23 May 2010

Health Potion, www.manapotions.com by @nli10 (via Cyber Candy, Birmingham UK)

It's not often I go into Cyber Candy in Birmingham. It's like the sweet shop of Tantalus as every sweet you ever wanted is there to see but they are priced just out of your everyday reach. This is sound economics - these things cost a bomb to import and to keep a shop in the centre of Birmingham is similarly steep - but it means I am limited to few impulse buys instead of a sugar fuelled shopping spree. I tend to limit myself to £5 per trip which means I get a nice treat but can still afford to get home afterwards.

One of these choice picks was a Health Potion. You know, like in computer games from the 90s. A little bottle of juice (40ml) for £3.60 doesn't sound that much of a good deal, but if you take a peak at the website then you will understand why I was tempted. Pop it open in another tab (or window) and have a look, It's all really professional and the drinks are marketed as a gamer pick me up. I figured that the little bottle was equivalent to 2 shots of premium drinks in a bar, and not unfairly priced for this so I bought one health potion, because I like Red flavoured drinks. Reading the site I should have gone for the MANA version as that is for the actual gaming session, the health potion is more to get you to work the following day after not sleeping due to a game launch. That said I'm a professional epidemiologist (no - really, I am - I even have half a Masters to prove it!) and know a good opportunity for a drug trial study when I see one, so I dug out Modern Warfare 2 for X360 for the first time in about 2 months, and got ready to play.

My methods were this. Blocks of 4 'every man for himself' matches with the exact same gear and skills set up. After each match I record the kills, deaths & score. After the first 4 'baseline' matches I down all the Health Potion and then keep going until I get bored (likely) or sleepy, or just plain run out of time. There are loads of flaws with this (Im bound to get better at the game as I go along) so it's not a proper study. Also it's not a blind trial - tempting as it is to have some other potions and drink one before each session it wouldn't work as I'd know which ones were which. Going into this I had a 0.60 ish kills to deaths ratio due to never taking the game seriously and always playing for fun with friends, and about 19 hours of playtime.

First of all I had to apply an update - it's the first time I've played since the DLC maps came out so I presume it was for that. Then I had to settle the cat so that I wasn't too interrupted as I went. It must have been about 7pm UK time when I jumped on.

All set up and without head-set I got 12Kills Died 14 times earning a score of 600 for the first game. I think I was a bit rusty and as I began to remember how all the radars worked and how not to run and shoot as it lowers accuracy I got 12K/11D/600 on my 2nd round which is a positive Kills to Death ratio (which is pretty good for me and my goal in every match) also I came 3rd in this game. Next up was a fantastic 17K/13D/850 with a 6 kill streak, and to finish the block 16K/11D/800 which by my previous standards was excellent. This meant that my baseline total was 57K/49D/2850 score, and a 1.16 Ratio. I was pretty chuffed with that - positive Kills to deaths and a few high finishes put me in a good mood so as planned I turned everything off and had some burgers. I watched a bit of TV and then about an hour and a half after switching off got back on again.

The potion itself was easy enough to open by hand with little dot perforations in the wrapper and a seal inside the lid for safety. It smelt odd. I think that ginseng and cinnamon is the best way to describe it, but as I suspected it didn't taste sweet. While the flavour was like a rather nice medicine, or red aftershock without the burn the most satisfying part was the sound it made as you drank it. That kind of precision touch is why the little things found their way to the UK I suspect.

After giving it a few minutes to settle into my system I could feel the caffeine start to work. I tend to restrict my caffeine intake these days (decaf tea - the works) just because I had a few problems with it when I was a teenager, but I've always been a big fan of sports drinks so was quite used to this. Traditionally I'd use them to survive festivals not gaming sessions (powdered energy drinks & free Glastonbury water is the perfect lightweight festival breakfast) but was willing to accept this might help.

First game up the matchmaker threw me into a mid match situation. As there was only a minute (out of 10) gone and I was only 100 points behind I made the snap decision that this match counted and after some close calls I came 2nd. Admittedly this was not a close 2nd, but 13K/6D/650 points was my best ratio so far! Could the potion be already working? Then I think the adrenaline kicked in and took the potion with it as what followed was some of the worst gaming ever witnessed. 10/15/500 , 10/17/500 and 9/17/450 were the rest of the scores for the session, more than offsetting my brilliant start. I was becoming twitchy, angry with the cat for ending my kill-streaks and beginning to think that I was playing NetHack and had quaffed the clumsiness potion instead. The session score was 42K/55D/2100 with a 0.76 ratio and you don't need to know statistics to know that was lower than the first session. In the last match my batteries had died and for that slim portion of time I only died once which probably improved my ratio. I was getting impatient and rushing into situations instead of waiting out and stalking my prey. I quit out so that I could fetch more batteries (I always have a spare set to hand, but these were low too) and had a comfort break.

When I jumped back in the next match was half way through and the leader already had 750 points (half of the target for the game mode) so I didn't count it. I got 8K/7D and 400 points which was only my 2nd positive result on the potion. The rest of the session was much poorer with a grand total of 46K/75D/2300 and a shocking 0.61 ratio. While my kills had increased my deaths had too. I found myself regressing to the play style of my teenage self, running into every firefight hoping for that one kill before I got shot down and giving everyone else all the points in the process. It wasn't a productive strategy.

The fourth (and final) session was not much better but did include one close game and one positive game to produce a 42K/50D/2100 and a 0.84 ratio which is similar to session 2 but with a few less deaths. At this point I became convinced that I could continue to play for a good few more hours, but the results would not change much so decided to write up then sleep. In this session I took a much more relaxed approach to the game, I stayed back and I focused on covering choke points so I could get a few easy kills. All these matches seem to be dominated by 3 or 4 players who knew what they were doing, used multiple weapon sets and also had the heart-beat sensor that I tend to use. This really contrasted with my earlier games where most people seemed to use the same basic gear that I have. I think that the main factor that influenced the trial was that better gamers tend to go on later, and play for longer. In the early evening I was earning the kill rewards for multiple kills and using them to at least keep myself alive. In the later games I got a few, but always the lower ones and was often picked off by the special weapons of the others. That 90 minute food break had really messed up the comparrisons as the gamers playing seemed to be a very different bunch of people.

I think if I repeated this with the MANA potion I'd do it on consecutive weekends in the same time slot to make it fairer with a similar set of opponents. As it stands I don't think that the ratios are different enough to say there is a true effect either-way and more tasty xbox sessions must be planned.

Post experiment I did a bit more reading on the website and found out that one of the Mana Potions contains as much caffeine as 2 cans of Red Bull - the drink that I stopped drinking due to the excessive effects it was having on me. Probably should have looked into that before hand really. On the plus side it probably won't wear off until half way through work tomorrow so if I don't fall asleep now, I probably won't then either. Writing food reviews at 1:30 am is not really typical behaviour mid-week though and probably not wise. They discuss how you can dilute it or drink half for a nice moderate effect, or go all in for epic gaming sessions or clubbing the night away. Again, probably should have looked into that beforehand. I think a single shot from the 2 shot phial would have sufficed for a midweek session on the MW2.

As for the drink, while I think that for MW2 it made me too hyperactive to play well within my skill limits (aiming is difficult enough!) but it definitely fulfils it's goal of allowing me to play for longer. I'd love to try it out while playing lazer quest or another real-world physical activity that really needs the energy. The flavour is good, the bottle is a keeper, and it certainly is a very cool concept. I don't expect many places in the UK will stock it though, which is a shame as a FoodStuffFinds staff outing on Left4Dead2, fuelled by Harcos Lab's newest product Zombie Blood would be a pretty cool experience. But not on a work night...

By NLi10 (GamerTag)

Additional notes:

The original review was done on Wednesday night and written up in the small hours of Thursday morning. I could still feel the effects of the potion throughout the day and while I hadn't really slept that much I didn't feel tired.
As usual after work on Thursday I (aged 30) went to visit my Granddad (in his late 70s) & Uncle (in his 50s) for our weekly three generations (board)game night which consists of Playing the modern upgraded & faster version of Risk. We have played over 30 times and with the exception of the first week last summer where I won because we didn't understand the rules properly I have only won on one other occasion, and that was due to some atrocious luck on the part of the other (far more experienced players). As both of them have been playing Risk for almost as long as I have been alive, and no one tries to throw the game it's good friendly fun.
And yesterday I actually won. While the Gdad probably should have won, one of the newer rules means you have to hold your capital city as well as three goals to take the victory. When he picked up his final goal he didn't have this so turn passed to my uncle. All he had to do was take my capital and I couldn't win, but he had spotted one of the goals that was easy for me to take (hold 18 countries) and went for it. It cost him pretty much all of his armies, but he got it.
On my turns previously I'd been gradually taking extra countries in Asia. In Risk it's pretty much impossible to hold Asia without having already got victory within your grasp so no one tried to stop me. As my uncle had moved his giant force out of Southeast Asia (Thailand) to get the 18 countries I only needed to take 4 countries with one army in each for the victory. As I had a good chunk of reinforcements and had left 3 ready to take Australasia this was fairly easy (with luck being a bit against me, but not too much).
While I'm not saying that this was all due to being under the influence of the health potion I think it must be considered a little coincidental that my first true victory that relied on my own strategy playing out was less than 24 hours after consuming a drink that gives you a gaming edge.

1 comment:

NLi10 said...

Yes - I know it's too long but I guess this is what happens if I have too many stimulants...