Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television

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Van Hemlock tweeted:

prompting happy reminiscences of playing at least three of those on an 8086 PC with 640k of RAM (upgraded from 512k) and a mono CGA screen capable of four amazing shades of grey, while being slightly jealous of the staggering nigh-photorealistic (in comparison) graphics of Shadow of the Beast on the Amiga. Ah, happy times. It wasn’t all fun and games, though; the evil menace of “space invaders” had already been recognised in The House of Commons as far back as 1981 as causing young people to resort to theft, blackmail and vice to satisfy their addiction, and this new generation of increasingly sophisticated games prompted further worries, as we can see from this editorial from the September 19th 1989 issue of The Daily Comet:

Video “Games” Spark Copycat Fears

For too long has the youth of our nation been bewitched by the malevolent glowing screen of “television”, breeding a generation of stoop-shouldered square-eyed troglodytes unsuited to healthy British pursuits such as hiking, taking cold showers and planting flags in random bits of the world claiming them for the Queen.  Society must now take action against a yet more insidious threat presented upon those screens, so-called video “games”. Of course televisual and cinematic entertainments have, in the past, prompted some to emulate the activities they see, but where’s the harm in a child dressing as a penguin and trying to carry a bucket of water over a slippery roundabout? Indeed beneficial role models can be presented to instil advantageous values, such as machine-gunning Huns by the score. The interactive nature of these new “games”, though, blur the lines between reality and the wicked depravities depicted therein such that a naive and vulnerable youth can barely tell the difference. Teacher Clem Fandango relates a cautionary tale of Form 3b, carefree children like any other until they came under the sway of a new game called Populous. “They got hold of a load of shovels and started digging up parts of the playground, using the earth to fill in and raise up other sections, completely flattening it on top”, said Fandango. “Apparently it was something to do with being ready in case someone sent a flood upon them; I think they might have been paying a bit too much attention to Michael Fish.”

Parent Ken Suggestion is also worried for his son Neville. “He used to be such a normal boy, hanging around street corners and beating up younger children to steal their lunch money, then he started playing this Sim City. Now all he does is sketch outlines for ideal town layouts with a balance of residential, commercial and industrial zones, and grapples with setting a tax rate low enough to stimulate growth while still raising enough money to fund pubic improvement works. I’m worried that we’re raising a generation of… urban planners.”

Most dangerous of all, though, is a part of the newfangled Microsoft Windows 3, which is going to be released next year but we’ll just ignore that inconvenient bit of chronology. Minesweeper may seem like an innocent puzzle game, but for quantity surveyor Duncan Clench it proved anything but. “My wife Jane just kept playing” said Clench, “hours every day, increasing the difficulty level, until it simply wasn’t enough. One night I woke up and went to get a glass of water only to discover the kitchen had been flooded, and an irregular pattern of Type H Mark II mines had been laid. Of course it was quite straightforward to negotiate those, being simple contact mines, but I was woken the next day by the drone of a Heinkel He 111 dropping a Luftmine B fitted with combination magnetic/acoustic detonator, a much more difficult prospect.”

“Honestly” he continued “it hasn’t been this difficult getting to work since she watched Knightmare, installed those giant circular saw blades in the hall and made me wear that stupid helmet…”

Posted by Zoso at 4:40 pm

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate

waffle, zoso No Comments »

Gosh, time flies by, doesn’t it? And not just when you’re the driver of a train, though I’ve just been watching quite a lot of Chigley and listening to Half Man Half Biscuit, sometimes both at the same time. Why aren’t there any computer games set in Camberwick Green, eh? You could play Mickey Murphy the baker, quietly getting along and baking cakes, no nasty old monsters or anything, just the dramatic tension of running out of flour and having to rouse that old drunkard Windy Miller to make some more… Actually you could probably do that with the Advanced Bakery Simulator 2013 expansion pack for Farming Simulator

Anyway! Time. Summer is gone, the nights are drawing in, Steam Sale Season is just around the corner and it’s time to start selling perfume, books and blockbuster games, like Dragon Age: Inquisition. I recently wrapped up a second play-through of Dragon Age 2 so was all ready for Dragon Age Keep, a rather nifty site that allows you to see and tinker with various events from the first two games, then gives a quick potted history of The Story So Far narrated by Varric’s lightly buttered tones. That was particularly useful for the first game, the events of which were rather hazy, so I’m all ready to delve back into the world of Dragons and Ages, just as soon as I work out what class to make my Inquisitor; after playing through the first two games as a Rogue, then a Warrior for the second run-through of DA2, I can’t decide between a Mage to complete the set, or to reincarnate my original Rogue a third time for The Saga of the Suspiciously Similar Sisters (“Greetings, Inquisitor! Has anyone ever mentioned you bear a striking resemblance to the Champion of Kirkwall? Who, now I come to think of it, was as close in appearance to the Hero of Ferelden as the game engine allowed…”) Or maybe a Warrior… And then there’s race. And which hairstyle to pick. And eye colour. And perhaps most importantly, which companion to become most companionable with. Now one school of thought suggests playing the game, experiencing the story, selecting the dialogue options that seem most in keeping with your idea of your character, and seeing what develops. This is madness, because Dragon Age is a Game, and the idea of a Game is to Make Numbers Go Up, so the proper way to do it is to check if romance with NPCs offers some sort of benefit to your character, determine the optimal benefit for your specific build, then find a spoiler-packed guide that details the precise choices to make to get that benefit. Just like real life.

Or possibly not. I never really intended things to turn out quite as they did in the first game, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers for Inquisition to let things play out naturally there, but I had seen a preview that mentioned that some romantic options were limited to specific Inquisitor sex/race choices, so I’ve had a quick peek at the art of the possible, as it were. I imagine some people might be a little bothered by companions in DA:I who are only interested in a relationship with an Inquisitor of the same sex, but not the the GamerGrot crowd of course, as it’s unrelated to the concerns about ethics in journalism that are as central to The Cause as the unethical treatment of elephants is to the robot uprising. Although same sex relationships do sound suspiciously Socially Just, and everyone knows that sort of thing is only ever put in games because of unreasonable and probably illegal harassment of game developers by evil Social Justice Warriors, which is definitely the same thing as ethical journalism, so everyone should probably boycott the game anyway as part of Operation If We Put The Word “Operation” In Front Of Something We Can Pretend We’re Like All In The Proper Army And This And That And Not Just The Lunatic Fringe Of The Green Ink Brigade

I dunno, though. A Social Justice Warrior does sound pretty cool, maybe I’ll roll one. Or a Social Justice Rogue. Tell you what, Social Justice Bard-Sorcerer, with a splash level of Paladin, final answer…

Posted by Zoso at 7:06 pm

War Thunder Update 1.43

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War. War never changes. War Thunder, on the other hand, changes quite a lot when major patches are released, such as the 7GB of Update 1.43 ready to descend upon your intertubes like a Lancaster loaded with Small Bomb Containers, only packed with shiny new game features instead of 20lb Mk IV fragmentation bombs. Update 1.43 brings new aircraft, new armoured vehicles, new game modes, new decals and camouflage, new sounds and new maps, the latter sadly not including New South Wales, New York New York (so good they named it New York) or Newton Abbot to really emphasise the newness.

With tanks being a relatively recent addition, some of the more major changes are around ground forces. Combined arms battles featuring both tanks and aircraft have great potential, but striking a balance between the iron ground beasts and their airborne bombing predators (and the fighters that prey upon those bombers in turn, and self-propelled anti-aircraft units) is quite a challenge. Until this patch, Arcade tank battles didn’t include aircraft at all. In the new mode everyone starts in tanks, and if you earn enough points you get the chance to spawn an attack aircraft or bomber for a very limited time (not one of your own aircraft, from a pre-selected list, with experience you earn on it going towards your tanks). When one player activates that ability there’s a global notification, and other players get the chance to spawn fighters to either escort or attack the bomber.

Let's go fly a bomber, up to the highest... what rhymes with bomber?

Let’s go fly a bomber, up to the highest… what rhymes with bomber?

It’s an interesting tweak, and certainly gets around one of the main issues with a mixed Arcade mode, the fact that aircraft get to reload bombs in mid-air.

Realistic Battles also now use a points-based system for selecting vehicles. You’re placed in a match depending on the highest Battle Rating (BR) of anything in your garage/hanger, then each vehicle has a cost to spawn with some scaling based on BR (within limits, you can’t get into a match based on a late war King Tiger, then zerg rush a bunch of incredibly cheap tankettes).

What do points make?  Il-2 Sturmoviks!

What do points make? Il-2M Sturmoviks!

Aircraft are more expensive, I believe nobody starts with enough resources to fly, so again you have to earn enough points with your tanks before you can unleash a r(ai/eig)n of aerial terror.

I worry a little that in both cases the team doing well are further rewarded, but the few matches I’ve played so far have worked out fairly well so it should be fun to see how the modes bed in.

Tankers also have a couple of other new toys to play with in this update. When viewing vehicles in the garage you can switch to an armour inspection view, showing the thickness of your protection (matron), or an X-ray mode demonstrating just how exciting it was to be a tank crewman sitting on top of a tank filled with flammable fuel, next to a pile of explosive ammunition:

Rock and Roll(ed homogeneous armour)

Rock and Roll(ed homogeneous armour)

The X-ray view is also used in a new post-destruction replay screen that might forestall a little of the “how on earth did I die then?”, showing the path of the shell that finished you off and the resultant havoc it wreaked, a bit like the slightly gruesome Sniper Elite X-Ray Kill Cam:

At this point, Driver Geoff began to think it might have been a mistake to mount an anti-aircraft gun on the back of his minicab

At this point, Driver Geoff began to think it might have been a mistake to mount an anti-aircraft gun on the back of his minicab

An ongoing bone of contention for some players is the matchmaking system, where each plane is assigned a Battle Rating (BR) for matchmaking purposes. These Battle Ratings are adjusted based on player performance, which can result in situations where the aircraft of countries that attract a smaller pool of more dedicated pilots (primarily Germany) receive less favourable matchmaking than the more popular countries (the USA & USSR). It’s not really an issue in the mixed Arcade Battles, but comes to the fore in nation vs nation Historical Battles where the relative popularity and strengths of different types of aircraft are much more of a factor. Historical matchmaking, based on the actual service dates of aircraft, is frequently suggested, but I’m not sure that’s a terribly good idea, what with every country always frantically working to make aerial combat as unfair and unbalanced as they possibly can, with varying degrees of success over the course of the war. Gaijin have acknowledged the issue and announced plans for a fundamental overhaul in the future that will do away with Battle Ratings in Historical Battles, so there aren’t any major changes to that in Update 1.43.

The aerial side of things hasn’t been neglected, though, with every country getting four or five new aircraft (plus eight for Japan, whose tree was a little on the sparse side), and assorted tweaks, updates and corrections to flight models, bomb loads and such.

English Electric Canberra, one of the new aircraft

Together in (English) Electric (Canberra) dreams

There’s a new aerial mode as well, Air Races, if you’re tired of endless destruction; a nice scenic tropical island with a bountiful local harvest of floating yellow rings to fly through:

FIIIIIIVVVVEEEE GOOOOOLLLDDDD RIIIIINNNGGGGSS

FIIIIIIVVVVEEEE GOOOOOLLLDDDD RIIIIINNNGGGGSS

Automatic squads are another innovation. If you join a battle on your own you’ll be grouped up with another random pilot or (unless you disable the feature in the game options). With some minor additional rewards for scoring kills in the vicinity of squadmates it’s a nice nudge to try and encourage a little more teamwork, though unlikely to have a particularly dramatic effect in general.

All in all, plenty of good stuff to get your teeth into!

Posted by Zoso at 10:43 am

Fifty Ways to Gimp Your Healer

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ArcheAge recently launched in the West, and I have to confess that I hadn’t been paying much attention to it until hearing there were colossal queues to get into the servers on launch day. Queues, you say? A feature guaranteed to appeal to a British audience! I downloaded the client forthwith and was soon enjoying some exceptional queueing, hundreds of people with estimated wait times in tens of hours. The addition of new servers a few days ago slightly spoiled things to the point that I found myself actually in the game. Still, there’s plenty of interesting stuff in prospect apart from the queues like the deep crafting and housing driven economy, a player-run judicial system, and a class system with 120 skill choice permutations with intriguing names like “Ebonhawk”, “Reaper”, “Blade Dancer” and “Senior Systems, Applications and Telephony Engineer” (one of those may be made up).

It’s always interesting to see whether flexible class systems promote a variety of interesting and viable hybrids, or if everyone falls back into traditional specialised roles; whether you can take a number of different approaches to your build, or if there’s but one Proper Way To Do It and (with apologies to Paul Simon), fifty ways to gimp your healer…

The problem is all inside your build she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you to heal the whole of your party
There must be fifty ways to gimp your healer

She said it’s really not my habit to intrude
But guides from old patches, they can be misconstrued
Because they changed the healing stats in one point two
There must be fifty ways to gimp your healer

Pick up Healing Hymn, Kim
Check your mana regen, Jen
You don’t need that Int, Clint
Just heal your party
Try out Auramancy, Nancy
It don’t have to be fancy
A good club is key, Lee
To heal that party

She said it grieves me so to see you in such pain
When your healing efforts are met with much disdain
I said I appreciate that and would you please explain
About the fifty ways

She said why don’t we respec your character tonight
And I believe with the right gear you will begin to see the light
And then she buffed me and I realised she probably was right
There must be fifty ways to gimp your healer

Pick up Healing Hymn, Kim
Check your mana regen, Jen
You don’t need that Int, Clint
Just heal your party
Try out Auramancy, Nancy
It don’t have to be fancy
A good club is key, Lee
To heal that party

Posted by Zoso at 12:37 pm

In Memoriam Mumorpugers

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So. Farewell then
Mumorpugers
You dominated the world for a bit
And then sort of went away
Like Rome and the Mongols and
Gangnam Style

E. J. Zoso, age 17½

Yes, with the news that Blizzard has cancelled Titan, it’s official. MMOs are dead. Or dying, at least. Or dying a bit more than they were previously, which was already a pretty death-y sort of dying so it’s definitely bad news. Course before we start the funeral rites we’ll have to have another quick skirmish in the Eternal Semantic War over what is, or isn’t, an MMO, MMOG and/or MMORPG, and whether Titan was or wasn’t one and thus can or can’t be used as some sort of yardstick for wider genre health; with scarcely any official information about Titan it’s an even more pointless skirmish than normal, the game being a veritable tabula rasa upon which we can engrave any number of hopes and fears (or, from the sketchy news that it was an action MMOG of some sort and direction changed during development, a veritable Tabula Rasa (video game), as Wikipedia would disambiguate).

Sensationalism aside, I don’t know if the Titan announcement changes much, perhaps just confirms a trend. The pattern already seemed established in 2008 that post-WoW MMORPGs would see maximum popularity at launch then gradually tail off, and though nobody is terribly keen on releasing subscriber numbers any more (not to mention the difficulty of assessing metrics in a generally-post-subscription-model landscape) nothing in the last five years has managed much different. Even as World of Warcraft subscriber numbers started falling, those players don’t seem to be looking for another MMORPG (it’s left as another semantic argument as to whether other MMOGs like World of Tanks or Planetside 2 are Proper Competitors or Whole Other Online Things That Can’t Be Directly Compared). Any number of perfectly good MMORPGs have come along, but none have captured the wider imagination like World of Warcraft; gamers move in mysterious ways, and the cancellation of Titan suggests even Blizzard can’t seem to replicate their formula.

Perhaps one reason is that changing times have chipped away at the unique selling points of MMORPGs. Co-operative or competitive online play is ubiquitous on both console and PC. Social media supplants some of the community aspects of friends lists, guilds and general zone chat (when WoW launched there was no Twitter or YouTube, Facebook still had the “the” and restricted membership, and smartphones were rudimentary and rare). There are echoes of the sandbox aspects of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies in Minecraft, itself a WoW-esque staggering success. Progress bars, unlocks, achievements and such have spread from CRPGS through the Virtual skinner box of EverQuest to other genres, and even beyond via “gamification”.

Genres seldom really die, though, they just slip in and out of fashion, evolving along the way; Westerns in films, space sims, the point n’ click adventure, currently doing well as “episodic interactive drama graphic adventure” like The Walking Dead by toning down the insane cat-hair-moustache logic and emphasising story. In this atemporal zone of cultural production we’re wallowing in there’s no shortage of choice, myriad MMORPGs presumably doing well enough to justify ongoing existence. Perhaps that’s another problem; after burning out rather on Defiance three of us spent a good hour or so on voice chat running through possible replacements without reaching much of a conclusion other than Picking Random Titles From Steam’s List Of Massively Multiplayer Games And Reading Some User Reviews Is By Turns Hilarious And Terrifying (again seriously questioning Will Self’s assertion of the effectiveness of the group amateur mind).

So the wheel of time turns; players burn out of games, of genres, of gaming itself, sometimes to return, sometimes not. In the words of Oscar Wilde: “Oppa Gangnam Style”.

Posted by Zoso at 5:05 pm

Wallowing About in an Atemporal Zone of Cultural Production

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As is probably obvious from the frequency and content of posts around here I’ve been drifting along, game-wise, for a while now. I still play a fair amount, but it’s rare for something to get me particularly fired up, I feel a bit disconnected from the wider scene. I had a glance through the nominations for this year’s Golden Joystick Awards and found I’d hardly played any of the games, barely even heard of some of them. Perhaps I’m just getting on a bit, but the industry is shifting too; barriers to development and distribution have been plummeting, in general A Good Thing, but with some knock-on consequences. We’re spoiled with such an array of games, blockbuster games, indie games, new games, classic games, enhanced classics spruced up for modern systems, cheap games, free games… There was a piece on PC Gamer about the “pile of shame” and paralysis of choice; I was starting to feel the same with games five years ago, let alone other media as per Charlie Brooker’s more-relevant-than-ever stuff-a-lanche, and the increasing prevalence of bundles, free-to-play and suchlike in the meantime have hardly helped matters.

With such a backlog, and the inevitability of sales and such, I can’t really remember the last thing I picked up and played at the time of release. I did grab Far Cry 3 in the Steam summer sale and actually played it through to the end, something of a rarity in the Grand List of Stuff I Really Mean To Get Back To One Of These Days. Gameplay-wise it was generally excellent, though a few elements like the crafting system didn’t entirely gel; I spent altogether too much time wondering why, after using two Boar Hides to expand the carrying capacity of my rucksack, I couldn’t use more Boar Hide to expand it further, only Tapir Hide would do (and then Dingo Pelts, but only after the Tapir Hide, not before, that would’ve been silly), and furthermore why I couldn’t carry ammunition or grenades in that rucksack but instead had to make a Tiger Skin ammunition pouch and Deer Hide grenade pack. Also, what kind of bastard hunts down lovable tapirs just to carry a few more arrows? In the end I rationalised it as the considerable trauma suffered by the protagonist manifesting itself as a psychological obsessive-compulsive disorder requiring an incredibly specific set of luggage, and on the plus side it must’ve made things a lot easier in baggage reclamation, looking out for a cassowary-komodo-leopard-skin bag amongst a sea of black suitcases. Anyway, the general sneaking/shooting/exploring side of things was top-notch, but the story was a bit of a mess; I was aware of a fair amount of discussion at the time of release in 2012 but didn’t follow it too closely to avoid spoilers, and it seems a little redundant to return to it now. As so often, xkcd nails it in four panels. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, initiatives like crowdfunding and early access offer a deeper glimpse into the development process than carefully managed hype-stoking previews, but make the landscape more complex in terms of differentiating between impressions, previews, reviews and such, and while it’s a great opportunity for some players to get involved early and perhaps help a little in filing off rough edges to shape a game not everyone is always on quite the same page, as the producer of DayZ pointed out.

After the initial excitement and novelty of backing a couple of Kickstarter projects I have to confess it’s sort of blending in to the general background noise now; it’s nice to receive backer updates on the games in progress, but with the aforementioned pile of shame full of things I could actually be playing right now, I don’t spend too much time reading about future additions to the pile. Connected to not buying games as they launch I haven’t really been looking forward to games ahead of launch time, whether due to the general state of things, or my own jadedness, or a bit of both. A brief spark of hope, of the old excitement, is for Dragon Age: Inquisition; I’ve enjoyed every Bioware game so far, after all, and they’re always fertile ground for further debate and discussion (perhaps a little too fertile, in the case of the end of Mass Effect 3, but let’s not go there again…) I was having a bit of a look at Dragon Age: Keep, a site that will allow players to import save files from previous Dragon Age games and tweak things around before heading in to DA:I; that prompted a quick spot of digital archaeology to find previous save games, and to try and remember what sort of decisions I’d taken. The events of Dragon Age 2 were a bit hazy, so I dusted off my original Gray Warden save from the first game and used that as the basis for the start of a new playthrough. After only saying a couple of weeks ago that “I tend to play through story-driven games once”, I’d forgotten a fair amount of what happens in the game so I’ve been getting quite into it again. It has its flaws, a lot of quite obvious environment re-use, encounters that get a bit same-y (“Will there be three waves of minions in this encounter, or only two? To tell you the truth, in all this excitement I’m just going to leave the mages auto-attacking while I make a quick cup of tea…”), but I’ve missed a story-heavy game with characters I really care about. Far Cry 3 had some terrific NPC performances like Orphan Black’s Michael Mando but its protagonist was incredibly dull, and though Dragon Age 2 was criticised for its limited PC customisation options compared to the first game at least you have some choices over appearance and dialogue.

Speaking of criticism, flipping back through old posts to see what I’d said about it at the time I ran across one about the difference between critic and user scores on Metacritic: “Critic’s reviews are decent if not spectacular, currently averaging 81 on Metacritic, but we’ve all seen the stories of pressure on reviewers from publishers, reliance on advertising revenue from games companies, how can we trust them?”

Seems strangely pertinent, what with all the ‘gate’ strangeness floating around Twitter, a somewhat nebulous campaign about improving games journalism, though precisely how isn’t really pinned down as far as I can tell; depending on what you read then the main objective is to drive out some, none, one or more of: Corruption, Social Justice Warriors, Malpractice, Women, Collusion, Bribery, People Knowing Other People, Money, Fascists, Communists or Reginald Maudling. Poor old Reginald. It’s closely connected with some people saying other people aren’t their shield while simultaneously taking great umbrage on behalf of all gamers; in the words of Terry Jones as an old peasant woman, “well, I didn’t vote for you”. There seems to be something of a semantic oddity in entertainment writing; we generally talk about “film criticism” or “literary criticism”, whereas it’s “music journalism” or “gaming journalism”; some of the more lucid Twitter campaigners, focusing on the “journalism” aspect, are pressing for objectivity and impartiality, which is perhaps fair enough for news-based coverage, but a lot of games writing, at least the stuff that I like to read, is far more in the mould of criticism, with different requirements, and gaming is hardly unique in having difficulty in adjusting to the changing times. In books, sci-fi in particular, some of the ‘gate’ business echoes the kerfuffle from this year’s Hugo awards that seems set to rumble on for a long time. In film, critic Mark Kermode wrote Hatchet Job last year, a book about professional film critics and the age of social media, of Amazon reviews and film posters bearing gushing tweets from untraceable users, with many interesting parallels. Getting dangerously far down the meta-rabbit hole (rabbit meta-hole? meta-rabbit meta-hole?), author Will Self wrote a review (itself later critiqued elsewhere) in a newspaper of the book about film reviews, and one contentious paragraph connects the pile of shame, role of critics and industries in flux:

“Now we have instant access to an unparalleled library of films, books and recordings, we are wallowing about, really, in an atemporal zone of cultural production: none of us have the time – unless, like Kermode, we wish to spend the greater part of our adult life at it – to view all the films, read all the texts, and listen to all the music that we can access, wholly gratis and right away. Under such conditions the role of the critic becomes not to help us to discriminate between “better” and “worse” or “higher” and “lower” monetised cultural forms, but only to tell us if our precious time will be wasted – and for this task the group amateur mind is indeed far more effective than the unitary perception of an individual critic. In my working lifetime I’ve already seen the status accorded to book and film reviews undergo a tremendous decline – not, I hasten to add, because there aren’t good reviews being written (this one is especially good), but because the media they are reviewing and the medium by which they themselves are delivered are both in a state of flux. All sorts of cultural production that was concerned with ordering and sorting – criticism, editing and librarianship – can now be seen for what it always really was: the adjunct of a particular media technology.”

I can’t help but think Self might revisit his opinion of the group amateur mind after reading the user reviews of Dragon Age 2 on Metacritic…

Posted by Zoso at 5:11 pm

Even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness

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There was a discussion about Diplomacy on Twitter (the game, not the general concept; nobody’s been diplomatic on Twitter since August 2007); it’s a political game of negotiation, bluff, alliances and the resultant inevitable betrayal and backstabbing, infamous as a cause of arguments, resentment and grudges. Jon “Jon Shute” Shute tweeted “It’s been on my list for a while but I’ve never gotten around to it. My gaming group is too friendly :)”

We are a friendly bunch (I think), and when playing as a group tend to get on best with European-style games where conflict is more indirect rather than players outright attacking one another; not exclusively, we do enjoy a bit of Small World amongst others, and you know where you are in a two player (or team) head-to-head like Netrunner, but multi-sided games can get a bit more complex in both tactical and interpersonal terms. Not taking things terribly seriously, we play more for laughs than cut-throat competition. While demonstrating Munchkin at the weekend, the first card Melmoth drew was a level 18 monster that he couldn’t possibly defeat, so of course the logical course of action was for the next player to interfere with the encounter by playing a card adding another 10 levels to the monster; by time the rest of the table had chipped in with assorted curses, potions and wandering monsters he was facing three opponents with a combined level of 49. A complete waste of cards from all concerned, with no levels or items of his own Melmoth wouldn’t suffer any ill effects from anything that was played, but everyone rather enjoyed it, especially the player who started things off with the +10 level card, who happened to be his daughter… Over the rest of the afternoon it seemed even the gaming gods sensed our reticence over direct confrontation during a couple of rounds of Betrayal at House on the Hill, a game that casts the players as investigators searching a creepy old house. At some point during the game there is a Haunting, a random event based on dice and cards, that usually results in one of the investigators becoming a Traitor and turning on the others (the titular Betrayal), but neither of our Hauntings resulted in a Traitor with one game ending in an every-player-for-themselves treasure hunt, the other with everyone banding together to fend off evil doppelgängers.

With that in mind, I wondered how we might handle a game of Diplomacy:

Causing Jon to ponder Pandemic (channelling Tom Baker in Genesis of the Daleks):

And other games that could surely be solved in a friendly and non-confrontational manner…

Ticket To Ride: “All this competition over a limited number of routes is very inefficient, let’s renationalise the rail system to ensure universal access to a high-quality public transportation system with consequent benefits to society and dramatic reductions in carbon emissions. Comrade.”

Hungry Hungry Hippos: “Obesity in captive or domesticated animals is no laughing matter, you’re restricted to one plastic ball each until your weight is under control.”

Magic: The Gathering: “Y’know, with these magical powers, rather than fighting to the death we should found a wizard school for orphans. I can’t believe nobody’s thought of that before.”

Mouse Trap: “I can’t help but feel that, rather than this elaborate set of stairs and balls and… is that a bloke in swimming trunks ready to dive into a tub? I don’t even… Anyway, rather than this frankly ill-thought-out mish-mash of stuff, a simple humane trap and release of the mouse into open countryside would be much better for all concerned.”

Betrayal at House on the Hill: “Guys, guys, there’s a big spooky house in the middle of the forest of death and blood (so called because everyone who goes there dies of death and blood) and nobody who’s gone to explore it has come back, shall we go there? Or Nandos? Fair enough, Nandos it is.”

Chess: “Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony side by side on my piano keyboard, oh lord so should our chess pieces.”

Cluedo: “My god, there’s been a murder! Quickly, call the police, and for heaven’s sake don’t touch anything, this is a crime scene and we’d cause havoc with the forensic evidence if we wandered around at random grabbing anything that looks a bit like a weapon!”

Posted by Zoso at 11:51 am

Nothing truly valuable can be achieved except by the unselfish cooperation of many individuals

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I was rather pleased to see the news of a co-operative multiplayer mode in the forthcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition as the multiplayer aspect of Mass Effect 3 turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. There was some debate at the time over whether the character building/progression in ME3 was too simplified, but I thought the combat system worked very well, being solid enough to stand on its own in the stripped-down wave-upon-wave-of-demented-avengers gameplay of the co-op mode, which in turn meant the battles you encountered throughout the single player story were enjoyable challenges rather than a chore. Well, mostly. The snippets of DA:I multiplayer looked pretty fast-paced and fun, it’ll be interesting to see how that carries over to (or is carried over from) the single player gameplay as I seem to recall suggestions that the combat would be more tactical than Dragon Age II.

The multiplayer aspect of Mass Effect 3 also worked well for DLC, from my perspective. I tend to play through story-driven games once, and if I picked them up at launch then by the time DLC packs roll around I’ve usually forgotten what happened in the plot and how to play my character, ending up like those people who always end up behind you in the cinema: “Who’s that again? Why is he so cross? Didn’t she die? Oh, no, I’m thinking of that other film aren’t I? Oh, look, it’s thingy from Coronation Street, you know, the one that married the other one! Ooh, nasty piece of work that one, don’t you trust them dearie!” I can take a decent run-up at a fairly chunky expansion, like the old Tales of the Sword Coast, or Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, but for a few side-missions somewhere in the middle of a story I’ve already finished (as I gather something like Omega is for ME3) it doesn’t really seem worth it. The multiplayer DLC packs, though, adding in new classes, weapons, gear and suchlike were a nice incentive to hop back in and mow through a few waves of mobs.

Of course the main reason I’m looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition is the hope that every conversation will start with your character having dialogue choices like…

“Nooooooooooobody expects the Inquisition! Our chief weapon is…

a. Surprise
b. Fear
c. Ruthless efficiency
d. An almost fanatical devotion to repeating this skit long after everyone else is really, really sick of it”

Posted by Zoso at 1:50 pm

Some kind of madness is starting to evolve

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Summertime Madness in War Thunder is having a good crack at living up to its name with the Hunting Frenzy phase of the event. To secure a Tier II premium plane you need to win 125 matches in a week. That’s quite a lot of matches, in case you were wondering; six hours of solid War Thunder every day for one plane, assuming an average of ten minutes per match and a 50% win rate, if my rough calculations are correct. If you want all five premium planes, well… more back-of-envelope jottings suggest that if you do nothing but play War Thunder for all seven days, without bothering about fripperies like “eating” and “sleeping”, you’ll be cognitively dysfunctional at best and possibly dead at the end of it. Remember to eat and sleep, kids. Meanwhile, our guinea pig will need to be maintaining a 62% win rate to earn all five planes, difficult enough even before factoring in sleep deprivation and hallucinations.

Predictably enough, after the initial excitement over the prizes mentioned in the Summer Madness announcement, some players expressed mild displeasure at the onerous requirements, in much the manner of a toddler throwing a tantrum after finding out that a promise of ice cream was contingent upon first tidying their room. I have to admit I’m slightly surprised at the effort required, Tier II premium planes aren’t terribly expensive to buy, and of limited use in earning research for high-tier planes (there’s a significant penalty when researching something more than one tier higher); I didn’t think they were going to be handed out like flyers for an Edinburgh fringe show, but I thought most players would have a good chance of earning one.

Having match wins as the requirement is also a bit unusual, with most previous events being kill-oriented. A requirement for kills certainly didn’t help with team play, with objectives being ignored and even more of an every-plane-for-itself attitude than usual, but at least it was something within your control. It’s enormously frustrating when, in a Domination match, you pull off an amazing 300mph airfield capture and knock out a couple of enemy aircraft before succumbing to overwhelming odds, then look around the map and see three quarters of your team chasing a single enemy bomber in the middle of nowhere while the enemy team leisurely recapture the airfield with no opposition. The event is limited to Tier II, III and IV aircraft as well, which rules out the old standby of grabbing starter biplanes and heading in to the typically much shorter matches that they enjoy. Requirements based on matches played, team wins and aircraft restrictions are understandable, but combined with the sheer numbers in question it becomes a massive time sink.

There are a few consolation prizes; reaching 25 wins at each eligible tier for each country earns a pile of silver lions and a chance at winning the premium plane in question in a raffle, so I’m plugging away at that, just playing Tier III Japan rather than flitting from country to country for the daily double experience. It’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of the event plays out, and what the requirements for the Tier IV premium aircraft might be…

Posted by Zoso at 4:24 pm

Summertime, and the grindin’ is easy

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School’s out for summer, and the weather is fine; long, hot days perfect for a picnic on the beach or chucking a ball around a park, kicking around a piece of ground in your home town, lazing on a sunny afternoon watching little fluffy clouds A time for holidays, getting away from it all, leaving technology behind.

Doesn’t that sound awful? Thankfully games companies are doing everything they can to keep us all beavering away in front of glowing screens devoting absurd amounts of time to earning digital tchotchkes. Steam kicked things off a bit early with its Summer Psychological Manipulation Sale, this year shoving everyone into a random coloured team in some sort of Five-Way Stanford Prison Buy Trading Cards And Make A Number Go Up Experiment; as Melmoth observed “Steam’s sale is now more of a game than the games it’s selling.”

Neverwinter is never (hah!) short of an event or two, recently celebrating an anniversary as well as indulging in assorted skirmishes, firework parties and suchlike. There’s usually a few cosmetics up for grabs, perhaps some themed consumables, often a green-quality companion, nothing too over-the-top but quite fun. This weekend is the Wonders of Gond, with a chance of earning a rather desirable purple-quality mount, though it does seem that an awful lot of grinding is required to refine an item to that point. I might’ve given it a bit of a go, if not for other games…

Over in the World of WarTankGaming, they’re also celebrating an anniversary, and handing out free tanks to all and sundry for the next week. TANKS very much, Wargaming! (Do you see what I did there?) A Tier II light tank might not be much, but hey, don’t look a gift tank in the barrel and all that, and there’s the garage slot if nothing else. There isn’t so much generosity in the skies in the EU, just some discounts in World of Warplanes (the US seem to be getting a free plane from the 8th), and the chance of a hanger slot if you complete a bunch o’ missions. A Tier VII Gloster Meteor seems more of a tempting reward, but just one of the tasks requires 250 wins at Tier IV or above, being in the top 10 XP earners for your team (presumably to avoid joining and immediately quitting/dying), no ta.

No, I think my grind of choice is going to be good old War Thunder, where there’s Summertime Madness!!!!! (I think they missed a trick not using five exclamation marks, a sure sign of madness.) Amongst assorted discounts and bonuses, the big draw is the chance to earn premium tanks or planes that normally have to purchased with real money. At this very moment you can earn a premium T-34-57 or Panzer IIIN by recording 90 kills using Russian or German tanks respectively, eminently achievable in a week if a bit of a slog. From August 4th – 10th there’s a Tier II premium aircraft for each country up for grabs, the mission details yet to be announced, but I’d hazard a wild guess it’ll involve shooting down a bunch o’ planes… Finally, from August 11th, the big stuff, Tier III and IV premiums including some very nice (and expensive) planes like the American Spitfire IX; I imagine these will have quite insane requirements like some of the more unusual rewards from last year’s Indian Summer event, but we’ll see.

Posted by Zoso at 2:40 am
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