Yearly Archives: 2018

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?

One score and five years ago

A few years back I wrote about Digitiser, the Teletext games pages, as Paul “Mr Biffo” Rose made a triumphant return with Digitiser 2000. Three years on and the site survives and indeed thrives with stacks of great writing and the impressively weird Mr Biffo’s Found Footage series.

Monday saw the 25th anniversary of the launch of Digitiser and Biffo is celebrating with a week of classic teletext-me-do, a fantastic nostalgia trip for those wizened husks old enough to remember it from the first time around, and a glimpse into the distant past for any youngsters who can tear themselves away from sniffing a smlogger fidget spinning a Kinder egg, or whatever it is they do these days.