Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Keynote Talk: You Got This

Last week I was fortunate to have been the keynoter at DevSpace Technical Conference in Huntsville, Alabama. DevSpace's chairman Chris Gardner reached out to me some months ago and asked if I'd be willing to talk about how I've gotten through life since the awful events of January 10th, 2017.

Below is a video of that talk. It's intense, emotional, and very likely a complete surprise to attendees who didn't already know of the tragedy that struck my family last year.

As with my KalamazooX conference talk last March, this talk also engendered strong reactions. That's OK, it's not milquetoast. One person took great offense at how I framed things between my Christianity and being open to the Universe--but my point was that no matter what your religious beliefs are or aren't, in times of great adversity and struggle you absolutely must find some way to find peace and ground yourself. If that's faith in God, wonderful. That works for me. If it's you simply being spiritual and thoughtful, then please do so.

I'm very thankful to Chris, and I'm also thankful to the attendees who said many kind things to me at the conference. It couldn't have been easy coming up to me in the hallways. I mean, really, how do you start a conversation with a guy who just got naked (METAPHORICALLY!) on stage to talk about dealing with suicide, then the murder of his wife by his 12-year-old son? Not easy. Thank you to all who passed on kind thoughts.

This talk is fairly different from the KalX talk above. Lots of overlap, but it's a different focus, because I was trying to point out to the audience that each and every one of us has the ability to weather horrible storms.

You Got This.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A New Technical and Leadership Blog for Me!

I decided to move my technical and leadership postings over to a new blog on my Guidepost Systems site.

I'm doing this in the hopes of continuing to shore up and flesh out my professional branding around Guidepost Systems.

I will occasionally cross-link content here as a reminder. I'll continue to post notices on my Twitter timeline when things go live over at my blog there.

Please go follow along at that new location. I look forward to comments and discussions on postings there!

(I've already got a series going there on creating a technical debt payment plan.)

Monday, August 27, 2018

My Test Credo

A few years ago I scribbled down some thoughts to myself as I was struggling with my brain and a frustrating project.

I pinned these notes on a cubicle wall without thinking much as a reminder to myself. Never thought much else of it, simply because this was me reminding myself of things I needed reminding of.

Friday a good pal who was on that same project hit me with a shot out of nowhere when he reminded me of this. I guess it had an impact on him as well.

Frankly I’d forgotten about these. His comment was a good reason to go hunt this down.
Jim's Testing Credo
Jim's Testing Credo

Friday, August 17, 2018

Interview on A Geek Leader Podcast

Somehow I forgot to post here that John Rouda was kind enough to invite me on his A Geek Leader podcast some time back.

We talk about leadership, learning, adversity, and of course The Event from Jan 10th, 2017.

John’s a wonderful, gracious host and we had a great conversation. You can find details at John’s site.

Stop Rationalizing Bad Coding Practices

Rant. (Surprise.)

Want to work alone for long periods without testing or running your code? Want to avoid doing TDD or at least test-immediately-after-coding because it breaks up your flow? Don’t want to be disturbed discussing things with your testers, product owners, and users because it takes time away from coding?

Believe it or not, there are times I’m OK with this.

I’m OK with the practices above if:

  • Your business stakeholders and users are happy with the system in production
  • Your rework rate for defects and missed requirements is near zero
  • You have fewer than six to ten defects over several months
  • You have near zero defects in production
  • Your codebase is simple to maintain and add features to
  • Static analysis of your codebase backs up the previous point with solid metrics meeting recognized industry standards for coupling, complexity, etc.
  • Everyone on the team can work any part of the codebase
  • New team members can pair up with an experienced member and be productive in days, not weeks

If you meet the above criteria, then it’s OK to pass up on disciplined, PROVEN approaches to software delivery–because you are meeting the end game: high-value, maintainable software that’s solving problems.

The thing is, very, VERY few people, teams, or organizations can answer all those questions affirmatively if they’re being remotely honest.

Some people, way to the right of the bell curve, and I’m talking like the miniscule number of folks out on the fifth standard deviation, can pull this off. Not intuitively, but after years of study and hard work and a metric crapton of failure.

The rest of the 99.865% of the software industry has decades of data proving how skipping careful work leads to failed projects and lousy care of our users.

Those of us who’ve been around the block a few times see the awful results time and time again: Dysfunctional organizations who can’t deliver critical internal systems but once every two or three years. Product companies folding due to angry customers and bad reputations. Miserable teams of humans trapped in death march scenarios.

Do not rationalize your concious decisions to do poor work with “I’m more effective when I just…” No. No, you are not. You think you may be, but not unless you can answer the questions above “Yes!” with confidence and honesty.

Stop rationalizing. Stop making excuses.

Own. Your. Shit.

And clean it up.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Understanding WebDriver Components

Understanding WebDriver Components

[UPDATE] This post is based on a submission I made to the official WebDriver documentation in early Spring of 2018. It's meant to help folks understand how pieces and parts fit together for WebDriver. [/]

Building a test suite using WebDriver will require you to understand and effectively use a number of different components. As with everything in software, different people use different terms for the same idea. Below is a breakdown of how terms are used in this description.


  • API: Application Programming Interface. This is the set of "commands" you use to manipulate WebDriver.
  • Library: A code module which contains the APIs and the code necessary to implement them. Libraries are specific to each language binding, eg .jar files for Java, .dll files for .NET, etc.
  • Driver: Responsible for controlling the actual browser. Most drivers are created by the browser vendors themselves. Drivers are generally executable modules that run on the system with the browser itself, not on the system executing the test suite. (Although those may be the same system.) NOTE: Some people refer to the drivers as proxies.
  • Framework: An additional library used as a support for WebDriver suites. These frameworks may be test frameworks such as JUnit or NUnit. They may also be frameworks supporting natural language features such as Cucumber or Robotium. Frameworks may also be written and used for things such as manipulating or configuring the system under test, data creation, test oracles, etc.

The Parts and Pieces

At its minimum, WebDriver talks to a browser through a driver. Communication is two way: WebDriver passes commands to the browser through the driver, and receives information back via the same route.

The driver is specific to the browser, such as ChromeDriver for Google's Chrome/Chromium, GeckoDriver for Mozilla's Firefox, etc. The driver runs on the same system as the browser. This may, or may not be, the same system where the tests themselves are executing.

This simple example above is direct communication. Communication to the browser may also be remote communication through Selenium Server or RemoteWebDriver. RemoteWebDriver runs on the same system as the driver and the browser.

Remote communication can also take place using Selenium Server or Selenium Grid, both of which in turn talk to the driver on the host system

Where Frameworks Fit In

WebDriver has one job and one job only: communicate with the browser via any of the methods above. WebDriver doesn't know a thing about testing: it doesn't know how to compare things, assert pass or fail, and it certainly doesn't know a thing about reporting or Given/When/Then grammar.
This is where various frameworks come in to play. At a minimum you'll need a test framework that matches the language bindings, eg NUnit for .NET, JUnit for Java, RSpec for Ruby, etc.

The test framework is responsible for running and executing your WebDriver and related steps in your tests. As such, you can think of it looking akin to the following image.

The test framework is also what provides you asserts, comparisons, checks, or whatever that framework's vernacular for the actual test you're performing, eg

AssertAreEqual(orderTotalAmount, "$42");

Natural language frameworks/tools such as Cucumber may exist as part of that Test Framework box in the figure above, or they may wrap the Test Framework entirely in their own implementation.

Natural language frameworks enable the team to write tests in plain English that help ensure clarity of why you are building something and what it is supposed to do, versus the very granular how of a good unit test.

If you're not familiar with specifications, Gherkin, Cucumber, BDD, ATDD, or whatever other soup-of-the-day acronym/phrase the world has come up with, then I encourage you to go find a copy of Specifications By Example. It's a wonderful place to start. You should follow that up with 50 Quick Ideas to Improve Your User Stories, and 50 Quick Ideas to Improve Your Tests, both by Gojko Adzjic.

Following Up

Don't stop here. Go learn more about how WebDriver works. Read the WebDriver documentation. Sign up for Dave Haeffner's awesome Elemental Selenium newsletter and read his past articles.

Join the Slack Channel and ask questions. (But please, do yourself and the Selenium community a favor and first do a little research so you're asking questions in a fashion that can help others best respond!)

Slides from ThatConference

I spent the last week at THATConference in Wisconsin Dells, WI. It's a wonderful conference somewhat along the same lines as CodeMash, but with a very different culture and vibe. I gave my talk "More Better Quality Coverage" which is on improving how your teams test--and understanding what modern testing and quality needs to look like.

Lots there on moving testing conversations to the left. Lots there about testing as an activity.

Thank you if you attended the session. I had some really good questions, folks were patient with my bad jokes, and there were some really good conversations after the talk.

Also: Thank you to THATConference staff and attendees. I've been to five conferences already this year. I'm finally finding myself coming out of the funk I've been in since January 10th, 2017. SeleniumConference Bangalore was the first conference I felt somewhat "myself" at. This time at THATConference I felt almost 100%.

Thank you.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Slides from Selenium Conference India

I just realized I'd forgotten to post my deck from my talk "Changing Culture in a Ginormous Company." 

This an experience talk on lessons learned from my three  working with software delivery organizations at a Fortune 10 company. I worked with teams across several continents while embedded with one specific delivery team. This talk is about the lessons learned (re-learned), lots of failures, and some significant successes.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Slides From My Leadership Workshop

Last week I was honored to be a part of Romanian Testing Conference 2018 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. It’s a wonderful conference with a lot of great attendees, and it’s extraordinarily well-run. (I’ve a fair amount of experience running conferences. I appreciate a good one!)

One of the two workshops I did was Learning to Lead an IT Team. This is an eight-hour workshop based off my book The Leadership Journey ( and is full of conversations and exercises meant to help attendees figure out if they want to become leaders, and what they need to learn about themselves in order to be successful as they grow. It’s also full of my bad jokes, but what else would you expect?

Slides for the workshop are on SpeakerDeck at

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Get The Most Out of KalamazooX

The last KalamazooX Conference is this weekend.

I'm hoping folks attending will step back and take the conference in for what it is: one of the most amazing, impactful events you could ever possibly attend. KalX is extraordinary in the power and depth of the speakers' stories. Mike Eaton's done an incredible job over the decade he's run it. Attendees and speakers all come away drained, exhausted, and inspired.

The thing is, the best talks at KalX are intense and polarizing. I've heard a talk held up as an inspiration for positive life changes--while others felt that same talk was instrumental in breaking up a marriage, or a feeble attempt at the speaking trying to rationalize their own life choices.

A few years ago one talk by a close friend laid out a case about not simply following "passion" but instead planning out a life and career of awesomeness. A small group took great offense that, and railed against both the talk and the speaker because they were offended.

This year one person Tweeted "I hope this year's opening talk isn't as upsetting as last year's." [1]

If you're going into KalX loaded up with fear about sessions you're doing it wrong. Instead, go in with an open mind and a vulnerable heart. You should go to KalX EXPECTING to get upset, because the awesome speakers Mike lines up are throwing out intense, deep stuff they care about at their cores.

I've been to conferences all over the world. I've listened to a huge number of talks on podcasts and videos. There is nothing like KalX. Nothing.

Be open. Be vulnerable. Stop getting offended because someone phrases things differently than you might.

It's how you'll get the most out of this last KalX.

[1] I was the one who gave that opening talk at last year's KalX. The reaction of a few ungracious people who decided to surround me and yell at me for ten minutes because they were upset is part of the reason I've written this post.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Some Closing Thoughts

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]
Titanfall 2 is a really fun game, even though the multiplayer aspect is not a type of game I do well at or even search out to play in other games. [Ed.: Dude, you have 28 days of total gameplay and you just got Gen 50. WTF? Seriously?]
A few closing thoughts for this series:
  • Find Game Modes That Work For You. Early on I said I’d rather punch myself in the balls while being drug behind a motorcycle through a field of cactus and broken glass than play pure pilot v. pilot modes. I find myself in those modes spending a lot of time dying and cussing. Attrition is different because there are pilots and minions, plus Titans come in to play. I still die and cuss, but have a much better time. The other modes I've mentioned suit my skills and mindset very well. Find modes that work for you.
  • Figure Out Your Goals. Or If You Even Care. In TF1 I was determined to max out at Generation 10 Level 50 just to prove I could do it. TF2 is completely open ended, so my goals were more around game play. Then at a certain point I decided I wanted to play well enough with each weapon to Gen them up to Gen 2 at least. Then I could stop playing ones I hated, because at least I’d proved myself with that weapon. Remember my DMR being in the same grave as Jimmy Hoffa and Chuck Schumer’s conscience? Yeah. That. You don’t have to have goals. That’s just fine too.
  • Get a Mic. Chat With Your Team. The Titanfall player community is really pretty awesome. There’s a lot of funny players online. I’ve only ever had one teammate who cussed at the rest of us. He was playing really poorly and decided it was the fault of all the rest of us he was scoring so poorly. “Worst fucking team I’ve ever played with!” Yeah, pal. That’s exactly why you ended with five kills and few points. Jerkface.
The vast majority of folks with mics tend to be good teammates. A very few even know how to communicate well to help the team, especially when you’re playing Frontier Defense.
  • Learn Effective Communication. “Cover me!” isn’t helpful. Where are you? Where are you going? What direction are you taking fire from? Learning the maps can be very helpful so you can call out useful info like “Careful! Pilot sentry in the main courtyard.” or “Pilot’s camped out in cover up on the grain towers.”
Of course, there’s my always helpful running “useful” commentary: “Well, shit. That didn’t work so well.” Or “Damnit, Funky Chicken killed my ass again because I was stupid and ran in front of him.”
Don’t be me. Be better than me…
  • Have Fun. Like any multiplayer game, it can be extremely frustrating, particularly when the game matching algorithms don’t work all that well. You get baby seals (me!) thrown in with sharks. Which is why I gave up on playing Call of Duty multiplayer after leveling up my Prestige to prove I could. Move past that frustration and focus on all the fun parts.

In Closing

I hope this series has been helpful to whomever runs across it. It’s not getting a lot of views, but that’s not really why I wrote it. I was more interested in getting back in a writing groove, and laying out my experiences was a fun way to do it.
Look me up some time if you’re interested. My GamerTag is FrazzledDad and I’m online 9pm-ish in the Pacific timezone.
In the meantime, go have some fun.

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Movement and Shooting

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]

Movement as a pilot in Titanfall 2 is just a crapload of fun. I love flow of dashing around, wall running off even small bits of vertical structure, combining that with a leap and a slide. There are even HUD mods you can use to show your current speed. (That’s cool, but I’m a HUD minimalist.)

Speed Is Your Friend

ProTip from Captain Obvious: The faster you’re moving, the harder it is to get shot. Duh.

Spend time in the Gauntlet learning to move quickly, and learning how to string together moves that add to your speed: wall runs, leaps, grapple, slides, all the neat things that really make moving as a pilot so fun.

Learning the maps well will help you out greatly with your movement, simply by knowing “Oh, yeah, I can bounce along this route right here.”

Colony is a good example of this. If the initial spawn is at the corner back from the garage, then I can get a short run off the corner building’s edge, slide, and get another tiny wall run off the wall ahead of me. I can then use my grapple to get fast boost and fling to the hill by the SOS platform/grain towers.

Speaking of the grapple…

I Love My Grapple

The various pilot tactical mods are all neat, but I have used the Grapple exclusively for many months. The Grapple lets me get to higher spots for better firing positions.

Used well, the Grapple can also get you a huge speed boost. Aim out ahead of you, just below the horizon, fire off your grapple and you’ll get a serious amount of momentum. You can stay on/near the ground (useful in hallways), or you can get yourself moderately airborne with a careful bit of up controller movement.

You can also use the Grapple to literally fly well across the map. Catch the edge of a building, then use your controller to look slightly up and off to one side. This will work just like a rope swing in real life—you’re effectively catapulting yourself through the air. There are some great YouTube videos showing how players can remain airborne for long periods of time with repeated grapple flings. I don’t shoot well airborne, so I don’t chain together these actions, but one fling will get me much closer to a different firing position, so it’s all about quick mobility for me.

Perhaps one of the best things about the Grapple is you can kill opponents with it. Grab ’em with the Grapple and they’re pulled right at you where you can give them a quick melee kill. Warning: they can shoot at you as they’re being drawn in, and they can also out-melee you if they’re perfect in their timing. But holy crap is it a satisfying kill when you pull it off!

Like everything else, the Grapple take some practice to get proficient with it. It’s freaking awesome once you’re good.

As I’ve repeatedly said in this series, this is specific to my style of play. I’m happy for you if there are other tacticals you prefer. Honest.

Changing Direction via Slides

Slides aren’t just for increasing your speed—they also enable you to rapidly change direction! Get a good slide going in one direction, then look in another and do a quick stand/slide action. You can make 90 degree turns, which is awesome for helping you keep your speed up while getting to a new firing point.

Sight Location While Moving

Pay attention to where you’re keeping your hip-fire sights while moving. For the longest time I’d run around with my ADS reticule down below the horizon. No clue why, it’s just how I rolled.

One of the best lessons learned I got from watching the Kill Replay was to see how good players moved and kept their sights just above the horizon. Like, at body height. This is really important because it dramatically reduces time to get the sights placed on target. You come around a corner and SURPRISE OMG THERE’S AN ENEMY PILOT AND MY SIGHT IS WAY OFF IN EAST JESUS AAAAND I’M DEAD.

Moving Sideways, Or Keep Your Sight on Threats

You’re not Charlize Theron’s character in Prometheus. You realize you can move and slide sideways, right? It’s a great way to displace or move to a better position while keeping your weapon pointed at threats or potential threats. Just keep your sight at a good height while doing it.

Get Faster at Getting Your Sight on Target

Getting your sight on target faster means you’ve got better odds at killing the enemy before they kill you. Hello, thanks Captain Obvious.

One part of this is the Gun Ready mod which gets you into ADS quicker. The other part is getting better at getting your sights on the target. That comes through practice, either deliberate practice or in the game.

Spend some time at the gun range in The Gauntlet working on speed and accuracy of good sighting. There’s lots of good exercises in the real firearm world on exactly this sort of thing. Look up things on YouTube or blogs/articles and find something that makes sense for you.

For me it was just repetition of a lot of simple movements: look 30 or so degrees off to one side of a target, then raise to ADS as I’m snapping onto the target. Work on limiting overshooting the target, meaning if you’re traversing left to right don’t traverse too far right.

I spent a lot of time doing things like that simple movement from various directions at various target ranges (near, mid, far).

I’m not great, but it paid off.

Learn to Shoot From the Hip

Firing from the hip saves you time transitioning to sights. It also leaves you a wider view versus the constrained one you get in ADS. Hip fire is especially good against opponent minions who don’t move and dodge very effectively.

Don’t focus on improving just your ADS firing; spend time on hip fire too.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Tactics

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]

Oi. Where to start?

As I was trying to improve my game play, I found it frustrating how little writing there was on how to play better at a tactical level. Not just Titanfall or TF2, but first person shooters in general. There are plenty of rather useless platitudes like “Don’t run across open fields. Learn from every death.”

Thanks a Ton. Next in that series: “Five Ways to Make Friends, Starting With Not Picking Your Butt in Public.”

Here are a collection of odds and ends I’ve picked up. It’s stuff that lots of accomplished FPS players will be saying “Well, duh!” to, but hopefully some readers (all three of you) may find useful.

This is general tactics—there’s a whole separate post on movement and shooting. Yes, there’s some overlap. Deal with it.

Learn The Maps

Know the map. I can’t emphasize how important this is. It took me far longer to figure out just how critical this is for any FPS game. Knowing the map inside and out gives you many critical advantages.

Some things you can pick up in practice mode running solo around maps exploring. I’m embarrassed how long it took me to figure that out. On the other hand, I was always just looking forward to jumping in to battle and having my ass handed to me by folks who knew the maps really well.

Some things to look for as you’re learning the maps:

  • Find good shooting spots

  • Find good shooting spots that help hide you

  • Find good shooting spots that help hide you with good cover that protects you from fire from at least one or more angles. (Think of hiding with a wall to your side or mechanical structures on roofs behind you.)

  • Find good fire lanes—areas that offer good cover for you and lots of visibility to see opponents. Think of the main street under the monorail on Eden; the main corridors on Rise; much of the open spaces on Homestead

As you progress and play more, you’ll find spots where opponents like to hang out on particular maps. These are generally newer players who haven’t yet learned, through multiple, painful deaths, that those spots are actually Bad Places Since Experienced Players Shoot There Right Away. Examples of such places would be the central tower in Colony, the comm tower on ExoPlanet, the courtyard towers in Angel City, or the large central tower in Homestead. “Hells yeah! That’s a freakin’ awesome spot. Imma gonna climb right up top here and snipe me some players right now… Crap I died.”


It took me way, WAY too long to get better at using cover.

If you’re moving, do so along paths that block you from fire from one or more directions. Wall running is great for several reasons. First, you’re moving fast. Secondly, you’re harder to hit. Third, nobody can shoot you anywhere from the other side of the wall.

When you stop to scout or shoot (or recover health), make sure you’re not standing in the open. Don’t stop in front of windows. Don’t stop in front of doors. Make sure you’ve got solid cover in as many directions as possible—and be aware of directions you’re not covered from.

Keep an eye on your minimap. Keep cover in mind when you see threat indicators on the map. Keep something between you and those threat directions until you’re ready to have a look or attack out in that direction.

Avoid Fire Lanes

Above I mentioned finding good fire lanes to shoot from. The converse of that is avoid running through those same fire lanes. If you have to cross one of those areas, check your HUD’s threat map first and see if there’s anything obvious. Secondly, use whatever you can to speed your crossing: sprint, slide, grapple, etc. Casually strolling across a well-known fire lane will likely get you stomped like a narc officer at a biker rally.

Reload Constantly

As Master Sergeant Brianna Fallon eloquently put it to her squad in Chains of Command, “If one of you sons of bitches gets killed for lack of shooting back because you ran out of ammo, I will personally violate your carcass.”

You do not want to die because your mag had one round in it when you come face to face with an opponent who has you in their sights.

Regardless if I’m in a Titan or on foot as a Pilot, I reload constantly. I’ll take advantage of displacing movements to reload, ducking behind cover, etc. I don’t wait for my mag to empty and auto-reload. Instead I want to make sure I’m heading to the next engagement with a full mag.

There is nothing worse than sneaking up for a good shot on an opponent, getting a good aim down, squeezing the trigger, and seeing one or two rounds go downrange to damage your opponent. And alert them so they dash off someplace else while you’re reloading and cussing about how you blew yet another sneaky approach.

Reload. Reload all. The. Freaking. Time.

Fire, Displace, Repeat

You know what I love? I love opponents who fall in love with a clever spot and hang out there firing away, giving me a chance to work around to get shots at them.

Don’t be that player. Don’t fall in love with your firing position. Get a few shots, then displace rapidly to another good spot. If you’re having an extraordinary run of raining death down on your opponents, then you certainly can make a choice to die in your firing position. It’s not a completely wrong choice as long as you’re making it thoughtfully.

What I mean by that is “OK, I’ve gotten three quick kills from this sniping spot. I know the opponents are starting to figure out where I am, but I’ve been faster on the trigger than them, and I think I can get another two or three kills from here before they kill me. I’m OK with a five-to-one KDR for this streak.”

That’s a tactical choice, and it’s not necessarily a bad one. Just make those choices with some smarts instead of “HOLY COW IMA TOTALLY HAVING A GREAT TIME HERE OH CRAP I DIED.”

Watch Your Flanks. Nobody Else Will

Very, very few teams work well together. Frankly, few teams even work modestly well together. Nearly everyone runs off in search of their own glory while ignoring that paying attention to what’s going on around them might help them and the rest of the team.

Especially in Titan-based games, make sure to pay attention to your flanks. It’s a regular occurrence to gang up with other teammates to wreak some havoc, only to find that nobody’s checking six (as in “six o’clock”, directly behind you), or the sides. All of a sudden you’re getting blasted by one or more opponents who circled around and are hell bent on turning you into a red pile of good. Normally this happens right as you notice your own teammates splitting off to dash to some other position.

Keep a weather eye on your flanks. Because it’s rare that others will.

Avoid Rodeoing Titans From the Front

Titans seem to have an ability to melee and kill you when you’ve gotten inside their arm span, and even nearly on top of them. Avoid grappling a Titan from the front and try to rodeo. The odds of getting killed via melee are very high. I know this from lots of painful deaths.

If you do from the front, use whatever ordinance you have to try and distract the Titan. This is partially why I like Firestars—you can blind a Titan and either run or rodeo with much better chance of success. Be careful, though, because you can kill yourself with your own Firestar or electric smoke ordinance. Ask me how I know…

If you’re grappling from the front of a Titan, do not fly towards the titan in a straight line. Use your controller to fly up high, then loop down and mount the Titan. This will keep you out of melee range. Same thing works flying to one side or another. Point being, don’t fly in straight to the Titan.

Odds and Ends

Choose Your Colors Carefully: I love the look of the red character and Titan cammo selections, but they can be distracting. Opponents get lightly highlighted in red, so taking an outfit with red-ish coloring can be misleading. Conversely, I like to run blue or green outfits since friendlies are lightly highlighted in this fashion in your view. This can help give you a split-second advantage when an opponent sees you, similar to the Ghost kit’s semi-invisibility. It’s only a split-second, but it may be enough to help you out.

Avoid Drop Ship Door Fire Lanes: Opponents in the drop ship can still shoot out and kill you quite nicely, thank you very much. If you can avoid it don’t get in the roughly 120 degree arc in front of the doors when you’re trying to shoot at the ship and blow it up.

Don’t Waste Ammo on Pilots in the Drop Ship: You can’t kill pilots in the drop ship, just the ship itself.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Weapons, Boosts, Kits, and Ordinance

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]

Over the year I’ve played I’ve settled into a comfy groove with my equipment. Here’s a few thoughts on my fave and not-so-fave items.


Hopefully you remember that my preferred play style is engaging mid- to long-range. I’m also not the most accurate or fastest shooter. Ergo, my preferred weapons give me a stable shooting platform with either burst mode or modest, controllable recoil. I also prefer weapons that work well shooting both from the hip and Aiming Down the Sights (ADS).

For the weapons mods I use almost exclusively extended ammo and quick reloads across all weapons. While I like the Gun Ready mod for faster ADS, I’ve found it’s just not as good a tradeoff for me. Same with quick swap—the payoff just isn’t there for my style of play.

Hemlock: My go-to weapon. It’s great in hip fire, and I can snipe at very long range. The burst mode gives me several rounds accurately on target, and I can knock out pilots with two bursts. Normally. When I’m playing well.

Flatline: Second favorite weapon. Great impact, solid accuracy both from hip fire and ADS, even at longer range. Moderate recoil is controllable for me when I’m shooting past mid-range.

Devotion: My go-to weapon for Frontier Defense due to its huge ammo capacity, especially when modded up with extra ammo. Beautiful at close range with hip aiming, solid at mid-range ADS. Squirrely at long range, but hey, it’s an LMG.

Kraber: One shot, one kill. Fast reload mod is a must. This is one weapon that I will regularly use the Gun Ready mod for faster ADS. This gun isn’t great for several of the maps with constricted sight lines (think Rise or Glitch), but it’s lots of fun on Angel City, Exoplanet, Homestead, and Boomtown.

Note: This gun is killer awesome in round one of Frontier Defense on Angel City, especially in Normal difficulty. Grab your Kraber, jump up and perch on one of the high towers in the courtyard and rain death down upon the mortar specters. I played with a dude who scored 260 points the first round using this approach. My best has been 210-ish.

G2: Great damage, poor at hip firing. I’m also somewhat slowish on the trigger, so this semi-auto is harder for me to play—but it’s great for wailing away on the same maps the Kraber’s good at. It’s also a great weapon for covering the long angles in Forward Base Kodai.

Note: I had the misfortune to play a match against some high-flying, rain-death-on-everyone-from-above jerkface of awesomeness who spent the entire match on Angel City mid-air leaping from wall to wall, or catapulting himself around with the grapple while shooting everyone everywhere with the G2. He got like 40 kills in the match, half of which seemed to be against me. He’d be mid-air and firing off rounds, on target, like the G2 was a fully automatic rifle. I was in a HULK RAGE because I was getting killed so often, but it was awe-inspiring to watch the kill replays and see how crack this guy was.

Cold War: I love, LOVE, LOVE this weapon for Bounty Hunt. See my notes about it in the Game Modes post.

CAR: I like this gun just fine. Good accuracy, nice damage. I don’t play it much because there’s other weapons I prefer.

R–97: I don’t play well at closer ranges, so I tend not to use this much. But it sounds wicked cool when it fires. Same reason I love the Vector in Call of Duty Squads. So I do run it every once in awhile for fun. Because why not?

Shotguns: No. Just. No. Like I’ve said, me no likey close range combat. I got all my shotguns to Gen 2 just to prove I could, then stopped playing them.

DMR: I do not play this gun well. I just don’t. I get killed by lots of folks who do play it well and I think they’re all disco-loving phone spam call center jerk faces. Or something. I forced myself to play this enough to get Gen 2 because I hated it and refused to let it control me, then I put the thing in a deep, hidden, unmarked grave. Like Jimmy Hoffa or Chuck Schumer’s conscience it will never see the light of day again.

Alternator: Beloved weapon of the crazed crackhead monkey wall-running space flying stim-boosted kids who kill me all the time. I just don’t play it well. I hit Gen 2 with it and put it to rest in the same grave with the DMR.

Others: The other weapons are OK, just not what I prefer. The Double-Take is kind of neat, the Spitfire has too much recoil for me, and the rest are shruggsville. I’ve hit Gen 2 with all my weapons, so I do feel I have had enough game play with them to understand their pros and cons for my style of play.

Anti-Titan Weapons

After having run all the weapons I stick with the Thunderbolt pretty much exclusively. It doesn’t need a lock on, does area of effect damage, and can be fired off at a group of Titans. Its drawbacks are it’s slow, and it blows up if you hit an obstacle before the enemy. It works great against Reapers, stuns stalkers and specters, and will damage pilots too. Yay, big-ass-electro-gun!

The other AT weapons aren’t bad, and I will run the Archer occasionally. The Thunderbolt is just what I prefer. I think I’m up to Gen60 with mine.

A Thought or Two on Sights

Find a sight that works well for your style of play. I love the HCOG and have been using it exclusively for months. It takes away field of vision when you’re ADS, but it works well at all ranges for me.

The Threat Sight is a mid-range sight that highlights enemies when you’re ADS. This can be a big help when you’re working on your proficiency. I used it early on, but switched to the HCOG after I got more proficient at aiming. The Threat Sight takes away your second weapon mod, so it’s an opportunity cost there. Still, it can be helpful as you’re working on your game play style.

I also used this when leveling up my DMR because I hate that gun and had trouble with it. Now I don’t worry about it any more. See comments about unmarked grave in section above…


I’ve run the Firestar solely for months. I love its area of effect, I love that I can damage and blind Titans with it, and I love its range.

The other ordinance options are all solid, and I’ve played them a fair amount. Gravity Star is just plain wicked fun, but it doesn’t do a damned thing against Titans, and it barely knocks dust off Reapers.

So I stick with the Firestar.

Pilot Kits

I’ve come to the place where I use Phase Embark and Titan Hunter exclusively. Phase Embark’s speed of getting into my Titan can be crucial if I’m hurt, or if my Titan’s engaged. Titan Hunter helps me get my Titan faster. Yay, Titans!

Ordinance Expert is nice because it shows you the arc of where your ordinance will hit. This is a great training aid as you’re learning. I moved off it once I got moderately comfy understanding the arc my ordinance would travel.

Fast Regen is also good, especially when you’re like me and tend to spend time in Leeroy Jenkins mode running into battles wiser folks might not.

All the other kits, for my style, are boring or unhelpful.


I’ve run the Pilot Sentry as my main boost for a long, long time. It helps me lock down hardpoints, control fire lanes, kill off bounty Remnant forces, and generally annoy the hell out of opposing pilots.

The Titan Sentry is good as well, but doesn’t seem to do as well for me.

All the other boosts are fine, although I am damned proud to say I have not once used the Smart Pistol. Not. Once. I lived on the Smart Pistol in TF1, but I’m happy with how well I’ve progressed in my gun skills in TF2.

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: The Titans

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]

Here’s some thoughts on things relating to Titans.

A Bit on Some Titan Kits

Warpfall Transmitter: I use this exclusively. Sure, Dome Shield is nice, but I have crushed a crapload of Titans, pilots, and enemy units via the fast fall feature.

Assault Chip: Don’t. Just. Don’t. It’s a waste of offensive power. Yes, your Enhanced Titan can use the extra abilities, but frankly it never works out as well as you remaining in your Titan and going ham on your opponents. Moreover, if you use this Kit in Last Titan Standing or Titan Brawl then you’re telling your teammates, very obviously, that you’re not paying very close attention to what’s needed to win. Don’t be that guy or gal. I say this as somebody who used to be that guy.

Stealth Auto-Eject: Same. Goosing pilots (shooting them out of the sky) doesn’t seem to be as big a thing in TF2 as it was in TF1. Ergo, you really don’t need to be stealthed, and you’re much better off choosing exactly when to eject on your own. Therefore you’re using a Kit slot for something that may happen half of one percent of the times you eject. (I totes made up that number.)

The Titans

Monarch: Just fun fun fun to play. Great at mid-range, some sniping works if you’re good although the XO–16 isn’t the most accurate at long range. Plus, the Energy Thief execution is freaking awesome. Seeing your titan bitch slap another titan on the way to its demise? Freaking beautiful.

If I’m playing Attrition or similar I’ll use Overcore, Energy Thief, Arc Rounds, Fast Rearm, and Chassis. For Frontier Defense I use Nuke Eject, Energy Thief, Energy Transfer, Maelstrom, and Accelerator.

Legion: Big, slow lard ass with a gatling gun. I love it. Great gun which works really well for sniping with the long range shot selected. The Power Shot is awesome for killing pilots in a single blast, although I find it’s much more accurate in long range mode versus up close. (The “Y” toggle thing.) For Attrition, etc. I’ll use Turbo Engine and Hidden Compartment for its extra power shot, even though there’s a 15% drop in damage per shot. For Bounty Hunt I’ll use Extra Ammo and Overcore—because I want lots of lead flying at Remnant enemies, and Smart Core is freaking awesome at racking up money. For Frontier Defense I’ll use Nuke Eject and Hidden Compartment, although I’m at AEGIS level 20 now so I get all kits…

Northstar: I tend to not play this Titan except in Frontier Defense. It’s fun, but I just don’t aim well enough or quickly enough to make sniping with it fun. I miss a lot, which gets frustrating. For Frontier Defense I use Nuke Eject and Enhanced Payload. As mentioned elsewhere, I’m trying Piercing Rounds, but that doesn’t seem to do all that much for me.

Scorch: Flame on! This is my go-to Titan when the opposing team has someone dashing around being a jackass in a Ronin. The Scorch’s flame shield wrecks Ronins in a hurry. Also does Reapers in quite nicely. If you’re playing Frontier Defense on Drydock, make sure someone on your team has a Scorch, because round four has 21 Arc Titans and a Scorch or two are the best way to ruin those annoying little shits’ day. Standard load out: Turbo Engine, Wildfire Launcher. For Frontier Defense swap Nuke Eject for Turbo Engine.

Ion: Not my favorite Titan, as I have lots of trouble trying to balance energy use. Effectively for me this means I’m rarely able to use the Laser Shot.

Frickin Lasers
Frickin “Lasers”

Standard load out: Turbo Engine, Zero-Point Tripwire. For Frontier Defense Nuke Eject, Refraction Lens.

Tone: Second least-favorite Titan. I just don’t play it well. I see people destroy with it; that’s just not me. I do better in FD mode where you get a better splash damage as you AEGIS level up. Standard load out: Turbo Engine, Rocket Barrage. For Frontier Defense Nuke Eject and Burst Loader.

Ronin: I hate this Titan with a passion. First, I don’t play it all that well. It’s just not my style of play. I got mine up to Gen 12 just to prove to myself I could play it even though I hate the little shitpile. Second, it’s overpowered and far too fast. This means you get teammates who are punk jackass fucktards flying around the map, rarely shooting at anything, then dashing in to steal that Titan kill you’d been working so hard on. Then they’ll phase shift/dash away leaving you with your bare ass hanging out in the wind with the newly dead opponent’s now pissed off team mates looking to take Fist of God retribution on your nasty soon-to-be-dead-and-stinking carcass because you’re there in the neighborhood and that punk-ass Ronin’s traipsing about somewhere else looking for another kill to steal. When facing a Ronin you’ll find it meandering across a long straight, blocking nearly all of your damage with Sword Block while creeping inexorably close to you in order to slash you and your Titan to ribbons like Jack The Ripper on a bad hair day.

In Last Titan Standing an average is 10K damage points per kill. That generally shows you’re working well with your weapons and doing solid contributions. It’s not uncommon to see some little rat bastard running around with a Ronin stealing kills from everyone on the team and finishing the match with nine kills and 20,000 damage points. Screw. Them.

God, I hate the Ronin. I hate it so much that I’d be lost in indecision if given the choice between kicking Paul Krugman or the designers of the Ronin in the goolies.

Unfortunately, the Titanfall folks haven’t nerfed the Ronin by this point means they’re likely not going to.

I don’t play Ronin any more. When I did general load out was Turbo Engine and Thunderstorm.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Frontier Defense

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]

Frontier Defense (FD) is one of my favorite modes, if not outright my most favorite. I like it because it reinforces good teamwork, something the other modes absolutely do not reward. I also like it because it’s pure mayhem without having to worry about that nine year old on the opposing team who’s apeshit awesome and has killed you six times in the last thirty seconds while wall running across the entire map like a spider on an insane mix of peyote, speed, and crack while snorting Wraith Enzyme. Or something.

Points for Leveling Up

Make sure you understand the post on Maximizing Points. All that applies to Frontier Defense Mode.
Additionally, due to the longer match time FD gives you more opportunity for multiple leveling up of titans and weapons. The overall math for points-per-minute is still in favor of other game modes, but it’s nice that in FD you can still get a good amount of XP through good gameplay!

AEGIS Upgrades

FD gives your titans a new bunch of level-up abilities. Each titan gets a unique set of mods that run from chassis and shield boosts to additional glorious OMG lethal blow stuff up way more better things.
For example, the Legion gets rounds that pierce multiple enemies, a one-shot kill for nearly-dead enemies, and Dreadnought—every single Legion Kit at once. Every. Single One. Scorch is one of my favorites, because at max AEGIS Scorch gets three thermite launcher shots per reload and exploding incendiary traps. Northstar’s double cluster missiles and traps are also sweet.
AEGIS upgrades are earned by a separate XP track. It’s similar to your pilot’s XP track and you can supplement with an extra XP by purchasing Titan skins from the store—that point will also share across your entire team.

Unique Titan Mix

Having four different titans on the team garners an extra AEGIS XP for the entire team. I’ll try to fit in whatever titan makes sense for the team, although I try to start with one of my favorites (Scorch, Legion, Monarch, Northstar).

How I Roll for Frontier Defense

Pilot Weapons: I play FD using the Devotion almost exclusively. It’s got a huge mag, especially when using the Extra Ammo mod, and it wreaks havoc on grunts, specters, and stalkers. It’s also great at close to medium range using hip-fire, and holds accuracy for longer shots aiming down the sights. I use quick reload as my other mod for this weapon.
I rotate through sidearms, so there’s no one favorite.
My preferred anti-titan weapon is the Thunderbolt since it’s an area of effect weapon that I can shoot in the general direction of a number of enemies.
NOTE: Anti-Titan weapons in FD mode have unlimited ammo, another reason I love the Thunderbolt for this mode.
Titans: I generally play Northstar, Scorch, or Legion because they’re great at dishing out damage—especially after you get them well up in the AEGIS levels.
Monarch is fun, but I’ve found it harder to get flat out wreck on the Remnant forces. What makes Monarch fun is when you take Energy Transfer as an upgrade, then run around healing up your teammates’ titans. Monarch’s smoke also heals your teams’ titans at AEGIS level 11, which is nice because healing actions give you support points which raises your overall score. This really plays into the fun “work as a team” aspect of Frontier Defense—and it’s valuable.
For Titan Kits I normally use Nuke Eject regardless of Titan type. Because if I’m gonna go, I’m gonna take a bunch of those asshat enemies with me.
Legion: Hidden compartment. Because 2x power shots are great.
Scorch: Wildfire Launcher. Makes total sense when you’re getting multiple thermite shots.
Northstar: Enhanced Payload. More damage from cluster missiles? Take my money. I occasionally use Piercing Round, but frankly I’m not sure of its effectiveness.
Monarch: Energy Thief. Even if getting a battery wasn’t such a win I’d likely keep this just because the execution is freaking awesome.
Ion: Refraction Lens. This totally wrecks Reapers. Yes, lots of damage on other things, but I’ve noticed it the most with how fast I’m able to kill Reapers. And I hate those rat bastards.

Using The Armory

When I first started playing I spent every last cent on Nuke Rodeo bombs. I’ve blown up a lot of Remnant opponents with Nuke Bombs, and damnit, it’s just fun. I’ve gradually shifted to focusing more on healing teammates via Amped Batteries (fast 30% gain for your Titan meter, plus good Support Points!), and buying Arc Traps to scatter down the main lines of advance.
Generally I only buy turrets when playing Homestead, Rise, or Exoplanet. The large number of Plasma Drones require several turrets for the team. The other maps just don’t seem to make sense for turrets, or at least I haven’t found great spots to place them.

A Few Thoughts on a Few Maps

There are other posts elsewhere on The Internets that break down things about the various maps. Below are a few specific things I’ve found on particular maps.
Angel City: Especially if you’re playing on Normal, grab a Kraber and climb up one of the high towers at the center Courtyard. You’ll have easy shots at the Mortar Specters across the entire map, aside from a few who may be blocked at the dockyards. Far shots actually drop a bit, but use the vertical hash on the variable zoom as the aim point and you’ll do just fine. As mentioned elsewhere, I saw a guy score 260 on the first round doing this. I’ll regularly score 200+. Change loadout to something more appropriate after the first wave. This will be harder if you’re playing Hard or higher since the Mortar Specters have A Walls to protect their team. Those walls take three shots from the Kraber, or a couple from the Thunderbolt.
I’ll throw out a few arc traps in the courtyard and back alley to catch early waves, then move them over to the dockards—the final wave is one insane bum rush of Remnants from that corner. A smart team will scatter a crapload of arc traps in the corner, the far dock path, and the yard just this side of it.
This is one of the maps I rarely buy turrets for. I just haven’t found any good spot where I can get more than a few kills. A turret is nearly the same cost as two arc traps, so for me it’s just not good money spent.
Rise: The first wave, regardless of difficulty, starts with a lone titan at the back of the map. Grapple and wall run down the corridors to go steal a battery.
Arc mines are great at the main junction, the far back spawn point, and the low corridor to the right. That corridor is a serious choke point and is the prime spot to hang out in later waves.
I’ll try to play a Northstar if nobody else has grabbed it. Hanging out just outside that low corridor choke point is great when you combine arc traps, the Northstar’s traps, and cluster missiles. You can also use your Core because the low ceiling keeps you nearly horizontal for blasting away at the nasty enemies.
That same zone is also great for Scorch’s ability to stack thermite, flame wall, incendiary traps, and flame core.
Homestead: If possible, grab a Scorch. The metric crapton of plasma drones flow on either side of the large round tower in the middle of the map. Camp out on either side and use the flame shield to destroy swaths of those nasty little bastards.
I like placing one turret at the trees on the left of the small rise just in front of the harvester. I’ll regularly get 60 turret kills from this one alone. Do NOT put your turret on top of the APC nearest the tower. Turrets there spend nearly all their time offline from damage. The APC to the right and closer to the harvester is an OK spot. I’ve seen some folks put turrets on top of the tall rock spire to the right of the harvester. It looks cool, but I haven’t seen huge numbers of kills there.
This map is one where I’ll definitely buy a few Nuke Bombs later in the game because enemy titans will cluster in midfield on the far side of the central tower.
Forward Base Kodai: I love how the game designers included smoke. Seriously. What an awesome tactical mess to have to work around. It’s a modest thing that makes play way more interesting.
First wave I’ll start up top on the left wall behind the smoke and wreak as much havoc as possible. Take care to grab a battery from the sniper titan which drops at the end of the wave. Also take care to not get punched, as that jerkface seems to be extraordinarily good at Titan melees.
Lay an arc mine or two on the main route up top, then start to lay them out to the left of the map where waves four and five will concentrate. You can throw some to the right, but fewer titans come this way. Another good option is throwing in the lower causeway, but I prefer the arc mines closer to the enemy spawn points.
Northstar with its traps is a great titan here, as you can really slow down the rush of Titans in later waves. Plus the cluster missiles do a great job with all the stalkers.
Blackwater Canal: Load up on arc traps for the canyon at the front of the map. Scatter a few to the route left of the harvester too. I don’t bother with arc traps up top because it’s easy to defend and hold the line there.
This is a map where I have a hard time justifying turrets. I’ll have modest success putting a turret high on the spire right behind the harvester, but that’s hit or miss for me. All other locations see to garner few turret kills and a lot of downtime.

Notes on Scores

Getting a really high score is cool and awesome. I’ve never seen any other player in any Frontier Defense match score over 7K, yet I crushed this match with 9156 points. You know how many more XP I got than the guy who scored 1023? None. Well, I likely got a few extra XP due to several level ups, but my point is getting top score doesn’t directly help you with XP.
9K in Frontier Defense
Keep your eye on the prize if your main focus is leveling up. Getting MVP is cool, but it doesn’t directly level you up faster. Even if you get MVP all five rounds…
MPV All Five Waves

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Game Modes

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]

Titanfall 2 has a bunch of great different game modes. Some focus on Titan combat, some on pilot combat, some are mixed.
There are game modes in Titanfall 2 that I have zero interest in playing. Those modes are the 100% pilot vs pilot modes including Free for All, Pilot vs. Pilot, Capture The Flag, Marked for Death, Live Fire, and The Coliseum. If you get along well in those modes, great. Happy for you. You are a better pilot than I. Seriously. I’d rather punch myself in the balls while being dragged naked behind a motorcycle through a patch of cactus and broken glass.
My game mode mixtape has (generally) five or six modes on it. These are modes where I don’t end up screaming in frustration and throwing stuff because I’ve been shot in the head or executed for the sixth time in the last 30 seconds. I choose game modes I can succeed in, and have a good time while doing it: Amped Hardpoint, Bounty Hunt, Attrition, Last Titan Standing, and Titan Brawl. The sixth would be the occasional “special” mode Titanfall 2 throws in that’s not a simple pilot vs pilot mode. Sometimes they’ll do variations on modes I can succeed in, and I’ll add those to my mixtape.

Learn How To Win Each Game Mode

In most cases, for the mixtape I run, simply killing lots of pilots won’t win you every game. Several game modes require you to do other things to help your team win.
Bounty Hunt and Amped Hardpoint are two such modes. You need to focus on scoring points by killing Remnant Fleet players (Bounty Hunt) or holding/amping hard points (Amped Hardpoint). It’s totally possible to rack up a lot of pilot kills and end up losing the match because you weren’t taking care of business—as shown below, where in a game of Bounty Hunt I had far more points than anyone on my team, and 1,000 more points than the next highest opponent. And we lost. Because my teammates were out running around killing opponents and not scoring points. If each of those players had simply scored 200 more points each we would have won the game. Dramatic sigh.
Scored Lots of Points, Lost Because Team Was Killing Pilots Instead of Getting Points
Focus on winning. That means understanding the requirements and scoring for the game. At least make an effort to help your team win.

Pilot Kits and Ordinance

I like the Firestar because it’s persistent and an area of effect weapon. It also blinds Titans and does good damage on them. I’ve gotten several “from the dead” kills from flame damage on a Titan that did me in.
Titan Hunter kit works for me because it helps me get a titan faster.
I use Phase Embark because it lets me get into the shelter of my Titan as quickly as possible. He who runs away lives to run away another day.
Hover? Useless for me. Why do I want to float over the battlefield where people can shoot my ass out of the sky?
Stealth Kit seems to work great for others, but I still get killed regularly by electric smoke when I’m rodeoing with it, so I gave up on it.
I used the satchel charge exclusively in Titanfall 1, but only with the perk that blew it up when you died. I got lots of “from the dead” kills that way, but it’s not part of TF2, so I don’t use the satchel. The other ordinance is fine, I just roll better with the Firestar.

Thoughts on Specific Game Modes

Here are a few things that work for me in various game modes.


Goal: Kill as many opponents as you can. Titans are ten points, pilots five. Remember that minion kills can get you serious points, especially if you take out Reapers. As of this writing they’re three points each (they used to be five!), which means they’re good for overall points. They also can kick your ass all over the place if you’re not careful while you’re trying to blow them to smithereens.
Pilot Weapons: I like mid-range weapons like the Hemlock, G2, and Flatline. Again, this suits my style of play. A couple maps like Blackwater and Homestead are great for sniping with the Kraber, too. (I hate the DMR and don’t play well with it.)
Titans: Find what you play well with. I prefer Legion, Monarch, Ion, Scorch. Use kits that help you move faster. When playing Legion I use Hidden Compartment and Extra Dash. Monarch I’ll roll with Overcore, Arc Rounds, Fast Rearm, and Chassis. For Scorch I’ll use the extra thermite and dash.

Bounty Hunt

Goal: Kill Remnant forces for their bounty. Cash bounty in at banks in between rounds. Kill opposing pilots to piss them off and steal half their bounty collection.
Tactics: Focus on Remnant forces, kill pilots when they’re around. Remember your points to victory come from bounty, not pilot kills. If you’re going to chase after opposing pilots, go for the ones with large bounties in their pockets—the amount shows over their heads—and make sure to bank your money at the end of the round! Don’t just run around killing pilots and not banking your bounties. 20 kills and 100 points does not help you win the match…
Pilot Weapons: I roll nearly 100% with the Cold War. Splash damage from this is awesome because I can shoot at the door of a landing pod and kill almost all the Remnant grunts/specters/stalkers. The Cold War’s downside is the time to spin up before firing. You’re screwed if a pilot comes at you… Also, I’ve blown myself up a significant number of times by starting a shot, then ducking inside a door to hide from an enemy. Gun goes off, Jim gets blown up. If not the Cold War, then look for a gun that’s got a bunch of ammo and hits hard. Flatline and Devotion are good options.
Boost: Pilot sentry is awesome. I regularly get it 30 seconds into the first round. Drop it in a good spot, then hide from other pilots while blasting Remnants.
Titans: Legion with the extra ammo kit and Overcore kit, because you want Smartcore ASAP. It’s a thing of beauty for laying waste to the Remnants and pilots who are swanning about.

Amped Hardpoint

Goal: Hold the hardpoints and amp them. Prevent the opposing force from doing the same. You do not get points for killing the opponents!
Tactics: At a minimum, stay at a hard point until you see the message flash up “Hardpoint Hold” or “Amped Hardpoint Hold.” This means you’re getting points for yourself and your team. When you respawn, head immediately for the nearest hardpoint, either to hold it/amp it for points, or to try and seize from the enemy. You do not get points for running around the map shooting at opponents. Stick close to the hardpoints to get, well, points.
Keep an eye on the hardpoint status indicators and overall points. Try to keep your own hardpoints amped and the enemy’s unmapped.
Pilot Weapons: My standard is Hemlock (my favorite gun), Flatline, occasionally G2. Sometimes I’ll play the R97 because it sounds cool and it’s good for the close range defense.
Titans: Few hardpoints on any map allow you to hold them in your Titan. You’ll generally need to be dismounted. Ergo, I like Titans with weapons I can shoot into a hardpoint: Northstar (cluster rockets), Monarch (rocket salvo), Scorch (everything: barrels, flame wall, flame core, flame shield, thermite launcher).

Last Titan Standing

Goal: Destroy all enemy titans to win the round. No respawning. Pilots outside their Titans are nuisances, but you don’t get points for killing them. Focus on the titans!
Tactics: As with all titan mode games, stick with a crowd. One on one titan matchups suck. Two on one or three on one means the outnumbered player is going to have a bad day at the office. In short order. Conversely, if you’re outnumbered pop smoke and run the hell away. ABS: Always Be Shooting. Rack up damage on the opponents, even if you’re not going to kill one. Somebody else will.
If your Titan is blown up, PAY ATTENTION! Your job is not to hide and live. Your job is to grab batteries for your team’s remaining titans, damage the enemy titans, and prevent dismounted enemy pilots from harming your titans. Damaging the enemy titans is critical! A round whose time has run out goes to the team with the most remaining titans. If the same number of titans survive for both teams, then the team with the least damage wins. Remaining pilots can save the day by damaging enemy titans, even if they don’t doom or destroy them. I once won a match for our team by rodeoing the opponent’s sole remaining titan and pulling its battery at the last possible moment. Yay, me.
Pilot Weapons: Focus on Titan damage. Great anti-Titan weapon (Thunderbolt is my preferred one) and a good grenade launcher like the EPG or Cold War.
Titans: LTS rounds go fairly quickly, so for me it doesn’t make sense to use the Monarch—she takes too long to upgrade, even with Overcore. I prefer Legion, Scorch, or occasionally Northstar. Ronin can be great, but see my disparaging comments in the Titans post.
A Note On Titan Kits: Take some care with your Titan Kit options for this mode. It makes zero sense to use Assault Chip or Stealth Auto Eject kits for this mode. Zero. Sense. Nuke eject is close behind for poor value, in my experience. Assault and Stealth Eject bring nothing to the table. Use Overcore or Dash. Counter Ready with its 2x smoke may be beneficial if it matches your play style.

Titan Brawl

Likely my most favorite game mode. It’s just insane fun. I once got 14 kills with zero deaths running a Monarch. Screenshot below because, well, I don’t brag often but this deserves a bit of braggery.
14 Kills, Zero Deaths
Goals: Kill as many Titans as you can before the match ends. Constant respawns, no dismounts, no ejections.
Tactics: Stick with your homies. Watch out for flanking enemies. ABS: Always Be Shooting. Rack up damage on the opponents, even if you’re not going to kill one. Somebody else will.
Pilot Weapons: N/A for this mode.
Titans: All Titans are good for this mode. Pick one you do well in and have fun. Monarch is particularly awesome here, especially with Energy Thief, Overcore, Arc Rounds, Fast Reload, and Chassis. Legion is great because you can lay down some serious-assed damage at all ranges. I suck at Tone, but have seen folks wreck with it in this mode. Bully for them. Maybe when I grow up or hit Gen 100…
A Note On Titan Kits: Take some care with your Titan Kit options for this mode. It makes zero sense to use Assault Chip, Nuke Eject, or Stealth Auto Eject kits for this mode. Zero. Sense. You can’t actually use any of those kits in this mode. So Just. Don’t. Use Overcore or Dash. Counter Ready with its 2x smoke may be beneficial if it matches your play style.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Maximizing Points

[NOTE: One in a series of posts on my Titanfall 2 experience. Find the intro article with links to others here.]
Leveling up requires Experience Points (XP). You get XP for your performance in a match. Points come from winning a match, meeting your performance minimums, completing a match, leveling up titans or weapons or your faction, happy hour, and elite weapon/titan bonuses.
Read that list again. See anything there about getting points for lots of kills? For being match MVP or top three? No. Nothing there. You can play out your ass and double or triple the points of everyone else in the game and you’ll get the same basic points as the lowest person on the game board, assuming they met the same criteria. Below is a screenshot of a game where I doubled the next highest scorer on my team. I likely got no more points than he or she did if they met minimums.
Doubled the score of the rest of my team, got the same XP
So here’s the thing: focus on meeting your minimums. Focus on helping your team win, or making the evac shuttle if you should lose. Focus on knowing what weapons and titans are near leveling up.

Match Minimums

Each game mode has a different set of minimums. For Attrition you’ll need to kill three pilots without dying. Last Titan Standing and Titan Brawl require you to kill two Titans. Amped Hardpoint makes you earn 1500 attack points or 600 defense points. Bounty Hunt means you’ll need to earn 600 points.
You’ll find the minimums on the menu accessed from the Start/Menu button. Make sure you know what your minimums when you start each match! Check regularly as the match progresses to make sure you’re going to meet them.

Leveling Up Titans and Weapons

Let’s cover that last point in more depth, because it can really help you. You get an XP whenever you level up a weapon or titan. That enables you to potentially get extra XP in a match by switching to a different titan or weapon when you respawn—if that next selection is also close to leveling up. Here’s an example:
At match start I have my Hemlock just two points away from leveling up. My Flatline is three points away. I’ll start with the Hemlock and hopefully kill enough opponents to level it up quickly. When I die after the level up, I’ll quickly check the loadout to see if my Hemlock needs more or fewer points than the Flatline. If more, then I’ll switch to the Flatline and hopefully level that up as well. Rinse and repeat through the game: know what weapons you’re close to leveling up on. The same goes for Titans!
Also, don’t forget your sidearms and anti-titan weapons!


Win or lose, you get zero points for living through the epilogue. Zero.
If you won the match, you already got your XP for winning. If you lost, you have an opportunity to get another point for a successful evacuation. Hiding gets you nothing. Sniping from a distance gets you nothing. Running away from the titan near the evac ship gets you nothing.
If you care about leveling up then you need to embrace your inner Dutch Schaefer and “Get to da choppa!”
If there are titans near the ship, your best bet is to try distracting them on the way to getting into the ship. Use Firestars (my personal favorite) to disrupt their vision. Fire your anti-titan weapon as fast as you can.
Rodeoing a titan likely isn’t a good choice at this point. It may take up too much time, and subject you to Death By Titan Fist (titan melee) if another titan’s paying attention. Or Death By Smoke. Or whatever. Additionally, rodeoing may delay you too long such that you end up missing your ride. That would suck.
If you die on the way to the ship, so what? If you make the evac ship and it's blown up, so what? You lose absolutely nothing.
Shoot for the opportunity to make an extra point. GET TO DA CHOPPA!

Elite Squad Leader Points

You’ll get an extra XP if you bought one of the elite weapons from the store. You share that point with your teammates, which is kind of neat—the team gets a max of one Elite Squad Leader point per match.

Happy Hour Points

Your network has a set happy hour. You’ll get an extra five points playing during this time. That’s awesome! If possible, try and save a Double XP ticket to use when you’re playing Happy Hour games. Ten points versus five points. Epic Win.
Find a network that has a time that works for you. I created my own Sweet Meteor of Death network (because the 2016 election just sucked) and set its happy hour time to 9pm Pacific. Look around in the Browse Networks menu to find a network that fits your needs. Or join me in SMOD. I’m currently the only member and it’s lonely.

Double XP

Double XP are awesome. They, like, double the points you get!
Pay attention to the multiplayer game lobby. Occasionally you’ll see special game modes that have 2XP for them. Sometimes those modes suck (see my disclaimers about modes I avoid because I suck at them) and sometimes they’re awesome. If those modes meet your style, then definitely jump in.
Double XP awards are also awesome. In the first six or eight months of play I never received a single one. Bastards. I then bought three “Elite Weapons” from the store for a total of $15USD. This gives me a 30% chance every match of getting a 2XP award. (10% per weapon to a max of 30% total.)
I’m careful about which game modes I spend those 2XP tokens in. I do not spend them in Titan Brawl or Last Titan Standing, because those modes generate (generally) fewer points than things like Attrition, Bounty Hunt, etc. where I can get points for leveling up weapons too.

Grinding It Out

Regenerating up means you’ll have to grind through something like 473 experience points (XP) per Gen. Levels 1-8 ramp up from four to ten XP per level, then it’s ten per level until you hit regeneration after 49. Matches last ten to 15 minutes depending on the mode; say an average of 12 minutes per match. (I’m totally throwing out feasible but not proven numbers here.) Here’s the basic breakdown of possible points:
Base Points
  • Match Completion = 1
  • Good Performance = 1
  • Match Victory / Successful Evac = 1
    Potential Points
  • (possible) Elite Squad Leader = 1
  • (possible) Level Up Weapons = 1 per level
  • (possible) Level Up Titans = 1 per level
  • (possible) Level Up Faction = 1
  • Happy Hour (once per day) = 5
Ergo, on a basic match were you met minimums, and won or escaped you’re looking at three points. Throw in one or two XP for weapons level ups. I’ll semi-arbitrarily use an average of six points per match based on faction levels up and matches where you do an awesome job and level up a couple weapons/titans.
473 points per Generation divided by six points average is 78.8 rounds per Generation. If an average match is 12 minutes you’re looking at 15.7 hours of play PER GENERATION. That’s a seriously exhausting grind. (Note this is without any 2XP tokens. If you manage to get 2XP tokens for 30% of your matches, and you won’t because Titanfall’s algorithms for awarding these SUCK, then you’re looking at roughly 49 matches which is still nine hours of play per Generation.
No matter what way you cut it, it’s a grind.

What Game Modes Give The Best XP For Leveling Up

Remembering that I don’t any of the modes that are solely pilot-versus-pilot, I’ve found Attrition and Bounty Hunt give me the fastest rise in XP for the way I play. Those two modes give me the best chance at leveling up multiple titans and weapons, which means I’m getting the best points above the “base” points per match.
I did a rough bit of data collection and played around with some tables in Excel. My data and conclusions are not rocket science and very well could be off. Frankly I don’t want to go too deep into the data because at some point it becomes much less fun. These are sort of guidelines that let me have fun while still trying to level up somewhat quickly. Use these figures and do a bit of your own data collection. Please, don’t start a purse fight in the comments about my data collection, math, or whatevs, OK?
Mode Avg Points Per Match Avg Match Time Points Per Minute Points With 2x 2x PPM 2x + Happy Hour PPM
Attrition 6 12 0.5 12 1 22 1.8
Frontier Defense 13 35 0.37 26 0.74 36 1.02

Keep Your Eye On The Prize: XP

Go into your matches with a plan for how you’re going to try and earn XP. Think about what weapons and titans you might swap between. Don’t lose sight that the game is FUN, but still think about how you can play to maximize what you earn.

Succeeding at Titanfall 2: Intro

I’ve been playing Titanfall 2 around a year now. It’s been my go-to brainless activity when I need distraction from the rotten places life has been this last year. At the time of this writing I’m at Generation 48 working my way up to Gen 50. (Titanfall “Regeneration” is the same concept as Call of Duty’s “Prestige Up.”) I’ve played over 3,000 games, been top three around 2100 of those, and MVP 950-ish times. I’ve just passed 15,000 kills (other players) and am near having earned 30,000 credits “net worth.”
Overview stats for Titanfall 2
Along the way I’ve picked up a few opinions on how to play, and I thought I’d share them. First, please understand my “disclaimers”, as this series is completely aligned with how I play, and that totally may not match how you play. Moreover, this is not a detailed guide or walkthrough of Titanfall 2. You can find that stuff elsewhere. Still, I hope you’ll find this series useful. If for nothing else but to see how a 54 year old guy grinds through gameplay against kids who are a lot younger, quicker, and way more betterer. Or something.

Me and Titanfall

I have a long love/hate relationship with Titanfall 1 and 2. I’m not a great player, especially when having to play solely against other humans. Therefore, I avoid modes like Pilot vs. Pilot, Capture The Flag, etc.
Why am I not great? Let me list the ways…
  • I’m slow on the controller when trying to get a quick lock-on against opponents, which means I die a lot.
  • I have poor aim, especially when someone’s aiming at me, which means I die a lot.
  • I am awful when someone gets in melee range, which means I die a lot.
  • I don’t shoot well while wall-running or mid-air, which means I miss kill opportunities.
My play style is to work from mid-range, both as a pilot and a titan. I’m not great at close up (see points above). As a pilot I’ll spend a fair amount of time on top of various obstacles. Most of the folks playing aren’t thinking in 3D, so it’s a good tactic for me. On the downside, I also tend to go Leeroy Jenkins and run into battles likely best avoided. This is part of why my Kill-Death-Ratio (KDR) against other players is around 0.7 after 3,000+ games. (Note: I’ve been above 1.5 for the last few months, occasionally as high as a ten-game average of 2.5; however, it takes a LONG time to raise that particular statistic up—and frankly I just don’t care about KDR. I know others care a lot. I don’t.)

Some Things I Dislike

Quality and Clarity. Titanfall 2, like Titanfall 1, has some serious quality and “WTF?” problems. There are regular crashes, and lag can be awful at times—especially if you’re playing over wifi and not a hardwired connection. Some of the algorithms in TF2 are complete WTF issues: differences between stated minimums for rounds and what’s reflected on your progress. Eg several times I’ve not met minimums on the scoreboard, but have seen a checkmark for completion in the game stats. Additionally it’s unclear what’s meant in Attrition Mode by “Kill 3 pilots without dying.” Is that kill three pilots consecutively? Kill one pilot and then don’t die for amount of time? I’ve dug around various TF2 boards and FAQs, but can’t figure that one out. I’ve given up.
Graphics Don’t Match Algorithms. Particularly with titan melees. I’ll be working a rodeo on a titan, flying toward the titan’s head. The graphics will show me either inside the titan’s arm span or even starting to mount the head, and BAM! I’m dead from a big titan punch. It’s frustrating because according to the graphics it looks like I should have been successful. The same thing happens with through-the-wall shot glitches, where I thought I’m behind a wall and I get shot. Titans can also melee you even when you’re well inside a room. Whatevs.
Regeneration Grind. I badly miss the unique regeneration challenges from TF1. Those were well-thought out and fun. And a pain in the ass at times. With TF2 you’re in for nothing more than a long grind. More on leveling up and points later.

Some Things I Love

Movement. The movement in TF2 is freaking wonderful and fun. Skilled use of a grapple, bunny hop slides, and wall running make getting around the map just a crapload of fun. (It also makes it miserable when the other team is really good at those things and can shoot on the fly.)
The Campaign. One of the best campaigns in any game I’ve played. Ever. Loved the story, loved the chapters. I know others aren’t so enamored. That’s OK.
Regular Updates. I liked this about TF1 as well. The producers regularly roll out patches that fix issues, and they regularly roll out small and not-so-small new features. A whole new Titan (the Monarch) was rolled out. They added a third weapons slot so you could have anti-titan weapons and sidearms. New maps get added. Entire new game modes get added! I do software delivery for a living, and I love seeing a company that takes this approach of constantly adding new value.
It’s. Just. Fun. Even when I’m getting my face beat in by some of the pros I’m still having a fairly good time. Yes, I get frustrated, yes, I cuss. A lot. It’s still fun.
You Always Get A Titan. No matter how poor a player you are, or how bad a day you’re having, you’ll always get a titan to roll around in. Every. Single. Match. This means one of the funnest parts of the game is available to every player regardless of their skill or lack thereof.

This Series

I’m not sure how long this series will last. At a minimum I’m going to cover the following topics, either as separate posts or parts of others.
This series is pretty late to the game. Titanfall 2 has been out for quite some time. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed outlining and drafting some of the content, so it’s as much for me as it is for you. Hopefully someone finds it useful. :)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Interview on LeanPub Podcast

The folks at LeanPub, the online publishing service, were kind enough to have me on their Frontmatter podcast. Len Epp chatted me up for roughly an hour on my background, my book The Leadership Journey, and how I came to write it.
You can find the podcast here, with a complete transcript if you’d rather read. Len’s a great interviewer, and I really enjoyed being on the show!

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