Monday, September 14, 2015

Double Spoiler adventures

When Shoot the Bullet grinding yielded less and less results because improvements are hard to make, moving on to Double Spoiler seemed natural. At first it was a slow start last year, and with pretty much no decent scores at all, I put the game on hold. Around 7 weeks ago now I restarted the challenge, fueled by a new passion for the game and for conquering the unseen and unknown. I've learned a lot about the scenes and about general playing since then and although I am nowhere near pushing DS as much as I've pushed StB, I'm still content with the work I've poured in for now, and It's time to take yet another break.

Some of the thoughts I have regarding transitioning from StB to DS:

- The most immediate thing to get used to and that makes switching between the games somewhat awkward is the major difference in lens behaviour, manipulation, and the fact that the frame angles towards the boss (so no more oval "corner aiming" like in StB)

-The Two Shot requirement is much tougher in DS. In StB you can have a sizeable portion of your sprite cut off, in DS, you can't even cut off your feet (and if you take it from certain side angles, you can even have your whole sprite fully visible and some excess space, and still not get the two shot).

-The hitboxes are much bigger in DS, and they are circular. Forget everything you knew about hitboxes in earlier games, they're all bigger in DS, sometimes considerably so, some are even bigger than the sprites. This takes much getting used to and it's sad that people are unaware of it.

-DS has Completely random movement. The bosses follow you in StB so the only random part is the vertical movement. This was already a pain when scoring so imagine how completely random movement sucks. It can really turn the game into a nightmare of endless waiting and timeouts. I'm pretty used to it by now, but I still think it's horrible.

-DS is unfair. StB was by and large a pretty fair game where you don't really get a whole lot of stupidity or forced deaths, it was more a matter of grinding for RNG or very very tight execution requirements. DS goes way further because it still has the grinding for RNG, it has even harder execution, and it is way, way more unfair. Tons of scenes have random unavoidable insta-deaths or other more or less obscure problems that may or may not end any run should they occur, it makes it less fun to work on every scene, when I played StB I wanted good scores everywhere, in DS this can quickly drain your motivation to continue.

-DS has a lot more depth to lens manipulation and specific problem solving for optimizing your bonuses in addition to base points. Despite having so much experience with StB, having to learn all these new things really did feel like I was learning an entirely new game, and not just new levels. I like that the sequel took the original and not only changed completely how you play it, but also add tons of depth that the original didn't have! 

-DS is much harder. Although a lot of DS scoring aspects feels annoying in comparison because of the unfairness, by and large increased challenge is a good thing and that's what I like about DS. Don't get me wrong, StB had some incredibly tough scenes to score like 9-1, EX-8 etc, but DS has harder scenes and tons of them, the WRs in many scenes are nowhere near "optimal" even when not accounting for RNG, while in StB that's never the case in any scenes, Almost all the score that's missing from WRs is just due to RNG. This is partly because StB has had a bit higher level competition but mainly because DS is just that much harder.

-Hatate is cute.

Which game do I prefer now? Honestly, sometimes when I play DS, I feel like it really might be the better game, because many scenes really benefit from having the gameplay that it does, and the increased challenge and depth gives more reason to play it longer. Having two characters to switch between is also fun. But in the end, I still have a lot of gripes with DS, because so many scenes just feel so stupid to grind. In the end, I love both games dearly, but they're both flawed games. It really just comes down to accepting those flaws and loving these games for what they are. It feels strange and awkward to play StB now, but until I've put at least half the time into DS that I have into StB, I really can't bring myself to make this choice. Both games are among my absolute favorite games of all time without a doubt.

But I didn't just want to blog about starting (and now, temporarily quitting) DS, I wanted to talk more specifically about what I've accomplished, future goals, and about some of the scenes.

In my 300 (and one) hours of playtime, I've somehow already managed 91.3 million with Aya, and 94 million with Hatate. This exceeds what I expected. I think it is safe to say that my first ~100 hours were pretty much a warm up, and I got better and better the more I played. Replays are always submitted to royalflare if they are first or second place, otherwise, I only submit if I found that the score is decent enough from my current perspective, or even if I have a score that feels decent, if it needs just a tiny push to reach first or second place, I have held back on submitting. I don't expect that anyone besides myself and maybe a few Japanese players really cares about replays for DS anymore, but just in case, my apologies for keeping so many replays to myself.

The number of first place scores (stars) is 27, while the number of second place scores (diamonds) is 46. With 207 categories (reverse spoiler excluded) that means I have yet to reach top 2 in half, nonetheless it feels very satisfying. Of course I consider that non-submitted scores beat mine at times. CLRs most notably, but I made up my mind to only use his replays for reference, rather than considering them seriously. Mizoru deleted their Iku records, t1100 only seems to submit first place scores with very few exceptions (perhaps when he suspects the top score is TAS?) and some people submit TASed replays, for instance I am 100% certain that 9-7 top score is TAS. I think it is safe to assume that t1100, and perhaps some other players, have plenty of my scores beaten with their non-submitted replays. Until I actually know of the existence of these replays it is pointless to think about it too much, so due to that, I have no issue with saying I have the number of first place and second place scores that I do.

In the goal of the future, there are many scenes I want the record in, and for overall scores, 100 million with Hatate seems actually reachable. It may be a stretch, but with enough work, I think I might be able to pull that off.

The following scores of mine I feel are the most accomplished:

2-1 (Aya), 3-5 (Aya), 3-6 (Both), 4-4 (Both), 4-6 (Hatate), 5-7 (Hatate), 6-8 (Both), 7-1 (Aya), 7-6 (Both), 8-3 (Aya), 8-5 (Both), 8-6 (Both), 9-1 (Both), 9-6 (Both), 9-8 (Aya), 10-3 (Aya), 10-7 (Both), 11-8 (Both) and 12-8 (Both). Depending on my mood I might exclude some and include some others but let's not make the list excessively long, I'll just talk briefly about these scenes.

2-1 with Aya: 287,397
Sum of best  60,9xx + 69,193 + 87,447 + 101,641 = 319181. I found a new strategy for the first photo which allowed for a higher score, which was great. Memory is a little hazy but, from what I recall, the timing for dashes, and for stopping was incredibly strict, and you needed the right movement RNG after the dash to avoid losing score. In addition, to safely make the dashes without dying, you need a great reading ability, so dying was the usual on this one. A very hard scene and not particularly "fun", but because I did possess the skill to actually play this one, I do want to aim for 300,000 in the future.

3-5 with Aya: 375,539
My sum of best is incomplete on this, but it is likely only higher by about 10,000 or so. This score was dear to me because I even beat CLRs reference replay somehow, it was very unexpected. One picture (I think the third) was mistimed by a few frames (high 1.4 nice shot) which is terrible, as it removes also boss and angle. The gist of this scene from how I played it was to get very lucky movements within the time limit, and then to luckily have the bullets miss you if Kogasa isn't quite low enough that the bullets won't reach you, and then try to take the photo on the right frame. My run was very lucky, the bullets kept missing me which gave a small risk bonus addition, and the base point luck was high on the last photo. Besides, you need a high luck just to get the right movements within the time limit. Most attempts are timeouts. This score is most likely final.

3-6 Both:
Not a whole lot to say overall, but it's more fun than 2-1 or 3-5. I borrowed the strategy from t1100 except with a misdirection difference. The only difference when using Aya compared to Hatate is to tap focus once to align the frame. The score value fluctuates wildly based on luck so my sum of best is much higher than my high score. In the future I want to improve both scores.

4-4 Both:
You need a high luck with the bullets to avoid dying, and Momiji has to move the right way or the photo gets completely bent, so chances are very low that you can finish this with a high score. Timing is adjusted later and later for each photo, on the last photo, you should aim for a low 1.2 nice shot so 2~3 frames before you miss the bonus entirely is ideal. You can aim for risk shots in this, particularly it can be aimed for easily on the first photo by positioning so that you die the frame after the photo is taken for max risk

5-7 Hatate: 537,907
The best photo is 136,705, multiplied by four you get 546,820. My score is pretty close to that and iirc, was very light on subtle flaws. Perhaps the macro could be a bit higher, but most of the score gains on this scene comes in the form of base value RNG, and mine was high, I remember that much.
This is a pretty tough scene because you need a very high precision to survive it, and luck so you don't get walled by pink bullets inside the lasers. I memorized the initial pixel to go to by using a dot at the bottom of the screen (outside the play area) as a visual marker. Surviving is very strict. after following the laser lane all the way up to  ichirin, the hardest part is timing your tap and its length correctly so you make it into the next laser safespot. This is where I die the most often. If you successfully survived it, aim down and aim for the first frame of the nice shot. Repeat 4x.
It's surprisingly fun but I'm not a huge fan of precision stuff, but I did spend the time grinding out the RNG until it was well above average base value luck. Somehow I had more trouble finishing with Aya, so no RNG grinding as her.

6-8 Both:
This was annoying, but I found an interesting way of collecting the 9 blue balls more consistently with Aya. Anyway, I've learned a lot about this.

Both the Aya and Hatate scores are work in progress, but I felt the Aya one was a bit closer to reaching a high level of gameplay, even if the score is still lower than I want. This scene is somewhat hard and very luck based, let's just leave it there, but I want 1 million with Aya if possible, and top score with Hatate would be nice!

7-6 Both:
Excellent luck and smart compositions with both characters yielded me some great scores! I love this scene, it is complex and once again I'd like to keep some details to myself, besides, there's way too much to talk about in this scene to go over right now.

8-3 Aya: 2,987,288
For sure I wanted 3 mil and as a bonus it would be nice to beat my 8-3 rival Andrew but excluding that stuff I think this is one of my better scores. Actually, if it wasn't for Andrew pushing his score in 8-3, my own score would be significantly lower, probably. That really sparked something in me and made me want to understand this one better. I feel that my understanding is still somewhat limited. The simple down-up-around-Orin's right shoulder composition, I understand how to do that and roughly how to adjust depending on fairy/Orin distance, but what I don't understand is how you control where the fairies end up after the defensive shot. I also am not sure how to compose when Orin is further left. Even with a good understanding of 8-3, the execution shouldn't be taken lightly. Timing is key. 1.5 nice shots are very important, even high 1.4s ruin the pictures completely. Surviving when spinning around to herd the fairies to the bottom right can be troublesome. Cool scene, I want higher score in the future, and also with Hatate.

8-5 Both:
Tedious endless waiting while taking pictures and scouting for fairy positions combined with Orin's position. I enjoy this surprisingly much. The luck involved is out of this world. Want higher scores.

8-6 Both:
Hands down one of the most fun scenes in any photo games, but it is very simple. I adopted ckt's extra sun strategy that increases the difficulty tenfold but only gives a small amount of average higher score. The overall score you get is all about luck. The difficulty of using ckt's strategy on the final photo is so insane that I would only do it if I felt I was lagging behind. Kinda the same with the 4th photo, I did the easy strat if I had excellent luck thus far. The difference in score is minimal anyway.

9-1 Both:
I love this scene. This is the height of DS memo-scoring, up until the final phase which has nothing to do with memo anymore. So much depth and an insane difficulty for optimization. I would like to get the record with Aya in the future and a higher Hatate score would also be nice.

9-6 Both:
The troublesome third phase is super luck based and is just endless waiting. This is a very tedious scene with a high degree of difficulty. To make matters worse, you may die on the laser phase with a bad luck because I think it is beyond human ability to read openings in some waves. The third phase is the most troublesome because of luck, but the second phase is actually hard as well, and significantly different depending on character. With hatate on the third phase, I was forced to charge instead of focusing all the time when waiting for the picture, which makes dodging a lot harder. It is necessary to not drop the two shot. The 8th shot is very troublesome with hatate because the bullets have to dodge you rather than the other way around or you will drop boss shot because you cant go close while charge. Mainly though, I have no issues with surviving the barrage, the hard part is intuitively taking the pictures the right way at the right times. Want improvements for the future.

9-8 Aya:
Confusing with regards to the base value, I don't know to what degree is the luck involved, but on the last photo the bullets can guide you into better angles depending on how they form, I think this was key for me to get my unexpected 222k photo in my record. As for the other photos, I memorized the proper timings as an attempt to get the highest base values. There's no nice shot, but I think you get small, visually unnoticeable bullet spawn bonuses. Probably not gonna improve this score.

10-3 Aya:
I wanted to beat CLRs reference replay but the luck didn't lead me once... Anyway, it's a good score for a pretty shitty scene based on endless waiting for the right movement luck.

10-7 Both:
I got the record with Aya, but not with Hatate. Actually, I understood Aya composition very well but Hatate is a little mysterious. Either I don't understand Hatate as well, or the top 2 Hatate scores on Royalflare are just a lot better than their Aya scores. Anyway, it's an interesting scene with a high degree of luck with base value, but you still have to play specifically to raise the score to the optimum. It's a very unfair scene with the stray bullets walling you and with stealth bullets appearing out of the laser when you want to take the photo. I'd say my Aya score is final, but because I don't have the record as Hatate, I want to get that as well.

11-8 Both:
Positionings and timings are super strict. Hard scene. Did not beat CLRs reference replays.

12-8 Both:
Originally I didn't like this at all. It grew on me a bit but I still find it a little annoying. t1100s Hatate score is a complete mystery to me, so for the future my goal is to understand what the heck they're even doing.

Well, that did end up being a lot of text, but hey. I tried to keep the details to a minimum.

There's  high scoring scenes left where my scores are utter shit (not to mention lower scoring ones as well) and there's tons of stuff I want to improve either way, so more DS in the future is a given! I just want to do something else now.

Below are pictures of my current overall score, and of 9-4 since it's probably the main scene I should focus on next if i want a higher overall.