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I can’t remember precisely when I was introduced to Terry Pratchett. I think it was my first year of university, when I was 18 – but it might have been the year before or a year later. Certainly by the time I left university I was regularly devouring his books as they were published, and now have almost all the Discworld novels on my shelves (I am missing only the most recent).

Not long after I started to read them, my Nana also got into Terry Pratchett. My Nana was never one for being overly hidebound, and she loved his satirical humour and pithy insights into the world. I remember a telephone conversation I had with her about the most recent Pratchett that she had read (though alas I cannot remember which one) just a couple of months before she died – at a time when she was very much facing her own impending curtain-call. We talked about our favourite bits, and what reminded us of earlier books, and we chuckled and laughed before moving onto the next part of our conversation.

At death’s door, Terry’s writing still had the capacity to invigorate the spirit.

That door has now opened for Sir Terry himself. He will be missed, but his writings will live on.

Requiescat in pace

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Well the 9.3 update of World of Tanks is coming out on the EU cluster tomorrow, and there is the usual fairly hefty set of patch notes. What follows are just a few comments of things that most matter to me, and should be treated as an exhaustive overview.

The first and most obviously selling point of the patch is the introduction of a slew of new light tanks, which can really be seen as tidying up matters in the tech tree from previous updates. Every since the Chinese joined the French in having a Tier VIII light tanks it felt only a matter of time before the other major nations were given a similar line. Now Germany, Russia, and the USA all get a complete light tank line ending in Tier VIII. For the USA this also means the overhaul of the last of the trio of old Tier V lights, the Chaffee. I am not going to be playing any of these myself any time soon, but I will find it interesting to see them in the battlefield.

Whilst the light tanks are the headline change, the one that is probably going to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of players is the much anticipated change to the dreaded KV-1S. I think the split in the new Tier V KV-1S and Tier VI KV-85 is very interesting. Having watched a number of reviews it looks like both are going to be very interesting and viable vehicles. I would have loved to have gotten the new KV-1S for free, as they have done in the past (with the VK3001H/VK3002M for example), but c’est la view. I will be purchasing the new KV-1S when I can, and I am thinking of using the 100mm on the KV-85 with the rate of fire nerf to the 122mm. Overall I am muchly looking forward to this change, and I am hoping it will introduce a bit more variety to the Tier VI heavy landscape. In particular I think this is likely going to be a boost for the M6 and T-150, but I could be wrong.

Speaking of nerfing OP tanks, back in the depths of Tier II the T18 is also getting a nerf. This is long-deserved because I would struggle to name a vehicle more overpowered Tier on Tier than that little beastie. The Hellcat is also getting a nerf, but from the looks of things it will still be a very dangerous vehicle in the right hands. The FV304 is also getting the nerf-bat, and I think the most important element of this is the rate of fire being reduced slightly. This should make it harder to keep an enemy perma-tracked, which always used to be the most annoying element of coming up against them.

Another change I am looking forward to, as someone who plays a lot of German tanks, is this new concept of separating transmission from engine, and thereby cutting down on the number of fires. This is an indirect buff to a number of vehicles, which I think should help level the battlefield somewhat. It may leave certain vehicles a little OP (E75 I am looking at you), and if so I am sure the nerfbat will come down hard in due course.

Two other changes which will have a widespread impact is the new version of Murovanka. Personally I have always quite enjoyed Murovanka, so I didn’t actually feel a change was necessary. Nevertheless it will be fun to have a new dynamic on the map, and I will be interested as ever to see how long it takes new meta to evolve. The other development is the new hangar interface. I feel like this is probably overdue for some further work, and it looks reasonable from what I have seen, but will have to withhold judgement until I am using it on a daily basis.

There are introducing a bunch of easily obtained battle awards. I find this quite a fun addition, and generally a good thing. It feels like it will enable “intermediate” accomplishments to be marked and noted, and thereby help cater for the majority of the WoT playerbase for whom a Battle Honour is a relatively rare event.

A more subtle change to game mechanics is that ricochets will now have the potential to do damage to other tanks. This could make choke-points very interesting indeed, and means standing behind a side-scraping behemoth may be a dangerous place to be :). Overall I like this change – though I believe it will naturally favour better players at the expense of less good players (like shooting through soft cover has), I also believe it is subtle enough not to be a problem.

The final change I am going to single out is penalties for afk players and players who leave the battle early. I think this is a great change, and fully support it. Whilst occasionally I myself go afk if there is a need to look after my daughter, from everything I have read I hardly get the impression one game here or there is going to be a problem. Whilst I expect there will be afk players it is nice to see that action is being taken against them. It is a shame that they haven’t managed to get the automatic process on suiciders worked out, but better delay that rather than catch people incorrectly. After all, in certain places of some maps it is perilously easy to end up in the drink (mutters Windstorm under my breath).

There are of course plenty of other changes, but these I think are the mains ones for me right now.

 

So, it has taken me a lot longer to write this post than I expected. My principle excuse is that I have been taking advantage of this wonderful summer we have been experiencing in the UK. A secondary excuse would be I have been a bit wrapped up in some of my other gaming as well, but to be honest a lot of the time I used to spend writing (lunch-breaks at work, for example) I have been spending outside.

Anyway, where do I stand with World of Tanks at the moment. I am starting to play a little more regularly, having played very little for quite some time. Looking at my current desires in gaming, it is clear I am going to be playing somewhat less World of Tanks than I have been for quite some time. This is principally to make room for Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, Kerbal Space Program, and EVE Online. Given I am going to have less time playing the game, I think it behoves me to take a good long look at what I would like to achieve in the game in the short and medium term, but also take a quick round-up of where I am.

To aid in that, a few stats, as of writing.

Games played: 9009
Win rate: 56.64%
Efficiency: 1209
WN7: 1430
WN8: 1524
Battles Survived: 30.34%
Kills/Death: 1.71
Damage Ratio: 1.23

The win rate has slowly been creeping up for months, but most of the other indicators have been pretty flat for a while. I am sometimes finding it frustrating to play, when I find myself doing things I know are probably stupid, do them anyway, and then get it demonstrated to me they are stupid. My usual weakness is what it has almost always been, over-aggressiveness. This remains the one key area of my game I have to work on. I feel if I could manage to boost my survivability up a couple of percentage points, everything else would follow. That remains the long-term goal.

However, improving in the game is not much of a goal – I am sure pretty much everyone shares that goal. No, I want and need some goals rather closer to the here and now.

Tiger II

The first of these goals is, in fact, incredibly easy: get the Tiger II. This has really three parts. Firstly there is affording the tank itself. Then there is affording the equipment I would like to place on the tank. Finally, there is getting a crew for the tank. The first two are really just all about credits. I am going to wait for the tank and equipment to be on discount to acquire it if I can, though I won’t wait forever. This means that the purchase price of the Tiger II will became my credit floor – once I have amassed that many. I currently have just under 1.9 million credits, and the Tiger II at full price costs 2.45 million. For equipment I would probably go for rammer and vents, and then think about v-stabs. Another 1.7 million at full price, but discounts for equipment are semi-frequent.

The crew is more interesting. The crew I am currently intending for the Tiger II is currently in my VK3601H, and currently stands at 86% on their first crew skill (Commander with Mentor, the rest with Repairs). My current thinking is to get them trained up sufficiently so the Commander can retrain to Sixth Sense and the Driver to Preventative Maintenance, and both have Repair back up in the 50-60% range, before retraining the entire crew over into the Tiger II. To this aim I am playing the VK3601H very regularly, and will continue to do so. It is a fairly enjoyable tank to play, if not entirely up to the class of the KV-1S.

Tier X – to grind or not to grind?

This has proven to be a trickier decision, but I have eventually decided to continue currently with at least one of my Tier X grinds, in particular the Panther II. I am certainly not abandoning my other aspirations (the T110E5 line, IS-7 line, and Conqueror Gun Carriage line), but they are definitely taking second place. Indeed I hope to play my entire stable of Tier VIII tanks semi-regularly, as they are the ones at the level where I will find the greatest challenge. I do not see myself often playing the ST-I or IS-4 at the moment though, really only when platooned. This is simply due to the pressure of time.

Japanese Tanks

I now have both Japanese light and medium sub-lines to Tier III. I would very much like to get thorugh to Tier IV and VI respectively, sooner rather than later. Therefore these tanks are currently going to be my lower-tier tanks of choice. However, I have decided to make serious efforts to get the Ace Tanker badge with both before I move on.

Tier V/VI

Generally speaking I have a load of Tier V and VI tanks about, some of which I have not played, and some of which I have partially done. I would like to get as many lines to Tier VI as I reasonably can in the coming months. This is not an immediate priority – training the Tiger II crew – but it is something to start looking at in more detail once that grind is done. That said, it is going to be easy to do some Tier VI grinding alongside the VK3601H.

Crew Training

There is a natural movement here, as I have several crews currently on Tier V and VI tanks I would also like to be trained up to use on higher-tier tanks. In particular my crew currently on the KV-1S is due to go onto the IS-8 as and when I get that. That crew is currently in the high-70% range on its first crew skill. I also have a crew in the low-90% on the VK3002M, which I am thinking of using in the VK3002D or E-50 – depending if I decide to keep my Panther II active or not. Finally I particular I want to use the Stug IIIG to train up a TD crew for eventual use in probably the Jagdpanther II, or possibly the Jagdtiger. Both are a long way off however, as this crew is currently not even 100% in their main qualification.

Overall

Where do I stand? Well, in practical terms this means prioritising the VK3601H and Panther II, then the Japanese tanks, and then other grinds. Naturally some of this will depend with whom I might be platooning with. If they need to play a bunch of Tier VII games I am not going to get in the way – it just means I will be playing other tanks.

 

I have ended up doing rather less gaming than expected this last week, mostly for good reasons and enjoying the rather nice weather we have had the last week. The one particular consequence of this is that I haven’t managed to play any Crusader Kings II this week, which is a bit of a shame. As can be seen, also for the first time in a long while I actually did some writing in the form of the poem I posted a couple of days ago.

World of Tanks

Well over half-way to getting the T2 LT now. I have gone through some spells of horrible luck though – including one evening which began on an 11-game losing streak. I have not managed to achieve all I wished however, and I still have a fair bit to go on getting the tanks. With a bit of luck I am hoping to break the back of it this coming week, which will be very much welcome.

Last weekend I ended up purchasing the Bishop and Pz Sfl IVc, and took advantage of the x5 experience multipliers to boost my way through some of the early grinding. I also played a few games in the Churchill I, T49, and Crusader to do the same. With the 50% discount on Tier V tanks this weekend I am thinking of getting two more Tier V tanks that I have now unlocked. I have been thinking the ELC AMX and the AT 2, but we shall see.

The concentration on the light tanks, and the generally lower win rates I have in them, does mean that I have not progressed so much on my primary grinds. Those will have to wait until after the T2 LT mission is complete before I get serious about them again.

Kerbal Space Program

I have landed on a body not in the Kerbin planetary system. As mentioned last week I redesigned the launcher vehicle for my first interplanetary rocket. I used a Rockomax based launcher, and this was sufficient to get me into orbit … just. Literally the last little drop of fuel took my periapsis above the space border. The interplanetary vehicle itself was successful, though not without fault. I had four nuclear engines on the rocket, but one of them appeared not to be working properly. Some problem with it feeding fuel. This meant that the fuel distribution in the craft got wildly out of kilter, and also at some point the rocket just stopped working, causing the craft to spin. I eventually got around this by turning this rocket off, as well as its opposite, meaning I was running on 2 out of 4 rockets. I also re-distributed the fuel, and all went well again. I set up an encounter with Duna, and in the course of the flight refined this and managed to get an encounter with Ike. Given I had neglected to put parachutes I decided to do a landing on Ike, which I succeeded.

All in all a very successful trip. Forgetting parachutes on the lander is a pain though, because I easily have enough fuel left on the lander to get back into Ike orbit and transfer to Duna. I suppose I could still turn my probe into an impactor and do some further science on the descent, but I am fairly sure I do not have sufficient fuel left over from the transfer to manage a powered landing.

EVE Online

Not yet voted in the CSM, but will be doing that this weekend. So far I will be putting Steve Ronuken, Ali Aras, Sugar Kyle, Mike Azariah, and James Argent high up on my list (not necessarily in that order). I may not complete a full ballot.

Otherwise I have been reading up on the devblogs. My chosen area to go back into will be underdoing fairly substantial change, but the looks of things. Hoewever, given we have only 2/6 devblogs yet I don’t want to comment overmuch because it is impossible to see how it will all link up as yet. Meanwhile I have been pottering about, and generally just enjoying being back in New Eden. My EVE playing this coming week is likely to be a bit reduced however as I want to concentrate on getting the tank missions done.

Overall

Well the first thing to note about my tanking in February is that illness got in the way of a lot of it. I think I have lost at least 1/3 of the month to one ailment or another, mostly of course in this final stretch. This means I have achieved very little of what I intended – but c’est la vie. Indeed as of writing this I am still uncomfortably ill.

I have at least researched both the IS-4 and Panther II, and made a start on almost all the outstanding Tier IVs, and started on the British artillery line. However my credit grind for the IS-4 has been less than successful as I have made a few side-purchases. Going forward into March I intend to make a determined effort to start amassing those credits.

One small milestone that has passed this month is that I have fought my eight thousandth battle. The end of March will also mark my second anniversary in World of Tanks, which I am looking forward to.

Otherwise I do want to push on through getting the remaining Tier IVs played. After which I am going to take a look through which tanks I have and which tanks I wish to get in the mid-tiers, and then pick one to push to. The obvious first choice will be the Hellcat, but I am sure there will be others. Priority, though, of course will go to my current main grinds: T29, IS-3, the crew for my IS-4, and completing my Tier VI grinds. To aid the credit grinds I am also going to try and get some considerable gameplay in on my premiums. Not so much the very low tier ones, but Tier V and above, probably in particular the T-25, Dicker Max, and SU-100Y as they get regular matchmaking.

Garage Trip

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The first Japanese tank in World of Tanks is based on that widely spread French example, the Renault FT. I have ended up playing more games in it than I actually intended, in an ultimately failed effort to get the Ace Tanker. In general I have found the Renault Otsu to be a fairly un-impressive Tier I.

For me there are two main factors that lead into this vehicle being underwhelming. The first is its relatively slow speed. Of course, it is not the only slow Tier I tank, but it is light-years behind the T1 Cunningham, for example, and considerably slower than even the MS-1 or Leichttraktor. This means that it is difficult tank to get into a good position, a problem all slower tanks face. Given that Tier I battles have a tendency to be fairly short-sharp affairs this can get irritating very quickly as a lot of fighting occurs before you can have an impact.

The second frustration is the weaponry, which feels particular underpowered. Its top gun has a low 32mm of standard penetration, which will lead to frequent bounces – especially against Tier II tanks. Meanwhile its rate of fire and alpha are also low, leading to a depressed dpm. It is useful to compare it to the T1 Cunningham in this regard. The pen on the Cunningham is also about the same – but it gets a much better burst damage which generally allows it to do more damage. Alternatively one can look at the RenaultFT. That has even lower alpha and slightly worse dpm than the Otsu – but it also has 50% better penetration making it a far more reliable in doing damage. To make matters even better, like all Tier I tanks, the Otsu has poor accuracy. Long range sniping engagements are therefore far more dependent on luck than they are at later tiers. All in all it feels like the Otsu is in the opposite of the sweet spot when it comes to doing damage.

There are other compensations, but in a Tier I tank they are hard to manage to use properly at Tier I, I have found, where combat ranges tend to be closer. Firstly it has insane gun depression – 22 degrees. I don’t know if that is a record in the game – it certainly could be. Only, given the maps available to Tier I tanks it does’t always get that much opportunity to use its gun depression.

Likewise the Otsu is comparatively well armoured. You can and should be able to bounce shells from other tanks with some reliability – but you will still get penned regardless now and then. You are not going to be able to face a full clip from a Cunningham and remain unscathed even with good angling and the like.

This is not to say that the Renault Otsu cannot have its moments – it certainly can. But it struggles to be a game-changer. That combination of poor mobility and weak effective firepower, compared to its peers, limits its potential.

My own record in the Otsu stands are 20 matches played with 11 victories and 34 enemy tanks destroyed. Along the way I have earned a Confederate medal and a Cool-Headed medal, as well as First Class honours. So a decent enough run, despite not getting the Ace. The one advantage of over-playing the tank is that my Commander now has Mentor at 60%, which with the crew re-trained to the Type 95 Ha-Go will make keeping the basic crew level high easier.

 

Way back when, probably something like a year ago, on his blog (perhaps in a comment) Overlord said the most common quitting points for the new player in World of Tanks were Tiers III and IV. Matchmaking rule changes have shifted around Tiers II and III somewhat, you do not have to go very far at all to find someone struggling. I have known a couple of folks to stop playing at Tier IV, and another who would have done so if I hadn’t helped him over the hump.

Why is Tier IV the pressure point however? Well there are several factors and game design decisions that contribute to Tier IV being the pressure point it is.

Scout tanks

Take two tanks, the Covenanter and the Panzer 38 nA. Both appear to be Tier IV light tanks, and on the basis of the information in-game there is no suggestion of any particular difference between the two. However, there is one critical difference, and that difference is one of the rocks that most commonly wrecks a potential World of Tanks career. The Panzer 38 nA is a scout tank, a tank can can see Tier VIII tanks in battle, and a tank who is not expecting to do damage as its primary role. In other words a tank whose game design is totally different to anything that the new player has encountered up to that point. Remember as well it is easily possible to get into that scout tank with considerably less than 100 games played.

After 100 matches, what knowledge did any of us really have about this game? Especially for the casual player, facing a KV-4 with a pea-shooter is going to be a shock. Oh vets can say “scout tank” or “learn to scout” or other such nonsense, but for most new players who only have the absolutely most rudimentary understanding of camouflage and spotting this is just not something possible. Also bear in mind many of these players will be using crews with a free retrain, perhaps 50-60%, no equipment, probably no consumables. New players do not have the credits for any of that yet. Think about it a moment more and the game-ending frustrating of a run of Tier VII and VIII matches becomes easy to visualise.

Iconic tank traps

The situation is made worse, however, by the position of scout tanks on the tech trees. To get to all the remaining Chinese vehicles you need to go through the M5A1 Stuart. To progress up the much touted T57 Heavy line you first must master the M5 Stuart. That iconic workhorse of the German army, the Panzer IV, is preceded by the Panzer 38 nA with no alternative route. The same situation used to prevail in the run-up to the T-34 as well, when one had to go through the A-20. Now there is the alternative through the T-80 – but again there is no way for the new player to know the difference between the two routes.

Scout tanks are not the only pitfall on the way to an iconic vehicle. Think a moment at some of the most well-known historical vehicles at Tier V in game, with their Tier IV predecessor. There is the M4 Sherman, preceded by the M3 Lee; or the KV-1 which follows on from the T-28. Now I personally hold fond memories of both the Lee and T-28, but the general opinion of both vehicles are that they are crap. To be sure the Lee with its fixed gun is jarring to play if you not expecting it, and I can well imagine why folks struggle adjust to its different gameplay. Likewise the T-28 is large and lightly armoured, making it trickier to get the best out of its weaponry. Given both are on track to some very iconic vehicles lots of people play – and hate – both.

The Curse of Being French

It is not all doom and gloom at Tier IV of course, most nations have a bright spot or two at Tier IV vehicles. But not the French. Ignoring SPGs a moment, and the Chinese and Japanese due to lack of TDs, let us look at the Tier IV vehicles available to the Germans, Russians, Americans, and French. We’ll also ignore premiums.

Germany has two scouts, the Pz 38 nA and the Luchs, a fun medium in the Panzer III, and a great TD in the Hetzer and another good one in the Marder 38T. It also has two tanks generally considered subpar – the VK2001D and Durchbrushswagen 2. So a mixed bag. The Russians have the T-50 and A-20 as scouts, the T-28 as a difficult to play medium, a good TD in the SU-85B, and a reasonable light with regular matchmaking in the T-80. Another mixed bag. The Americans are probably in the best situation. They have their scout in the M5 Stuart, and the M3 Lee which is generally considered weak, but it has two superb TDs in the T40 and M8A1. Competing with the Americans are the British. The Matilda can make a very credible argument for being the best all-round Tier IV tank, the Alecto is an effective TD, and both the Covenanter and Valentine at light tanks with regular matchmaking that are no worse than average.

The poor French, on the other hand, do not get a break. Play up any of the regular French tank lines and at Tier IV you face the AMX 40, the B1, or the Somua SAu-40. Now, I have played and found success with the last two – but my conclusion is that the B1 takes all the sorts of skills to play successful a newer player is most unlikely to have, while the SAu-40 really is completely useless until you unlock the derp. However, you don’t need the derp to actually unlock the next tank, so it is often ignored. I have not yet played the AMX 40 yet, but from all I know it fits the bill of slow, underpowered, and undergunned that the French low-tier tanks so excel at. I am quite sure one contributory factor the relative paucity of French tanks in the game is people get to this trinity of hardship, and go no further.

A surfeit of mediocrity

Ignoring for a moment that there are some of these tanks which I like, or which I think can be played well (we are looking at this from the perspective of the casual, newer player) let us look at all the non-SPG non-premium tanks at Tier IV a moment, just in terms of numbers. In total there are 26 such vehicles at Tier IV. Now let us think a moment of all the tanks that would be classed as “difficult” to play. I would include all the scout tanks, plus tanks generally considered poor or tricky to play. Total them up and you get at least thirteen tanks – over half the availability. Most Tiers have their weak spots, but in none do the more difficult vehicles so dominate. This casts a pall over the entire tier.

Enter the farmers

Then there is another element at Tier IV that can make it such an uphill struggle – the presence of credit-farmers. Credit-farming starts in earnest in Tier V of course, so your newer player would already have encountered a few of them at Tier III. Also of course there would have been some exposure to more experience people playing low-tiers, either for relaxation or serious stat-padding. By the time a new player is at Tier IV however things start getting more serious – approximately 2/3 of their games can end up being dominated by experienced players with high-skill crews. Not only that, though, but since they now can see Tier VI games they get exposed to two of the most domineering vehicles in the game: the KV-1S and the Hellcat.

If you get a bad stretch of Tier VI games in a tank like the Covenanter, or perhaps the M3 Lee, coming up time and again against KV-1S or Hellcat platoons, unable to do damage, yet being constantly one or two-shotted – well it doesn’t take much imagination.

The three-way massacre

So to recap I would say there are three particular influences that make Tier IV such a tough challenge. Firstly the scout tanks appearing with their associated gameplay with no warning. Secondly a large number of generally tricky tanks to play, several of which block to the way more iconic vehicles most people – casual players in particular – usually want to aim at. Thirdly, a much greater exposure to players much more highly skilled who can dominate a battlefield.

As to the last I am not really sure there is anything that can – or should – be done. You cannot mollycoddle people too long. While there may be something that can be done in better balancing platoons in the matchmaker, on the whole exposure to better players is one of the best ways for people to learn to improve (if they want to).

As to scout tanks, well, here I think there is room for improvement, if only in terms of in-game information. Tier IV scout tanks generally have become less useful with the introduction of more higher-tier light tanks, and I generally think that Wargaming will take a look for them. As to the other weak tanks – well, I would like to think some of them would be looked at as well – but if one is brutally honest these are low-tier tanks so their priority will be low.