Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The importance of theory and experience

The tree of knowledge is infinitely tall.

I found a discussion the other day about something that has come up time and time again.  Just recently, I wrote an review on Dark Eldar that got a ton of flak.  In fact, after 5 years of running this blog, this was the first time I received hate mail!  I was literally labeled "Betrayer of the Dark Kin" after what I wrote about the new book.

By now, you folks know that I dislike the new book, a lot.  But at the same time, tons of people posting all over the net has made one audible remark: "How do you even know?  You haven't played any games with it yet?"

This, my dear friends and readers, is called theory.  Theory, its hypothesis and predictions are exactly what it sounds like:  A well-educated guess.  After 14 years of playing 40K, WHFB and several other game systems in both a competitive and casual setting, I feel pretty comfortable with my state of knowledge and experience.  I might not play as much as I used to, but I'm very up to date with the meta and the new army books.  This is evident in the fact that I have many friends that play in the tournament circuit, I purchase and thoroughly read every new book that comes out, and I sometimes write a review for them.  At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself who you're reading the article from before questioning the predictions.  After all, you wouldn't go to a car salesman for financial advice would you?

Here is the discussion I'm referring to.  It's by AbusePuppy on 3++ and I don't usually agree with what he says.  However, he was criticized for making a review on the new Dark Eldar just like I was, and he was forced to justify his assumptions.  I quote:

Commentator: And to address Abusepuppy directly: Though I'm not the hugest fan of your attitude, I like your articles and appreciate the candor to a certain degree. I recognize that you're an intelligent player and come from a long background of competitive play and respect your opinion even when I don't agree. This comment is more stemming from the fact that there's been a steady increase online to rush and declare a codex weak and stupid and garbage before players even have a chance to play it. The least that authors can do is be straightforward at the beginning of the article and note that it's all speculation and theory.

Commenter: Its not hard to tell if a unit is good or shit at first glance most the time. especialy when youve played the game alot and are aware of the power level of other options. if you had to pay 20 pts for a guardsmen statline with a 5+ but he has ws 5 and ini 4 you wouldnt need to play test it to know he is shit

AbusePuppy: No, you just don't understand- those theoretical models are theoretically very skill-based. You can't just dismiss them because they are terrible, you have to lose game after game with them before you are allowed to have an opinion, just like you can only tell whether or not you like doing anything by actually doing it. This is why I placed my hand inside the garbage disposal and turned it on yesterday- I didn't know whether it would be enjoyable or not.

(It turns out that it is not very enjoyable, and neither is the emergency room. But that was only my left hand, so I'm gonna give ol' Righty Righty a shot tomorrow and see if it's any different, so wish me luck!)

Commenter: It's not about "being allowed to have an opinion." Obviously people can have opinions and can express them however they like, but that opinion should at least be put in the proper context. Making the definitive declaration that the DE are "really, really shitty" without ever having actually rolled a dice just feels premature and a little defeatist to me, especially since the rest of your article does a good job of identifying the strengths in the codex.

What it comes down to though, is that these articles and other similar ones are actually beginning to brand these armies before people have actually played them. Like I said above, there may be something in there that people aren't seeing because it isn't obvious until it plays out on the tabletop, but less people will be eager to search it out if they feel that there's no point since their army is just awful and that's the way it is. To make wide reaching blanket statements without at least some scientific evidence or testing doesn't sit well with me personally, so I'm expressing my opinion on it.

AbusePuppy: And what I'm saying is that _not all propositions need to be tested_. Even if you're being wholly rational and scientific about things, you don't have to sit down and test literally every possibility on the off-chance that it is true; in fact, that is an idiotic method of understanding things. Instead, you typically take a look at your new data point (in this case a codex or unit) and compare it to existing ones, taking note of the differences and similarities and extrapolating your expectations of what it will be like based on your previous theoretical models of the phenomena.

Yes, at some point you do want to put rubber to road and make sure your predictions are right. But in many cases this is essentially a formality, if it's even done at all- scientists don't need to test how 11.1kg of uranium decays as compared to 11.7kg because our models tell us that the difference between the two should be inconsequential. Likewise, I can look at a unit like Wyches and say "this unit is bad because it is fragile, ineffective, and not cheap enough" and be reasonably sure that my conclusion is correct because I can base it on other, similar units.

Commenter: You don't really go in depth into the synergies the units provide with each other or with the army wide special rules

AbusePuppy: I don't think it's realistic to expect every article to cover every possible consideration, point of importance, or angle. You're right, I don't talk about those things because this is an _overview_ of the codex. If I talked about how every other unit interacted with all the army's special rules and strategies I'd have hundreds of thousands of words of text and most of it would just boil down to "this unit isn't good enough to be worth it." I did that with the Tau codex, breaking it up into many smaller parts (that were each 2000-6000 words long, not exactly brief) because most of the units in that codex are good enough to consider using. That isn't the case for Dark Eldar- Wyches simply aren't worth my time to write about.

Commenter: I simply can't believe that the community as a whole should completely write off an entire codex the day before it's even released

AbusePuppy: Do you think people aren't going to play with Dark Eldar? I don't like the GK book, but I still used it to see how it worked. There were a few little interesting twists on things, but for the most part it came out just about how I expected from reading it initially. An initial verdict does not forever commit one's opinion to that stance and yes, playing with a book will give you a more in-depth understanding of things. But you consistently seem to think that there is NO legitimacy to assessing a book before having... well, I dunno, how much experience do you need before forming a valid opinion? If I play with the book for a week, couldn't you just say that I need a month to "truly" assess it? If I play for a month, couldn't you say it takes a year? Etc.

Playtesting and experience should inform your opinions, to be sure- but you need a theoretical framework to hang your experience on or it's not going to do you a lot of good. When a new book comes out, using that theoretical framework to point out the aspects of the book that are most worthy of notice- unit A looks like it has a lot of potential, unit B is going to struggle with these problems, unit C has a very useful niche in the current metagame, and so on- is important. Collating many different points of view and understandings of the book and particular insights is very critical to making a good judgement of things, and that's why I do my best to read and discuss things with people every time a new codex is released because there's inevitably things I miss, or misjudge, or flat-out read incorrectly. That's why I try to be active in the comments section and discuss things with people, because I realize that my own particular assessment of the codex is hardly going to be all-encompassing. But I can't compare my assessments with those of other people if I- or they- don't say what those assessments are, and that's why I do these articles.

So please, if you have a difference of opinion on the book by all means speak up and explain why and about what. We've got half a week with the new book in circulation now, so if your experiences with it contradict some of my thinking, then certainly write a response- or even a whole post, as I know Kirby is generally happy to accept guest posts if they are reasonably well-composed and intelligent- and explain how you see things differently. But if the only issue you have is that I am putting my opinions out for others to discuss and debate, then I'm afraid there's not really any way I'm going to give ground in that respect, because doing so is the very reason I bother to write these sorts of things.


As you can see guys, at the end of the day, I don't tell you you have to read my material and agree with it.  Just know that what you're reading is backed by over a decade of experience and is coming from a guy who generally knows what he's talking about.  If you disagree, I implore you to discuss it with me and together, we can figure out some loophole that I might have missed.  I have made very accurate predictions about the impact of army books in the past and I encourage you guys to check out those reviews as well.  Having worked in professional game design (multiplayer/balance) in the past, and actively working in the gaming industry has given me fresh perspectives to all games.  I don't think I need to say that I really think things through before writing it on the internet.

In fact, I loathe people who post garbage just to get views.  Hence why I don't post unless I have something to say.


Grim Dark Realms said...

I agree. Intelligent, logical thought backed up by experience of the game can certainly allow one to make some pretty informed opinions about how new but untested rules will perform.

Unfortunately a substantial amount of content thrown around on blogs and forums is not intelligent or thought through. Over reactions and subjective dislike of changes to new codex books has been happening for a while now (whether it turns out to be justified or not) and it's muddying the waters when it comes to identifying genuinely good articles out there that get it right with the careful thought process you describe above. It's a very emotional topic, huge amounts of time and money go into peoples armies and it's hard to stay level headed about it.

HERO said...

I agree, 100%. More so than this game than others where there's a patchlog for computer games. If something goes wrong in League or Dota, you know that there will be patches along the way. For a game like this, you're looking at a huge monetary investment that won't see a new book for a couple of years, hence why, the "truth" (as they say), hurts a lot more.

HERO said...

Of course you're correct in saying that theory must have experimentation and proof in order for it to be law. Because what we know as fact, as in fact laws as defined by the scientific theory. Even then, what can say that it is in fact "law" that the Dark Eldar suck as an army? What is the exact criteria of this clause?

Regardless, I would say that it is socially acceptable for those with more experience, backed by logic and research, to make well-educated guesses. If my hypothesis is that the current book is not that great, it will be proven in the months' time. Accuracy of prediction is often lead astray by those who have illogical, unfiltered or speak from inexperience, without reassuring credentials most of the time. I cannot control the internet, but I can control what's posted on this blog and why I assure people that I'm not speaking out of my ass when I talk about sensitive matters like this one.

Dark Eldar, as an army, will not be overly effective in tournaments. What they will be months done the line will be Eldar Cheerleaders in the form of WWP suppliers, or will be subject to monochromatic builds with a heavier emphasis on Haemonculi/Grotesques droppoing in from DS. That is what irks me most about the army book, and I think many people would agree.

You're right though, there's too much negatively on the internet and I apologize for making another sad post. Dark Eldar is very dear for me as an army and I think I'm allowed to voice some opinion (however negative) and do it in a realistic manner. That's how I've always done it.

Grim Dark Realms said...

It's one of the reason's I have never wanted to play this game too competitively. As much as we can easily point at the balance issues GW should probably have fixed by now it will never be an environment like Starcraft 2 where every change is agonised over and publicly tested with a good degree of transparency.

confoo22 said...

"You're right though, there's too much negatively on the internet and I apologize for making another sad post."

Can't tell if you're being sarcastic with that or not, but either way there's no need to apologize for putting your opinion out there, regardless of who agrees with it. Especially since you've come from a background that lends credence to what you're saying and that I don't believe you're being negative just to be negative.

But there's so much negativity in general towards the game and GW, some deserved and some not, that it causes people to push back and eventually both sides lose rationality over it. Not saying that you have yourself, but certainly people in comment boards and even some bloggers have (and myself from time to time if I'm being truthful). I think we're really starting to see the results of that where people such as yourself and AP are going to be challenged on a more regular basis in spite of your background.

Oh, and I should have said this in my first post, but anyone who is sending hate mail over this is being a complete moron, you've done nothing to deserve that and they're taking the situation way too seriously.

HERO said...

I'm not being sarcastic, I'm always serious. You can tell by the way I post for the most part.

Yeah, I couldn't believe I got it. And there's 300+ comments in the BoLS article, a lot of them inflammatory. The internet is seriously a cesspool most of the time.

Grim Dark Realms said...

I know this article isn't about the new Dark Eldar rules specifically so stop me if I am derailing. Whilst I agree it doesn't look like we'll feature in the tournament leaderboards unless it's to support an Eldar force, I am not so sure we will be seeing completely one dimensional builds.

I have been observing a lot of peoples first attempts at list building over the last week and it's fairly interesting so far. For example: what's the 'go to' anti- tank choice now? Seems people are trying scourges with various weapons, Reavers jumping in and out of cover with heat lances, Reavers with caltrops, Blasterborn in a transport or the standard 3 lance Ravager. Looks like a healthy bit of variation. Perhaps it'll settle down in a few weeks and one of these will turn up substantially more competitive than the others. I'll keep my hopes up for the moment though.

Post a Comment