of townies will be performing hauling.  (Maybe it's a coincidence and the "hauling" priority does not work?)  Considering how nearly everything a townie does results in them throwing the product of their labor on the ground, hauling will never truly be completed unless you avoid giving your townies anything else to do.

"Not giving them too much to do," really is the name of the game in Towns.  The game's creator(s) would seem to be incentivizing this behavior through the "happiness" score on each townie.  Because townies will only regain happiness if they are given some time to rest, you are encouraged to not give them too much to do, and this doubles as a chance for them to get to the bottom of the fuzzy "priority" list.  Unfortunately, in practice, it's difficult to find a point where there's nothing to do.  This is because, if you have an automated food-making process going on, it's probable that you'll have always some townies involved in either making food or harvesting the ingredients that were depleted by someone having the audacity to eat.

All things considered, I disagree with anyone that says Towns is not in release-state.  Oh, the game is definately rough-around-the-edges, the tutorial could be more than a skeleton, I'll give them that.  But I regard "release-state" as meaning, "fully-playable, reasonably feature-complete, and free of show-stopping bugs or crashes."  On this tangent, Towns seems to deliver.   I look forward to seeing what the author(s) will do with future versions.

Scoping the competition for towns

Soon after a friend of mine found himself engaged with Towns after seeing me play it so much, he did a bit of Internet research and discovered the competing product, Gnomoria.   I gave Gnomoria a spin, and found the game a lot more faithful to Dwarf Fortress, but this will carry a set of pros and cons:
  • Con - I find Towns workship handling a lot more friendly, for several reasons.  The Dwarf Fortress method of manually assigning shops to do work is awkward.   The sheer number of Dwarf Fortress shops is hard to manage, and Towns solved this somewhat by reducing the number of shops and replacing many of them with simply utility benches that serve the same purpose.
  • Pro - Gnomoria allows you to create your own professions by selecting appropriate tasks and then assign those professions to individual gnomes.  This is a fantastic idea that would resolve the issues Towns has with townies crossing great distances to do all the tasks in the game by allowing them to specialize.  It's an improvement over Dwarf Fortress in that Dwarf Fortress professions came about dynamically as a result of assigning which tasks a Dwarf would do, and you could not simply duplicate one dwarf's work priorities on another as you can with Gnomoria's profession system.
  • Con - Towns is prettier, not that I care much for cosmetics.  I'm here for the gameplay.
  • Pro - Gnomoria's music track, while chiptune based, actually has enough length and variety to be considered a music track.  If you can endure an hour of listening to Towns music track, which runs well under a minute, then you've more patience for repetition than even this hardened MMORPG player.  Again, not that I care much for cosmetics, I'm here for the gameplay.
Overall, I find that Gnomoria's main strength is also its main weakness.  That strength being that it does such a good job of emulating Dwarf Fortress.  So good, in fact, that I'd rather play the deeper-but-text-based Dwarf Fortress than Gnomoria.

Even considering its faults, I think Towns better qualifies as a genuine upgrade from Dwarf Fortress than Gnomoria, because they did better than just put a graphical GUI on it, they actually streamlined out a lot of the tedium from the crafting system whiling adding a purpose (that being a growing town that facilitates access to the dungeon for the local heroes).
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