Category Archives: waffle

Sending It All Forward Away

As my posting has dwindled over the years it seems a little excessive maintaining an entire hosted site for irregular burbling. I’ve gone back to where it all started and dusted off the Blogger blog formerly known as MMO Musing, renamed it to Killed in a Smiling Accident, and (more or less) migrated the content from here to there.

I’ll probably shutter things here, maybe re-point the domain if I can be bothered or leave a placeholder of some sort. Monthly-ish posts should continue if you have a burning desire to re-point feeds, bookmarks or what-not.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Forever lasted a fortnight

I know you all come here for the latest up-to-the-minute buzz from the gaming world, so, hey – have you heard about this little indie called Fortnite? I reckon it might get pretty popular, you know…

My consumption of gaming news might generously be called haphazard these days, generally comprising A Random Subset Of Things Posted To The Site-Formerly-Known-As-Twitter (a rebrand that must be a source of constant joy to whoever came up with Consignia, safe in the knowledge that it’s no longer the worst rebrand in history) . In the year since The Event things have definitely fragmented; some folk headed off to Mastodon, an old chum sent over a Bluesky invite before it flung open its doors and it’s got a good community going, but Twitter continues to limp along so I still check back in, albeit not so religiously.

My Twitter feed is more of a historical curiosity than a carefully curated ongoing concern, much like the blog roll here (with apologies to the last few diehards still blogging away). It’s been pretty stable for the last ten years or so with an occasional addition and even more occasional removal (in most cases from seeing some crypto-bollocks pop up, kicking off a game of ‘which dormant account got hijacked by scammers this time?’) A few gaming sites like Massively OP and PC Gamer are in there, and the latter posted about Harmonix ceasing Rock Band DLC. Having been quite the plastic guitar aficionado back in the day that was a shame, but my instrument peripherals went to the Great Charity Shop In The Sky (or down the local high street, at least) a few years back so there wasn’t a direct impact. Reading on, the article said Harmonix were focusing on their work in Fortnite for Epic Games – my random news consumption had entirely missed Epic buying Harmonix in 2021 and the resulting release of Fortnite Festival at the end of last year. That prompted me, for the first time, to go and download the Battle Royale juggernaut to see what’s what.

I started out with the Festival mode, and it’s… fine. There’s a limited number of free songs available with some rotation – a few from the dim mists of history (i.e. I’d heard of them), a few newfangled popular rhythmic artistes (that I usually hadn’t heard of, but generally proved quite catchy) and a few Epic Games offerings (pretty forgettable). There’s a peculiar Jam Stage that lets you play snippets of different tracks with others to create… weird noise? There are achievements for spending 5, 10, 15 minutes in there, I couldn’t see much point in it past that, maybe I’m missing the appeal. The Main Stage is, oddly enough, the main draw – essentially Rock Band on a keyboard (QWERTY, not musical) or controller, though I’m not sure how well it translates to the latter. You can pick lead, bass, drums or vocals, all of which use four lanes of notes (five in expert mode) to tap along to – no mic for vocals, no ‘strum’ in the guitar modes, just hitting buttons. For a couple of songs I tried the old technique from PC guitar-alikes back in the day, holding a keyboard upside down with F1-F5 as ‘frets’ on the left hand but without needing the space bar for strumming it didn’t really work. Instrument support is on the way, though apparently first-party peripherals aren’t on the cards.

It was diverting enough, Harmonix obviously have the background for a solid rhythm game, but without an instrument controller it’s not really the same; it’s a curious thing, how essentially the same action of pushing a button can feel so different on a silly plastic guitar rather than a keyboard. Once it gets support the current music library wouldn’t really compel me to go hunting for a USB guitar either, my nostalgia isn’t that strong. Still, it was enough to make me download Fortnite, so I figured I might as well have a look around the rest of it.

Atop a vast array of user created modes are the core options – the original Battle Royale and more recently added Festival, Rocket Racing, and LEGO. I hopped in for a round of Battle Royale, parachuted down, ran around a bit, shot a few folk, got shot. I can see why it’s popular, but not really my thing – I never really got into Apex Legends either for all its qualities. The construction element didn’t seem terribly useful in my initial mash-buttons-no-idea-what-this-does run; presumably it plays more of a part when you have a vague idea what you’re doing and can set up a strong position, a couple of the folks I bumped into started building a wall but I countered with an incredibly advanced tactic I developed I like to call “Running Around The Other Side Of It And Shooting Them Anyway”.

Rocket Racing, developed by the Rocket League folk, is a well executed racing game, but again not really my thing. LEGO Fortnite turned out to be my favourite of the modes, a survival game that doesn’t deviate terribly far from the Minecraft blueprint – gather stuff, build stuff, gather more stuff – in a LEGO brick format. The building aspect works very well, with plans that allow you to create a series of components that assemble into a specific larger structure, or can be used in a more freestyle way. Combat with bricky skeletons and spiders yields further crafting components allowing for expeditions into caves for more advanced materials. I didn’t bump into anything wildly innovative, but it was very well done, I stuck around for a while until the craft-and-upgrade-and-craft cycle got a little stale.

The addition of Festival, Rocket Racing and LEGO around the same time is interesting in developing an interlinked ‘metaverse’, with a degree of commonality across the modes. One scenario touted by the NFT crowd, between inexplicably attaching value to horrifically ugly JPEGs, was being able to own virtual items and transfer them from game to game; the Fortnite cash shop (Eminem and The Weeknd to the fore when I had a look – perhaps the latter could buy his missing ‘e’ for 200 fortbucks) has a dash of that, letting you be Slim Shady in both a Battle Royale and a rhythm game, but even within its own ecosystem things are hardly universal (there doesn’t appear to be a LEGO version of the skin, presumably as the rights and brand representation get a bit tricky).

Overall it’s not really my bag, baby; there’s a distinct lack of walking sticks and Werther’s Originals in the shop, though at least I have a bit more of an idea of what’s going on with this Fortnite malarkey now. If they keep developing Festival mode and I happen to find a reasonable guitar peripheral I might even pop back for another bash.

All the sinners are Saints Row

Hunkering down over Christmas to avoid spreading COVID did give me a chance to wrap up Cyberpunk: 2077. The game received another reasonably chunky update in December, adding a working metro system amongst other elements. I might have been mildly miffed if there was anything in there that would have made a significant different to my second playthrough, but after taking the train once and admiring the effort put into the system I never used public transport again, fast transport was just so much more convenient; maybe there’s some deep message there about public infrastructure (or rather more prosaically, maybe teleportation is better than buses). My first time around, I had sided with Arasaka at the end of the game (not entirely deliberately, I’d hoped to spring some sort of inside-job double-cross but was never presented with the option to do so). This time I called in favours from the Aldecados, and went in guns blazing. I much preferred it as a conclusion, going out with a bang rather than a whimper, a fitting end to 100+ hours back in Night City.

Casting around for something else to play I noticed that Vampire Survivors had also received a few updates since the last time I played it, so I fired that back up. I particularly enjoyed its Adventures – small sets of missions that take you back to basics, only a single character to start with and a more limited set to unlock. That kept me going until the Epic store gave away the Saints Row reboot for the new year.

It’s a bit of an odd duck, the new Saints Row. I remember enjoying Saints Row 3, and Saints Row 4 before it got a bit silly (having superpowers was fun, but made foolish human contraptions like “cars” and “guns” obsolete rendering chunks of the game a bit pointless); I didn’t think they were that long ago, but Google says 2013. The new game seemed comfortingly familiar right off the bat, popping up a map full of icons to visit for a variety of activities, some from previous games and some new; you get little bonuses for things like driving on the wrong side of the road (something that comes very naturally to a British player) and narrowly missing or indeed slamming into other cars (something that comes very naturally to an incredibly careless driver) (and in the game, ahhhh). Last year I contemplated the changes in games from 1993 to 2003, and the rather more leisurely progress from 2013 to 2023; I’m not sure the new Saints Row brings a whole bunch more to the table compared to its predecessors. It’s a perfectly good game, I’m enjoying running around doing slightly goofy missions (including LARPing and hijacking fast-food toys, so far). Compared to something striving for more realism I appreciate the more laissez-faire approach to law enforcement and physics (without going full bananas), but it feels a little incidental; I’m not sure much of it will stick with me after I head off to something else. £50-ish at launch would have been a bit steep, as a giveaway it was very generous; worth a look, certainly, but not a must-play.

Happy Holidays!

A Spitfire in front of a Christmas tree
Now I have a Spitfire, ho ho ho!

GEEEEEEEEETTTTT dressed you merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay
For it is Christmas Christmas Christmas Christmas Christmas day!

Christmas 2023 hasn’t worked out quite as planned thanks to a couple of bouts of COVID; not serious, thankfully, but it put the kibosh on travelling to family. Oh well, nothing for it but hunkering down with Lyra the dog and perhaps the odd game or two. Could be worse!

Hope everyone out there is enjoying the holidays and has a great 2024!

Treachery and treason, there’s always an excuse for it

Phantom Liberty, the new expansion for Cyberpunk: 2077, seemed simple enough to begin with, our little band of misfit underdogs against the nasty warlord-type running Dogtown. Sneaking around, infiltrating swanky parties, swapping faces with amoral hackers, all very Mission Impossible. Towards the end things fell apart; betrayal, lies, treason, death… and that was just the teachers, ah!!1! And then I got off the bus!

Having reached an unsatisfactory conclusion the first time I played through the base game I tried to do a little reading around the possible endings of the expansion without completely spoiling them. Melmoth helpfully provided some spoiler-free nudges so I had a bit of an idea of some of the choices I’d have to made, though that didn’t make it any easier to decide who to side with. Everyone had their reasons for behaving as they did and there was no compromise to keep everyone happy. Or indeed alive.

The result was a bittersweet finish, heavy on the bitter with a faint dash of sweet. I wasn’t expecting everyone to tap-dance off into the sunset singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” while fountains of rainbows sprayed hither and yon, but even by Cyberpunk standards it was a bleak, bleak time of my life. Afterwards I did some more detailed reading and it looks like I got the worst ending – except for all the others. A couple of paths even lead to a completely different finish to the main game, an interesting take on things, but not really what I envisage for my V.

I was feeling a little melancholy as the credits rolled, but the game serves up a treat at that point – the titular theme tune, performed by Dawid Podsiadło. It’s an absolute banger, as I believe the kids say, that would fit a Bond film extremely well. I think it might be the first end credit song I’ve sat and listened through since Still Alive and I’ve added it to a couple of playlists since. It was a nice way to carry me back to the main game with a renewed purpose, to wrap things up for V more suitably than my first time around.

Cyberpunky Reggae Party

After the somewhat disappointing conclusion to my first run at Cyberpunk 2077 I never did go back to an earlier save to try something different. With the announcement of Phantom Liberty I decided to start up a fresh game earlier this year and had made a bit of a dent in Act 1 before finding more details about the expansion, including a major overhaul of key systems in the whole game. As a result I parked up that second play-through until the full release, and by the time that came around a few weeks back I’d got so rusty I decided to start from scratch, again.

It probably wasn’t the best decision in hindsight; though things have been tweaked and combat feels better this time around the first part of the game plays out in much the same way, and it was a bit of a drag running through that first heist again. After that you have a few different leads to follow so I switched things around by tackling them in a different order, and that refreshed my interest nicely enough to propel me to the point that the expansion started.

It has a neat introduction, a little on-rails but nothing too egregious as you crawl, jump and fight through ruined buildings to reach Dogtown, the new zone. It felt like a fair challenge, particularly a boss that was the toughest battle of the game so far, emphasising the isolated status of the new area. Things then opened up again, with side missions and more freedom, though I hadn’t realised quite how much freedom until I hopped into a car marked by an icon on the map (Have Icon, Will Interact). Phantom Liberty adds the old GTA staple of nicking particular cars and driving them across the map to a random garage, so I merrily followed the indicated route and found myself leaving the heavily fortified gates of Dogtown with naught but a loading screen cunningly tucked behind a security scan. I can’t quite remember the timeline, if a local Fixer had been in touch before or after that to say he’d fixed things so I could travel in and out without issue, but it was a little anticlimactic – you couldn’t have done that a couple of hours ago when I was scrapping with a giant robot?

It’s a well-worn issue in open world RPGs, the tension between having a central, driving plot with sufficiently high stakes and urgency while also offering a variety of side-missions or other activities that tend to be rather less important in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure I’ve written about it before, quite probably more than once, but can’t think of a precise enough keyword to find specific previous posts so bear with me if I repeat myself. CP2077 gives you a problem you definitely need to solve, but without such immediacy that any diversion would be unwarranted. It also builds in natural pauses, as many games do; “I need some time to set up the next part of the mission, wait for my call”, giving additional licence to chase after errant taxis, biff opposing pugilists for cash, or stumble across reported crimes with perpetrators conveniently unwilling or unable to leave the scene regardless of when you turn up. Phantom Liberty makes the juggling act that bit tougher by slotting into the middle of the game, allowing you to tackle its missions in parallel with the original story, and at the risk of damning with faint praise it’s sufficiently interesting to work. I’m intrigued by the machinations of moles and sleeper agents and Idris Elba, but not so hooked to be frantically following that thread to its conclusion. I’m happily drifting around from icon to icon doing whatever gigs and side activities pop up, and when that gets a little dull then I’ll push on with the main story (of either the original game or the expansion).

It makes for a somewhat fragmented narrative, but it works in a single player game. I could never really get into the story of Guild Wars 2 or Destiny 2 being spread all over cutscenes, dungeons, open world activities and the like, often out of sequence, some bits never directly experienced and others repeated nightly (with a weekend matinee). CP2077 only moves on when you move it on, and I can more than forgive any minor dissonance from a character getting on the phone saying they have an urgent job, but not seeming too put out when I turn up an indeterminate amount of time later having taken a tour of all the clothes shops in the city looking for a pair of shoes to really set off the snazzy new coat I found in a random suitcase under a bridge when I should really have been street racing but couldn’t help breaking off to investigate the possibility of purple loot. I’m looking forward to finishing off Phantom Liberty then seeking a more satisfactory conclusion to the main plot, but just as importantly seeing what sort of random grenade-nosed faulty-groin-implanted oddballs I bump into along the way.

Paradise will be a kind of library

I always loved books, and therefore libraries, growing up, but got out of the habit of visiting after starting work. Most of my reading is digital these days, and while perusing a potential replacement for a trusty Kindle saw that one of the selling points of Kobo readers is integration with Libby, an app that allows you to borrow ebooks from your local library. I thought I’d have a look at what might be available, and was really impressed at the whole process. Signing up for a digital library card was very straightforward (fortunately our library uses Libby, not all do) and immediately unlocks a massive range of books, comics, magazines and audiobooks. The app is available on PC, tablet and phone and synchronises across devices; a phone isn’t ideal for reading but does the job in a pinch, comics and magazines work particularly well on an iPad.

Not every book in the world is available (not unreasonably) but the selection is extremely impressive, and you can even sign up for libraries in other areas to broaden your choices. I found a few books I’d been contemplating anyway (Bob Mortimer’s The Satsuma Complex is as funny as you’d expect while also working surprisingly well as a thriller), and the “… you might also like” suggestions have paid great dividends. A couple have been fine without really grabbing me, one was pretty disappointing, then it suggested John Lawton’s Black Out, a London policeman investigating murders in 1944. That sounded right up my street, and I rapidly devoured it and two sequels that advanced into the 1950s and 60s, using historical events and scandals as the background with some real figures and some fictional substitutes. I’m currently on the fourth, that returns to the 1940s, and very much looking forward to the rest.

I understand that the app allows some books to be borrowed and sent to a Kindle in the US, but that option isn’t available in the UK; a bit of a shame, but if there’s a good offer on a Kobo device with integrated Libby functionality I’ll certainly be very tempted.

I can take him to your house but I can’t unlock it

I do like unlocking stuff in games. New characters, weapons, titles, cosmetics, commemorative tea towels, set me any old task and I’ll jump to it if there’s some geegaw to be had. The village is being threatened by an evil necromancer? Eh, I might try and save you all if I have the time. Someone’s offering a t-shirt with the slogan “I defeated 1,000 skeletons and boy am I BONE tired! BONE! Because skeletons are BONES, do you see?”, I’m off to the graveyard before you can say “we understood perfectly well, there was no need for a contrived example to demonstrate”.

When used well tasks/achievements/unlocks are a nice hook to keep playing a game, often a nudge to try something a bit different. Vampire Survivors has a raft of unlocks for playing various characters, using particular weapons, killing specific mobs, and they’ve kept me coming back, taking different approaches to the various levels. I’ve only got a few left to tick off, the final fireworks and a couple of secret characters, once those are done I’m not sure I’ll keep going; the core gameplay is enjoyable, but perhaps I’ve become too conditioned by gamification that I need something to work towards as well. Still, at less than a fiver I’ve more than got my money’s worth several times over. I’ve just started on Halls of Torment, a similar style of game with a little more control over aiming/attacking, which should keep me going just as long.

Of course unlocks alone aren’t enough, there has to be a strong enough game to support them. War Thunder has just launched a mobile version on Android and iOS, and is offering rewards that also unlock in the desktop version for playing the mobile game. A good example of a nudge to get me to try something different, I wouldn’t have bothered downloading the mobile version otherwise. There’s an impressive amount of detail squeezed onto a small screen, but I won’t be sticking around. Trying to drag the screen to aim (without hitting the other controls) and using a small directional pad to move is incredibly finicky on a phone. If it’s your primary, or only, gaming platform and you’re particularly keen for a Second World War vehicle combat game it might be worth a look but it’s not for me. Still, I’ve contributed to their mobile stats, presumably the goal to bump things up in the listings around launch.

My mobile gaming tends to be killing a bit of time when out and about, puzzle and card games work well for that, like Marvel Snap. It’s taken over as my primary card game of choice; KARDS had a big update a while back that retired a bunch of cards from standard play and introduced others, and I just haven’t found a deck that really clicks since then. In Marvel Snap, on the other hand, I’ve got a few options that seem to work fairly well. I may not be playing enough to really see it but there don’t seem to be any particularly dominant decks; you’ll get a popular flavour of the month, but that usually means you can gear up with specific counters, and the developers do a good job of shifting the meta around with new cards and balance tweaks if something is really overperforming. The game does nudge you to try different things with regular missions, some of which are based on particular card actions like destroying or discarding; though I’m usually all in favour there can be a conflict in a competitive game where your rank suffers when you lose matches, not an ideal environment to experiment. Fortunately a new game mode, Conquest, has an introductory level with minimal consequences, ideal to try out new decks or play particular card types.

Marvel Snap is moving in the opposite direction to War Thunder – from mobile to PC. There’s been a beta Steam version for a while but it wasn’t terribly well optimised, a nice shiny widescreen-supporting full version has just launched complete with a few giveaways for logging in daily and is well worth a look if you fancy some quick card action.

But at the laste, as every thing hath ende

I try and maintain a range of interests apart from gaming, but that’s become a little harder recently. I’ve been a season ticket holder with London Irish RFC for just over twenty years, not always the happiest of times with the team being in the doldrums for a while, but things had started really clicking – the best season for years, a great crop of promising youngsters sticking with the club rather than moving on, exciting times. With things going so well on the pitch fate decided to stick its oar in; the club collapsed financially, the current owner unable to sustain ongoing losses and a promised takeover bid failing to materialise, so the professional club has effectively ceased to exist. It’s heartbreaking, primarily of course for the players and staff, and leaves quite the gap in the calendar from September to May.

There’s also history, particularly military history, something sparked at the age of six when I was given a book about the Battle of Britain. My interest waxed and waned over time, but has built over the last ten years (an inevitability, according to the ever-reliable Daily Mash – “Getting into Second World War one of men’s four signs of aging”).

Early historical debate centred around key questions such as “which plane is the bestest”, thankfully an argument that could be solved by the definitive work on the subject: Amazing Aircraft Top Trumps (the Fairey Battle may have been shot down in droves, but with a crew of 3 it was undeniably better than a Spitfire. As long as that was the selected category.) Of course one leaves such childish nonsense behind and progresses to mature and sophisticated enquiry, questions like “which plane in War Thunder should be bestest but is not because teh lazy devs have not modelled it rite”. I started to dig into historical sources a little more deeply to find out exactly when a particular variant entered squadron service, or how widely 100 octane fuel was used in June 1940; though rather scattergun there’s some impressive research in game communities (and other areas, such as scale modelling), if you can pick through the more extreme flamewars over the precise shade of primer used on Bulgarian tanks in 1936. Fortunately my level of interest rapidly tails off after 1945, where the worst charge you can level at participants tends to be “unhealthy obsession” rather than “actual treason”; with ever more modern vehicles being added to the game some folk resort to the use of still-classified documents to try and bolster their argument.

The baby steps into “proper” history took me to AskHistorians on Reddit, a rather more collegial atmosphere with the emphasis on learning instead of winning futile arguments, and strict moderation to ensure thorough answers aren’t drowned out by rapidly regurgitated half-remembered anecdotes. I’ve been participating for six or seven years as a flaired user, answering a question or two a week on average, and learning about everything from vegetarianism in the 19th century to the myth of the Bermuda Triangle to the local effects of the English reformation. Concerns over the future of Reddit have led to the site temporarily blacking out, though, and currently being restricted; hopefully things can be worked out on the current platform or a new one found.

Oh well. Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of telling me to spend my time in a more productive manner. Or, far more likely I think we can all agree, to play more games. Pretty sure that’s it.

Fail worse again

I’ve somehow managed to go through a life of PC gaming without playing two of its biggest franchises – Diablo or The Sims – until recently. Both popped up on the radar, Diablo IV holding a “Server Slam” test event and the Epic Games Store giving away some packs of stuff for The Sims 4 (the main game having gone free to play a while back), so I figured I’d give them a look.

In the ongoing War of Adages (where Too Many Cooks are locked in an eternal struggle with Many Hands over how much effort is required for a quality broth) the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is beset on all sides by proverbs extolling the virtues of perseverance. Though I’d never played a Diablo game, missing out on the first couple as I preferred my RPGs a bit more Baldur’s Gate-y at the time, I’ve dabbled with a few similar releases like Titan Quest and Torchlight over the years. None of them seriously hooked me, being fun enough to start with but clicky-clicky combat never entirely… clicked. Rather ironic. At a loose end when Blizzard were asking for their Diablo IV servers to be slammed (matron) I thought I’d try again and see if there might be a different result.

The infrastructure stood up well, I don’t know how much of a slamming was anticipated or transpired but I never experienced queues, disconnections or other technical issues. Character design is top notch, I spent a good while picking facial features and tattoos. The world is impressively realised, it looks spectacular if not exactly inviting; cutscenes introduce the antagonist with an (un)healthy dollop of body horror and the starting area confirms Sanctuary as unlikely to appear in glossy travel supplements as a ‘must visit’ destination, unless you’re particularly keen on freezing to death while being swarmed by hordes of the undead.

Gameplay-wise it doesn’t deviate too far from the tried and tested formula, plenty of clicking with some extra skills on keys. Sometime back in the early middle ages (2012) I wrote about The Secret World with its seven active and seven passive abilities, a welcome change from having 40+ skills and consumables obscuring half the screen in layer upon layer of hotbars, but perhaps just a touch restrictive if you had a few abilities on long cooldowns. Diablo IV is similar with two skills on mouse buttons and another four on keys; plenty to tinker with in a few hours of beta testing but there’s a risk of things calcifying as you find a build that works, either through experimentation or standing on the forum posts of giants with a mass of theory behind them. Combat was generally fine, especially mowing through hordes of minions with a collection of traps and AoE attacks. Boss fights got a little frenetic in a Benny Hill/”hit ‘im with a bucket!” kind of way, especially with a lot on screen increasing the likelihood of clicking resulting in an attack rather than movement or vice versa (perhaps I should have tinkered with the option to separate attacking and movement).

Overall I find myself with something of a dilemma. I could’ve happily kept going after the test finished – mechanics were still new and interesting, there were the other classes to try, plentiful piles of loot, a story to unwrap – but if previous ARPGs are any guide that honeymoon period didn’t last long, and Diablo IV has a pretty hefty price tag if it does end up gathering virtual dust.

The Sims hasn’t posed quite such a dilemma, I lasted about eleven minutes. Not a terribly fair crack of the whip but then it had never really seemed my thing, and there wasn’t anything in the brief time I spent to convince me otherwise. I never did well in open sandboxes, after all.

Faced with such a monumental decision, let’s see if there’s a deep and meaningful quote that might help. Here we go: “If at first you don’t succeed at getting into ARPGs, try, try, again, but not right at launch, give it a bit until it’s on sale. It might even go free to play, though that wouldn’t be a good sign for the long term monetisation model.”

Well that settles it. Thanks, Oscar Wilde.