Author Archives: Zoso

About Zoso

If it weren't for my lawyer, I'd still be in prison. It went a lot faster with two people digging.

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!

Why hast thou Forsaken me?

As mentioned last time around I got Destiny 2 patched up when it was made available for free at the start of November, and Melmoth took advantage to introduce the game to Mini-M (not quite so Mini any more…) We hopped around together, I had a splendid time, and with the Forsaken expansion discounted I thought I might as well grab it. The first two pieces of DLC felt rather slight, one of the reasons I didn’t hurry to pick up Forsaken immediately on release, but I’d sunk a good amount of time into the original game and enjoyed it

Forsaken has a bunch of tweaks to weapon categorisations, the modification system, perks (now randomised) and what-not, nothing too radical. It freshens up the gear grind a little, by and large it used to be a case of getting one particular set of stuff you liked the stats or (more importantly) the look of, then using random drops to infuse and boost its level up. Now infusion is much more costly, a last resort rather than the default option, and something of a dilemma when you have one coat that looks really good but has sub-optimal perks compared to another strange bundle of rags. There’s a new competitive PvE (with a bit of PvP) option, Gambits, quite fun; quick PvP Crucible matches are now 6v6 instead of 4v4. I’m not sure if it’s the increase in numbers, change in the weapon meta or just general rustiness, I used to be at least adequately mid-table most of the time in the Crucible but find myself frequently and frustratingly blindsided now. Perhaps the most important change is that I have a new emote to deploy. Until Forsaken I more or less exclusively utilised the Bureaucratic Walk, a pretty reasonable effort at John Cleese’s classic Python Silly Walk; I can now pair it with Silly Salute, a fine demonstration of a Rimmer Salute. I’m hoping for a couple more options to fill the entire emote deck with British comedy, perhaps cocktail shaking in the style of Stephen Fry as a starter.

At the end of the day, though, it’s still a game of Gradually Making Numbers Go Up, with the same capricious loot gods balancing every shower of useful items with another evening that ends with three almost identical pairs of boots and not a decent weapon in sight. It’s enjoyable enough making those numbers go up, though, so I imagine it’ll see me through at least until the new year.

Elsewhere the usual gaming suspects continue to tick along – War Thunder, mostly the naval combat; Neverwinter, though lack of time means I’ve barely done more than the odd daily dungeon; Battletech is even more neglected, I really must get back to overthrowing the usurper (or usurping the overthrower, or… some Bad Sorts needing taking care of one way or another, that was the gist of it). Fallout 76 seems to be having a rocky old time of it, a prime candidate for the Six Month Rule after which it should (hopefully) be beaten into slightly better shape, or if not then at least heavily discounted (or part of a Humble Bundle) for a curious nose around.

Away from games I’ve managed to catch up with a few books. If deciding on a game is tricky, picking a new book to start massively ramps up the paralysis of choice. I used to grab things from jumble sales or charity shops with suitably interesting titles or covers – “don’t judge a book by its cover” is fine as idioms go, but presents no useful alternative when riffling through a stack of paperbacks as to how they should be judged; number of pages? Font choice? I guess you could read the first couple of chapters, but the people at jumble sales got in a bit of a huff if you unfolded a picnic chair and took up residence for the afternoon. Anyway! A table full of books could be skimmed over pretty quickly, and for 50p or less it didn’t really matter if it wasn’t much good. Digital distribution gives a nigh-infinite choice now, and though there are various reviews and suggestions on top of the thumbnail image of a cover to assist with selection they can only go so far. My new version of the jumble sale rummage is the sub-£1 filter on various web stores where heavily discounted great works rub shoulders with overpriced tat. Most of what I’ve picked up is… fine. First books in fantasy or sci-fi sagas that are decent enough but don’t inspire me to rush into the rest of the series and end up swirling about in a generic stew of wizards and spaceships and swords somewhere in the back of my brain. Police procedurals, secret agents, vampires, secret agent vampire police… Seldom bad enough that I’ve given up entirely (though there have been a few) but not too much worth shouting about. 99p is probably no more sustainable a price for books as it is for games, but at least compared to charity shop purchases the author gets something (at least I hope they get something and it’s not all swallowed up by the platforms) and, as with the old system, when I find something I like I’ll go and buy more from the author at a sensible price. Recently I found a gem in Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson, near-future espionage set in a Europe fractured into hundreds of micro-states, great stuff, I’ll be picking up the rest of the series forthwith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’ll cheat without scruple, who can without fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spitfire

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

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

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

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

Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities

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

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

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

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

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