Yearly Archives: 2019

The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence

The BBC had a news item the other day about use of self-storage units being at an all-time high, with an obligatory decluttering expert giving advice on (surprisingly enough) decluttering. I’m not too bad in real life, the odd box of serial and parallel cables to fit ports that no PC has had in the last seven years here, a small collection of power adapters that connect to nobody-knows-what there, but digital storage is another matter. Course there are e-mails, photographs and what-not; according to that “the term digital hoarding was first used in 2015” but one of my earliest posts here was about being a pack rat in games and it was hardly a new concept then.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Destiny 2 continues to tick along as game of choice at the moment, and some of the trickiest battles in there are deciding what to keep and what to break down into materials. They expanded the capacity of the Vault to 500 items, but needless to say I rapidly filled that with shaders, spaceships, speeders, submachine guns, sniper rifles, and even stuff that doesn’t begin with ‘s’. I really ought to have a proper clear-out, but there’s the old hoarders mantra… it might come in useful. Who amongst us hasn’t woken up one morning with a fierce urge to suddenly colour all their armour hot pink and lime green? The random perk system rather exacerbates matters, as Sod’s Law dictates that I end up with four of the same item, each with one useful perk and one useless, and rather than just decide on one of them I’ll stick ’em all in the Vault. A sniper rifle with extra damage on the opening shot but also a hip fire bonus? Fab! I’ll just pop it over here with the rampaging pistol made out of ham and cluster rocket launcher that dispenses suncream. The changing nature of online games is another contributor. I can’t recall ever running out of primary ammunition, so the Primary Ammo Finder perk on armour seems more pointless than a particularly blunt pencil used to write the song “You’re Beautiful” before being recruited by the NKVD while working as an art historian. But what if Bungie intended primary ammunition to be incredibly scarce and someone had misplaced a decimal point in its drop chance, they fix it, and Primary Ammo Finder becomes the most useful perk there is? Other than the forums melting and an online backlash of such ferocity that people are Really Very Cross on Twitter, of course.

Destiny 2 has nothing on Neverwinter, though, which had a pretty major update recently with Module 16 – higher level cap, some new class mechanics, that sort of thing. I barely played Module 15 but got the game patched up again for a Sunday morning jaunt, and again found myself wrestling with inventory space. Some of the issues are quite deliberate – bags and bank space are staples in the cash shops of free-to-play games, clearly a good way to bring in revenue, especially when nudged along by showering the player with crafting materials, potions, food, quest items, multitudinous currencies and tokens and keys and gems and widgets and grommets and geese and socks and paperclips and electrical goods and crockery and a small ornamental donkey named Gerald wearing a sombrero. Others are less intentional – over six years and 16 modules plenty of game mechanics have been tweaked and overhauled, and rather than starting afresh I’ve been dusting off old characters with already stuffed bags and haven’t been able to summon the enthusiasm to read in depth about what’s still relevant and what is obsolete. I ought to just break down a load of stuff into refinement points, but again there’s the nagging fear… what if there’s some super-rare item from Module 3 that’s no longer obtainable and has become an enormously valuable status symbol? There’s always the KonMari method – only keep those things that spark joy. I’m not sure that’s a thread to tug on, though, or the entire gaming jumper might start unravelling…

Ack Ack Ack Ack

It’s been a quiet time on the gaming front, sticking with the old favourites. War Thunder thunders along, as it’s wont to do; a recent update introduced radar, missiles and increasingly modern tanks, areas I’m not particularly interested in, but that’s not a problem as I can still happily potter about in World War II era boats and aircraft. I wandered in to the open beta of The Division 2 and, in a shocking turn of events, found it a lot like The Division. I had a good run in the original but didn’t get very heavily drawn into its endgame, in general I prefer the more fluid first-person combat of Destiny 2 to cover-based third-person shooting, so decided not to pick up TD2 just yet. I might grab it if there’s a good offer at some stage and/or a gaming void opens up, but there’s no danger of that at the moment. I bought Far Cry 5 in a Steam sale of some sort; it seems fine, a good old Ubi map-mopper, but an FPS with a map full of things to tick off isn’t exactly a dramatic break if I’m looking for a change so I haven’t been in there much, it’s Destiny 2 that’s ticking along. They seem to have struck a sweet spot in combat: plenty of easy-to-mow-down minions that are still threatening en masse, a smattering of more powerful mobs, plus the big old boss fights. The Division 2 still seemed to favour fewer, tougher mobs which (for me) feels less psychologically satisfying even if the end result of time taken and XP/loot/etc received is the same (similarly there’s more of a disconnect when standard humans require massive volumes of fire to bring down, even if a game isn’t striving for any great realism, whereas any fule kno that space aliens with laser shields can absorb a whole load of shooting). The various weapon types of Destiny 2 all seem to have their place; I mostly settle into a comfortable groove of pulse rifle, shotgun, and machine gun, but in the course of levelling up or for specific tasks I’ll switch in bows, hand cannons or whatever for slightly different fighting styles. The variety of activities, PvE and PvP, solo and group, also keeps things fresh enough that I don’t feel too caught in a groove of “run exactly the same mission twice a week plus matinee”. It’s my battered old armchair of choice at the moment.

Though playing enough I’m pretty disengaged from gaming more widely, as is doubtless obvious from the infrequency of posts here; Zubon’s farewell struck more chords than Status Quo (all four of them). Past April Fool’s Days veered between irritation at swathes of not-particularly-funny stuff and appreciation for some decent jokes, especially when developers went so far as to tweak game content. I hardly keep up with gaming news these days, though, so barely saw anything this year; I’m not sure if there was as much as usual, or if the world decided there’s no point making fake headlines when “Mussolini’s granddaughter kicks off at Jim Carrey over joke about hanging fascists” is real. Destiny 2 didn’t seem to have anything notably foolhardy, leaving it down to War Thunder to make sure I didn’t miss out entirely. Gaijin deployed Earth Thunder, players doing battle in flying saucers capable of flying, hovering just above ground, and diving under the sea.

Laser Attack PEWPEW!

Laser Attack PEWPEW!

Quite fun, though the weapons seemed a bit hit-and-miss (mehhh). I still think the high watermark was the World War II Walkers of 2015, shame that nothing more seems to have happened with them.

It’s A Right Royale Knockout

Battle Royales are quite the In Thing these days. I imagine publishers are frantically trying to find the next mega-hit even as we speak…

Grand Theft Auto is history, Minecraft is old news, the kids are all playing Fortnite now and we need something to compete. What have you got?”
“So we had a racing game that you wanted turning into a massive open world, and then you wanted players to be able to dig and build stuff, and then you wanted zombies, so we’ve just finished adding them to… Zombie Death Build Race World 2000!”
“Fantastic! Love it! Perfect! Just a couple of really minor tweaks: ditch the zombies, set it on a small island instead of a massive world, and instead of racing have the players shoot each other. Great! What else have you got?”
“Well… I mean… the AI department spent the last seven years working on a chess program so fiendishly advanced that it can beat Deep Blue two matches out of three, we’re almost ready to unveil that.”
“Amazing! Chess! Perfect! Totally fits the vibe we’re shooting for. Just a couple of really minor tweaks: the board needs to shrink by one square every three minutes, and add crates of gear the pawns can pick up to upgrade themselves. Oh, and dance emotes for the bishops. Just copy some crazy popular dance fad, that’ll be fine won’t it legal team? Legal team? Anyone seen the legal team? No? Not to worry, I’m sure there won’t be any problems. What else have you got?”
“That was it, really. Apart from a retro reboot one of the team was working on: there are these invaders, they’re from space, the player has to move left and right and shoot them.”
“Nah, retro stuff is so passée, kids aren’t interested in it unless… wait a minute! What about… if there are one hundred of these invaders? And they arrive on the screen from above. And gradually the distance between the player and the invaders gets smaller, so the action gets quicker! This could be gold dust, get on it right away!”

I haven’t tried PlUnkBat or Fortnite, but when Apex Legends burst onto the scene with minimal hype and racked up record player numbers in short order (including Melmoth) I thought I’d pop a nose in and see what the fuss was about. It’s a very solid game, the context sensitive ‘ping’ function that allows you to rapidly communicate the location of supplies, suggest directions, and warn of enemy activity is a great systems that hopefully will make it into a lot of other games. I’m not a fan of universal voice chat, and specific “equipment crate here!” messages are much easier that trying to work out some sort of mime system with basic movement controls:

“Hmm, Skippy’s jumping up and down and shooting at the floor over there… either he’s found a crate and is trying to convey the location, or he’s hyperactive and bored.”
“Or he’s slumped over his keyboard with his face on the spacebar and finger on the left mouse button, should we send help?”
“Better check if there’s a crate there first”
“Good point, it would be bad to waste everyone’s time if he doesn’t need help”
“Uh, yeah, that’s definitely what I was worried about rather than the danger of a crate despawning and not getting some loot..”

Roaming around gathering weapons and equipment is nicely done, reminiscent of Survival mode in The Division (or even Rogue/Nethack, going a wee bit further back) but at some stage comes the shooting, and once again my poor aged reflexes are a bit of an issue here. I manage the odd kill here and there, support the team a bit, but on the whole I’m more shootee than shooter. It might be something I dip a toe into now and again, but I’m not sure I’ll be a regular.

Wouldn’t it make a nice change if, instead of hunting for guns and other tools of violence, players were instead scouring the map for clotted cream, cucumber slices, a selection of preserves, bread, assorted varieties of tea, scones, ornamental cakestands and teapots, and then all got together in the centre of the map for a lovely afternoon tea? Much more wholesome. Apart from the horrific violence that would result from disagreements over whether the jam or cream goes on the scone first…

Everyone has got the fear

Anthem seemed like the least-braniest of no-brainers. Do you like ARPGs[1]? *nods* Do you like Bioware games? *nods* A Bioware ARPG? To the pre-order-tron for the super deluxe diamond-with-strontium-edging edition featuring a sticker, some gear you’ll use for about seven minutes before replacing it, and digital download concept art just in case you run out of things to look at on the internet!

I’d tried out beta tests of The Division and Destiny 2, in part to check their performance, and ended up buying and playing both of them heavily. The recent Anthem demo/beta/stress test weekend was surely mere formality before deciding whether to just buy it or opt for some sort of EA/Origin subscription-thingumy, but after a couple of hours with the demo I think I’ll be holding off on the strontium edging.

I’m a PC gamer, have been for 30 years, man and boy, hardest game in the world son. Getting used to different control schemes can take a while; digital joysticks on arcade games were intuitive, but with a ZX Spectrum at home there was just the keyboard. Moving a bat left and right in Thro’ The Wall wasn’t too tricky, for ludicrously advanced games involving moving in more than two directions I seem to recall a fairly standard scheme used the left hand on “Q” and “A” for up and down and the right hand on “O” and “P” for left and right with a thumb or two on space for jump/fire/invade Belgium. When moving to the PC I remapped game controls to the same layout where possible, but many games insisted on the dedicated number/cursor pad. For a while I used both hands on that in an awkward interlocked-fingers pose; *one* hand for all *four* directions??/? Madness! I adapted after a while, though, for Wolfenstein 3D and Doom cursor keys were the way to go. The mouse was fine for something like Civilisation, clicking on maps and what-not, but you’d never use it for a fast-paced action game. Then games had this mad idea that you could look up and down, and that necessitated a whole bunch more keys; either that, or you could use the mouse to look around. I think it was Quake II where I first encountered mouselook, I’m not sure if that still used the cursor keys for moving or if that was also when I started using the now traditional WASD, it took a bit of time to become proficient but I’ve never looked back since (except with a mouse). There were strong reasons for most of the changes, the ability to hit more buttons as games needed more input, or more precise control.

I’ve never owned a console[2], which I only point out to justify my lack of gamepad skills rather than some misplaced sense of quasi-religious fervour. I’ve occasionally fiddled with a friend’s (fnarr, missus, etc.) and been fairly hopeless when it comes to pointing shotguns at evil hell creatures; I’m sure it would come to me with time, but mouse and keyboard have seen me through until now.

All that digression is partly just ‘cos I’m terribly old and forget what I’m talking about and start randomly reminiscing (who remembers Spangles, eh?), but mostly because many of the Anthem previews I’d seen had emphasised that movement in the game was what really made it stand out, the ability to fire up a jetpack and swoop through the skies at any moment. So I fired up my jetpack and… PANGK! (That’s a Javelin hitting a cliff, not to be confused with Mr Stevens, Head of Catering, breaking up a fight between Darth Vader and God.)

Opinion on flying in the Anthem demo is divided between those able to fly through the air with the greatest of ease (predominantly using gamepads) and those who PANGK! (mostly with keyboard and mouse). The mouse acts as a virtual joystick, moving it outside a circle in the centre of the screen causes deflection, you have to manually return the mouse to the circle to stop moving. It’s a system used in a number of other PC games (though Anthem layers on some further difficulties like negative acceleration) and I’ve never fully got to grips with it, I tend to go full Krypton Factor Contestant Attempting To Land A 747 Simulator After Ten Minutes Of Training; flying in a straight line not too bad, minor course corrections OK, but any sharp manoeuvres rapidly result in violent overcompensation – notice he does not fly so much as plummet. At least hitting the ground in Anthem results in a Superhero Landing rather then an explosion of certain death. I seem to recall a similar flying mechanism for the fighters in Planetside 2 where I could just about fly from A to B while others were able (whether with mouse or alternative controller) to dogfight with irritating agility. I’ve tried dusting off my old analogue joystick in the past but it’s not easy to switch back and forth between it and other controls, and my stick-skills have rather atrophied since X-Wing versus Tie Fighter, especially since I found War Thunder.

War Thunder (except in Simulation mode) cheats – you don’t really fly an aircraft, you point your mouse where you want to go, and an ‘instructor’ takes care of the minor business of actually making the aircraft point the same way. It’s one thing to have a particular control system for a sense of realism, or to try and balance a PvP playing field between users of different devices, but call me lazy, if there’s a choice between a system that needs several frustrating hours to get the hang of and a system that’s immediately easy to grasp allowing you to focus on positioning, tactics and such rather than just Not Crashing, I’ll stick with option 2.

At least you can see where you’re going while flying, there was a short swimming segment in the Anthem demo that seemed to use the flying controls but with zero visibility half the time; I guess, on the plus side, after going through that I’d think “at least it’s not annoying as swimming” while PANGK!ing into a mountain. The developers have acknowledged issues with flying and swimming using mouse and keyboard (plus some more minor irritations of the gamepad-centric interface), and apparently the full game will have improved controls but that’s not much help unless there’s another trial. It’s a bit of a worry that the game got as far as its big demo with them in that state, I’ve no idea on the relative number of PC players versus consoles these days so it probably makes more sense to focus on the latter first; it’s hardly the first game that might need frantic patching in the first week or seven up to and after release.

Flying isn’t the whole game, you can run, jump and shoot with a mouse perfectly happily without PANGK!ing, but the rest of the game didn’t particularly grab me. Combat was reminiscent of the duller fights of The Division, mobs soaking up large volumes of fire, whether that was down to lacklustre default weapons or everything being intended for a group of players I’m not sure. I’m not averse to chunks of group content, especially with an effective matchmaker to bring random players together, but sometimes I just want to take things in my own time, at my own pace, in my own clothes, and Anthem seemed to be very focused on groups of four; four there shall be, and not three (lest it be on the way to four); five is Right Out. I tried a four-player stronghold/strike/trial/dungeon/thingumy that ticked along well enough, shot some bugs, got some loot, but it didn’t fire me up to try it again on a daily basis plus weekend matinee. There wasn’t much to latch onto story-wise, Bioware’s traditional strength albeit not so much the focus of Anthem, the demo dropping you in at level 10 to get straight into the action. It seemed like a fairly generic sci-fi world, some elements between missions held promise, but again not enough to make me desperate to pick up the full game.

All in all I think I’ll hold off for a while on Anthem. It’s not terrible, but it looks like it could do with a bit more work and I’ve got plenty of other stuff to be getting on with in other games, like picking up shiny loot in Destiny 2 and getting my flying (and boating) fix in War Thunder. In this games-as-a-service world releases are more akin to a TV series than a one-off movie and not everything hits the ground running from the start, it can take a few episodes (or even series) for things to bed in, but not everything gets a chance; I really hope it works out for Bioware and Anthem finds its place.


[1] Trying to nail things, whether music, games, food or ornamental hatstands, down to specific genres can be rather unhelpful, leading to bickering over genre definitions rather than other, far more important, bickering (custard creams or bourbons?) Shorthands are handy though, and I’m not sure there’s a universally agreed genre for the current crop of Games Where You Run Around And Shoot Things And Get Cool Guns And Level Up And Stuff like The Division, Destiny and Anthem (or predecessors like Defiance and the late lamented (at least in some quarters) Hellgate: London). MMO/MMOG was always a bit vague, more so now that Multiplayer and Online are common if not ubiquitous for big releases; Wikipedia seems to go for Action Role Playing Game so I guess I’ll use that over Rootin’ Tootin’ Lootin’ Shootin’ ‘Em Up.

[2] Not strictly true, I have a Wii (not a PROPER console, though, right???/?), but that hardly helped with gamepad skills as I only ever used it for the Guitar Hero series and Wii Sports. My imaginary-tennis-racquet-flailing skills have come on leaps and bounds, though.

Happy New Year!

I seem to have been rather remiss in seasonal greetings illustrated by machinery of destruction for the past couple of years, so may your forthcoming 12 months be full of joy, happiness, and a distinct lack of incoming high explosive shells.

Happy New Boat!