Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fighting games are fun

Fighting games are fun. Lately I have been watching a dood's stream and youtube channel to do with fighting games. At the time, he was mainly playing Killer Instinct (2013). This is interesting as Killer Instinct is both a game I do not own and will never own, unless they release it on PC (i.e. its an XBone exclusive). Why I would watch someone play a game I have never played and possibly never will strikes me as a little unusual. The simple truth is that watching people play fighting games can be incredibly entertaining, especially if they are themselves an interesting person.

Fighting games are fun. However, why fighting games are not streamed or publicized more often is a bit of a mystery.  Perhaps it can be better understood by the reaction of the general gaming community. Every now and then you will see a well constructed post about fighting games. They usually don't pull much traffic and get very little attention. Sometimes, even negative attention. The fighting game genre, despite its prominence and significance in the history of video games, is not as popular a genre as you would expect. This is, in my opinion, incredibly unfortunate as fighting games are some of the best examples of ingenious game design and mechanics in games, even today. To some extent, lack of appreciation for the genre stems from general ignorance and inexperience. "Button mashers" could not be a more derogatory and inaccurate description of both the genre and the people who play them.

So, if fighting games are fun ... why not play them yourself? At a recent fight night, some friends and I did exactly that, ripping and tearing flesh in Mortal Kombat X, slicing and skewering in Soul Calibur V and flinging plasma repeatedly in Ultra Street Fighter IV. The latter of these games was somewhat more interesting as it did not simply devolve into combatants rolling their face in hopeful desperation. This is primarily because Street Fighter is not a game you can really 'spam' well in as it is usually more effective and enjoyable to learn to play properly. Competently executing just a few simple moves is enough to make you competitive, and playing against someone of equivalent knowledge is perhaps the most fun of all. Even without having played for months and having plenty of cobwebs, two of us managed to provide a slightly more competitive match-up which was (imo) the highlight of the evening. This was complete of course with plenty of wake-up shoryus, wake-up ultras, botched inputs and general missed opportunities. Also, it's my first 60 FPS video. Woot!

Comparatively, we are not very good players. However, it is interesting to observe later how even relative noobs can employ a primitive footsies game in Street Fighter. Once you get past any reaction and mechanical input issues, fights seem to have a more dynamic, tactical flow to them. It is not hard to see why fighting games are taken very seriously by its somewhat niche community. Hype is a real thing. I am just happy to be able to experience it every now and then.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Window to your soul

Apparently my previous post and video spawned some minor interest from folks wanting to know about any other videos I make. Surprisingly, it turns out that I have actually made quite a large number of videos in the past few years. Even more surprisingly, not all of them are to do with video games. This short post reveals some of the other videos I have worked on regarding other jobs and interests I have.

So some people may know that I tutor for several units at QUT. The one unit that has allowed me the most educational and creative freedom would be Advanced Game Design where I teach students how to use Unity 3D. A colleague and I worked on a previous video series for this unit which, while certainly educational, was a little boring and drawn-out. The new format I am working on is much more straightforward and to the point. The following is the first video of a potential series of short Unity 3D tutorials relating directly to Advanced Game Design at QUT.

I was also contracted to create random videos for QUT's newish Digital Signage program. This program essentially consists of a various large screen displays around the campus showing news and information about uni courses. The original format was a little boring, so I was hired to jazz up the video feed somewhat. At the time, it was rather difficult as I would only be given a few instructions and some text with which I had to turn into several minutes of animated video. Unfortunately I am currently no longer doing Digital Signage work, which sucks because it was both good work experience and decent pocket money.

The last video in this post is somewhat more personal. An old friend of mine called it a "self-less act" but it was honestly quite a fun project to undertake. My high-school reunion was several months ago. I unfortunately could not attend said celebration due to having an important presentation at the time. However, as I had worked on the senior video/dvd, I had access to all the old footage from ten years ago. Getting 10 year old footage off of 15 year old technology was a painful task, but the end result was enough content to make a video to contribute to the reunion in some way. The video itself was an interesting edit, finding the right juxtaposition between happiness and sadness. Making it made me realise that I do miss high-school to some extent. It was a simpler time with good friends that forged the mould of traits I look for in people today. When did I get so old...

Honestly, I wouldn't mind doing video editing for a living if I could. Realistically though, the chances of that happening are even smaller than working in the games industry. I guess time will tell.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

God's in his heaven, all's right with the world

I am not a religious person, by any means. While I think our Universe could very well have been instanced by a supreme being or intelligence, I am not naive or arrogant enough to believe that the human race has any understanding of said supposed deity. Especially not in the form of a book or societal system composed of stories and practices so overwhelmingly irrelevant in contrast to the nature of the Universe. The concept of 'God' is a quixotic ideal that humanity may never fully understand or realise, despite so many attempts.

It is uncanny, then, how significant Neon Genesis: Evangelion has been in my life. The series takes a slight nod towards the Catholic faith, using religious elements as set-pieces in a much grander scheme. While this is mainly focused just on the Genesis story and the Crucifixion, the borrowed elements allow for a much more ... believable story to take place. The irony in this is only further juxtaposed with the (original) ending to the series where the Human Instrumentality Project comes to fruition. Translation: the forced transcendence of humanity without the (direct) help of God.

That is probably a bit much to take in, so let's drop the tone a few notches. Evangelion is undoubtedly my favourite anime of all time, but not for the mentioned reasons. It is probably the first anime I watched religiously (ha!), evaluating its evolving maturity while undergoing my own. It has a great story and some rather unique character relationships. It is warm, funny, action-packed, violent, tragic and sometimes heartbreaking. The End is potentially the most fucked up and depressing but insanely logical conclusions to a franchise, ever. I can honestly say that Evangelion has taught me a thing or two about living and affected me on a personal level. For the better, of course.

So, as you would expect, I randomly made a video about it. Essentially it is a trailer for the franchise, paying tribute to its story and overall brilliant insanity. It was surprisingly difficult to fit so many hours of plot into just a few minutes. It is probably one of the tightest cuts I have ever produced. This process has given me an appreciation for people who edit (good) trailers as well as the companies who make quality anime. How like Evangelion to still be teaching me things even today.

Recommend watching at fullscreen, 1080p.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fight, Kill, Salute!

Well then. It has been awhile. After taking a break from gaming and ... well, life in general, it is interesting to find myself again playing that game. True, I played a classic vanilla version of it a couple of years back, even to the extent of making a strange video. But not the real deal, not for a good 5-6 years now. I am talking about proper, modern WoW. In all its glory ... and all its horror!

As you would expect, much has changed. Initially, to the point of complete and utter overwhelming confusion. So many new, poorly explained stats, spells and systems as well as so many old ones made redundant. While some classes and specs do feel more streamlined, some honestly feel quite gutted. I have never had so few buttons as a destruction warlock, and felt so gimped at the same time.

Dungeons have cinematics now.
Nevertheless, the latest expansion is an interesting experience, especially from a lore perspective. Having just read a few Warcraft novels, I can say the Warlords of Draenor are definitely an interesting bunch of chaps. However, getting to them can be an issue though, for several reasons.

Firstly, the server I used to (and still do) play on has become afflicted with this strange, bandwagon nonsense of becoming a single faction dominated server. Frostmourne currently holds a near 4 to 1 Alliance to Horde ratio at the new max level of 100. Back in Wrath of the Lich King, this ratio was almost 1:1. This Alliance domination, as you would expect, makes leveling on said PvP server incredibly taxing. Rarely will you be ganked in a 1v1 encounter, and if you do, its usually by someone at max level with amazing gear. Therefore, leveling as Horde in Draenor on Frostmourne takes a major degree of persistence. Life is difficult as you are definitely not handed the easymode PvE card at any point in your journey.

Secondly, I still have very little to almost no interest in raiding. Funny, considering it is still the major component of the game. Unfortunately I just have zero attention for the static, gear-check, all-to-familiar encounters that raiding provides. I did my share of it in vanilla, BC and (especially) WotLK and got bored and irritated there too, usually while topping charts in sub-par gear. I have no intention of returning to those dark days.

4,2,2,2,2,1,C, repeat. Translation - ZZZzzzzz
So that just leaves PvP. Particularly, in my case, battlegrounds and arena. I have always enjoyed the complexity and fluidity of WoW's combat system, especially when engaged with other players. However, despite doing this for 10 years, Blizzard still havn't quite figured out how to balance it yet. While it is probably impossible to get perfect, Retribution Paladins, Feral Druids and (especially) Hunters are ridiculous in PvP at the moment. The latter are often the topic of complaint on the PvP forums [1][2], and justifiably so. As both an Affliction Warlock and Arms Warrior, needing to save all my cooldowns on two diametrically opposed classes just to bring a hunter down is evidence of their imbalance. It is no surprise they are the most popular class in PvP at the moment.

Not enough hunters, clearly.
But enough complaining. Despite its problems, battleground PvP in WoW has been an enjoyable activity thus far, both solo and randomly with a group of friends. It caters to my need to compete against other human players in a game that is both in a fantasy setting and not a FPS. Frantic but tactical fights against other players over strategic objectives can make for gameplay that is both gratifying and beautiful to employ. While world PvP is neither honorable nor feasible on Frostmourne, fighting back against overwhelming odds can have its moments. The following video contains one such example, counter-ganking an old nemesis who has both a class and gear advantage. Overall, the end result is a strange sense of calm and presence of mind. I only wish more people I know could experience it too.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Walking into Mordor

I swear as of late I just know how to pick em. Games come and games go and very few of them truly catch my attention these days. Destiny is a good example of a game that I honestly could not have cared less about. Fueled by obnoxious levels of hype and boasting one of the largest production budgets in history, it turned out to be nothing more than a mediocre FPS with severe problems. I would be lying if I said I wasn't slightly glad about Destiny's critical reception. Perhaps we will see a shift from the modern AAA trite and I will actually be interested in FPS games coming out. Perhaps not.

Nevertheless, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game that did get my attention as soon as I bore witness to its presence. Friends of mine can attest to my interest, sparked primarily by an early gameplay trailer (Jan 2014) that is, amazingly, almost exactly what the game is like. That should be considered as high praise these days, considering how many gameplay trailers end up being hogwash in actuality. While I wasn't peeing my pants in excitement, I certainly had an inkling that the game would be a hit. For the most part, this has certainly been the case. However, for reasons beyond my understanding, this game has apparently gone 'under the radar' for the vast majority of the gaming community. Colleagues of mine say they knew nothing about it until the day it was released, which is odd considering I had been anticipating it for months. Different interests, different tastes I suppose.

My one and only Nemesis.
Publisher marketing shenanigans aside, Shadow of Mordor is a brilliant game. If you are at all vaguely interested in it, I would suggest reading any of the many positive reviews it is getting and learn more about it there. They will mostly say the same thing. Irritatingly however, many reviewers seem to harp on the fact that the game borrows liberally from the Assassin's Creed and Arkham gameplay mechanics. Having played a very small amount of both of those franchises, I can say this comparison is not completely accurate. While it does implement a familiar, tried and true stealth/combat system akin to these games it also injects about a 10 litres of anabolic steroids into them. It's kind of like comparing movement in Wolfenstein 3D and Quake III. Sure, they are both FPS games ... but in one of them you can do a lot more.

While I would say that anyone who has played the game extensively would know this to be true, for some people I know it may not be completely realised. While I am all about getting my money's worth when it comes to playing games I have bought, I have witnessed several people blaze through the game in a blind, mouth-frothing frenzy. I have never understood this mentality, of buying a game and completing only a small percent of it (usually in the form of a campaign) as if there is a prize for finishing it the fastest. A 'review' by RPS actually sums this demeanor up quite well by saying it'd be "like someone boasting about how fast they drove past a beautiful view". I completely agree and I feel nothing but sadness for people who compare game 'finish' times as if they mean something.

Such beauty. Such wit.
Overall, Shadow of Mordor has provided me with many, many hours of orc slaying madness and is easily on my very short list of games to recommend. It is a beautiful, often comical game that knows exactly what it wants to be and executes its own existence with style. I will probably return to it at some point when I feel like acquiring more epic runes for my bow and dagger. Until then, enjoy this kill compilation of my walk ... nay, stroll into Mordor.

1080p fullscreen recommend.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

100% Fresh Squeezed Walrus!

Who would have guessed that during the few hours I get to game these days, I have somehow managed play even more Diablo 3. This probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, especially considering the game has pretty much become Tetris for me now. Unlike Tetris though, D3 still receives incremental updates to expand on the game play. The latest Public Test Realm is where I have spent a good chunk of time lately, testing new builds and gear within the new Greater Rift content. GRifts, at least in their current form, are an interesting idea, clearing a rift as fast as you can for progressively better reward chances. However, it is probably not something I will take overly seriously. This I will explain.

When Reaper of Souls came out, the Double Tornado (i.e. what I dubbed "Ride the Walrus") Barbarian was pretty much hung, drawn and quartered. Everything that made the build the synergised monster it became was nerfed into oblivion. I was fine with this because the build was admittedly quite strong and, unlike many barbs, foresaw its Armageddon a ways in advance. However, amongst a plethora of buffs for all classes on the current PTR is the return of Whirlwind's move speed to 100%, for all runes. This buff will cause a lot of Barbs (such as myself) to consider putting the ability back on their bars. At least for niche content.

An example of this niche content is the upcoming GRifts. In its current design, high level GRifts require 3 things from players: extreme defense, extreme offense and fast movement speed. While the first two are normal for many players, the need for movement speed can be an element that will turn many players off. Often, GRift content, which is randomly generated, is usually sprawling with large gaps between enemy encounters. Running a build that does not allow you to trans-locate quickly from place to place puts you at an enormous disadvantage against builds that do. This has the capacity to restrict efficient GRifting builds to but a select few, for all classes. Personally I would have preferred a more survival, wave based mode, but maybe that is still on the cards for the future.

Nevertheless, I have given GRifting a fair go and it is seriously a lot of fun! The synergy Whirlwind has with other movement speed enhancing abilities makes it the perfect tool for rapidly dispatching multiple enemies and moving on. Adding the new legendary gems into the equation make for some ingenious build and gear combinations. This is especially true when addressing the fury/resource problem, now that Barbs can no longer get fury on crit. Without going into too much detail, the builds in the video can be summed up as follows:

Lightning - Safe/Tanky: Windshear Whirlwind (fury on hit), Together as One CoTA (damage shared with Ancients), lightning damage gear and Lightning Wreath gem (mini-conduit).

Physical - Synergy: Dust Devils Whirlwind, Ancients Fury CoTA (Ancients generate fury), Momentum Overpower (fury on hit), physical damage gear and Taeguk gem (spam resources to keep damage stack up).

Fire - Efficiency and Damage: Volcanic Eruption Whirlwind, The Council Rises CoTA (Ancients do massive damage), Furious Charge - Stamina (mass fury generation), fire damage gear (reduced resource cost) and Enforcer gem (pets do more damage).

Maximus with Ramalandi's Gift Enchant
The highest I have managed with my brief time on the PTR was GRift level 28. Due to some horrifying elite packs, meandering level layout and a few deaths (really bad in GRifts!!) I could not manage further in the attempt. On a good day with better luck I imagine I could get as far as 35 running a physical or fire WW setup. However, due to the incredible amount of luck and RNG involved as well as the strict build limitations, GRifts are probably not something I will take too seriously. Instead, I shall add it to the list of activities I frequent in D3, sating the desire for raw game play when on demand. You know, kind of like with Tetris.

soon .............. (tm)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Evolution of Madness

Videogames! Not everything needs to be about them. Indeed, this whole post will be about something rather different, despite obvious crossovers in contextual similarity. Every now and then I find myself editing a quick video to represent some of my thoughts. This post details one such incident.

As much as I think mass human conflict (or war) is completely insane and an absolute waste of life and resources, I cannot help but feel intrigued by the topic. In short, this video shows a brief history of human conflict, reflected via the use of footage from both movies and actual footage from periods of war. The video starts off with a focus on the former, and ending with the latter, hopefully bringing light to the fact that war in cinema is based on real, historic events that should be taken seriously. I say this because I know certain people that, for example, don't know that Hitler was a real person, or don't understand certain aspects of cultures and societies today. I consider this ignorance to be a travesty and evidence of a problem in modern day education and priorities.

The video is inspired heavily by the original Do The Evolution animated music video, which has a similar vibe and theme. It is meant to be an anti-war video, hopefully exposing the madness of war and revealing facts such as our marriage with technology for dealing death. While I think mankind has come a long way from our homo-sapien cousins, we are but a few steps out of the cave when it comes to matters of pride, ego and theism. Until there is a fundamental change in the way we think about ourselves, our future and our place in the universe, war will continue to be a part of human life. At this point it is still both habitual and instinctive.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

More like Diabro

It appears that Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is taking up most of my gaming time these days. Rightly so as well, as it is an amazing expansion to the Diablo universe and probably one of the more solid cooperative multi-player experiences on the market at the moment. While there are some minor issues I have with the game, mainly regarding loot and class changes, the new dynamic game content and Australian servers more than make up for it.

Admittedly though, most of the content in Reaper of Souls is for the max level player. While you can level a Crusader and experience Act 5 at some point during your playthrough, you won't get your money's worth unless you are actually interested in endgame content. While the new adventure mode is available for all levels of character, the total legendary item list including crafted, set and difficulty specific ones are only available at 70 in torment difficulty levels. Gambling bloodshards for items and tweaking them using the mystic are good time and money sinks, albeit frustrating ones at times.

With the removal of the Auction House and the introduction of Bind on Account gearing comes the further emphasis on group play, even more so than in vanilla. Such a focus has inspired me to create a clan to allow for easy communication between friends and friends of friends. I have called the clan 'Dread Berserkers', taken from the name of one of my more dominant armies in Rome II: Total War. It is currently at a comfortable total of 25 members, with all degrees of gearing, leveling and interest between members. This diversity is refreshing and allows members to help each other no matter where they are in the chain. While I never expected to be a leader of anything in Diablo, it has been an enjoyable and pressure-less task thus far. One of the ongoing weekend activities we seem to be doing at the moment is 'weekend Ubers'. The video below shows our latest attempt. I recommend watching at 1080p.

Special thanks to hotpies, Onthax and BlueMneme for participating in this week's attempt.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Path of Clunkiness

Ha. Someone reading my last few post titles may think I have a grudge against Path of Exile. While there are elements I still actively dislike, I have overall enjoyed the game quite a bit. Far too much, one might say, having now put in over 250 hours and leveled a 75 ranger. I haven't been using silly build names in Path of Exile like I was doing in Diablo 3. If I was, I would probably call the ranger's build something lame like "Hailstorm" as it focuses on lightning and cold damage for the most part. I guess I would call my Marauder's build "Zero Fucks" and my Duelist's build "Epilepsy" as well.

There isn't really much to say about the ranger's build itself as I feel it is relatively generic. She uses Lightning Arrow and Frenzy for her AoE and single target damage, Lightning Warp for mobility and kiting and a single, straightforward Cast When Damage Taken combination. Probably the most interesting aspect of the CWDT combination is the use of Frostwall. It spawns short wall segments which both block and push back enemies, allowing more room for kiting and adding some automatic crowd control to the mix. The walls also combo well with Lightning Arrow as Lightning Arrows do considerably more focused damage when they detonate on walls. If an enemy happens to be immediately behind a Frostwall, the arrows will detonate on the wall and do AoE damage, but also Fork (support gem) through the wall hitting targets behind. Should a target be immediately in front of a Frostwall, the Lightning arrows will detonate on the the target, fork and detonate on the Frostwall behind. When your positioning is right, the mobile wall you carry with you can be used to do massive AoE and single target damage at varying ranges, all the while staying relatively safe. This concept is demonstrated in the picture below.

Besides the Frostwall + Lightning Arrow mechanic I have been abusing, the bow user has some interesting game play aspects. Resembling a (much) tamer Demon Hunter, you have the potential to avoid 75% of the game's damage output by virtue of being ranged. Especially boss melee abilities. Because of this you are rarely affected by dangerous status ailments such as stacked poison charges, poison clouds, stuns and stacked shock charges. The abilities given to bow users have a high focus on AoE usage, especially when combined with appropriate gems. These abilities frequently have some elemental damage conversion allowing access to elemental damage builds. As you will primarily stack dexterity to use these abilities, accuracy is not something you need to worry about running around with 90%+ hit chance all the time. A ranger's early game passive nodes are also very potent, with considerable damage bonuses.

There are some tradeoffs however, the most noticeable being a distinct falloff in damage output as you level should you not pay it sufficient attention. Unless you stack strength and use Iron Grip (something I did not do), your damage scaling is very much dependent on your gear and passive nodes. As strength also gives you miniscule amounts of health, the staggered upgrade effect of the game is much more pronounced. As you naturally become squishier over time, making sure your gear is on par with the content you are facing is critical for success. Because of this, you are forced (though perhaps not unwillingly) into employing kiting tactics against your foes. The squishy but mobile, 'glass cannon' concept is perfectly fine, though it is somewhat problematic in execution in Path of Exile. I say this as I again draw attention to the clunkiness of the game's combat and how stutter stepping, dodging and casting spells is a slow and broken affair. Coming off the heels of Demon Hunter game play in Diablo 3, I find myself annoyed at the lack of response the game needs to make the play style truly work in this game.

Nevertheless, I did manage to get to 75 without issue. Of my three 75's it was probably the least enjoyable to level, though not by much. I think going from the madness of Flicker Strike to the mediocrity of Lightning Arrow will do that. The video below shows the ranger in action. I have intentionally facetanked some sections just to show how Lightning Arrow and Frost Wall compliment each other. Recommend watching in 1080p.

As I am pretty sure I will not be playing Path of Exile seriously for a long while, I will also leave some comments about realisations I have regarding the game's mechanics. Hopefully they are useful to someone.

Armour and Evasion Comparisons:
The most important thing to realize about armour in Path of Exile is that, for the most part, it sucks. You may naturally think that armour makes encounters with hard hitting melee dudes trivial, but in actuality it barely makes a difference. In short, the harder a mob hits you, the less percentage of that damage will be mitigated through armour. If something is capable of one-shotting you with 0 armour, it will still likely do a huge amount of damage even if you HAVE armour. Where armour really shines is against attacks that do little damage. Individually these attacks are meaningless, but en masse (e.g. against large packs of light enemies), armour comes into play very effectively.

Evasion on the other hand is great in theory, but makes you very susceptible to taking random damage spikes from attacks, hard hitting or not. These spikes are unpredictable and uncontrollable, creating scenarios where you can just randomly die in normally 'safe' situations due to bad luck. Personally I have never been a fan of evasion/dodge in games as it has always felt like dice-rolled karma. It is unreliable and I feel it can encourage bad playstyle habits such as ignoring other critical defenses (health, block, movement speed, resists, buffs, manually avoiding stuff etc) in favour of more evasion and more damage. There is also very little involved in relying on high evasion rating to 'tank' for you, as well as very little you can do when it fails.

When it comes to the argument of armour or evasion, I am naturally inclined to say both. However, given only a single option, something you are somewhat forced into when playing Path of Exile (lest you have the best of no worlds), I would likely go for the reliability of armour. While it is going to do little for you against heavy hitting physical damage dealers (e.g. bosses), you have a greater sense of your own survivability and likely a balanced effective health pool to back you up should trouble arise. These elements can contribute to a more reactive, enlightening and controlled play experience.

The mana and attack speed trap:
I have always preached that you don't do any damage when you are dead, whether it be a MOBA, ARPG or MMO. In Path of Exile, I have a new one, that being you don't do any damage when you are oom (out of mana). This issue is related directly to attack speed, and the potential mechanical trap it creates if you are using it solely to increase your damage. I have always considered attack speed as little more than gravy when it comes to doing damage in these games. Unless you are benefiting from Life on Hit, hitting harder usually scales much better than hitting faster. In Path of Exile, the mana cost of spells, supported by gems or not, is static. Whether or not you level them up, they will cost the same amount of mana whether you are level 1 or level 75. This can be problematic, especially early on. The majority of abilities in the game are cast depending on your attack (or casting) speed. A fast attack speed means you deplete your mana pool much quicker, leaving you oom sooner. At this point, if you are waiting on mana regen or needing to flask excessively, you are already playing far less efficiently than if you had mana. Essentially, attack speed has destroyed your ability to do reliable, consistent damage. It only functions as artificial sheet damage that has no meaning in actual game play.

The answer is to not stack attack speed overly excessively and, to a lesser extent, even mana regen. What you want is mana leech, whether via gem (all damage) or gear/passive (only physical damage), and you want to hit like an absolute truck. Doing this early on is somewhat difficult, unless you have incredible gear. One way around this is to buff ability damage using gems that have a positive tradeoff for the damage they deal vs the additional mana they cost. An excellent example of this is Multi-strike, a gem I use on both my Marauder and Duelist.  Eventually you will hit a point where your ability can potentially return the mana it costs within a SLOWER time-frame of you spamming the ability, a time frame you are never oom in. With 4 to 5 linked ability combinations, this becomes increasingly possible. It will only get better from there, as increases in damage (i.e. NOT from attack speed) will only restore more mana faster, potentially at a profit! It is at THIS point you could consider getting some additional attack speed, to normalise your mana leech rate. Not before it.

Cast When Damage Taken combinations:
A few people have asked me why the characters in my previous two videos seem to explode randomly, with symbols and buffs appearing around them all the time. The answer is a gem called Cast When Damage Taken. It is a gem that makes life easier, but with some rather harsh limitations. First of all, it will only cast gems that are of a equivalent or lower level requirement than itself. For the base gem this is about levels 5-7, which, in Merciless difficulty and with the massive damage scaling reduction the gem imposes, results in almost nothing. Raising the level of the CWDT gem increases the level of gems that it can support, but requires you to take much more damage for them to be cast. So essentially your options are to cast crappy spells that do almost nothing frequently, or effective spells that actually do stuff albeit infrequently.

If you are clever you will realise the potential for this gem to do damage for you. That potential can be summarized as the following: Fuck All. Instead, this gem should be used purely for status effects, whether it be on yourself or on enemy targets. Probably the most effective combination I have devised uses a combination of two CWDT gems working in tandem. One is left at level 1, the other I levelled to 15 or so. The first CWDT  gem has an Enduring Cry gem attached that generates Endurance charges every 400 damage or so (within 4 seconds). The second CWDT activates at around 1600 damage taken, one of the attached spells being Immortal Call. Immortal Call uses all current Endurance Charges (currently max of 4) to make you immune to physical damage for a short duration. This duration is increased with an Increased Duration gem, as is a Molten Shell gem for additional armour. With a Warlord's Mark gem attached to the lvl 1 CWDT, you can generate additional Endurance Charges on kill as well.

Together, this system creates a loop of Endurance Charge generation to Immortal Call expenditure that, assuming the damage you are taking is not excessive, can be maintained in a timely fashion. As the damage from CWDT is mitigated by your defences (armour, evasion, resists etc), you can further funnel the amount of damage you take so as to have some control over this process. Overall, CWDT combinations such as this are a good example of how your Effective Health Pool can be used for more than just staying alive, rewarding creative players with timely status bonuses for their effort.