Category Archives: waffle

Gaming roundup

It’s been a while since an MMO has really grabbed me. I’d poked a nose into a couple of launches (or free-to-play relaunches), tried to revisit a couple of old favourites, but nothing had particularly stuck. After wrapping up Mafia II I was at a bit of a loose gaming end, though, and when Van “Tim” Hemlock mentioned the Tuesday N00b Club were contemplating another outing in Guild Wars 2 I thought I’d get it patched up and give it another try.

Guild Wars 2, huh; what is it good for? Allowing a disparate collection of players to gather together and co-operate with relatively few restrictions and barriers (good god y’all). Rampaging around the Sylvari starter area was rather fun, and the game offers an increasingly shiny bit of loot merely for logging in each day so I started doing that. Then there are rotating daily achievements for gathering crafting materials, participating in events, viewing vistas and such, with gold on offer for completing any three of them, and what does gold make? A number two hit for Spandau Ballet, of course, but it can also be used to buy dye and outfits from the trading post in order to look fabulous, my main motivation. A month on and I’m fairly hooked, playing daily, and really enjoying it.

Though GW2 has been regularly updated since launch I don’t believe it’s a fundamentally different game to the one I bounced off a couple of times before, or indeed fundamentally different to many other MMOs out there at the moment; I wasn’t even particularly aware of having an MMO-itch, but I guess there was one and GW2 is providing a thoroughly pleasant scratching post with its wide array of activities: exploration, world events, character story, dungeons, crafting, structured PvP and the like. Melmoth and I were exploring a fun little mini-dungeon and encountered a simple place-rocks-on-pads puzzle; I started out in full Crystal Maze mode (“I’m in a room with some pads and some rocks! I’m going to pick up all the rocks! I can’t hold all the rocks! I’m going to jump up and down on all of the pads!”) until Melmoth pointed out a giant stone head with a glowing green clue on it, and after a couple of false starts we got the door open. Flush with success we promptly busted out our finest self-congratulatory dance emotes, a celebration marred only briefly by the newly-opened door swinging shut after 30 seconds or so, forcing us to redo the puzzle…

I still pop into War Thunder for a quick battle most days; the recent 1.63 update added a few more planes and tanks, always welcome. I also grabbed Tabletop Simulator, and on a rare free Friday managed to pop along to the regular virtual boardgaming session for a round of Lords of Waterdeep, a most pleasing alternative when physical gaming isn’t possible. When fully grabbed by an MMO it doesn’t leave much too much room for other games, though, so Guild Wars 2 should keep me going for the next few months.

Umble we are, umble we have been, umble we shall ever be

Battleborn was only released a few months ago, but appears to have come off second best to Blizzard’s Overwatch in the hero-shooter shoot-out to the point that it showed up in the recent 2K Humble Bundle 2. Having had some fun in the beta, but not enough to warrant a full-price purchase, the Bundle was already a no-brainer; the inclusion of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel made it even less of a brainer, if negative-braining is even possible. At release time the awkwardly named B:TPS (as all the cool kids call it) had also sounded like fun, if not full-price fun; I’d more or less forgotten about it until the Humble Bundle.

Having got both installed, it didn’t take long to get back into the Borderlands-swing of shooting anything that moved with a variety of entertaining guns, and clicking on anything that didn’t move but had a green light on it. The pre-sequel framing device is quite interesting (reminiscent of Dragon Age 2 in some ways), though the overall writing isn’t really as strong as the previous games (dialogue was always pretty scattergun, but it misses as much as it hits in B:TPS; still, it raises a smile often enough). The good bits are still good (DAKKA!), the less good bits are still mildly annoying (traipsing back and forwards over the same areas, the difficulty gap between finding a character/ability/gun combination that *really* clicks and one that doesn’t).

Battleborn rather suffers by comparison, at least for solo PvE. It’s probably not a terribly fair comparison, being that PvP is (I gather) the main focus, but at the moment I’m getting my fill of PvP in the War Thunder summer event, so when not grinding away at the tasks there I’m looking for something a bit different. Having chosen a character in Battleborn you’re more or less stuck with one weapon and a few skills, and combat gets rather repetitive without the teamwork and human aspect of PvP battles. I imagine grouping up with friends would somewhat enliven the PvE story missions, maybe that’s something to try in the future, but in the meantime I think I’ll stick with B:TPS, and maybe explore a couple of the other Humble Bunle games like Mafia II.

Prime Day Comes But Once A Year

Woo! Yay! Houpla! Happy Amazon Prime Day, everyone!!1! I know you’ve all been looking forward to this moment for months, I can tell because of all the e-mails we received begging for the traditional KiaSA Primevent Calendar counting down the milliseconds until those hot, hot deals are available, but we’ve taken an executive decision to take a step back. You see, some of you youngsters might not believe this, but we remember a time before Prime Day. Yes, as terrible as that is to contemplate, back in the 1970s it just didn’t exist. Children didn’t know the excitement of waking up on Prime Day Morning and rushing to check their e-mail to find a message from Saint Primus claiming he’d tried to deliver some presents but nobody was in, even though you’d been staring out of the front window the whole day looking for a delivery van. I remember that very first Prime Day like it was only a year ago; father returning from the costermonger with a basket of internets (they were still on ration then), loading the cards into the Sinclair ZX Analytical Engine (with the odd rubber punch-keys), the whole family clustering around the flickering images of the electromechanical Baird device… what treats might there be? Great Scott, a pair of spats for but one and nine instead of half a crown! A perfectly air-tight manhole cover (with flange) for fourteen shillings? Why, usually they were a guinea apiece! On and on came the parade of delights; household linens, ironmongery, seed drills, radiostereograms, ne’er had we been so excited.

It’s all so different these days, of course. Streaming doo-dads on your virtual thingumypad while hoverboarding to the lunar shuttle, who has time to really appreciate a chrome interociter with deluxe bead condenser for a mere 276 galactic credits? That’s why it’s time to reassess your priorities. Forget about getting together with friends and family, forget about deep personal contemplation, forget about the Doctor Who Prime Day Special (oh all right, maybe don’t completely forget about it, The Daleks Buy Some Very Reasonable Colouring Pencils sounds like it’s going to be a corker), let’s get back to the *true* meaning of the day: buying consumer goods you don’t really need because they seem like a bargain.

Monthly Miscellany – May

Things have gone fairly quiet on the gaming front. I didn’t pick up Battleborn in the end, reviews have tended towards the decent-but-not-spectacular, perhaps one for a future Steam sale or Humble Bundle. I poked a nose into the Overwatch beta, but concentrated FPS deathmatches have never really been my bag, baby, I don’t think it’s one for me. The World War II Chronicles in War Thunder finished so I’m back to the usual game or two per day there, and I fired up The Division a couple of times to do a daily mission. Prompted by the addition of constructable bases Five Rounds Rapid got the band back together, so I’ve also dusted off Planetside 2. It still has the problem of finding Goldilocks Battles (not too one-sided but not a stalemate, not so many people that you can’t move without exploding and/or being run over but not so few that you can’t find a target) but when things do work out it’s been most nifty.

Away from the PC board game get-togethers are always splendid. Recent group acquisitions include Camel Up, a fun quick-to-grasp camel racing game and worthy Spiel des Jahres winner, and Pandemic Legacy, a variation on Pandemic that evolves over time with new rules and options. We’re about four months in (running at roughly real time) and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (Ars Technica called it “… something that can at times feel like the Schindler’s List of gaming”), rounds have swung between glorious triumph and traumatic defeat largely thanks to fortunate or unfortunate card shuffling, but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying battling Bumblechunks and The Spon (you get to name the diseases, the latter being my suggestion from The Goon Show:
THYNNE: He has all the symptoms – namely, bare knees.
NED: Is it catching?
THYNNE: Yes – stand back! Oh – I’m too late – you’ve got it.
NED: What what what what what?
THYNNE: You’ve got the bare knees.
NED: No I haven’t.
THYNNE: Roll your trousers up.
THYNNE: There – bare knees.)

The torrent of gaming crowdfunding campaigns seems to have dried up a bit recently, or maybe I just haven’t been paying so much attention; apart from the perpetual development of Star Citizen I think the only ongoing campaign I’ve backed is Battletech from late last year. My track record of actually playing Kickstarted games for more than half an hour is terrible so far, but I have high hopes for a turn-based Battletech mercenary campaign, fingers crossed. Crowdfunding in general seems to be well established, though; I backed Richard Herring’s always-interesting Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (ruhhuhluhstuhpuh!) last year, looking forward to another series of that (once I can work through the podcast backlog). This week Unbound, the crowd-funding publisher, unveiled the prospect of Soupy Twists!, a history of Fry & Laurie to coincide with the 30th anniversary of A Bit of Fry & Laurie. If the prospect of finding out what other shops Mr Dalliard’s friend ran or most importantly what happened next for Tony & Control (I like to think there’s some kind of tie-in with The Night Manager) fails to fill you with the very deepest variety of joy then truly you’re dead inside. Or you’re not a F&L obsessive. As if such a thing is possible.

Gaming roundup

Until about a week ago I’d been playing The Division pretty heavily. It’s quite straightforward to reach the level cap by running through the major missions and a good smattering of side missions around New York, once at the cap you can replay the missions in Hard mode for bonus loot, then some of them on even-harder-still Challenge mode for even-bonusier-still loot as you travel down the well-worn Loot Rainbow (grey then green then blue then purple, yellow then a sort of funny greenish-blue maybe turquoise thing; I can sing the loot rainbow, sing the loot rainbow, you can sing the loot rainbow tooooo). Grouping up with friends is splendidly easy (as long as they’re within a reasonable level range), Melmoth and I managed to do a fair bit of excellent duo-ing, and random matchmaking has also been quick and efficient for Challenge missions.

As I mentioned in first impressions, the missions are quite reminiscent of SWTOR flashpoints. Nicely scripted and interesting to run once, fine for a few jaunts in the quest for better gear, but with no variation they pale somewhat after the fourth, fifth or seventeenth time, and only four of the missions are available in Challenge mode. There’s a lot to collect around the world, but after clearing a few zones that also got a little repetitive. That leaves the Dark Zone, the tense PvP-possible centre of the map, but again gameplay there settles into a bit of a rut, running around specific points of the map hoping there might be a boss there while keeping a wary eye on other players. Actual PvP has been less than enthralling so far, with gear playing a major part in the outcome of encounters.

Forums and such are ablaze with discussion of glitches and exploits and the like, there appear to be a number of ways that players have acquired loot at a faster rate than anticipated by the developers (irregular MMO verbs, part 17 of an occasional series: I intelligently optimise my time to maximise rewards; you exploit glitches and should have your character rolled back; he/she/it is a hacker and must be banned immediately). It hasn’t really affected me directly, and with a limited in-game economy (no auction house, very limited trading) it doesn’t seem too catastrophic apart from possibly high-end PvP, but it’s not the best of starts. I’ll probably drop back in now and again, and look forward to further expansions/DLC, it’s had a decent first innings.

In the meantime War Thunder has started up a World War II Chronicles series of daily events, roughly following the chronology of the war, and with a rather marvellous looking flying boat on offer for scoring 30 victories 15 times I’ve been dogfighting in the skies over Russia, Africa and the Pacific. The verisimilitude of the setting takes a minor knock as about 90% of players are trying to get their daily kills, so the standard tactic is for two clumps of planes to fly directly towards each other frantically shooting, repeating the process until all respawns are used up, but the variety of settings and available aircraft keep things nteresting.

Once the Chronicles have finished, there are a couple of likely candidates for May gaming: Battleborn at the start of the month and Total War: Warhammer towards the end. Melmoth pointed me towards the open beta of Battleborn, a “hero shooter”, or persistent online FPS, or FPS with MOBA elements… I’ll come in again: amongst its genres are such diverse elements as: FPS, MOBA, heroes, and a giant robot sentry-bot called Geoff. It’s from Gearbox, and certainly shares a sense of humour with Borderlands; the aforementioned Geoff is adamant he’s actually a spider called Arachnis, and there’s plenty of snappy dialogue. With a series of co-op missions as well as several PvP modes, and 25 different heroes/classes, it has plenty of potential; MOBAs have passed me by so far, Battleborn could be a good entry point.

Total War: Warhammer is more of a known quantity, doing exactly what it says on the limited edition deluxe tin case: a Total War game in the Warhammer world. Warhammer: Dark Omen was a favourite of mine back in the day and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed several of the Total War series, though Napoleon was probably the last I devoted a serious amount of time to, so I’m really looking forward to it.

True friends stab you in the front

During the introduction to The Division it’s revealed that the titular Division is a group of elite undercover highly trained super secret agents, though the ENORMOUS ORANGE WATCHES they all wear seem like a bit of a giveaway. A voice-over explains that:

“We are your co-workers, we are your neighbours, we might even be…”
dramatic pause
“… your friends.”

I’m probably reading altogether too much into that pause, but it sounded to me like the voice thought that the most unlikely part of the whole doomsday scenario portrayed at the beginning of the game was that you might actually have any friends…

A Question of History

Do you like surveys? Do you like history? If you answered “yes” to these questions, I have just the link for you! If you answered “no” to either question, I tricked you into doing a two-question survey anyway, so why not answer a few more…

Via Twitter:

There’s a bit more information in this blog post, all sounds most interesting.

War Thunder Update 1.55

Put the kettle on, chaps, time for tea! War Thunder has, thankfully, added British tanks before the French, and a splendid job they’ve made of them. Along with the tanks (being gradually unlocked for testing, unless you buy one of the British premium packs) are new maps for recreating the triumphs (and not-quite-such-triumphs) of the 8th and 1st Army in North Africa, El Alamein and Tunisia, and very nice they look too:

Tank tracks in the sand

Tank tracks in the sand

Are you my mummy?

Are you my mummy?

There are also a few new aircraft and assorted other tweaks, but the British tanks are the main attraction. Tally ho, death or glory!

In Our Time Lord

Talking to Melmoth about the In Our Time podcast, in which Melvyn Bragg hosts three academics to discuss ideas from science, history, philosophy, culture and religion, I mentioned that while Bragg is more than at home discussing arts and literature, in science-heavy episodes like “P vs NP” he takes on something of a “Doctor Who Assistant” role, keeping things grounded for the audience as the academics roam through theoretical fields of incomprehensible dimensions

Melmoth pointed out that, with Jenna Coleman leaving Doctor Who, there could be an *actual* Doctor Who Assistant vacancy coming up, and perhaps Melvyn Bragg could take on the role. I think that would be a stroke of genius, Capaldi & Bragg could roam through space and time, investigating mysteries, defeating invasions, and completely transforming In Our Time…

“So, Professor Harlow, how accurate is Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War?”
“Well, Melvyn, we have some fragmentary corroborative evidence of certain events, but we can’t possibly know if Thucydides actually witnessed…”
“Hang on, I’ll ask him. Back in a jiffy.”


“Right, well, it turns out that most of it is artistic license, had a fascinating chat with Nicias, lovely chap, look, I got a selfie with him. Oh, and the beings the Greeks worshipped as gods were actually Thorgruns from Planet Frinksnarf who manipulated the Spartans into invading Attica, but the Doctor and I sorted them out. Incidentally, if anyone’s doing any archaeological work around Sicily, could you keep an eye out for my car keys? I think I dropped them in the siege of Syracuse…”