Yearly Archives: 2020

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel a bit peaky)

Our board game group has been playing Pandemic: Legacy for the last 18 months or so. We were keeping up in “real” time for a while, playing one game-month per actual-month, but busy schedules make it difficult to get everyone together so we slowed down a bit. The current coronavirus outbreak and resulting lockdown somewhat ironically means we all the time now, but not the opportunity to get together to finish it off; the prospect of spreading a virus while playing Pandemic would be a bit much even for Alanis Morisette.

Things are going to be quiet for a bit as work sorts out remote infrastructure, currently a bit overwhelmed by the demand. A few quiet months won’t be the worst thing in the world, apart from the health concerns (particularly for friends and family), shortages of essentials, nagging fears of complete societal breakdown and the rest of it. As many people have already observed “Ha! Us (gamers/introverts/geeks) have been practising social isolation for years!”, I’m pretty confident I can survive being cooped up a fair while. There’s no shortage of books, films, TV and games I’ve been meaning to catch up with. Charlie Brooker’s stuff-a-lanche of too much media was ten years ago, back when Netflix were mostly sending DVDs out in the post so you only had a backlog of a few films at a time, rather than a backlog of every film and television show ever produced in the history of time.

Then there are games, of course, with more choice than ever, and more persistence to keep you playing (or at least spending). Good old War Thunder rolls along, its most recent update adding Swedish vehicles to the mix, I still hop in for a few battles here and there; eight years is a pretty good innings. Black Desert Online has continued to be entertaining in a Sunday morning group for chaotic button-mashing combat, but has left me with no desire to try and dive in more deeply. The plot is utterly baffling, and the great slabs of time consuming game mechanisms hold little appeal even with little else to do. Beat Sabre on the Oculus Quest continues to be a lot of fun with custom songs, and a welcome source of exercise if leaving the house gets trickier. For the moment, though, Destiny 2 is sticking around as main game of choice.

I was fading a bit, and wasn’t sure if the new Season of the Worthy would perk my interest up; it introduces Warmind bunkers, which seem fairly similar to the obelisks of the Season of Dawn, something to chip away at without being terribly game-changing. The Trials of Osiris caused more excitement in the player base, returning from the original Destiny. As I understand it, you get to play seven PvP matches and get rewards of varying fabulousness based on the results. I don’t spend a huge amount of time in the Crucible, dipping in for the odd Iron Banner event here and there, but thought I might at least poke a nose into the Trials, see what was what. You need to form a team, though, so I’ll almost certainly be skipping them.

Destiny 2 activities generally come in three flavours. Solo, where you gad about on your own in story missions or on planets or what-not. Team activities with matchmaking, like strikes, forge ignitions, and gambit matches, where you can queue up solo and get chucked in with random strangers. Then there are team activities where you need to form a team first before you can take part, generally the hardest/most time consuming/end-game-iest stuff. I’m perfectly happy with the first two, bumbling around on my own or with random silently competent strangers – I believe there is in-game voice chat if you want, but I’m fine for heavy breathing and random background music thanks (and in the game, aahhhh). Matchmade activities are usually around 10-30 minutes long, a sensible chunk of time and not the end of the world if things do go a bit pear-shaped. I don’t mind missing out on raids and dungeons, and doubt I’ll miss much in the Trials of Osiris being a pretty average PvPer.

I briefly considered joining a clan to sign up for a team, and had a little look at the recruiting forum; seems like everyone demands you sign up for Discord, “hey, come and chat, we want to get to know you!” I’m a grumpy old git now, though, I’m not after any interaction past activating the Holy Grail galloping emote if anyone wants to come and clop a couple of coconut shells together (or I’ll do the clopping, I’m not fussy). There’s a few great little networks of folks from newsgroups, blogging and such over the years, but much of my gaming is a a getaway, social distancing both online and off. Why play solo in a multiplayer game? That old chestnut was kicked around often enough in the blag-u-spore back in the day, other players liven the world up as team-mates, opponents, buyers, sellers, and the rest of it, plenty of different ways to play.

Course there are always single player games too; I finally got around to installing Slay the Spire and that’s rather enjoyable. As a deck-building dungeon-crawler it doesn’t seem terribly radical but it plays very well. Aside from graphics it seems like Slay the Spire should have been possible a long time ago; of course a deck-building card game idea doesn’t need a computer at all and seems like it should have been possible even longer ago, but (from a cursory Wikipedia search) doesn’t seem to pre-date Dominion. Was Monopoly the best we could for a hundred-odd years? Are we receptive to more complex board games thanks to computer games? Do the two feed off each other in a symbiotic relationship? Let’s just hope we can look back in 18 months and still be pondering such questions, rather than having rather more pressing concerns in a virus-ravaged wasteland than trying to come up with an innovative board game using different stockpiled pasta shapes as the pieces…

Black! Like the procession of night that leads us into the valley of despair!

My gaming world has been pretty MMOGless for a while now, depending how exactly you define a MMOG; I had a good run with the Sunday morning gang in Guild Wars 2 and Neverwinter, and a bit of a canter in The Elder Scrolls Online though it didn’t quite grab me in the same way. Star Trek Online provided a brief diversion with some entertaining character design and ship naming possibilities, and the others had a fair go at Rift but I don’t think I even got to level 10. After a bit of a break, though, and with Black Desert Online on sale for a few pounds it seemed like a good time to give it a crack.

I thought the development or initial release of BDO might just have made it into a blogpost here, back in the days of vague topicality and frequent posting; I recall previews of the character creator causing a bit of a stir with the sheer number of sliders to control cheekbone angularity and earlobe density. Either my brain or the search facility are faulty, though, and I know which my money is on. Character creation is certainly impressive, but as with so many games rendered somewhat pointless when you’re mostly staring at the back of your head from a distance when actually playing. Once into the world it’s a mixture of familiar old MMO tropes (accept quest, kill mobs, get loot) and the bewildering array of lore and skills and currencies and points of a several year old game. I’m not sure if it’s localisation or translation, several quests involve “learning about” types of creature so I was preparing a short questionnaire to work in conjunction with observation and assessment, except it turned out the questgiver was using “learn” in the sense of “kill to death” in the grand MMO tradition, it’s going to get very confusing if they start mixing their euphemisms (“look, when you said ‘learn about’ I thought you meant ‘get to know’, you know, ‘know’… in the biblical sense?”).

Combat is joyously messy, a fast paced action system of clicking or keys plus directions, like a fighting game in some ways with combos and the like. I would imagine some sort of cautious technique is advisable later on, but at least in the early game jumping into a pile of mobs and mashing random buttons produces satisfying flurries of sword slashes, kicks, punches and such, even more fun when there’s a few of you piling into a fight. There’s something deeply satisfying about mowing through large numbers of easy to kill mobs; course there still needs to be a bit of threat, but I prefer it to slogging through smaller numbers of tougher opponents. The Division 2 is a case in point; it too was on sale, and at 80% off I thought it’d be rude not to. It’s been fun enough, the world continues to be well realised and interesting to explore, but at the end of the day the hide-behind-low-walls combat where even standard minions soak up plenty of gunfire doesn’t grab me like the faster paced first person shooting of Destiny 2, so the latter is still where I’ll usually drop in if I’ve got half an hour, and The Division 2 will probably sit alongside Far Cry 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, and heaven knows what else in the ever growing “should probably get around to having another go at” pile that waits only for someone to add another two or three days of free time to every week.

The Quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning

Happy New Year, one and all, as we tumble at ever-increasing speed into the crazy world of the future with flying cars, hoverboards, robot butlers, and better-than-life virtual reality. More or less. I got an Oculus Quest for Christmas which is pretty darned impressive, if not quite the total immersion of Red Dwarf and other sci-fi. Home VR seems to be really taking off with the Quest, Rift, Vive, Playstation VR and such hitting that “pricey but not completely ludicrous” price-point, but then VR seemed to be taking off in the early 90s and didn’t get very much further than Lawnmower Man and Craig Charles shouting “Awooogah!” in Cyber-Swindon.

I’d tinkered a bit with Google Cardboard, which was fun and all, but with only rotational movement tracking and limited interactivity it was a bit ‘updated View-Master‘. The six degrees of freedom of the Quest plus its Touch controllers are quite literal game-changers; with my fondness for rhythm games I dove straight into Beat Saber and have been having a whale of a time flailing away at flying coloured blocks. I poked a nose into a demo of Dance Central – funny how dance pad games like Dance Dance Revolution just used feet, giving everything a slightly Riverdance feel, while Dance Central is all about the hands. I’m sure cyber-shoes can’t be too far off, though. Slightly more my speed is the rail-shooter with extra beats Pistol Whip, most enjoyable and not a bad workout with plenty of ducking and diving to avoid incoming fire. Superhot VR is amazing, a real demonstration of the power of VR; its “time moves when you move” mechanism gives it something of a yoga flavour, holding a pose while considering your actions. I haven’t bought the full version, though, as it’s also the most dangerous of the games I’ve tried so far, requiring reaching, grabbing, throwing and punching around you. Even in a recommended 2m by 2m space (which was only clear due to kitchen refurbishment, there’ll be a fridge taking up a chunk of that space shortly) I’ve had slight knuckle bruising, in more confined spaces there’ve been close calls with a lamp and ornaments.

I think the last “classic” adventure game I really enjoyed was Discworld: Noir, before the combination of increasingly stretched Use Random Thing From Inventory With Other Random Thing From Inventory (And/Or Random Bit Of Environment) logic and ease of looking up solutions on the internet put a bit of a crimp on things. VR offers an opportunity to bring some physicality to puzzles: levers to throw, wheels to turn and such, almost Escape Room-type elements; I’ve picked up Shadow Point for the Quest as it sounds intriguing (and features voice work from Patrick Stewart) but haven’t had a chance to give it a proper try. The Quest streams to phones or suitably equipped televisions, I’m hoping it might work for some collaborative puzzle solving.

The Android-based Quest is wireless, which is a big plus, but is locked in to software available in the Quest store (unless you sideload applications in developer mode, which proved pretty straightforward and useful for a wider library of Beat Saber tracks), though that’s a pretty good selection. Another big plus is that Oculus introduced Link, whereby the Quest can be hooked up to a PC with a USB-C cable to work with Steam VR and Rift software, expanding the catalogue and taking advantage of heftier PC graphics (with suitable specs). I haven’t delved too deeply into that side of things, but a quick jaunt in War Thunder was most impressive.

Overall I’m not sure it’s going to become my main gaming device by any means, but it’s great for something different and a way of being a bit more active, particularly handy as the aforementioned kitchen refurbishment has resulted in a significant increase in takeaways and eating out, not terribly conducive to resolutions to eat more healthily.