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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fun and Balance mod for EU4 1.6.1 - now with holy sites and partial westernization

Tired white tiger cub by Tambako the Jaguar from flickr (CC-ND)
So I just finished full campaign as Dai Viet with this mod, and while I liked a lot of things, a few really need changing, so I'm releasing new version of the mod.

I'm not sure if I should keep calling it "minimod" since it's getting more and more content with each patch, but I'm still trying to keep the spirit "like vanilla except fixed", not going into totally different experience, but I'm not above stealing good ideas from EU3 and even occasionally CK2.

You can read about previous version here.

For just download click here.

Minor changes

First, a bunch of minor bugfixes, balance tweaks, and in particular reverting ridiculous westernization nerfs the 1.6.x patch introduced.
  • Correctly got rid of protectorates this time.
  • Forming Qing/Persia/Mughals now changes government to despotic monarchy.
  • Peasant War trigger conditions made more relevant. Now if it happens it's really your fault, not just the game being mean to you.
  • Neighbour bonus increased to -5%/tech level (1.5 levels), with max increased to -50% (to make westernization worthwhile)
  • Completely removed size-based westernization speed penalty
  • Tribal government reform stability requirement moved from +3 to +2 (effect does -5) - AI can't plan to get to +3, so it wouldn't do that even if it ought to.

Religion rebalancing

1.6 introduced separate missionary strength bonuses against heathens and heretics, so it's now finally possible to fix a lot of ridiculousness of vanilla - like Catholics being trivially easy to convert to Sunni, but Shia to Sunni being pretty much impossible.

All ad-hoc per-religion missionary bonuses are thrown away. Previously base values were:
  • Pagans 4%
  • default 2%
  • Orthodox, Sikh 1%
  • Muslim, Shinto, Coptic 0%
Now base strength modifiers are:
  • Pagans 4%
  • Heretics 2%
  • Heathens 1%
which improves gameplay basically everywhere different religions meet, while making far more sense.

Some other tweaks to conversion rates:
  • Important religious center is only -2% penalty, not -5% like vanilla (already in previous versions of the mod, just repeating it here for context)
  • Positive stability gives +0.7%/level, up from +0.5%/level, so if you really want to burn your admin points to speed up conversion, you're welcome.

Holy Sites

And most of all - EU4 now has holy site system very similar to CK2. Each holy site religion controls gives +0.2% to missionary strength. If a religion has all its holy sites, all countries of that religion get +1.0% missionary strength and 1 prestige/year on top of that (that is 0.0%, 0.2%, 0.4%, 0.6%, 0.8%, 2.0% going from 0 to 5).

Getting all five is not supposed to be easy - more a serious mid-game goal. Bonuses for partial control should give you interesting reasons to support other countries of your religion in their fights against infidels - something that vanilla EU4 was severely lacking, unlike CK2.

All sites are intended to have some level of historical plausibility while leading to some interesting gameplay. I'm definitely looking for suggestions, but gameplay takes priority over historical plausibility every time.

All Muslims:
  • Mecca
  • Jerusalem
  • Cordoba
  • Constantinople
  • Karbala
Medina is a pretty obvious one missing, but it would be too easy and sitting next to already existing holy site. Since Constantinople falls within first few years of the game anyway, including Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, and Constantinople (as we'd like) would get really close to completing the set with very little effort, so for gameplay reason one of them needs to go, and Medina it makes most sense to cut Medina.

Karbala is a Shiite holy city, so it would lead to some fun Sunni-Shiite conflict. Cordoba is included to make Muslims somewhat interested in face of Granada and reconquista - something that was completely irrelevant usually.

All Christians share Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople for obvious reasons, and additionally:

  • Macedonia (Mount Athos)
  • Kiev (mostly for gameplay reasons)
  • Alexandria (for gameplay reasons)
  • Tigray (location of Ark of the Covenant)
Catholics, Protestants, and Reformed:
  • Galicia (Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela)
  • Kent (Canterbury, mostly to give Protestants something to do here)
I don't see how any Christians could not have Jerusalem and Rome as holy sites, and Constantinople is really good for both historical plausibility and gameplay, but the remaining two are a bit random. Choosing Protestant and Reformed sites also runs into a problem that reformation in game can start in very different places than it historically did.

For Hindus/Sikhs I just picked some plausible shared sites (based on just a bit of Wikipedia research) with a bit of geographical spread:
  • Jaunpur (Varanasi - Hindu)
  • Coromandel (Chidambaram - Hindu)
  • Gujarat (Palitana - Jain)
  • Siem Reap (Angkor Wat - Hindu and Buddhist)
  • Punjab (Harmandir Sahib - Sikh)
And likewise for Buddhist/Confucians/Shinto:
  • Bihar (Bodhgaya - Buddhist)
  • Shandong (Qufu - Confucian)
  • Owari (Ise Jingu - Shinto)
  • Siem Reap (Angkor Wat - Hindu and Buddhist)
  • Gyeongsang (Bulguksa - Buddhist)
I'm definitely looking for better ideas here, and they don't need to share same sites with other religions in their group. However, remember that gameplay wins over historical plausibility, so we don't want 5 Shinto holy sites all in Japan.

Pagans don't get any, since "Animist/Shamanist/Totemist" are not real religions, just some loose agglomerations of vaguely related beliefs.

You can get missions to conquer holy sites held by infidels if you're neighbour of their holder (even if you don't neighbour the site directly) or you have Deus Vult religious idea. AI in tests has been fairly bad at doing such missions, but then AI can't usually even get its cores back.

Partial Westernization

And for the second big change - any country with less than Muslim tech can now partially westernize up to Muslim tech as long as it has Muslim or higher tech neighbour, loads of points and stability it's willing to lose, and is willing to take 10 years of Western influences (+10% revolt risk, +50% advisor cost). Nomads can't use it as they have their unique "Reform the Government" decision which also upgrades them to Muslim tech, and works along very similar lines.

It doesn't matter if you're ahead or behind on tech - that part never made much sense to me, and nomads can already move to Muslim tech without any such conditions by reforming their government, so I don't see why others couldn't.

Muslim tech means you no longer suffer from -1 or -2 monarch point production penalty, just tech penalty, and that's huge. Going from Muslim, Eastern, or Ottoman up to Western will require regular westernization - or you could just go for full westernization without intermediate steps if you prefer.

AI is surprisingly good at using this decision. Sometimes it collapses to rebels, but often it manages to survive rebellions and use its new tech group to its serious advantage.

Everything is optional

Different changes in the mod are isolated as much as possible, so if you like only some of them and not others you'll be able to cherry pick to your liking relatively easily.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition first impressions

Galileo by Erick Nava Riefenstahl from flickr (CC-NC)
It's not a serious review, just a collection of observations from two day with the tablet.

We need to stop designing for mobiles. When I did some browsing on it, far too many websites autoredirected me to their "mobile" domain which was awful shit compared to the desktop version. There's an option in the browser to make it request desktop version, but it doesn't always work. Every year "mobiles" get closer and closer to desktop quality. Instead of wasting all the time designing "for mobiles" just wait and the problem will solve itself. Remember garbage like WAP early adopters of mobile web did? All gone. Remember all low-resolution designs? All mid-level or higher phones and tablets are 200ppi+ these days, usually closer to 300ppi. 10"+ tablets should be treated the same as laptops today, end of story. For smaller tablets or high-end mobiles it makes some sense to have special mobile version, but the win isn't really that big for most sites. Low-end or old smartphones still sort of need those mobile sites, but unless you're targeting Nigerian market, just wait couple years and everybody will upgrade their phone to something decent.

Samsung should just reassign to another position whoever is coming up with names like "Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition" before they release "Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Early 2015 Edition Gangnam Style Special Deluxe Edition".

It's insane how many passwords I have to enter to get everything running. I'm so grateful for each app which I can just authorize via my Google account. Of course when everything on the Internet can be accessed via Google authorization, NSA won't even have to bother to hack everyone, they'll just hack Google (or find a hole in oauth2) to authorize themselves as you to everything.

VLC for Android does exactly what I want, that is fast playback with pitch correction (you need to turn on pitch correction in settings). I know I probably sound obsessed about that, but there's only 24 hours in a day, and the last thing I want to use them on is slow narrators.

Maximum sound volume of the tablet is surprisingly low, and VLC doesn't go over 100%, which it very much should if the source is encoded at very low volume (like most stuff off youtube).

It's confusing that it's charged via USB cable, but I need to use special charger, not a PC or a regular charger. I understand technical reasons - USB puts limits on how much current devices can request, and tablet's huge battery just wants a lot more - but it's extremely annoying. Wasn't USB3 standard supposed to fix this?

Twitter's Android app is phone-only and doesn't work with tablets, and they don't have official tablet app. That's so weird. I'll have to give all the unofficial client apps a try.

I'll need to get myself some kind of folding case like Kindle Fire has, so I can watch stuff in bed while eating with one hand and petting the cat with the other. That's sort of why I got myself a tablet.

I wanted to read comic books on the tablet, but a lot of scans are very low res, so on high res screen I can see JPEG artifacts better than text itself. Fairly disappointing.

It is way better for reading PDFs (mostly research papers, which tend to be high quality PDFs, not low quality scans) than epaper Kindle I tried for it before.

Airdroid is pretty bad at transferring big video files over wifi, and doesn't know how to resume. It's just faster to connect the damn USB cable than retrying a few times.

XCOM for Android is confused by high resolution and keeps zooming up far too close. It looks like an OK game, but I can't get myself to play with it - not only due to lack of Enemy Within, mostly due to lack of Second Wave options I unlocked ten fucking times on desktop (Steam) version. Absolutely Critical (should be unlocked!!!) and Aiming Angles (unfortunately Enemy Within only) double tactical depth of the game. I wish there were more games on that - most genres don't map that well into tablet interface, but strategy games like Civilization 5 would be just awesome.

My cat likes the tablet a lot more than the laptop. I still need to hold the tablet is awkward positions sometimes for cat's convenience, but it's better than trying to watch something on a laptop while the cat is sitting on its warm keyboard.

SwiftKey keyboard is much less convenient to use than on the phone - on the phone gestures are relatively fast and require just finger movement, but swiping your fingers through tablet keyboard requires moving the whole hand, and it's not great.

Rockbox - just another Open Source UX design failure

Two freebies with my shipment from Xerox (Cosmo and Wanda) by cseeman from flickr (CC-NC-SA)
Rockbox is an Open Source replacement for various "digital music players" I tried on my Sansa Clip Zip recently.

Their choice of words here is interesting - originally these devices were fairly accurately known as "mp3 players", but it got a bit silly since they could play audio files in a lot of other formats.

Wikipedia simply calls them digital media players, which is very sensible since many of them can play video as well (usually badly), but since it's a fringe use and they're generally used for just audio, why not call them "digital music players"?

Because audio is not just music. And Rockbox is designed as if it all was.


And that's a single word summary of everything that's wrong with Rockbox - audiobooks. It doesn't have dedicated audiobook mode like stock Sansa, or pretty much every other media player these days. And the reason a player would need an audiobook mode is that while from technical point of view playback of an audiobook chapter file is pretty much the same as of music file, UX has nothing in common.

In audiobook mode:
  • You absolutely need high speed playback, pitch correction being highly desirable
  • You absolutely need automatic per-audiobook resume function
  • You never want random navigation - it's always whole audiobook start to finish
  • You probably want filesystem navigation
  • You want UI lock while it's in your pocket, since it's a massive pain if one click resets you to start of the chapter or even audiobook
  • For podcasts it's the same except you might want per-chapter instead of per-audiobook resume if you're listening to multiple podcasts from the same source simultaneously
In music mode:
  • You absolutely need to play at normal speed and pitch
  • Nobody cares where you were last
  • You probably want shuffle most of the time
  • You might want playlists, including on the go playlist you can add things to while they play
  • You might want per-song repeat
  • You might want per-artist per-album or per-genre navigation
  • You probably want per ID3 tag navigation, not filesystem navigation
  • You don't care about accidental keypresses
  • If you go shuffle, you want your entire music collection, but you definitely do not want audiobooks and podcasts in the mix
In Rockbox by default everything is set up for playing music. If you decided to start listening to some audiobooks instead you'll need to spend a minute in menus to fix all settings (shuffle/repeat off, speed 150%) then manually create bookmark when you want to stop listening to an audiobook at do something else. Now that bookmark thing is totally insane, so fortunately I found some way to make them autoresume.

It still seems to lack functional lock system (Sansa's lock by short press on power button does not work any more), no pitch correction (there were some patches, never merged, no longer apply), it resets speed settings to 100% when it goes to sleep sometimes, and I just gave up on using it as music player ever.

The only reason stopping me from just restoring stock firmware is that Rockbox can go to higher playback speeds than Sansa's "Fast" (about 140%), and that's probably worth slightly more than having audiobook player also play music, but I'll probably end up doing that anyway.

It's Open Source, why don't you fix it?

Well, I have neither time, nor any desire to touch C code unless I absolutely have to. And even if I did, how many times an Open Source project accepted third party fixing their UX design? I can't think of a single such case.

Monday, June 09, 2014

UK income tax bands

Presenting His Royal Highness King Milo the First! by Malingering from flickr (CC-NC-ND)
You'd think that a question like - what are the income tax bands and rates in UK - would have an extremely straightforward answer you can check on government websites or Wikipedia. And you'd be wrong.

Between income tax, National Insurance (second income tax), and personal allowance phaseout the rates are nothing like what they seem at first (20%, 40%, 45% - yeah right).

Here are the rates I calculated:
  • £0-£7955 - 0%
  • £7955-£10,000 - 12%
  • £10,000-£41,860 - 32%
  • £41,860-£41,865 - 22% (yes, it's a £5 wide tax band)
  • £41,865-£100,000 - 42%
  • £100,000-£120,000 - 62%
  • £120,000-£150,000 - 42%
  • £150,000+ - 47%
In other words - WTF?

The tiny 22% tax band is an artifact caused by the primary income tax being calculated based on annual income, and the second income tax based on weekly income. Assuming 52 work weeks a year, their bands are just slightly misaligned, but if you work fewer weeks a year, this band can widen and you could be paying a lot less in taxes. I'm not entirely sure how that works in practice.

Conversely, 12% band is due to much larger misalignment between two income taxes, and it could widen a lot if you have high weekly wages, but work less than full year, so you'd end up paying no income tax, but lot of NI.

Even weirder case is the 62% band. It's regular 40% rate + 2% NI rate + 50% reduction of personal income allowance which gets retaxed from 0% rate into 40% rate, which is de facto third income tax of 20% applicable only for income between £100k and £120k.

Now, there are many legitimate arguments against income taxes in general, including:
  • high income taxes (especially that 62% rate) generate serious disincentive to work
  • taxing annual income means self-employed people whose income changes from year to year end up paying a lot more than people with stable income
  • taxing income instead of wealth means rich people can technically have low "incomes" and pay very little, while people with just salary and no wealth whatsoever and paying a ton
  • tax bands make no adjustment for cost of living depending on region - so a person living in London will end up in higher tax band at standards of living much lower than a person living in the middle of nowhere - resulting in another way how London subsidises the rest of UK
  • bankers making millions are probably all paying much lower rates than the middle class since they can hire some tax avoidance lawyers and there are convenient tax shelters located just next to the UK.
But even ignoring all that, why the hell can't we just fold three taxes all into a single tax, with monotonic bands?

In all these calculations I'm ignoring 4th income tax - employer's NI contribution, as it's technically not part of gross wages, even though economically it doesn't matter what numbers are printed on the payslip, only how much employer pays before taxes, and how much employee receives after taxes.

And a bonus question for behavioural economics exam: Would marginal income tax rates be more or less disincentivizing if people have no idea how much tax they're paying because taxes are so damn complicated?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Fun and Balance minimod for EU4 1.6.1

Wild Kitty 5, 30 May 14 by Castaway in Scotland from flickr (CC-NC)
Here's updated version of the Fun and Balance minimod. 1.6.1 introduced a lot of changes to the game, unfortunately also breaking it in half. Here I'm trying to salvage whatever is good about it while fixing the rest as much as possible.

The goal of this minimod is not to make any sweeping changes - just do the least necessary to make the game balanced and fix unfun mechanics.

I sometimes feel I do more balance playtesting of my minimod than Paradox does of their patches (as in - some is more than zero).

Download link.

New changes in this version

  • Coalitions - previous versions of the mod removed them, but I'm going to keep them this time. AE levels got totally rebalanced, and they seem to be much less excessive, so it might be worth a try. If they turn out to be still broken, AE could be tweaked, or they could just go away completely again.
  • Free relations increased from 4 to 8 (previously 6), all bonuses which got nerfed from +2 to +1 in the patch back to +2. Even increased it was pretty low, and the patch makes acquiring and keeping vassals more expensive than before.
  • Diploannexation costs reduced from completely ridiculous 15/bt to 1/bt
  • Cost to move primary trade port reduced from 300 to 100 dip, mostly because so many countries start with misplaced trade ports (and moving capital is only 200 adm)
  • No diplovassalization base tax cap - since penalty is quadratic in size, it's very hard to abuse this.
  • Muscovy/Russia does not get free colonist from national ideas. They got massive boost by annexing Perm a lot faster, which ends up in them colonizing all of Siberia much earlier than in previous patches. This somewhat balances that out, but even with the nerf Muscovy is still way too strong way too early.
  • You don't need any idea groups to reform tribal government, just 200 adm, 90 legitimacy, and +3 stability. Forming Mughals / Qing / Persia also reverted to not require reformed tribal government. It was already extremely hard for AI to do that.
  • Pirates who annoyed me so much are no longer there, replaced by the new privateer system! (well, if you have all the DLCs at least)

What I couldn't fix about the new patch

I wanted to make diploannexation to take longer (that why I want it cheap and with high limit - so you keep more vassals longer instead of mass annexing them ASAP), but that's hardcoded. This isn't really a huge deal, and if annexing vassals turns out to be too easy vassal annexed diplomatic penalty can simply be tweaked higher to make things right.

I also wanted to allow wider selection of rivals, but that's hardcoded as well. I really like power projection system, the only problem with it is how narrow and forced rival selection is. If you could choose from more potential rivals, it would be really good, but right now it only gets halfway there.

Previous changes

Detailed explanation in older posts - 1.5.0, 1.5.1.
  • Buildings level 1-4 not destroyed on change of ownership
  • Important religious center penalty reduced from -5% to -2% missionary chance
  • Steppe Horde bonuses increased to +100% manpower, +100% land force limit, -50% land maintenance.
  • Non-accepted culture penalty increased from +2RR to +4RR - this might be too much with new nationalism system
  • Can't reduce war exhaustion while at war
  • No naval attrition due to time at sea at any tech
  • Cleansing of Heresy CB doesn't allow any province taking, but allows forced conversion at 25% cost
  • Imperial Ban CB only generates 10% AE for illegally held provinces
  • EU3 style republican elections (3 random candidates + incumbent, no skill changes or tradition loss on reelection)
  • No Burgundian inheritance events
  • High OE events increase with OE smoothly instead of massive cliff at 101% OE
  • Foreign rebel support increased to 6% (3% in old patches, 4% in current patch)
  • Accepted culture gain/loss thresholds both 10% for greater predictability
  • Monarch point pool increased to 1500 to reduce tech micromanagement
  • Culture change cost reduces from 25/bt to 10/bt
  • Cores and claims last twice as long
  • Coring time does not depend on size (supposedly new patch already does it)
  • No protectorates, can vassalize anyone
  • Vassals allowed to fabricate claims
  • Vassals will buy provinces from overlord if they would as independent countries (it seems new patch already has that)
  • Vassals will buy provinces up to 50% OE just like independent countries (limit was bugged in previous patch and they'd buy at any OE)
Enjoy. I fixed what I could, but for truly balanced experience we'll need a lot more modding support from Paradox.