Category Archives: waffle

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me

A time of global pandemic, when remaining indoors and minimising human contact is not only tolerated but positively encouraged, should be ideal for gaming, the perfect opportunity to catch up on the back catalogue or delve into something new and exciting. For some reason, though, it hasn’t really worked out like that, for the most part I’ve been settling in to the comfy slippers of the old regulars, Destiny 2 and War Thunder. Over Christmas I thought I’d make a bit of a conscious effort to get into something else, starting by digging out login details and getting various game launchers patched up – Steam, of course, Epic Games Store, Origin, UPlay, the Microsoft Store. I appreciate that Steam’s dominance of the PC gaming scene isn’t necessarily healthy, but it’s damnably convenient; presumably in a bid to crack that the Epic Store was handing out a free game a day for a couple of weeks (then resuming the regular freebie-per-week), and it would’ve be rude to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Looking at recent purchases there was Anthem on Origin, Borderlands 3 on Epic, and The Division 2 on UPlay; I’d had a bit of a go at them back in the summer, and while perfectly fine they hadn’t prised me away from Destiny 2 for any length of time. I figured I should look at something other than a game-as-a-service sort of shooter featuring a colour-coded array of increasingly rare weapons. Steam had Star Wars: Squadrons, but after dipping a toe in there I’d just gone back to War Thunder, so that seems to be sufficient for any flight/space-type sim requirements. Something a bit different, something new, an RPG? Seems like it’ll be sensible to hold off for another patch or two of Cyberpunk 2077 yet, but one of the free Epic games was Torchlight 2 so I got that installed. I never managed to get into a Diablo or similar games, and sure enough bounced off Torchlight 2 after a level or two. I contemplated a couple of Epic’s management-type offerings, Cities: Skylines and Tropico 5, but couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to plunge in; on one level I want something completely new and interesting and deep and challenging, but on another level don’t want to learn a whole new set of rules and mechanisms and controls. The Epic freebie I ended up playing most turned out to be Solitarica, a golf solitaire game with some light RPG elements (spells and items), a nice little time-passer ideal for a half-hour here and there, but not terribly deep and fulfilling. Is it too much to ask for a game of massive scope offering every kind of experience that’s completely intuitive and has photorealistic graphics that are also quirky and an amazing story but also complete freedom with no barriers and also increasingly rare items to find and achievements and the moon (on a stick)? Yes, yes it is.

After rummaging around the other launchers I headed for the Giant Steam Backlog, got as far as ‘B’, and noticed Battletech. I’d joined the Kickstarter back in 2016 and played it for a while in 2018; as far as I recall I’d quite enjoyed it, but never completed the campaign. Hankering for a bit of mech action I fired it up, starting a new campaign from scratch after a briefly clueless attempt to resume an old save game. The slower pace of turn-based combat was a nice change; it takes a while to get used to, factoring in when different weights of mech will move and planning positioning and targeting priorities accordingly, and is nicely rewarding once you get the hang of it. In between the story missions of the campaign you take contracts to keep the money coming in, and while they don’t vary too wildly the mixture of mission types (attack, defend, escort or intercept convoys etc.) and maps with different terrain, obstacles and temperatures keep things interesting. I particularly enjoy training missions, where you take a single pilot and mech and are given three rookies to round out the lance; sometimes it’s a specific objective to keep them alive, sometimes… it isn’t.

“So, chaps, have you heard of the Charge of the Light Brigade? No? Oh, well, that’s the model for today’s mission. No, don’t Google it, it’ll be fine, just head down the Valley of, er, Death over there. Why do they call it that? Well, because… oh, I remember! It’s named after Geoff Death, very popular guy around here, did a lot of good work for charity, so they named it after him. Definitely. Now off you toddle, I’ll be back here with the LRMs. They’ve got a minimum range, you see. A surprisingly long minimum range. I’d love to be right there with you otherwise. Anyway, off you go!”

As in many Battletech games the process of obtaining and equipping mechs is a strong driver, trying to defeat interesting-looking opponents with the minimum amount of damage so you can snaffle them afterwards, then taking them down to the Mech Bay to agonise over the right balance of weapons, ammo, armour and equipment. Melee combat is surprisingly viable in some circumstances, especially when you find modifications for additional damage, though I suspect the arm mods that really boost melee damage also contain giant magnets. Every time I’d equip a mech with +++ melee damage, that arm would get blown off the following mission, most annoying. I suppose it might have had something to do with that mech charging forwards all the time to try and close for great punching.

I’ve just wrapped up the story, a suitable saga of betrayal and revenge. The pacing worked well, enough cutscenes and conversations to keep you involved without dragging on interminably. My mercenary band is now free to roam the galaxy battling injustice and corruption (for a suitable fee), very much like The Littlest Hobo. If The Littlest Hobo was a giant 100-ton battle-robot that solved problems by obliterating them with large calibre autocannons rather than barking and finding things. And demanded payment for doing so. Perhaps not so much like The Littlest Hobo after all on reflection, though they have the same theme tune. “Every stop I make, I make a new smoking crater; can’t stay for long, just turn around, I’m gone again (after checking the local store for rare weapon upgrades)”. If it was just the randomly generated contracts that were available I’m not sure I’d keep going but one of the DLC packs introduced Flashpoints, little sets of connected missions with some light story (and most importantly the prospect of rare loot), so I’ve been popping back in here and there.

Back with the old regulars I haven’t seen many drastic changes in War Thunder, at least in the low-to-mid tiers where I dabble; I was on a naval kick for a while, flipping between Italy, Japan and Germany, but for the moment I’m back on aircraft, working through the newer nations of China and Sweden. I was a bit rusty for a while, especially capturing airfields, but it’s coming back to me. Over in Destiny 2 every few months I think it’s finished, done with, over and finished, done over and finished with, but then it goes and throws porridge in my face with my own damn spoon. Regular seasonal updates bring new items and activities, and I seem to be in something of a Goldilocks zone with the timing – as I’ve wrapped up most of the main goals for a season, and it’s bogged down into running the same old things to nudge your gear score up a point or two here and there, it’s not long until another update comes along with just enough changes to perk things up (and an import licence for those oh-so-pretty fighting fish). There was the Beyond Light expansion back in November, removing a bunch of old planets, adding a couple of new ones, plus Stasis powers and such; that had got a little stale by the end of the year so I took a few weeks off while delving into Battletech. Having wrapped up the main story there, the next season of Destiny 2 kicked in, and damn it twice around the carpark if it didn’t drag me back in again. In a shocking turn of events the main new activity seems to involve shooting a bunch of minions then shooting a boss, but it mixes things up enough (and with enough new loot) to keep me going a while. If you need me I’ll be at the Welcome Break Low Wycombe under the name of Lewis Potter.

FitXR But You Know It

When lockdown started I picked up BoxVR for the Oculus Quest to try and boost my physical activity. It never really grabbed me though, the hit detection was a bit flaky and the music selection wasn’t terribly inspiring so I’d invariably return to good old Beat Saber for virtual flailing instead. As summer came around and restrictions eased a bit I got out and about more often and the need for indoor exercise lessened, but with the short days of winter and Lockdown 2: The Enlockening I thought I should try for a bit more of a workout.

Browsing my library BoxVR wasn’t there; it seems to have retreated into a chrysalis, and emerged as the beautiful butterfly of FitXR. The core of it remains a punch-tastic workout of jabs, hooks and uppercuts but everything’s had a spruce-up and looks and feels much better; there’s also a whole additional dance workout mode that I haven’t delved into deeply but looks to be a good way of mixing things up.

On firing up my first class I’d just clicked that I was ready when I noticed an empty “Play Solo” checkbox. Oh dear, I didn’t want to be cavorting with complete strangers! Still, too late to change it, I emerged into a virtual room with six other floating sets of gloves; I’m not sure if they’re live or pre-recorded, either way it’s fun (and a little odd) to have the virtual company and (thanks to the scoreboard) competition. The high score table is such a primal gaming motivator, even if there’s someone way out ahead nailing every punch for ludicrous combos there’ll be someone else closer to your score pushing you on so you don’t slack. There’s no communication (thank goodness, unless you’re really into heavy breathing), but it’s a really powerful feature. The fact that punch power translates to points gets you to really throw yourself into a workout, I think I’m burning through a good number of calories. I’m not sure if the music has been updated as well, it powers the workouts nicely, though I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to listen to it outside the game.

Major kudos to the developers for upgrading BoxVR for existing users, FitXR is a significant improvement. I’ve slacked off the workouts over Christmas, and with a significant increase in chocolate consumption I think I’m going to have to hit it pretty heavily in January now!

The KiaSA Guide to the Day of the Week

These strange and unprecedented times bring about all sorts of challenges. Staying safe by covering your hands, washing your face, and singing “Out of Space”; home working, home schooling, home haircuts, home brew; somehow surviving without caramel Magnum ice creams as the supermarket delivery substituted strawberry ones instead. Perhaps the greatest challenge (apart from the whole Magnum business) is knowing what day it is as one minutes blends into another in a meaningless procession of hours differentiated occasionally by the presence or absence of sunlight behind a curtain that’s never drawn, as sometimes it’s handy to be aware that it’s Wednesday so the bins need to go out, or it’s Thursday so you probably ought to log on before 10am for the weekly team meeting (it’s starting to get a bit suspicious that you suffer from regular ‘internet outages’ completely unrelated to oversleeping).

Fortunately computers and phones are around to keep us informed at a click or a swipe, but perhaps you left your phone somewhere incredibly remote and difficult to get to, like another room. Fear not, the solution is to hand! Or to foot, at any rate. Socks with the days of the week printed on them. As long as you’ve put socks on (granted, quite an assumption) a quick glance down towards the ankle region means you can immediately work out what day it is by consulting this handy guide:

(Wait, handy guide? Surely the point of the socks is that, on Thursday, you wear the socks with ‘Thursday’ on them, and therefore know it’s Thursday? Would that it were so simple…)

Monday: It’s Monday! You’re out of bed, great start! Even had a shower, well done! All ready to tackle the new week! Come on, Monday, let’s get up and at ’em with those clean matching Monday socks!

Monday (but a bit whiffy): It’s Tuesday. There’s no point showering two days in a row, is there? Who’s going to notice? Better for the environment as well. No point putting fresh socks on, let’s just grab yesterdays.

Tuesday: It’s Wednesday. Quick shower, I guess, let’s really make the effort and put clean socks on. Thursday… Saturday… damn, can’t find the ‘Wednesday’ socks. Probably still in the laundry basket from last week. Oh well, Tuesday’s pretty close.

Monday on the left foot, Tuesday on the right foot: It’s Thursday. Oh, god, why didn’t I set the alarm, I’ll just pull a dressing gown on, if it was good enough for Arthur Dent it’ll do for home working, it’s freezing though so I’ll need socks, got to be another day in ‘Tuesday’, where’s the left one? Oh never mind.

Friday on the right foot, non-matching green sock on the left: It’s Friday, probably. Maybe Saturday. Better log on, just in case. Might be Monday of the next week, come to think of it. Did I do anything yesterday? Or the day before? What is a ‘day’? Who am I talking to? Why are you in my bedroom?! Get out! Get out, I say! Oh, but just before you do… you don’t happen to know what day it is, do you?

Reviewlet: Star Wars: Squadrons

Star Wars: Squadrons plays very well, it’s a worthy modernised X-Wing. It does have a couple of snags, though. The VR support is somewhat flaky; it seems that my particular combination of an Oculus Quest with the Steam version of the game using Steam VR is particularly problematic. The procedure goes something like put the headset on, take it off, put it back on, peek out from under it at the monitor to check for any messages, gaze at pitch blackness for a while unsure if something might be loading, gaze at swirling patterns for a while longer, and finally something inevitably crashes; I haven’t yet actually managed to fly in VR. One suggestion was to refund the Steam game and buy it on Origin instead, but I’m hoping that a patch or seven should sort out the issues eventually.

A second snag is the control system. I have an old Saitek joystick with a built in throttle, twist-rudder, hat switch etc, nothing enormously fancy to accurately replicate all 400 switches of an actual aircraft cockpit, but I thought it would be sufficient. For the basics it works admirably: general flight, firing lasers and missiles, the hat switch allows for rapid deployment of power to weapons, shields or engines as required. Even in the simplified world of starfighters, though, you need plenty of buttons, particularly when you get into the finer points of targeting and issuing orders; when the game instructed me to press button 12 I had issues, what with the joystick only having six buttons and all. The game copes about as gracefully as it can (short of actually working out that button 12 doesn’t exist), a quick wiggle of the mouse and the on-screen instruction tells you to press the appropriate letter of the keyboard instead. One hand on the keyboard with the other on the joystick is functional enough as a control mechanism (at least outside VR, it might be trickier without being able to see the keys), though it does mean foregoing the throttle on the joystick. I had a quick look for a separate throttle controller, or entire HOTAS set, but it seems that the combination of Microsoft Flight Simulator and Squadrons has led to something of an international throttle shortage. Probably not a bad thing to save me from an impulse buy; the low-end sets have pretty variable reviews, decent sets are a good chunk of change for a controller that would almost certainly go back into storage for long periods.

Without VR and full HOTAS Squadrons is fine, a very solid game, but lacks that extra something to really set it apart. The story and voice-work do what they need to do, but your all-action character of Mute Pilot Frequently Present During Soliloquies doesn’t really give much of a sense of involvement between missions. I haven’t even finished the single player campaign, let alone stuck a toe in the water of PvP, it’s just not really forcing itself to the top of the “to play” list at the moment.

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were

The start of October has some heavy nostalgic vibes with a couple of sequels to formative PC gaming experiences on the way. First of all Star Wars: Squadrons, calling to mind the classic X-Wing series that I loved, along with other space sims like Wing Commander and Freespace from that golden era. The genre faded away for a while; I’ve tried to recapture the magic now and again, but nothing more recent has really done it for me. Star Citizen turned into a bit of a soap opera, neither No Man’s Sky nor Elite: Dangerous fired me up to try them. There’ve been a couple of specifically Star Wars offerings tied to MMOs: Jump to Lightspeed in Star Wars: Galaxies, which I dabbled in lightly during a couple of brief dalliances with the game, and slightly more recently (though still almost seven years back) the Galactic Starfighter expansion of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I dabbled in even more lightly and rapidly concluded wasn’t for me.

The problem, particularly for Galactic Starfighter, was War Thunder. With it’s delightfully smooth mouse-controlled flying (as opposed to the more clunky mouse-as-sort-of-joystick flying of many other games) it’s rather spoiled me, and is always there and conveniently free-to-play if I fancy a quick spin. Squadrons does look good, though, and might really shine in VR; I’ve played War Thunder a bit using the Quest, but while technically impressive the more advanced simulation modes aren’t my cup of tea gameplay wise, spending ages squinting around for tiny black dots in the distance and worrying about wings ripping off at excessive speeds. If I can find my old joystick (and it still works), and the Oculus Quest link holds up for extended sessions, I’m rather tempted to give Squadrons a try to see how it works out, with the safety net of a Steam refund if it really doesn’t click. Longevity is bit of a concern, whether the single player campaign is a fully fleshed out experience or a bit of a tutorial, 5 player PvP/E modes will need pretty solid balance and matchmaking or risk being offputtingly frustrating, but it looks like it might be the best effort at space-dogfights in a while.

A few days later Baldur’s Gate 3 will go into early access. The first two games were absolute classics; at least, I’m pretty sure they were. I mean it’s 20 years now, I can’t actually remember very much about the story or characters or anything, apart from “Go for the eyes, Boo, go for the eyes!” “SQUEAK!” RPGs never went into quite the decline that space-sims did, but even so it’s been a fair while since I played a story-heavy RPG with a party of characters; probably Mass Effect: Andromeda, or Dragon Age: Inquisition for something in the fantasy genre. I did back Pillars of Eternity, the “spiritual successor” to Baldur’s Gate, but never really got anywhere with it; I think by that point I’d just become used to a different style of game. I know the developer’s Divinity: Original Sin games were well received, so I might well give BG3 a shot as well, it should be substantially different enough from Squadrons to offer a choice of gaming of an evening.

Perhaps they’ll be a doomed attempt to recapture gaming youth, consigned to the “maybe try again at some point” pile with so many others, but you’ve got to keep hoping, right?

Every condition of comfort reveals in turn its discomfort

Way back in the early 7th Century (or maybe it was 2004) when I first got into MMOs with City of Heroes the idea of playing a game for years at a time was unusual. Up to that point most of the games I played had a story, or at least structure, of some sort, and therefore an ending. It might have been a lengthy RPG with character development, revelations, and a climactic battle of good against evil; it might have been an FPS with a couple of lines in a text file about scientists accidentally opening a portal to hell and a climactic battle of good against mecha-spider-brain-thing with chainguns. Flight sims often had campaigns that took you through real or imagined conflicts, sports games could have seasons or leagues. Of course there was replayability – different decisions, characters, difficulty levels, trying for higher scores or faster runs – but there was a pretty clear idea of finishing a game. Back in the early days of this blog I pondered the never-ending nature of MMOs, when a monthly subscription was nigh-ubiquitous as the business model, and like a lone prophet demonstrating incredible foresight (or Captain Obvious taking “The Bleedin’ Obvious” as his specialist subject in Mastermind) postulated that subscriptions weren’t for everyone and different payment models would be good.

Fast forward to today and the game-as-a-service model is far more common, persistent elements, unlocks and the like the rule rather than the exception. I’ve had plenty of extended runs in games, from those heady days of City of Heroes (must’ve been five-plus years in the end, at varying intensity), but I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a stable gaming landscape as at present.

Firstly there’s War Thunder, now approaching the seven and a half year mark. The core gameplay has hardly changed in that time (capture things, shoot enemy) but the game has expanded from aircraft alone to now include tanks and ships, with an ever-increasing range of nations and vehicles represented, so there’s always something to work towards unlocking. I haven’t been heavily playing it for some time now; there’s one of the usual summer events running at the moment involving considerable grind to get new vehicles, I haven’t bothered with those for at least a couple of years now. A single battle, though, is (on average) a satisfying thing. A sensible length (10-20 minutes), minimal hanging around, and with some progression towards unlocking a new vehicle (albeit rather glacial in later tiers) to scratch the working-towards-something itch. After focusing on flying fighters for a while I can change things up with small, fast boats, or ground attack aircraft, or larger, slower ships, or tanks (though I find myself frustrated more often in ground forces, so haven’t been played them nearly as much).

My most consistent game-of-choice has been Destiny 2, now coming up on three years. I’ve had a few breaks, played other big games like Far Cry 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Division 2, Anthem, and Borderlands 3, but drifted away from all of them, not with a bang but a whimper. I don’t recall any specific moment in any of them that made me think “that’s it, I’m quitting and never coming back!”, they just got a bit same-y, I stopped loading them up, and for reasons I can’t entirely pin down I keep drifting back to Destiny 2. The combat just clicks; there’s movement and pace rather than crouching behind cover, but not so much that my poor aged reflexes can’t keep up. There are plenty of minions that can be despatched with a single well-placed shot rather than endless bullet-sponges, but enough tougher opponents and bosses to keep things varied. Like War Thunder it offers discrete chunks of 10-20 minute activities so you can dip in, or chain a bunch together for longer sessions. There’s PvE, PvP or a hybrid of the two, and incentives to mix up activities and weapon loads, albeit the bounty system is still a little admin-heavy. Grouping is casual, matchmaking throwing together random teams for the activities that need them, I don’t go for the raids and dungeons that need more involved co-ordination. The seasons and expansions are arriving at about the right rate, by the time I’m butting up against the limits of progression in one there’s usually another on the way. It just seems to hit that Goldilocks zone for me in so many ways.

Things are pretty static on the mobile front as well, Marvel Puzzle Quest ticks along with an ever-expanding range of characters to ensure there’s always a progress bar to be ticking up, and it turns out that an 8×8 grid in 2048 Ultimate might, indeed, last forever, as the game I started in November 2019 shows no sign of even getting to a half-full board. It’s the perfect Listening On A Conference Call game, (almost) mindless swiping so you can keep track of the call (avoiding the awkward pause when you miss being asked for your input and have to deploy the “oh, whoops, I was on mute then when I just gave a full and comprehensive answer to what was the question again?” technique), but keeps you busy enough that you don’t doze off and disrupt the call with loud snoring.

It’s an exceedingly comfortable comfort zone I seem to have found myself in; sufficiently different games like Slay The Spire have at least given a little variety to spice up the gaming life but I don’t want to get stuck in too much of a rut. I’m sure something big will come along in the future; Cyberpunk 2077, perhaps, though I’m trying not to build up unreasonable anticipation. In the meantime Melmoth has been enjoying Remnant: From The Ashes, so as it’s on sale I think might pop in and see if a bit of tentacle-type unpleasantness offers a bit of a diversion.

Money can’t build your spire for you

Sort-of-lockdown, week… six hundred? Ish? Time is still behaving erratically, though some things are getting back to a vague approximation of normality; I had a haircut last week, so look slightly less silly. In general, though, we’re still REMAINing INDOORS, working from home and not going out. Much.

The terribly exciting exception to the above is that we’ve met up with friends a couple of times, at suitable social distances, with individual packets of crisps rather than shared bowls of nibbles. Thinking about board games that minimise physical interaction (avoiding handling the same dice, cards etc. as far as possible), Narrativia’s influence naturally pointed to Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. One person wrangles the infection deck, another moves the players around the board, a third places the pretty little cubes down indicating yet another catastrophic outbreak – it’s pretty well suited to the situation. In an ideal world we would have observed from a balcony while the pieces were moved around with roulette rakes, but I haven’t managed to recreate an entire Operations Room (yet), so we had to settle for sitting as far apart as possible, and managed to finish the game.

Pandemic Legacy is a bit different for a boardgame. Each time you play you make changes to the game (the “Legacy” part of the title) – put stickers on the board or cards, add new rules and components, rip up old cards and such. You can therefore only play the full campaign through the once, which might seem a bit of an extravagance for a £40+ game, but then it’s taken our group a couple of years to play the 18 (IIRC) rounds to finish it, where some games of a similar cost we might only have played a couple of times over a similar period beforehand. The standard version of Pandemic is a really solid game, and the Legacy elements definitely enhance it – no spoilers, but there are a couple of twists in both story and mechanics that force you to adapt your tactics. If you have a regular group, and have tried and enjoyed the standard game I’d definitely recommend it. That said, after finishing Season 1 we’re probably not going to rush straight into Season 2, we’re a little Pandemic-ed out. And in the game, aaah! That said, they’ve just released a trailer for Season 0, a prequel set during the Cold War, and just from the fact that it includes passports with the ability to stick disguises on your character I have to say I’m tempted…

Away from boardgames it’s mostly been The Usual. War Thunder continues to expand its range of countries and vehicles, Italian ships most recently; I tend to play along until Tier II or III when the grind starts to really kick in. Destiny 2 is a comfortable old blanket of DAKKA!, though as I start to get near the caps on the current season it might take a bit of a back seat until the new expansion. I’ve also been playing a fair bit of Slay the Spire, I was quite chuffed at having beaten the game with each of the four characters, thought I was getting a bit of a handle on things, and then read a couple of articles about the insane challenges that you can start to unlock and realised how much more there is to the game. The random nature of the game can be hugely frustrating when you find certain cards or relics that would work fantastically with a particular build and then don’t find the other components to flesh it out, but on the flipside when things come together it’s absolutely joyous. Also highly recommended!

Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind

Lockdown is starting to ease now, though I can’t see there’ll be too many changes on the personal front for a while; it’s not like I’m desperate to rush out shopping or anything, though I guess a haircut wouldn’t go amiss once barbers can open again. I can see homeworking continuing for the foreseeable future, the technology is holding up surprisingly well, and when I’ve got a clear task to focus on I think I’m rather more productive at home. The difficulty is when things are more of a slog – trying to co-ordinate with other systems or people – when suddenly the myriad distracting possibilities become all the more tempting. Hopefully things will be a bit flexible in the future allowing for one or two days at home alongside office work.

Game-wise, not much to report. Borderlands 3 ticks along; the writing doesn’t seem quite as sharp as for previous games, the series was always a close-run thing between funny and grating, and this one errs towards the latter a bit more often. Still, plenty of silly guns and explode-y type fun to be had. War Thunder thunders along; I generally stick to Second World War era prop aircraft in there, but with a bunch of Cold War jet additions I’ve started to poke more of a nose into jet gameplay. There’s a new season of Destiny 2 bearing a striking similarity to previous seasons of Destiny 2, but it’s a comforting formula of nudging up gear levels, and I still come back to its gunplay over pretty much anything else. On the Oculus Quest it’s Beat Sabre all the way, I should probably have a look at some of the other music/rhythm games on it, and with the good weather maybe get out in the garden for a bit of Superhot VR with less danger to the furniture (counterbalanced by more danger of alarming the neighbours with peculiar flailing).

Away from games there’s been a bit more time for other media. I haven’t been reading much fiction, even less fantasy fiction recently; Joe Abercrombie has the first of new trilogy out, but I’m waiting for all three before diving in and bingeing (my poor ageing brain has trouble picking things up a year apart) so instead I picked up Ed McDonald’s Raven’s Mark trilogy and enjoyed them a lot. Televisually the third series of Westworld was disappointing, it felt like they threw too much in and it failed to gel. I finally got around to Altered Carbon and felt that did a pretty good job, the second season took a while to get going but overall a nice adaptation of the books. There’s been something of an explosion of lockdown-produced media; on the BBC Charlie Brooker’s Antiviral Wipe and Staged with David Tennant and Michael Sheen were both excellent, on YouTube Alex Horne’s Home Tasking and John Finnemore’s Cabin Fever have been a lot of fun. I’m sure there must be more, but nothing else immediately springs to mind.

Stay safe out there!

This still ain’t no place for no hero

Lockdown, year 28. Or week 8. The New Normal is becoming… pretty normal, really, though I know I’m very fortunate in being able to work remotely without major difficulties. It looks as though things will be easing over the next few weeks with more schools, shops and the like opening, and of course vehicle-based landmark-visiting eyesight tests are now compulsory.

Far more excitingly I found a bit of gaming mojo (down the back of the sofa cushions, what with having more time for hoovering and stuff). The Guardian Games of Destiny 2 were terribly grindy, I got the machine gun from that event, but subsequent community events (complete NINE! MEEEEELEON! pylon-charging thingies, then an interminable number of shotgun kills) have been less than inspiring, so that’s on the back-burner for a while. I did fire up Red Dead Redemption 2 for the first time in six months or so, but didn’t really get anywhere. It seems like something where you really need to commit and immerse yourself in the world to get to grips with it, something that needs a lot of investment. It might well pay off later, but it I need a more instant hook at the moment to pull me in.

Instead I turned to new (to me) games, as a couple of sales brought them down from £50+ to more sensible prices. Firstly, Anthem (or Ha! Mass Effect: Andromeda Doesn’t Look So Bad Now, Does It? to use the full subtitle). I tried the demo a year ago and found it pretty underwhelming with annoying flight controls; 12 months on, it’s still pretty underwhelming but with decent (if not outstanding) flight controls. It passed the time; combat was fine, the story was fine, overall… fine. I’ve seen that Bioware are trying to go back and give it a major re-work, fingers crossed they can overhaul it into something better than fine. If nothing else it was something new and (slightly) different to Destiny 2, I would’ve probably kept ticking along in there, but then Epic Games announced a sale and my head was turned by Borderlands 3.

Borderlands 3 turns out to be a lot like Borderlands 2, but a bit shinier, and for the moment at least is just what I’m after. It’s got that instant hook (Shoot things! Get loot!) that works for a quick blast, but can also draw you in for longer sessions. The story seems like fairly generic MacGuffin-chasing fare, a bit patchy and with characters right on funny/annoying line, pretty standard for the series and does the job. Apart from anything else it’s nice to be playing a game you can pause, something of a rarity in these more multiplayer times. I’ll probably keep nudging my gear score up in Destiny 2 with the three pinnacle gear activities each week, and War Thunder has just received another update, but for a while at least it looks like Borderlands 3 will be the main reason to REMAIN INDOORS.

REMAIN INDOORS

Lockdown, day… something? What even is a day in this purgatorial limbo of nothingness? A collection of hours (apparently) each as vague and insubstantial as another, melding and merging into a puddle of amorphous so-called ‘time’.

OK, things aren’t really that bad. To be honest, it’s not radically different to The Before Times now I’m fully set up for home working, for which there are pros and cons. The commute time of Walking Down The Stairs is a big plus, especially as it can be done in a dressing gown. It’s fairly peaceful most of the time, though on a warm day with the windows open the kids next door can be a bit noisy. Then again they seldom host VERY LOUD CONFERENCE CALLS without closing their office door, so, y’know, swings and roundabouts… The temptation to wander into the kitchen for a biscuit is strong, tempered slightly by the knowledge that the finite supplies of biscuits must be carefully preserved to avoid the Quest to the Shops. At least years of MMOing have prepared us for that arduous multi-step chain; first of all the queueing outside, like a server on launch day, then once you get in the hunt for ultra-rare crafting ingredients (a bag of flour), camping the respawn location while being particularly careful to remain outside the aggro radius of mobs (other shoppers). Online shopping has taken over from trying to get tickets to ComiCon/Glastonbury/other sought after concerts, staying up until midnight when delivery slots are released, more queueing again, having multiple browsers open and frantically alt-tabbing between them. We’ve managed to snag a few slots to get deliveries for elderly parents, which has been a relief; it’s not like there’s a danger of imminent starvation but it’s nice to have a fresh food alongside store cupboard staples and a few treats here and there.

To counteract those treats we’re going for walks much more frequently than The Before Times, we’re very fortunate to have some woods close by that allow for a good hour or so of socially distanced walking, and the weather has been rather pleasant for the most part. Beat Sabre on the Oculus Quest has also continued to be an excellent way of getting the heart pumping when confined to the house; I bought BoxVR, a boxing/fitness type of thing, back at the start of this whole business thinking I’d use that for a bit more of a structured workout, but the Quest version doesn’t support user-supplied music and the gameplay isn’t particularly engaging, especially with slightly flaky hit detection. Having tweaked Beat Sabre to allow for custom songs it’s far more fun furiously flailing to Radiohead, Salt n’ Pepper and System of a Down.

Extended confinement might seem like an ideal gaming opportunity, but days are just as full as they were before for the most part. Even when work wasn’t fully geared up for remote access it didn’t seem right to be plunging deeply into a game, so I tried to be at least vaguely productive during work hours. I had half a mind to try and get back into Red Dead Redemption 2 properly, but in the end things have been ticking along as they were before: bit of War Thunder here and there, and a fair bit of Destiny 2. The most recent event in the latter, the Guardian Games, is well encapsulated by Rock Paper Shotgun. To Do Lists on top of To Do Lists, it’s pretty much just a bunch of admin, but… I’m not entirely averse to a To Do List. It’s a wind-down at the end of a day, something I don’t have to think too deeply about. Games just aren’t really firing a passion any more for some reason. Still, even just for time-filling they’re a helpful way to REMAIN INDOORS and NOT THINK ABOUT THE EVENT. Stay safe out there, folks.