How to Grok World of Tanks

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“I don’t get that game.  Why do you want to play it?  It’s stupid!

“It’s just a bunch of people getting randomly killed by other people!

“What is the difference between a light tank or a medium one?  Or a heavy one?  Aren’t ALL tanks Tank Destroyers?!

“And what the hell is a Self-Propelled Gun anyway?!  It looks like it is a tank with no top for crying-out-loud but it works like it was artillery!”

The complaints went on like that for another ten minutes as we sat in the booth at Johnny Rockets waiting for Jim to finish venting.

Last month we met at Red Robin – I like Johnny Rockets better and Chance knows that.

Chance likes me – he has a man-crush on me and I know that.  So I only had to mention that I was craving a Johnny Rockets shake when we were getting ready to depart the Cape for him to make the decision.

Since we had to pass the Burlington Mall on the way to parking at Chance’s grandmother’s house before taking the train into Boston and Pax East anyway, Chance decided that as Captain of our “Team” that was where we would lunch.

As the oldest person at the table I was out of place among the predominately college student crowd at the table – they were all law students at UMass Dartmouth, whereas I was plenty old enough to be their father.

One reasons that they tolerated my presence was that I’m a pretty good gamer.  Another was that I write – in fact that’s how they met me.

One of their professors asked me to come to the school and give a talk about writing to the pyramid and clarity of expression – a skills set that  lawyers (and those who want to BE lawyers) really benefit from having.

And of course there is the fact that I am handicapped, so nobody wants to make me feel bad by doing something like ask why I was hanging around what were arguably children when our ages are compared.

For my part, this has a lot to do with that whole “adult” thing.  You know, the story that you get fed when you are a kid about how you are not old enough to do whatever it is you want to do but are being told you are not old enough – and that you will understand later, when you are an adult?  That’s total horseshit.

Last time I checked I was old.  Really old.  And you know what?  I don’t feel anything different inside than I did when I was fifteen and was being told I would understand when I was an adult.  More to the point, the only thing I have come to understand is that you can use that logic on a teenager when you don’t want them to do whatever it is that they want to do, and it works every time.

So in a nutshell, what I understand is that the reason I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do then was because they did not want me to do them.

I understand that the only difference between the me then, and the me now, is a matter of consequences.

As in “I now understand that there are consequences to the things we do.”

On the inside I am still the same person I was at 15 – I just have a LOT more responsibility and the option of hiding in the bathroom or saying “I’m sick” no longer works because why?  Because the bank still expects my mortgage check on the first, that’s why.

“I think the problem you have here Jimmy, is that you don’t understand how this game works,” I said, waiting until he had slowed to a squeak.

“Uh, yes I do,” he declared.  “Grandpa!” he added after a brief silence.

“Well if that’s the best insult you can muster on short notice I sort of get why you can’t grok World of Tanks,” was my reply.

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“Grok?  What is that?  That isn’t even a word!” he gasped.

“Listen little man, words are the tools I use to pay my bills.  If I say that’s a real word, it bloody-well is.  I am paid to know the difference.  For instance earlier you used the word ‘factoid’ wrong.

“From how you used it, I gather you think it is a small fact – when in truth the word ‘factoid’ is defined as the use of incorrect ‘facts’ which, if you carry out that logic to its proper end, means they aren’t facts at all — they’re essentially imagined ideas repeated and reprinted so often they’re accepted as fact when they aren’t factual at all.

“And by the way, ‘irregardless’ Jimmy?  Not a word.

“What you meant to say was ‘regardless’.  Oh, and fuck you very much,  Jimmy,” I added.  Then took a long pull on my Orange Creamsicle Shake.

“I think Chris is right about that – there was a student in one of my classes last term that said irregardless and the prof came down pretty hard on them about using made-up words and… Oh… Wait… That was you,” Chance said, causing the rest of the table to chuckle and Jimmy’s face to glow.  What can I say, Chance likes me.

“Well Grok is not a word.  What is it supposed to mean?” was his feeble reply.

Grok,” I explain, “Was taken from Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, and technically is from the non-existent Martian language.  The dictionary defines it as understanding something intuitively, or by empathy…”

“Well Merriam-Webster says its definition is ‘to understand profoundly and intuitively’ but yeah, it’s a word,” Kay announced by interrupting me.  Holding out her smartphone she showed Jimmy the page on Grok from the dictionary website.

Kay is Chance’s girlfriend and, believe it or don’t, she’s a good gamer. Notice that I did not qualify that by saying something sexist like, “for a girl.”

Kay grew up in a nudist resort in Florida.  Her personality is almost precisely that of the character of Kit Keller in the movie A League of Their Own.

Kit was played by the actress Lori Petty, who I like a lot.  Her most recent credit is for the character of Jeri in the TV show Gotham if that helps you remember her.  Actually the character she played in Orange is the New Black – Lolly Whitehill will probably be more easily recalled.

If you want to know her defining role of all time at least in the Kingdom of Chris?  That would be as the title character of Tank Girl, in the movie by the same name which is based on the  British comic strip by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin.

Kay has a lot of heart and a willingness to put in hard work for the betterment of her guild or team.  For example she has a high-level White Mage in FFXI and a healer in WoW – not because she likes playing the healer mind you, but because someone has to.  Good gamer.

“And in any event, I honestly believe that if you give me five minutes I can explain World of Tanks to you in such a way so that you not only understand it, but find you actually like it,” I said, completing my interrupted thought.

“Cha!  Right!” Jimmy laughed.

“You do realize that after you explain it to him he is going to say that he still does not understand you, and he will declare victory; even if such declaration is silent and false and only takes place inside of his head?” Kosei asked.

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“It really bothers me that you don’t use contractions in your spoken English,” I replied.

Kosei is from the city of Osaka, in Japan.  He is here reading Law because the company he works for and who basically paid for his education decided – in their infinite wisdom – that he will one day head up their legal team that is responsible for representing it in American courts.

That company – a popular Japanese automaker – strikes me as intimidating for a number of reasons. They require Kosei to write a report on himself twice a year that explains what he has been studying and that offers a critical assessment of his progress, including a section on what he is doing wrong and how he can correct that and thus improve the results being obtained.

That is just whack!

Or perhaps it’s the notion that they could be looking so far ahead into their needs for legal representation that they would evaluate their employees reading law on the company dime in Japan and, upon his graduation in Japan, dispatch him to Massachusetts to study law at UMass.

What bothers me even more is the fact that they chose UMass, Dartmouth as the law school he would attend.  Why there?  Why not Yale, or Harvard, or Columbia?

I actually asked Kosei that question and you know what he replied?  He said “There are already members of our team reading law at those schools.  It has been explained to me that this school graduates a disproportionate number of attorneys whose area of litigation tends to be or include product liability suits, and it is anticipated that the personal contacts and social relationships that I establish here will have far more value to the company.”

Kosei has a credit card from his employer that he is expected to regularly use to entertain those social contacts – which is how his group of mates go to New York City on the weekends as well as elsewhere – for social activities.  Is that whack or what?

So yeah, in addition to being valuable to his company for the reasons described above, Kosei is valuable to our guild for a completely different set of skills.  You see, in addition to being able pick up the check for dinner whenever he wants to, Kosei is willing to translate the Japanese symbols from the Inscriptions in the Customization Screen in World of Tanks – which I very much appreciate since most of them do not say what the game says they say.

Also he orders for us when we eat at Zenkichi on 6th Street in Brooklyn.

You see normally you can only order via the current menu as Zenkichi uses the Omakase style of menu selection  – and while that does change every month or so, when we eat there Kosei just tells the host that we want – and I quote – “どのようなシェフが考えることは、今日は良いです.”

What happens when he orders is the Chef comes out to the table and inquires as to our expectations.  Kosei then explains that our concerns tonight lean towards texture and the experience of complimentary flavors.

That’s a pretty serious and important distinction – which you know if you have ever eaten genuine Japanese cuisine.  We are basically asking that the Chef select the meal we eat – which pretty much is how Omakase works in the first place – but it really is not the same thing.

Whatever we get as a result of our order will not be a dish that appears on the current menu – it will literally be the dishes that the chef felt would properly serve our desires in terms of textures that compliment the flavor of the meal.

Yes, it is pretty ballsy to order like that – and yes, often the result is some pretty strange ingredients.  All that aside though, we’ve never regretted it.  Not once.

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 About World of Tanks

Following my offer – basically throwing down the gauntlet – Jimmy was browbeaten into sitting and listening to me as I tried to explain the game to him and so fulfill the claims I made.  So I did.

World of Tanks is pretty much what you said – a game in which a bunch of people ride around in tanks trying to kill each other.  And not surprisingly they succeed more often than they fail, otherwise you wouldn’t have a winning team.

You were saying that a major part of your problem is you did not have access to the type of tank you want and need.  You also loudly stated that you would not pay to get it.

Actually what Jimmy said was – “I’m not like Koko here, I don’t have a credit card I can just use without having to worry about paying the bill – so I can’t just buy the tanks I want!”

In truth, Kosei doesn’t mind being called Koko – it turns out that the name belongs to one of the characters in a book series he reads that he admires a lot.  The character is called Koko and, if I understand this correctly, is a psychic cat.  He also does not use the company card to pay for World of Tanks purchases as far as I know, and even if he did, you can’t really buy tank levels like that.

“The structure is very simple.  If you look at the Tanks Screen for France (or one of the smaller countries that don’t have a huge list of them) you will see that the tree begins with the Renault FT – which is a light tank that  was created in 1929 as one of the first production tanks for the French Army.

“You play with that tank until you have the XP built up to upgrade it – once you have done that, you then build up the required XP to pay to research the next tank up in the generation tree.

“The FT is a Light Tank in the first gen of tanks.  It is the ONLY First Generation tank in the French Tank Tree.

“The Second Generation of tanks in the Tree are the Renault FT/AC which is a Tank Destroyer, the FT/D1 which is a Light Tank, the H35 Hotchkiss which is another Light Tank, and the Renault FT 75 BS – which is a Self-Propelled Gun 0r SPG.

“Whichever one of those you decide you are going to research will pretty much dictate the line of tanks you will continue to research.  So for example you level up the XP for the Renault FT, and then you research the Renault FT 75 BS.

“After you work up the XP to research the various upgrades for the FT 75, you will then research the Lorraine 39L AM which is the next tank in the tree and a Rank/Generation 3 Tank.

“After that you research the Rank/Gen 4 AMX 105 AM nle. 47, then the Rank/Gen 5 AMX 13 105 AM mle. 50, and finally the Rank/Gen 6 AMX 13 F3 AM – which was developed in the 1950s and mass-produced for use in France as well as sales to Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Morocco as well as others.

“That is the level or rank you were complaining you needed.  If you opted instead to go with, say, the US Tank Tree, the path would be similar but you would have more options even from the start.

“For example when you completed the research of the Rank/Gen 4 Tank – which is the M3 Lee – you would then have the choice of moving on to the M4 Sherman (a Medium Tank), the T1 Heavy (A Heavy Tank) or the T14 (another Heavy Tank).

“All that is assuming you followed the bottom branch of the American Tree mind you.  But let’s say you instead followed the Artillery Branch like you did in the French Tree because that is what you are interested in.

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“The path that would have followed is the top branch of that particular tree – so the Rank 1 T1 to the Rank 2 T1 HMC, then you had to decide on either the Rank 3 M7 Priest or the Rank 3 T18 HMC.

“If your ultimate goal is to unlock and use the Rank 10 T92, then it doesn’t matter which of the two Rank 3 tanks you researched, or the Rank 4 either – but when you reached Rank 5 your only choice was to research the M41 HMC as that is the only one with a direct path to the T92 at Rank 10.

“Basically the take-away from this is that the selection of tanks you make early on actually does matter.  And you need to have a clear idea of what the high rank tank is that you eventually mean to field.

“Now that only applies to the SPGs – later you might decide, hey, I want to use the Light or Medium Tanks now, and maybe after that a Heavy – or the Tank Destroyer.

“In that case, you look at the tree and you see that you can use the Rank 2 T3 HMC Tank Destroyer to get to the Rank 3 T56 GMC Tank Destroyer, and so on.

“For the Lights you choose the M2 then the M3, the M6, M7 and so on.  Now you understand how the Tree works.  That means for all practical purposes you have mastered the game in terms of its structure.

“You know how to get to the tank you want, so all you have to do is put in the work.  In that case the work is simply playing the game!

“Let’s say that I wanted to follow the Tree at the bottom because I want to unlock the Achievement for owning five French SPG’s at the same time.

“To do that I will need to research the FT BS, then the 39L AM, the AMX 105, the AMX 13, and finally the Rank 6 AMX 13 F3 AM – all without ever selling off ANY of the previous Tanks.  That adds some complications to the mix.

“Basically to do this I not only need to play in that line of tanks to get the XP required to research, I will need to build the Silver required for the purchases of both the research AND the cost of the tanks, and in addition to all that, I have to be sure to I have suffcient Garage Slots to have all five of those tanks as well as all of the other tanks I own.

“Because for sure you are going to want to work other trees at the same time…

“The best way to acquire Garage Slots is to keep an eye on the sales screen in the game.  Every now and then there will be special sales like the one that is on now – so by  spending 400 gold I can obtain a starter kit with 1 Garage Slot, 2 XP Boosts, and a collection of supplies.

“Normally a Garage Slot will cost me 300 Gold anyway – but by spending the 400 Gold on that Special Sale deal I got the Garage Slot (300g) plus 2 x3 XP Boosts (a x5 pack is 438 Gold on sale so figure that is 175g alone), while the other odds and ends ordinarily cost Silver but that doesn’t matter – I got them and 475g worth of other items including the Garage Slot for 400g – so I did okay.

“If you don’t want to check the Store every day looking for a deal, just buy the Garage Slot at full retail cost – but I prefer deals.”

I then explained how picking three or four tree paths under separate flags was a good idea since the first battle you play with each every day automatically gets a x2 XP bonus – and you can increase THAT by applying bonus XP multiplier items as well – and there you go!

“The real issue here – at least for you Jimmy – is that you have not yet tasted success.  You need to see some real progress in your game before you are going to start feeling like you are gaining something.

“So pick three paths under three different flags, ideally three different types of tank, and then start working them as described.”

And that was where the conversation ended.  He said he would, and as far as I know he did.  As to whether that made a difference?  He is still playing – and he no longer complains or says the game is stupid – so I would like to think it did.

Are you playing World of Tanks?  If the answer is no, then why not?  It really is a fun game.  Just saying.

The Emotional Impact of Gaming…

While the most obvious advantage younger gamers have over older gamers is finer hand-eye-coordination because, let’s face it, the older you get the slower you get…  But perhaps the most valuable advantage that the young have is that they have yet to form emotional attachments to specific games that can cause depressions and long periods of daydreaming about days past.

I am serious about that last one — the older I get the more frustrating the realization of just how fleeting the memories and the experiences we have in video games really are.  Which is sad because it is not uncommon at all to encounter a game in which the player willingly invests a significant measure of emotional attachment.

I am speaking specifically about the MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies.

Here was a game that we played for years – seven years for me – that we originally were drawn to thanks to childhood memories of the movies and the way that they somehow helped to shape our childhood world.  Seriously.

When the end came it came not from a lack of customer-base — there were still plenty of players who wanted Galaxies to continue despite the mucking about that the developers did that nearly ruined the game and certainly ruined the combat system in the game!

No, it was closed out of concern that allowing it to remain in business would somehow have an impact on the new Star Wars themed MMO – little did the folks at Sony and LucasArts realize that the hard feelings that Galaxies saw at their hands ended up causing a large chunk of the core supporters of the games to simply walk away, never to return to the franchise because they felt personally betrayed.  And they were, really.

There are mornings when I wake up and I feel eager to log in to Galaxies, check out my home on Naboo and its small museum-like display of the many treasures and souvenirs collected over seven years of game play…  Only to remember that I cannot do that.  That world no longer exists.

Star Wars Galaxies EMU

Call it an act of rebellion.  Call it a gesture of respect.  Consider it something that serious fans did because they CAN — but at some point following the closure of a game and social environment that was well-loved by so large a group of Star Wars fans that some sort of gesture was inevitable.

At some point a group of code-slingers got together and decided that they would resurrect that world – Star Wars Galaxies – by developing core server support that was sufficient to permit the legitimate owners of licensed copies of the game (I own a dozen myself thanks to special releases, expansions, and the like) that permits them to run the program and enter – and PLAY – the game as if nothing had changed.

Well of course something had changed – for one thing that world that you spend so many years on and all of the different objects that you collected is still gone – but at least there is the possibility for you to add at least the flavor of those experiences back into your virtual life.

For most players what this means is that they will dust off the disc, re-install it to their game box, and then log in and play on a server someone else has created and hosts for that purpose.

Call it once bitten, twice shy if you like, but the experience of losing my Galaxies world once at the hands of the creator was enough to make me vow never to invest that sort of emotion into a game again unless I control it.

So instead of playing on someone else’s server, I will delay this gratification of a return to the world of SWG until I can afford to put together a dedicated SWGEMU server of my own.  A robust high-end custom-built system in other words, that will sit on my home network in the network room here at Four Pines Farm and pump out Star Wars Galaxies all day, every day, and no delays!

I will make that server available to my mates but that is as far as it goes.  Well, not quite.  You see the admin who controls the server can also craft and deploy missions on that server, so I can see me spending the time and effort that it will take to grow familiar enough with coding that beast to create custom missions and objects and…  Yeah, I can see that happening.

Some day soon…  In a Galaxy not so far away… On the green and verdant planet of Naboo… The Server RECNEF will arise.  Oh yes…  Of that there can be no doubt!

So how was your week?