‘Cause you’re really only after seventy four, seventy five

I never played Fallout or Fallout 2. Not sure why not, they seem like the sort of thing I would’ve been into at the time – Baldur’s Gate was quite the revelation – but Fallout passed me by. I tried Fallout 2 many years after release but things had moved on and I couldn’t get past the interface and difficulty; haven’t managed to get into Pillars of Eternity either despite my fondness for its spiritual predecessor. Sometimes you just can’t go back.

Fallout 3 was where I really got into the series as it changed from isometric turn-based gameplay to a 3D real-time sort-of-Elder-Scrolls-with-guns system; I thoroughly enjoyed Fallout 3, New Vegas and Fallout 4 and finished the main story in all of them, something I never managed in an Elder Scrolls game after Daggerfall.

Now Fallout 76 is imminent. In a rather fundamental change it’s multiplayer-only, something I’m not too sure about. I contemplated a multiplayer version of New Vegas back in the day (bonus prescience marks to Jim in the comments for suggesting 20/24 player caps) and the difficulties it would have, and nothing I’ve read so far about Fallout 76 has worked me up into a pre-ordering frenzy. I think Belghast summarises the coverage I’ve seen rather well: “You need to set your expectations at “this is a Fallout 4 multiplayer mod without NPCs” and if you can sufficiently do that you will probably not be disappointed.”

That does sound like something I wouldn’t mind taking a look at, but not for £50-odd right at release. I think I’ll let the radioactive dust settle for another month or twelve, if it’s going strong enough then and maybe a bit cheaper I can always jump in; in clear contravention of Stanley Rogers’ advice I’m going to be a procrastinator, and have my apocalypse later.

I seem to recall a bit of kerfuffle around the time of Fallout 3 and the change in game style. Imagine that! A bit of a kerfuffle over a beloved franchise taking a different direction to previous instalments, seems a ludicrous notion doesn’t it? [Note to future self: this is sarcasm following a bit of a freak-out over Blizzard announcing a mobile Diablo game.] The news of Fallout 76 was hardly met with untrammelled joy either; as I say I’m not entirely sure it’s for me, but I’ll give it a chance, see what reviews say, try it out if there’s some sort of demo or trial.

It’s not like there’s a dearth of other options. I’ve got quite into naval battles in War Thunder. There’s a bit of a rock/paper/scissors/torpedo/depth charge/autocannon situation that’s satisfying when you have the right weapons to take out a particular opponent, frustrating when you don’t; the interaction between aircraft and ships in particular seems to suffer from sod’s law where enemy dive bombers fly around with impunity and your ship gets hit by a bomb you never saw coming because you were zoomed in on an enemy ship, but then the second you jump in an aeroplane every flak gun within three miles opens up on you, and if your pilot isn’t killed right away by a fluke long-range shot then a pair of enemy fighters flying CAP finish you off… For the most part, though, it’s good stuff. Destiny 2 is free for a while, which prompted me to get it patched back up and poke a nose into in case there are some new people to team up with, the basic shooter gameplay remains very sound. Neverwinter has just got a new module, so presumably another bunch of numbers to increase in a new campaign. There’s also Battletech, I rather enjoy it every time I manage to find time for a couple of missions, but it can be week or two between sessions. Maybe I’ve become overly dependent on daily login rewards and the dopamine hit of loot crates and can’t enjoy just playing for the sake of it like I used to. Sometimes you just can’t go back.

He’ll cheat without scruple, who can without fear

If forced at gunpoint to describe my current gaming situation with reference to an item of furniture, in a bizarrely improbable mugging where monetary gain is secondary to eliciting tenuous metaphors, I’d say it was a battered old armchair, nothing new or dramatically exciting but familiar and comfy to flop down on at the end of the day. Then I’d ask my assailant what the ruddy heck they thought they were playing at, terrifying innocent people on the street and demanding abstract imagery, but they would merely smile and vanish in a blaze of light, their task of inspiring a wildly exciting and attention-grabbing opening paragraph complete (though a later review by the Imaginary Advertising Standards Authority would find no evidence to support claims of “excitement”, wild or otherwise, and forbid any further use of such terminology).

Zubon talked about coasting, which describes things quite well, dabbling in games and keeping them ticking along without really diving in deeply. Neverwinter is one of my coasters-in-chief, where if nothing else I’ll log in, ‘Invoke’ for some minor rewards, and kick off some lengthy crafting tasks. Most days I’ll also run a dungeon or skirmish or two; the game rewards joining a random queue that, as the name suggests, throws you into a random encounter with a suitable number of players. The other day I was in the Temple of Tiamat (bit of a flashback to the old cartoon), presumably the ultimate final raid encounter at one stage requiring careful co-ordination and the very best gear in the game, but a few years down the line the usual MMO power inflation has rendered it a bit less challenging, the main difficulty now being keeping up with the crowd as they rush from head to head. There can be something of a tension between highly experienced/geared players trying to whip through things as quickly as possible for whatever currency is on offer vs. newer players trying to take things at a slightly slower pace or seeing boss mechanics for the first time, but I think, in general, the game has done a reasonable job of keeping older content relevant/populated. Sometimes I’ll settle in for a good hour or two, there’s no shortage of bars to incrementally increase, numbers to embiggen and flowcharts to flow, but it takes a bit of a run-up to both develop the enthusiasm and pick something to focus on.

The expansion of the naval forces beta in War Thunder means I’m mostly coasting in there along the coast in an armed coaster – the only way things could be coastier would be if the ships were modelled in such detail that you could see the protective mat on which the Captain’s cocoa was resting (which they might be, I should zoom in on them sometime to check). The naval beta has been dragging on for a while now, undergoing a couple of reworks to introduce larger ships. It’s interesting as a change of pace, but it seems like a tricky balancing act to allow the various types of vessel, and also aircraft, to all play their part. The main appeal is that it’s very quick to hop in and speed along at 40 knots, chucking torpedoes hither and yon, ideal fast-paced action when that’s what I’m in the mood for.

At the other end of the scale, for slower contemplation of tactics, Battletech is ticking along nicely. My first run through the game started well enough, but while fully getting to grips with the various mechanics I made some poor decisions with pilot training and mission choices, eventually leading to a negative feedback loop of scraping through missions with heavy damage then not having the time and money to fully repair or replace everything before needing the cash from another mission, making that mission more difficult and resulting in more damage, etc. I often find it’s useful to restart a game once you’ve got a better handle on how everything works, and sure enough second time around I’m a lot happier with the situation after six game-months. There was one sticky moment, where I took on a nice, straightforward “defeat enemy Lance” mission; I got a warning at the start that there might be reinforcements, and immediately found myself outnumbered two-to-one. I’m not sure if there was a glitch and the “reinforcements” should have turned up later in the battle; tackling two Lances sequentially would have been fine but simultaneously was too much for my poor old mercenaries. Because things had been going so swimmingly I didn’t have a recent save game to fall back on; I should probably just have withdrawn from the mission, but decided the AI was being terribly unsporting and went looking for a way to even the odds. Until then I’d only used saved games to preserve progress rather than keeping on reloading games until a snipe to the head with a 5% chance of hitting came off. A bit of “save scumming” improved the situation but was terribly laborious thanks to the slow load time so I figured I’d take the nuclear option – digging out a registry setting that enabled debug mode, including an option to take down the enemy with but a click.

Battletech is refreshingly old school; turn based, single player, a story conveyed largely in text. A “debug mode” or cheat codes in server-based multiplayer games would be anathema, especially in PvP; even without the ability to directly attack other players virtual economies are now almost ubiquitous. Giving yourself unlimited money in a single player game is one thing, in an online game with some link between virtual and real currencies it’s a whole other kettle of fish. With nobody else affected the toughest part can be putting the genie back in the bottle, turning off debug mode again. A bit of self discipline is needed there. To me it’s a bit like Fighting Fantasy books, keeping a finger marking the previous paragraph (or three) just in case Turning Right down the corridor ended in an Inescapable Trap of Doom (with or without Sumo Rabbit) is fine, flipping straight to paragraph 400 rather defeats the purpose. It can be an interesting group dynamic in board games. Obviously when there’s competition then, again, cheating is a Bad Thing and policed by everybody. We’ve got a few co-operative games, though, most notably Pandemic: Legacy, where there could be more of a temptation but so far we haven’t (knowingly) bent the rules. I guess peer pressure kicks in with the group; there’s doubtless an interesting experiment to be conducted (or already conducted) about willingness to bend or break rules, depending on the fairness (or perceived fairness) of those rules and whether alone or in groups of different sizes. I’ll leave that to the psychologists, though, as I have a group of mercenary Battlemechs to lead into (rule abiding) combat.

It’s like déjà vu all over again (again)

I was checking back through the archives to see if I’d written about a particular game, and happened across a strangely relevant post from May 2016. On the gaming front at the time I’d just wrapped up an event in War Thunder, and right now I’m Thundering away in a Warlike fashion, mid-way through grinding for a free plane or two. I hadn’t really bothered about the last few events in the game; Gaijin have added yet another type of currency and a player-to-player market for vehicles, skins and such, not something I’m terribly fussed about (except when hats are on offer). The big summer event earlier in the year seemed a bit convoluted and grind-heavy, involving market-tradeable bits, and only had tank rewards so I skipped that entirely, but perhaps sensing some discontent from people who prefer aircraft they added an old school challenge with nice straightforward requirements (get kills, drop bombs on bases, etc), with a British plane as a low tier reward. I’ve been playing a fair bit more than my customary game or three each week, which I doubt will continue post-event, but it hasn’t felt like a chore as some MMO events can.

On the shooter front I was dabbling in The Division and Planetside 2 at the time; I’m not sure I’ve fired up the latter since, but The Division was fun. I’ve started to see some bumph about The Division 2 including a variety of extra-deluxe-bonus-anorthite-with-strontium-edging pre-order editions but I doubt I’ll pre-order, more likely hold out for a sale of some sort to give it a try. In the meantime, fulfilling the role of something to pop into when I feel like blasting away is Destiny 2. I was vaguely aware there was an expansion on the way but hadn’t realised quite how close until I fired it up and found a colossal update lying in wait. There’ve been some changes in weapon types, mods and such, but from a quick glance it doesn’t look like Forsaken will fundamentally shake things up too much, and the slowly-upgrade-gear endgame gets pretty stale. If there’s a good deal at some point I’ll probably pick it up, though, as the basic shooting gameplay in there is very sound, running around shouting “DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!” In fact – top tip here – you don’t even need to shout! The guns actually make noises in the game, how’s that for attention to detail?

Looks like I was on an MMORPG break at the time, which is one difference. I’ve been playing a fair bit of Neverwinter for the last few months, rolling up a new character along with the Sunday morning gang. It’s been a pleasant diversion, zapping around zones I vaguely remember from three or four years ago and exploring new areas, certainly no shortage of content, though it can get a little overwhelming. I like some structure in a game – I tend to wander around aimlessly then drift away from the most open worlds – but the myriad tasks, campaigns, tokens etc. of Neverwinter veer into heavy duty To Do List and Flowchart Admin sometimes. Assembling a non-veteran party is less “Ye have my axe!” “And my bow!”, more “Ye would have my axe but I need to unlock it by completing an introductory quest sequence in two other zones!” “And my epic bow requires another four or five daily quests to open the weekly event that enables progression to the next tier of tasks!”. Still, the quest log appears to be unlimited (at least I haven’t hit a cap yet) so you can stack up piles of options and (hopefully) find some common goal.

In boardgames, we were a few months in to Pandemic Legacy – a variant of Pandemic where the rules evolve over the (game) months. Unfortunately that stalled before we could finish the whole thing, with that pesky old Real Life business getting in the way of get-togethers, but a couple of weeks back Tim picked up a shiny new copy so once more Bumblechunks and The Spon are sweeping the globe and our valiant team of disease-battlers are trying to stop them.

Back then I’d pledged for Soupy Twists!, a crowdfunded history of Fry & Laurie from Unbound, and just last week an e-mail arrived to announce that despatch is imminent, I’m thoroughly looking forward to that. Crowdfunding seemed to have settled down a bit in that post, and continues to be quiet on the game front; nothing has really jumped out in the past couple of years, the last thing I backed was the game I was searching for in the first place – Battletech. As I said at the time, “my track record of actually playing Kickstarted games for more than half an hour is terrible so far”, and when Battletech released earlier this year it didn’t look like it was going to break the streak. Some reviews suggested combat was rather ponderous, and with everything else going on it got shoved on the “To Play Sometime” pile.

Casting around the other day for something to play I recalled it had got a patch or two to speed things up, and on a bit of a nostalgia trip (Battletech: The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge was one of my formative PC gaming experiences thirty-odd years back) I got it updated and started up a campaign. I’m only a few missions in, but it’s been thoroughly enjoyable so far. Enough of a story to get you going without interminable monologues, turn-based combat when you’re in the mood for slightly more relaxed and thoughtful gameplay rather than hectic action, good stuff.

Things are ticking along nicely enough, then, even if they haven’t changed much in the past couple of years.

Spitfire

Usually around this time of year there would have been a post about the Chalke Valley History Festival and I was particularly looking forward to this year’s festival, booking tickets covering two great passions: military history (John Nichol on his latest book, Spitfire: A Very British Love Story, and James Holland in conversation with a veteran of the Burma campaign) and Terry Pratchett (who lived in the Chalke Valley; his writing studio was replicated on site along with various Pratchett-ian talks and events).

Unfortunately the car decided it would be an excellent day to pack in, so we had a slightly less exciting morning of Standing By The Roadside then being towed home. Gutted is an understatement. Still, shortly after I noticed that a new documentary about the Spitfire was on the way and would be in cinemas for one day, so I snagged a couple of tickets for that, some minor recompense.

It’s an excellent documentary that worked both for me (owner of a medium-sized pile of books about the Spitfire, banger-on at tedious length about all things Battle of Britain) and my wife (tolerantly puts up with being dragged along to such things). It combines archive footage, interviews with veterans, and modern air-to-air sequences with restored aircraft (mostly Spitfires, obviously, but there’s a Hurricane in there as well so they’re not completely overlooked). The modern footage was stunning on a big screen; I believe it was only on general release for a day, but if you spot it at the cinema again I’d highly recommend it, or it’s available for download now. A word of warning for it or other documentary/event screenings: there wasn’t the usual interminable collection of adverts, trailers and suchlike before it started, and the first quarter of an hour was slightly disrupted by late arrivals, in particular a whole row of septuagenarians who took some time to ascend the steps and find seats in pitch blackness.

The interviews are incredibly moving, not just RAF pilots who flew in combat but also female ATA (Air Transport Auxilliary) pilots who flew Spitfires (and a great many other types of aircraft) from the factories to operational airfields. They’re all the more poignant as a number of the participants have passed away since filming; Nigel Rose and Joy Lofthouse last year, Tom Neil the week before the film came out, Geoff Wellum just days after, and most recently Mary Ellis who was 101 years old, beating the RAF itself by a year. As The Few get ever fewer I feel very fortunate to have seen Geoff Wellum at Chalke Valley in 2014, he was very sharp, extremely engaging, and funny. I’m looking forward to the line-up for the 2019 festival, and will be giving the car a thorough check-up beforehand.

Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities

Many free-to-play MMO-type games have a daily reward just for logging in; The Elder Scrolls Online just added them recently. I’m not sure if there’s scientific research showing that players who log in each day are more likely to play and/or spend more, or it keeps numbers up when reporting active player totals, or just that Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? Whatever the reason, I have a small stable of games I’m actively playing (or have been until recently) dangling such daily carrots: TESO, War Thunder, Guild Wars 2, Neverwinter etc.

The rewards are seldom life-changingly incredible individually, but most build up over time to something quite desirable; they wouldn’t be much of an incentive if not. For games I’m actively and regularly playing they’re a nice bonus. For games I’m not-quite-so-regularly playing they’re more of a dilemma; if I really get back into them then I’ll be glad of whatever rewards I accumulate, but the time it takes to log into each game and claim the reward all adds up, time that could actually be spent playing something else rather than doing admin (though that “actual playing” might itself turn out to be more admin, like trying to sort out an inventory cluttered up with daily login rewards, hunting out the worthwhile bits amongst the tat…) There’s also Murphy’s Law of Daily Logins to contend with: if you religiously start up a game and claim every reward up to and including the Super Shiny Thing Of Great Joy And Wonder for 500 continuous days of logging, you’ll never play that game (past the login reward screen) again. If you uninstall it or stop logging in, though, then 501 days later you’ll fire it back up, really enjoy it and start playing seriously, and greatly lament the lack of a Super Shiny Thing Of Great Joy And Wonder that would make life so much easier. (It’s a variant of Murphy’s Law of Pre-Order/Founders Packs, that states that the more you spend on such a pack the less likely you are to seriously play the resulting game.)

Melmoth has turned to technology for assistance, asking his smart speaker to remind him to log in to TESO each day. That put me in mind of the Electric Monk from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:

“The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself”

I wonder if a bit of scripting might be possible to further enhance things… “Alexa! Log in to Elder Scrolls and claim the daily reward. Then talk to the stablemaster and improve mount speed, then do the daily crafting tasks, and if you wouldn’t mind running a couple of dungeons, equipping any high level gear you get as a result, and finishing off the main story quests that would be great thanks.”

Random Roundup

It’s been another quiet month of gaming, being away for a few weekends putting a bit of a crimp on free time. A bit of progress in Elder Scrolls Online quest lines, a few War Thunder flights; Destiny 2 got its new Warmind expansion, so I headed back in there for the enjoyable, though (as pretty much everyone has observed) rather short, story missions. The basic combat remains eminently satisfying and a month or two off is sufficient to freshen up the somewhat repetitive nature of late-game number-nudging, and as an added bonus Stephen Fry makes an appearance in voice form. Not many lines, but always a treat; a Fry-voiced Ghost would be an excellent addition in best Jeeves traditions: “Perhaps sir would care to try a Void weapon against this particular target?”

Being away from the PC Marvel Puzzle Quest has been soaking up a fair amount of time on the mobile. The random nature of match-3 games can make things a bit frustrating when cascades of matches fall for the opposition (pure luck, of course), but satisfying when you get them (thanks entirely to play skill, it goes without saying). When energy and/or patience runs out I switch to Wordscapes after Melmoth tipped me off, a crossword-ish anagram type of thing that gives the old grey cells a bit of a workout.

Away from games I’ve done a bit of a technology refresh with a new phone (the Honor 9 Lite was quite a bargain) and television (a 4K Sony running Android for a bit of smart-ness). Running an HDMI cable from the PC to the telly gives a cracking picture, and a very compact wireless keyboard with touchpad works pretty well to control things from the sofa, though it’s not ideal for fine work – trying it with War Thunder resulted in some involuntary looping-the-loop and a distinct lack of defying the ground.

Further still from games, the city of Wells is a lovely place for a weekend with a rather impressive cathedral and Hot Fuzz locations to spot. Better still when there’s a comedy festival on, we caught shows from James Acaster, Rhod Gilbert and Hal Cruttenden between enjoying stone carvings of grape-scrumpers being beaten. We’ve also, over the past while-and-a-bit, started doing a few Escape Rooms which have proven to be most enjoyable, including all three of the rooms at TimeQuest with Melmoth & family. They are, as the name suggests, time-travel themed rooms, really well decked out with period (or mythic) props and puzzles, highly recommended if you’re ever in the Kent area and fancy being locked in the past for an hour.

Gaming Roundup

I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls Online for a couple of months now, wandering around, saving villages, delving into dungeons, bopping the odd monster or two on the head, carefully hand-stitching hundreds of pairs of identical shoes then carefully taking apart hundreds of pairs of identical shoes for the raw materials. In common with the single player games of the series I’ve rather lost track of the main story. I think it started with being dead, or in prison, or both; Dumbledore and Basil Fawlty got involved somewhere along the line, maybe it was a boarding school rather than a prison. Or a hotel in Torquay. After escaping I started helping out Queen Kate Beckinsale (in the real world, not the underworld, or indeed the Underworld (2003 film)) and her right-hand he-man-cat-type-Razum-dar, and also popped back now and again to give Michael Gambon a hand whenever he left an Obi-Wan style holographic voicemail. Confused? You won’t be, after I abandon this random mish-mash of cultural references!

When TESO launched, as I understand it, zones had specific level ranges, so levelling followed a more straightforward path. Since the “One Tamriel” update quests and mobs scale according to your level, so the world is your proverbial mollusc of choice. This has worked exceedingly well for our little Sunday morning group. There’s been no need to try and keep character levels in step, everyone can play as much or as little as they like, and it’s very straightforward to teleport to another member of the group, share quests, and pile in to a public dungeon or world boss. A minor drawback of the system is that it can result in overchoice and I find it difficult of an evening to decide whether to pursue a quest line (and if so which one), or do some crafting, or potter around exploring the world. The quest journal is limited to 25 spots and more than half of mine is filled with Stuff I Really Must Get Around To Finishing Off Sometime, more of a To Do list than source of epic adventure. I don’t really want to drop any in case I have trouble picking them up again; I can’t remember where I last saw Razum-dar to continue that line, and holo-Michael Gambon has gone very quiet, I must head back and see if there’s more of that story to finish off… just as soon as I’ve levelled my blacksmithing skill a bit more, and stolen some more stuff for the Thieves Guild, and….

Away from TESO things are pretty quiet on the gaming front. War Thunder ticks along, the old reliable. Just Cause 3 offers quick hits of grappling-jetpack-wingsuit mayhem. I haven’t fired up Destiny 2 in while, leaving it in the “probably ought to have another look sometime” pile with The Division. Sea of Thieves looked promising, and is almost certainly a lot of fun with a like-minded crew, but from a quick jaunt around the ocean in the open beta it didn’t seem to have much for a solo player and not a great deal of depth, not really enough to justify the hefty full price tag at release. Far Cry 3 was diverting enough a while back but I haven’t got around to Far Cry 4 yet let alone the fifth, good candidates for a deep discount in a sale or Humble Bundle.

On the mobile side of things I do like a bit of a match-3 game, back to Bejeweled on Palm OS, and Candy Crush Saga had kept me going for a few hundred levels but bogged down when power-ups became all but mandatory. Looking for a replacement in the App Store/Google Play was a whole new level of overchoice with seemingly endless streams of clones of anything vaguely popular; I grabbed Marvel Puzzle Quest in the end, having vague memories of the original Puzzle Quest on PC. With all the standard free-to-play elements (multiple currencies, crates of loot, yada yada) it hooked me for a few days of “look what shiny thing you unlocked!” dopamine hits and is now settling down into a levelling grind. I played Doctor Who Legacy for a fair while before it got slightly stale, a similar tile matching game with teams of characters; developers Tiny Rebel Games have a successor on the way, Doctor Who Infinity, so if MPQ bogs down too much that might well be another option.

Overall, then, I’m drifting through the gaming doldrums as Melmoth so accurately described them, not for the first time and doubtless not the last. I’m sure something will come along to fill the sails again, hopefully before delirium kicks in. [Before? You’re already hallucinating a non-existent editor. Ed.]

What a shocking bad hat!

Rummaging around the seldom-less-than-fascinating AskHistorians subreddit the other day turned up a question about the line “Who are you?” in Alice in Wonderland, the answer leading to Charles Mackay’s 19th century Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds that documents it as “… a phrase repeated with delight, and received with laughter, by men with hard hands and dirty faces, by saucy butcher lads and errand-boys, by loose women, by hackney coachmen, cabriolet-drivers, and idle fellows who loiter at the comers of streets. Not one utters this phrase without producing a laugh from all within hearing. It seems applicable to every circumstance, and is the universal answer to every question ; in short, it is the favourite slang phrase of the day, a phrase that, while its brief season of popularity lasts, throws a dash of fun and frolicsomeness over the existence of squalid poverty and ill-requited labour”.

Mackay details a number of other phrases that swept through London, all the rage one moment then rapidly replaced. I rather like “Quoz!”, it has the sound of sci-fi swearing along the lines of “frak” and “smeg”. “Walker!” was common enough to be exclaimed to Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol but seems a bit mundane compared to “Does your mother know you’re out?”, “There he goes with his eye out!”, or the short-lived “Has your mother sold her mangle?” (one for Arthur Atkinson there).

My favourite, though, which I think deserves a revival is “What a shocking bad hat!” Attributed by Mackay, possibly apocryphally, to a hatter seeking election who tried to sway voters with the line “What a shocking bad hat you have got; call at my warehouse, and you shall have a new one!” The hatter was hoist by his own millinery-petard when crowds drowned out his attempted speeches with “What a shocking bad hat!”, and the phrase rapidly spread so that “thousands of idle but sharp eyes were on the watch for the passenger whose hat shewed any signs, however slight, of ancient service. Immediately the cry arose, and, like the war-whoop of the Indians, was repeated by a hundred discordant throats.”

With hats no longer de rigueur in public there are fewer chances to employ it, but of course there is one area where headgear is still all but required: the MMO. I urge all readers (both of you), as you explore the land, slay fell creatures, and make bars go up a bit, to gaze intently upon all and sundry, player and non-player alike, and if you detect a displeasing helm to exclaim at once “Lawk what a shocking bad hat!

Team Fortress 2, of course, would be another game with ample cause to cry “what a shocking bad hat!”, but surely War Thunder would present minimal opportunity? Unless zoomed in upon a pilot, who admittedly may have a shocking bad flying helmet, or perhaps the crew of an open-topped armoured vehicle, you’re not going to see much; after all you cannot put a hat on a ta…

What a shocking bad hat!

What a shocking bad hat!

… nk. Until, that is, developers Gaijin added tank-hats as one of this year’s April Fools.

Good day, sir!

Good day, sir!

This does present a cautionary tale, though. One should beware the reaction of a sharp-tempered hat-wearer equipped with a 75mm cannon as this Panzer IV rapscallion found to his cost…

PANZERKAMPFWAGEN IV: Sir, you have a shocking bad hat!

PANZERKAMPFWAGEN IV: Sir, you have a shocking bad hat!

M4 SHERMAN: And you, sir, have a shocking bad case of being exploded to death! But in the morning, I shall be sober. And may have removed my hat.

Gaming Roundup

Things have been fairly quiet on the gaming front recently. War Thunder continues to soldier along with impressive longevity, over five years now; the only game I can recall playing regularly for anything like as long is City of Heroes back in the day. I don’t play a massive amount of War Thunder, maybe four or five matches a week, it’s ideal for dropping in for a quick round or two when there isn’t time for much more. I’m mostly working on the new(ish) Italian and French air trees and happiest pottering around tiers III and IV, where you don’t feel too guilty about facing brand new players but upgrading and unlocking progress isn’t as glacial as the late game. Beta testing of naval combat continues, and makes for an interesting change of pace as the balance between torpedo boats, destroyers and aircraft is tweaked. The Winter Olympics in February also saw the return of a couple of special events, Biathlon being a particularly enjoyable combination of racing and shooting with the added complications of a hostile team. Is it really four years since they first appeared? Blimey and indeed Charlie etc. Update 1.77 has just gone into testing, much attention being on the new Tier VI ground forces as the tanks get ever more modern, but aircraft are much more my bag (baby) so I haven’t been working up much frothing excitement on that front.

Destiny 2 is still ticking along as well, though the longevity issues are pretty apparent. I’m scarcely the hardest of core but still managed to get a character of each class up to power level 335 a while back, and with each also kitted out with a suitably snazzy set of armour or two from events there’s not a whole lot of gear-based incentive to keep grinding. Repeated runs of Flashpoints and public events get a little stale, so it’s mostly the PvP of the Crucible that I keep going back for. I feared my poor aged reflexes might not be up to a PvP shooter but I seem to do well enough, seldom topping the leader board but even more seldomly at the bottom, thankfully. Special events like the Iron Banner and Crimson Days seem to funnel enough people into the Crucible that either there’s reasonable matchmaking or enough equally poor players by luck in most matches to balance things out, at least towards the start of events; Crimson Days was a bit painful when I popped in on the last day to tick off an achievement with one final character and bumped into a succession of cookie-cutter power-spamming guild teams, but that’s been the exception rather than the rule so far. Bungie have put out a roadmap with their future plans, some of which look fun enough (6v6 Crucible matches), but nothing that particularly grabs me as a “must play loads more!” sort of addition.

My new Chillblast PC is running quite splendidly; the one game that my old rig struggled with was Just Cause 3, so I fired that up to see how it ran (nicely), and have been rampaging around its islands in a grappling-type frenzy. It’s another one that works well for a quick drop-in session to free a town, take part in a race or two, or just beat whatever random statistic pops up in the top right of the screen (the high score table based on Steam friends being a cunning way of inspiring competitiveness; “sorry, I know I’m supposed to be on my way to help a bunch of rebel fighters but I’m just going to take some time out to see how high I can climb with a parachute and a grappling hook…”) Should it start to pale then The Division had a big update fairly recently that I ought to try and have a look at, and Elite: Dangerous is sitting waiting to be installed after a Steam sale; too many games, too little time, as per usual!

On the MMO front our little Sunday group have drifted away from Guild Wars 2, being stuck in a bit of a Fractal-limbo where pushing forward is quite a slog and replaying current tiers a bit tiresome. Casting around the almost endless list of other options The Elder Scrolls Online jumped out, a game I’d briefly tried a couple of times (but not to the point of hitting double-digit levels), so we’ve been pottering around in there for a few weeks. A recent(ish) “One Tamriel” update changed much content to be scaled for any level, as I understand it, removing a lot of restrictions on grouping and such, enabling us to progress at our own pace during the week but still team up without anyone being over/underpowered. The more structured story side of the game hasn’t really grabbed me any more than last time, but like a single player Elder Scrolls game there’s no shortage of other things to do in the world. This week I have been mostly engaging in larceny for the Thieves Guild, next week I might look in to the Mages Guild, or do a bit of crafting, or hunt down some vampires; it’s a bit like Mr Benn, really, only with more hats.

New Year, New PC

From hazy memory and patchy records I believe our family first got a PC in 1988, an Amstrad PC1512, so I thought I’d celebrate the 30th anniversary by buying a new computer as is time-honoured tradition and in no way a post factum and incredibly flimsy excuse to upgrade. Adapting the xkcd 2011 Guide to Making People Feel Old[1], the IBM System/360 came out closer to the Amstrad than this new PC; if you have no idea what a System/360 might be ask a grandparent and/or Wikipedia, whichever is less likely to shake a stick at you and reminisce at length about punched cards and paper tape.

I’m pretty sure this is my tenth system in total; for a while new PC purchases were a more-or-less biennial affair, from that first Amstrad sporting an 8086 processor screaming along at 8Mhz in 1988 through a 386SX (16Mhz) in 1991, 486DLC (33Mhz) in 1993, Pentium P133 in 1996, Pentium II 350 in 1999, Athlon 1400 in 2001, Athlon 2800 in 2003 and an Athlon 64 in 2005. The first few stick in the mind, also covering the shift from Mono CGA in 4 shades of grey, an occasional “beep” from a PC speaker, and 5.25″ disks to the glorious technicolour of VGA, symphonic Soundblasting, and vast hard drives holding upwards of 100Mb of data. After that it’s a bit hazy, a bland batch of beige boxes from whoever looked cheapest in the back of Computer Shopper, up to the Athlon 64. I built that one myself, with a bit of help from Melmoth (i.e. he built it and I fetched the occasional screwdriver, a couple of daiquiris and a mojito) and it was going strong when this blog started in 2006, taking things through to 2009 and my previous system, a Core i7 that’s done sterling service for the last eight years.

You could always upgrade bits and pieces – I remember inserting 128Kb memory chips into the PC1512 to bring it up to a staggering 640KB of RAM, and a 32MB hard card (combined hard disk and controller) was bliss after frequent swapping of 360KB floppies. The 486 entered the amazing world of “multimedia” when fitted with a CD-ROM drive and Soundblaster card, and somewhere in the early 2000s LCD screens became affordable so you could contemplate a monitor larger than 15″ without needing a six foot deep desk with structural reinforcement. The CPU was always a major bottleneck, though, needing an update every few years if you wanted to keep up with the latest games, and new generations of processors typically needed a new motherboard and assorted gubbins (to use the technical term). With the dedicated 3D graphics card becoming commonplace from the late 90s and eventually taking over as the key component for games performance it’s been easy to just pop in a new card when things started slowing down, so though there have only been a couple of whole new rigs since 2005 I’ve still been updating graphics cards every couple of years, making the extended lifespan of the Core i7 slightly less impressive. Still, eight years is a great run, and it could still cope quite happily with games like Destiny 2, albeit at lower graphics settings. It wasn’t that an upgrade was absolutely vital, but it felt like the time was about right (as much as the time is ever right to buy new technology) and I didn’t have any other ideas for a slightly belated birthday present.

It was most instructive building the Athlon 64 with Melmoth, and I’ve upgraded or replaced enough power supplies, graphics cards and hard drives over the years, but time and convenience are more of a priority these days (along with a nice comfy pair of slippers and a short nap in the afternoon) so it’s easier to buy a pre-assembled system. The previous one was a 3XS from Scan, and I certainly can’t fault it, but browsing around I opted for a Chillblast system this time. They offer a range of silent PCs, quiet performance being one of my priorities, and were very helpful via e-mail and on the phone to precisely tailor everything. It’s a Core i5, but several generations on from the i7 (this one is a “Coffee Lake”, apparently, presumably a code name rather than an innovative caffeinated liquid cooling system) with a GTX 1070 and a tiny M.2 SSD (physically tiny; a rough calculation suggests it can store more than ONE! MEEEEEELEON! 5.25″ floppy disks), and is really rather lovely. Early days yet, I’ve only got as far as installing a few things, but it doesn’t bat an eyelid running them with all the graphics options turned up to 11. Fingers crossed it’ll still be going strong in eight years!

[1] Did you realise the 2011 Guide to Making People Feel Old came out closer to the start of xkcd than the present day?