Category Archives: waffle

One score and five years ago

A few years back I wrote about Digitiser, the Teletext games pages, as Paul “Mr Biffo” Rose made a triumphant return with Digitiser 2000. Three years on and the site survives and indeed thrives with stacks of great writing and the impressively weird Mr Biffo’s Found Footage series.

Monday saw the 25th anniversary of the launch of Digitiser and Biffo is celebrating with a week of classic teletext-me-do, a fantastic nostalgia trip for those wizened husks old enough to remember it from the first time around, and a glimpse into the distant past for any youngsters who can tear themselves away from sniffing a smlogger fidget spinning a Kinder egg, or whatever it is they do these days.

Oh sir, I’ve confused you. It’s not my Destiny, it’s everybody’s Destiny! As much my Destiny as your Destiny, or, dare I say it, and I think I dare, Graham Gooch’s Destiny.

Just in case it’s inexplicably less clear than a Waterford bed-pan I should commence by explaining that I was going to title this post “It is your Destiny!”, but then thought that using an obscure line from a scarcely-known franchise might be terribly confusing, and instead left it to the reader to reverse-engineer that opening based on a shoe shop. It is, of course, well established that the funniest jokes are those lifted from other sources with random words changed then explained at length, so: you’re welcome.

I missed out on the original Destiny, not having a console, mostly seeing references to it in comparison to The Division, which I enjoyed for a fair while before it bogged down in endgame grind. I had a quick go at the open beta of Destiny 2, to check my now slightly aged system could cope with it, and it all seemed rather fun so I jumped in at launch and have been playing pretty steadily for the last couple of months.

At its core, the first-person shooting works very well. FPSs were at the heart of my formative PC gaming, from Wolfenstein 3D through Doom, Half-Life, System Shock, Unreal Tournament and the like, but not so much recently; I think the last one picked up was the DOOM reboot in a sale, but haven’t got around to finishing it yet. It’s satisfying in Destiny 2, and the first, rather than third, person perspective means I feel much less glued to waist-high cover than in The Division. Destiny 2 also seems to have struck a better balance of bullet-sponginess with its enemies; tougher opponents still take a fair amount of fire but the whole setting makes it a bit less jarring that a space-alien-robot-thing with shields is absorbing a lot of damage, as opposed to some chap (even if he is wearing a flak jacket) shrugging off hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

The variety of activities is good as well. The story rattles along well enough; not wildly original but not overly intrusive, cutscenes aren’t too long though not fascinating enough for a second viewing and can thankfully be skipped. Solo play is easily mixed with group PvE, either randomly while roving planets and dropping in to public events or more structured Strikes. Planets aren’t particularly big (in terms of playable area, that is, not astronomically speaking), but have a few activities and loot chests dotted around to reward wandering about. I wasn’t sure about PvP, my FPS twitch skills having withered somewhat, but it’s generally pretty enjoyable (when you don’t run into coordinated teams) and again serves well to mix things up.

It seems Bungie have made a few missteps along the way, though it’s increasingly hard to tell the difference between a few rough edges, fundamental design flaws, well-intentioned but poorly executed ideas and utterly trivial issues, at least based on the more excitable elements of a community. I can’t say I’ve run into game-breaking issues, but then I haven’t been sinking a massive amount of time in; one thing I did notice was innocently wandering around a PvP match with an automatic rifle wondering why the other seven players were rapidly melting everything with Prometheus Lens lasers, a quick Google confirmed that it was an inadvertently overpowered drop, the quick fix for which was to make it available to buy for everyone. It’s held my interest so far; the endgame does slow down a bit into gradually increasing your Power Level a point or three at a time, more dedicated players may run out of things to do more quickly, but I’ve happily got three characters to the level cap, with the story missions of the recent Curse of Osiris update to still finish. A wintery event for the next couple of weeks looks quite diverting; should that pale there’s Wintersday in Guild Wars 2 (though that seems fairly similar to last year), and French tanks have just been added to War Thunder, plenty to be getting on with between various family visits over Christmas.

No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.

I wrapped up the story part of Path of Fire the other day. It was pretty standard stuff, really; get killed, return from the dead, slay a god, pick up some random items and hand them to an NPC ten or even twenty paces away, that sort of thing. As I’ve posted about a couple of times before the story of Guild Wars 2 really hasn’t engaged me. I should probably just skip it; I’m not sure there’s any gated content that depends on having completed the story, and the rest of GW2 continues to offer plentiful activities. Pottering around exploring maps (greatly helped by the new mounts), fractals, adventures, crafting, the Mad King’s Halloween event and what-not. I’d taken part in a fair bit of Structured PvP (5 vs 5 matches) last time I was playing heavily but I think I’d risen to my level of incompetence and reached the stage where I was more of a hindrance to my team, so I’ve been doing a bit of the more open World vs World mode recently, tagging along with sufficiently large blobs. It’s frustrating sometimes, spending a while running across a map only to bump into a larger enemy blob and get squished, but being part of a large scale coordinated team attack is most impressive, especially when friendly Mesmers open up a teleportation portal for surprise flanking manoeuvres. I don’t do an awful lot apart from follow everyone else and drop AoEs on the designated location, but I feel like I’m involved at least, even if only as a very minor cog.

In the story, on the other hand, though I’m theoretically the largest dragon-slaying cog around I don’t feel involved, I’m a title, a cipher with a generic personality regardless of race, class and shoulderpad size. A bunch of NPCs dump some exposition, you fight some stuff, repeat. For me the story of an MMO world is best handled with a light touch, a bit of a push to move players from zone to zone with some interesting lore in the background for those that want to delve into it, less of the lectures. I’ve just started Destiny 2 and that seems to be handling it fairly well so far, even though I never played the original so don’t have any background there. It’s not staggeringly original; Big Nasty Aliens Invade, get the band back together, we’ll see where it goes, but it supports the core running-around-shooting-things requirements well enough. “You” are strangely mute while your robot chum does all the talking, reminding me a little of The Secret World, a game that had almost the opposite problem of Guild Wars 2: an interesting story and world but the levelling grind and rest of the game weren’t strong enough to support it (I should probably have a look at the relaunched Legends version).

It’s a tricky thing, combining an engaging and personal story with a more free-form game, becoming trickier as online multiplayer becomes ubiquitous and open-world map-mopping seems to be a bit of a default template. Paul “Mr Biffo” Rose wrote a strong defence of games as a storytelling medium in light of EA “refocusing” a forthcoming Star Wars game, and while I enjoy a multiplayer shooter or MMO as much as the next man (probably a fair bit more than the next man, unless the next man is a County-standard MMO-enjoyer in which case not quite as much as the next man but more than a composite average man, or indeed woman, assembled from a sufficient sample size) I do like to break things up with more story-driven titles, and recent games like Mass Efffect: Andromeda have been a bit disappointing on that front. Perhaps monetisation strategies are having a negative effect, it’s quite the hot topic (particularly loot boxes) as the wider industry grapples with issues that had previously been largely confined to the free-to-play ghetto. We’ve been talking about these things for years, and obviously games companies have to be held accountable, but I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that players have embraced the idea so enthusiastically that, from a business perspective, it looks mad not to crowbar them in. Rob Fahey on gamesindustry.biz is confident that the games will be there as long as the audience demands them, hopefully the industry can find a happy medium that keeps some variety in AAA titles.

You fought hard and you saved and earned

It’s coming up for a year since (finally) properly getting into Guild Wars 2. The good old Tuesday N00b Club moved on a little while back but Melmoth’s Sunday morning group fortuitously had a vacancy and Fractals (instanced mini-Dungeon type things) have been providing nice bite-sized chunks of content ideal for a once-a-week diversion. Thing were starting to get a little stale and we explored a couple of alternatives (WildStar and a return to SWTOR), but neither really stuck, so everyone wandered off over the summer. I’ve been ticking along with the usual gaming suspects; War Thunder, Mass Effect: Andromeda multiplayer, a bit of the new DOOM (satisfyingly squishy but not hugely engrossing), a quick glance at a new update for The Division (still fun for a quick blast). Nothing terribly inspiring on either the gaming or blogging front. The announcement of a new GW2 expansion, Path of Fire, has sparked a bit of interest, though, so I think I’ll pick that up and have a look around.

The title is a little odd, though; who makes a path out of fire? That’s a pretty clear violation of Appendix 9.2-A of the Drives, paths and landscaping section of NHBC Standards, and frankly a health and safety nightmare. All I can imagine is a mix-up in ArenaNet’s contacts list, and instead of engaging Capability Brown to provide the landscaping for the new expansion they got The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Easy mistake to make.

Noel’s Andromeda Party or No Party

So we were chatting away about the recent Mass Effect: Andromeda patch with improvements to the character creator, and wondering what future updates might hold…

> MELMOTH: Patch Notes: Deleted all Ryder face and beard options and replaced them with 'a version of Noel Edmonds that our artist modelled one Friday afternoon while drunk'.

> ZOSO: New game pitch: ME:A featuring Noel Edmonds as Ryder with squadmates Mr Blobby and The Banker


The planet Eos. NOEL “PATHFINDER” EDMONDS disembarks from the Nomad accompanied by the pink and yellow horror that is MISTER BLOBBY.

EDMONDS: Looks like a Kett encampment ahead, Blobby, better be careful. Here’s the plan: we sneak up, hidden by those rocks there, then I’ll use my Biotic shield to cover…

BLOBBY: Blobby? Blobby blobby blobby! BLOBBBBEEEEEE!

BLOBBY charges forward wildly firing a submachine gun, falls over, narrowly misses EDMONDS with a burst of fire, gets back up; EDMONDS cautiously moves forward in cover trying to suppress the Kett with assault rifle fire; BLOBBY trips again, lands on EDMONDS.

EDMONDS: Blobby! For heaven’s sake…

Kett troopers look on, somewhat bemused. A telephone rings loudly and everybody pauses.

EDMONDS: Ah! About time The Banker turned up.

EDMONDS answers a telephone inexplicably sitting on a rock formation.

EDMONDS: Yes? I see. Really? Right then.

EDMONDS puts the telephone down. Tense music plays.

EDMONDS: Well, Kett Anointed, The Banker admires your bravado but says it will be your undoing in the end. He’s going to make an extremely generous offer that he knows you’ll turn down: 500 credits, an Uncommon item, and some inorganic lubricant.

KETT ANOINTED turns to his comrades.

KETT DESTINED: I’ve got a really good feeling about your container, I reckon there’s definitely an Ultra Rare in there, don’t take the deal.

KETT CHOSEN: The Banker’s just playing mind games with you, think about how those credits could change your life.

KETT ANOINTED: Well… it’s a good offer, Noel, but at the end of the day I’m an AI mob scripted to blindly attack you, so I’m going to have to say ‘no deal’ and shoot you with a plasma rifle.

While the Kett have been talking, BLOBBY has climbed up to a nearby platform. He takes aim with a Black Widow sniper rifle.

BLOBBY: Blobby!

BLOBBY fires, completely missing the Kett; the recoil knocks him backwards in a somersault off the platform, landing on EDMONDS again.


Some people just have to take things too far, though…

> MELMOTH: Mr Blobby romance options...


Pathfinders Quarters on the Tempest. EDMONDS and BLOBBY have returned to the ship.

EDMONDS: Well, Blobby, as Kett Anointed didn’t take the deal I still have that inorganic lubricant. Better hope you don’t ‘trip’ and fall on top of me again…

BLOBBY: Blobby blobby blobby blobby blobby blobby *squelch* blobby blobby blobby!

Fade to black. Fade to black! For the love of all that is holy fade to black!

AFAOIEIOGDOFDOMAF

As many commentators pointed out the whole idea of April Fool’s Day on the internet seems rather superfluous in the current climate, but at least there’s April Fun And/Or Interesting Event In Online Game Day (Or Few Days Or Maybe A Fortnight) to look forward to (AFAOIEIOGDOFDOMAF, as all the cool kids call it). I’ve been a bit distracted by Mass Effect: Andromeda so haven’t looked too far around the net to see what’s been going on this year; Guild Wars 2 has the Super Adventure Box, an 8-bit inspired Mario-y quest to rescue a kidnapped princess, but it’s not a genre I have particular nostalgia for so I haven’t done much more than poke a nose in.

Over in War Thunder developers Gaijin introduced modern main battle tanks and attack helicopters. Though the game is largely based in World War 2 its vehicles have been inexorably moving forwards in time, so it’s less of a rib-tickling gag than a logical extension. Last year’s sailing ship event was an opportunity to test out aquatic combat in advance of the naval forces beta test and there’s widespread expectation that this event presages something major, either War Thunder itself moving into the modern era or perhaps a new and separate game. It does seem like a fair bit of work just for a few days:

Mind you we haven’t seen World War II Mechs after the 2015 event, which is rather a shame as they were quite splendid, so it might just be a one-off.

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition

It’s a funny old game, The Division. Saying that, I didn’t find it particularly amusing, the quirky mission-givers being a bit jarring in an otherwise bleak, bleak time, and it’s not old as such, having been released exactly(ish) a year ago. Still, “it’s a game, The Division” would be a bit of a weak post opening despite the factual accuracy.

On the one hand I’ve sunk a fair amount of time into it and mostly enjoyed it, popping back in for the updates and noodling around New York with a bunch o’ guns. It’s got a good hook, the set-piece story missions play well and can take a fair bit of repeating in the “do it again but harder” endgame (note to ed: insert Kenneth Williams animated reaction GIF here in a desperate attempt to keep up with newfangled social media trends that are already dreadfully passée thus appearing even more out of touch, unless we luck out and they’re undergoing a retro revival). On the other hand, it feels like there are missed opportunities. The story is left dangling; obviously you want to leave space for a sequel but I would’ve liked a bit more of a resolution at the end of the main game. It hasn’t really been picked up in any updates or DLC, and from what “Year Two” details I’ve seen there are no more story missions on the cards (the old conflict between story (expensive voice actors, time-consuming development, ‘properly’ experienced once (if that) by most players) and repeatability). Combat generally works, but it can be a fine line between rampaging around without any difficulty and cowering behind boxes waiting for a healing skill to recharge as any attempt to peak out is met by a fusillade of pin-point return fire. The DLC packs have felt a little lacklustre; nice additions, but not necessarily £12-worth. Survival is fun but pales after a few runs, the most recent Last Stand looks particularly empty unless you’re into the PvP side of things. Assigning a value to games is increasingly difficult, entirely arbitrarily I’d say I got my money’s worth from the main game but not quite the season pass.

Tim & Jon were talking about it on their 9th Anniversary podcast (hearty congratulations to them for tireless devotion to entertaining gaming wittering, and indeed even older legacy textual rambling that the Wayback Machine has just about saved from The Demise of Domains) and mentioned a new in-game “Premium” vendor in the most recent update flogging emotes and cosmetics for real money (or at least for Obligatory Premium In-Game Currency bought with real money). I hadn’t seen this new vendor, so I fired up the game and toddled along to have a look and it is a trifle odd. Where, say, Mass Effect 3 compartmentalised the multiplayer (loot boxes, cash shop, ‘grind’) and the solo story, they’re blurred together in The Division for good (being able to drop in and easily play with friends, generally) and not-quite-so-good (£5 for a dance emote!) I’m not quite sure what genre The Division falls into; Sort Of Fairly Open World With Strong RPG Gameplay Elements And A Bit Of A Story If You Want To Pay Attention To It Optionally Multiplayer Third Person Cover Shooter, maybe. Not that everything has to fall into a neat box, of course, but I think it’s spread itself a bit thin and ended up the proverbial Jack-of-all-Genres, mastering none.

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Testing of naval forces in War Thunder started last year, and after a bit of a break for the introduction of Japanese tanks and official release of the game (whatever that means these days) is now happening most weekends. Tests so far have covered several scenarios, both with and without aircraft, with a variety of playable vessels from high speed torpedo armed motorboats to larger armoured gunboats.

Gameplay is interesting so far, broadly similar to land battles (only wetter). With nowhere to hide on the ocean apart from a few islands to duck behind, and boats that roll around on waves, cautious positioning and long-range sniping aren’t nearly as much of a factor as in tank battles. Boats are also generally quite resilient, able to soak up a fair amount of damage from the small calibre cannon that most are equipped with so one shot rarely leaves you incapacitated or destroyed. That said larger guns (85mm+) can quickly spoil the day of a wooden-hulled boat, and torpedoes are very potent against heavier, slower ships (nippy little boats should be able to avoid torpedo attacks, unless they’ve slightly embarrassingly run into an island and got stuck after being a bit too fixated on a target).

Aircraft can be quite deadly but most boats have a decent array of fast-firing weapons to put up a defensive barrage, mixed matches should offer good opportunities both in the air and on the water. Most tests so far have been domination-type matches requiring zones to be captured, an intriguing alternative involved two sets of NPC cargo ships that had to be defended/sunk.

I’ve not been playing ground forces much recently, I get rather bogged down in the mid-tiers, though it’s been fun to jump back into the faster-paced carefree world of Tier I with the new Japanese tree; I’m not sure if naval forces will prise me away from air battles in the long term, but I’ll certainly be taking to the water for a while when they’re fully released.

Mister Splashy Pants

Boaty McBoatface

A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order

With a disappointing lack of imagination it turns out 2016 is followed by 2017, increasingly looking like a prescient choice for the setting of The Running Man, and with a similarly disappointing lack of imagination my New Year gaming has been much the same since first picking up War Thunder at the start of 2013. There’s been another series of tasks with shiny plane rewards up for grabs, based on the World War II Chronicles again, a series of daily scenarios chronologically progressing through the war that offer a nice opportunity to switch between countries and aircraft types. The tasks aren’t particularly onerous but do require a bit of grinding, so with the Me 262 secured I’m ready for a bit of a rest.

I’m winding down in Guild Wars 2 as well. It’s consumed good chunks of the past few months, but the rolling boil of new game excitement has given way to the gentle simmer of daily routine. I’ve finished off the various story elements (the original game, expansion, and the ongoing Living Story) and have to say I haven’t been terribly engrossed. It starts well enough, each race having several options during character creation that lead to different vignettes, but as the levels increase the various paths intertwine to put everybody on the same road to defeating the Big Evil Thing, and my sense of involvement steadily diminished to the point that I felt like I was watching a bunch of NPCs, one of whom happened to be dressed like my character. I took to alt-tabbing off to other applications if some Basil Exposition NPC was monologuing away, popping back now and again just to check if I was supposed to be killing anything; running a pet-heavy Necromancer build was useful for that as the minions made a pretty decent fist of things while I was AFK

I might have been a bit more swept up in things if I’d started at launch and played through sequentially, but coming in after four years everything is in a strange MMO-superposition; the world is (apparently) dealing with the aftermath of some major event that happened in the Living Story Season 1 (which you can’t play retrospectively), after the events of the original game but before the expansion, the expansion that I poked a nose into before finishing the original story, with chunks of narrative coming from dungeons that I was running out-of-order at random levels depending on who else was around and what they were doing. The most compelling story in the world would struggle when tackled with such non-linearity, the bickering dullards of Destiny’s Edge never stood a chance, the only thing sticking in the memory being the opportunity to confuse them with Destiny’s Child with Hilarious Consequences. Some people are fully engaged with the lore, I saw some extensive debates about the behaviour of a particular NPC when a new chapter of the Living Story arrived, but for me at least it was more proof, if needed, that Bioware were rather mistaken in putting story as the “fourth pillar” of an MMO alongside exploration, combat and progression, at least until technology allows player choices to have some sort of impact on the world. It’s been the exploration, combat and progression that have kept me hooked on GW2, zone events, PvP, dungeons, crafting, fractals, bell-ringing, snowball fights and such.

Speaking of Bioware, Mass Effect: Andromeda now has a release date of March and I’m rather in the mood for a chunky RPG so started to have a look at the options in case there’s some shiny trinkets on offer for pre-ordering (sure enough there’s a suit of armour, a vehicle skin and a multiplayer booster up for grabs). There’s a Deluxe edition, with more in-game tchotchkes, and even a Super Deluxe edition that adds an extra multiplayer booster pack every week for 20 weeks. That seems like quite a heavy push for the multiplayer side of things, or maybe it’s just an easy way of bulking up the Super Deluxe package so that the Deluxe option doesn’t seem such an extravagance (Goldilocks pricing, and all that). Either way I rather enjoyed the mutliplayer aspect of both ME3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition (though the latter didn’t seem to catch on quite as much), but I never spent cash on boosters so I don’t think I’ll be going Super Deluxe for Andromeda. In the meantime I’ll need to find something else to distract me for a couple of months; maybe I’ll finish off that Christmas jigsaw…

Merry Christmas!

The Wintersday event is active in Guild Wars 2, a series of challenges have kicked off in War Thunder, the Steam sale is bringing joy, happiness and cheap games to all; it must be Christmas! Have a splendid break one and all, let’s hope 2017 is a bit less “exciting” than 2016.

Now I have eight machine guns, ho ho ho