In Memoriam Terry Pratchett

So. Farwell then Pterry.
Or should I say
HELLO

It seems rather redundant to write anything about Terry Pratchett, with so many other tributes on Twitter, the wider internet, and even (shockingly) things that aren’t the internet. I saw him give a talk at university, and in the Q&A afterwards my friend asked him about the Discworld game that was either in development or had just come out, and if he enjoyed adventure games. Seeing as he was a Proper Grown Up and everything I was rather expecting him to give qualified praise, or dismiss computer games entirely; this was the mid-90s, before everyone was a gamer. Instead he told us that the type of game he really liked was the one where you got to shoot demons with a shotgun. He’d heard of Doom! He *played* Doom! He continued to talk about one of the most interesting things he’d seen, a group of kids playing the Alien Total Conversion of Doom on networked PCs, co-operating with each other to fight the monsters, a fairly mind-blowing notion at the time.

A rather lovely movement has started to add an X-Clacks-Overhead header to web servers, and if all is working as planned kiasa.org should be joining in. As another article puts it: “the encoding of Pratchett’s name into the fabric of the internet seems a fitting modern homage, as though millions of computers were whispering his name, and chuckling softly to themselves.”

GNU Terry Pratchett

War Thunder Community Magazine

I’ve started doing a spot of writing for the War Thunder Community Magazine from the folks at GameOn, a few World War II facts in Issue 2, and a slightly beefier piece about the guns of the RAF in Issue 3, released today. There’s lots of good stuff in the magazine, in my humble and entirely unbiased opinion, including tutorials, reviews and interviews. And a word search.

There are other Community Magazines for WildStar and World of Warcraft, the now-official SMITE magazine, as well as the main GameOn magazine and assorted special issues, plenty to browse. Do take a look!

War Thunder Update 1.47

It’s patch time in everyone’s favourite online World War II combined arms tank-and-plan type game, War Thunder, and update 1.47 is all about the bigg ‘uns (fnarr, etc.)  I’m sorry, I’ll read that again: update 1.47 is all about the big guns.

On the ground, US tanks are now out of closed beta and available for everybody to research, in case you have a hankering to re-enact Fury, and there are a smattering of new tanks for all three nations, most notably including the super-heavy Panzer VIII Maus. Continuing the ginormo-trend in the air, 1.47 brings the B-29 Superfortress, with the heaviest bombloads yet seen in the game. Slightly disappointingly there are no new British aircraft, but the word is that a whole Fleet Air Army tree is on the way, hopefully in 1.49. Another new arrival is the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, Scourge of the Atlantic:

A bunch of Fockes

A bunch of Fockes

There’s the usual plethora of tweaks to various flight models, new decals, contrail effects, binoculars for tankers and such, full details on the website as ever, and one more fairly significant change, perhaps most immediately obvious when you first log in…

Until this update, your first victory each day with each nation would get a 2x multiplier to research rewards, a welcome boost, especially in the high tiers as things rather slowed down. War Thunder now has a daily reward scheme, similar to many other free-to-play titles:

"What's on the end of the stick, Vic?" "It's a crate, Bob" "I know, but that doesn't rhyme"

“What’s on the end of the stick, Vic?”
“It’s a crate, Bob”
“I know, but that doesn’t rhyme”

Each day you log in you receive a crate containing tantalising and exotic rewards (or, on Day 1, in most cases a small boost to research or currency earnings for a few matches). With this being less than the previous 100% boost per country, obviously people are reacting very calmly to the new system and not launching into froth-spackled diatribes prophesying doom, because this is the internet and everyone is very calm and relaxed, so that’s nice. Similar to the switch from unlocking whole tiers of aircraft to individually researching them it does look like this will, overall, slow down research to some extent, but there are potentially advantages as well, particularly if you prefer to focus on a single country, and there are some interesting aspects, like team boosts that apply to everybody you fly with. Certainly something to keep an eye on, to see what might be in that oh-so-shiny looking Day 6 crate if nothing else, though it does mean that War Thunder now has a Start to Crate time of zero.

Along with the daily rewards, you can buy more crates (using “real money” golden eagles) in an item shop with a random chance of various rewards including boosters, or a tank or plane. I’m not really a fan of these real money lockbox/crates, but they seem to be becoming ubiquitous. Ah well, I’ll save my money, and maybe go spin the roulette wheel of Kickstarter again instead…

Eternal Sunlessness of the Crowdsourced Founder

As the gaming industry lurches through the strange new landscape of crowdfunding, early access, paid betas and the like, progress isn’t always smooth, the recent kerfuffle over Peter Molyneux’s Godus being a particularly noteworthy case in point. Going through a bit of a gaming lull, with nothing immediately flinging itself from the ever-lengthening Steam library as a must play, I thought I’d take a bit of a look at a couple of projects I’d backed on Kickstarter that had come to fruition while I was distracted with other stuff.

Sunless Sea from Failbetter Games was released a couple of weeks ago, and has had some glowing reviews; I’ve only set out on the briefest of voyages so far, but it looks very nice, combining the quirky setting of the Fallen London browser game with sort-of-Rogue-ish-with-a-bit-of-Elite-and-other-stuff sailing around. I did enjoy Fallen London for a while, but never found the underlying mechanics of the game as compelling as the setting and writing, so I’m looking forward to some more exploration of the Unterzee. With all the problems elsewhere, it’s nice to see a successful Kickstarter project meeting or even exceeding expectations.

I also got around to installing Jagged Alliance: Flashback. I missed out on the original Jagged Alliance games, but being a big fan of UFO: Enemy Unknown and Silent Storm I thought I’d give Flashback a try. After backing projects I don’t tend to follow them particularly closely, but flipping back through previous Kickstarter updates while installing the game it seems the launch back in October may have been a touch rocky, with the disappointment of some fans reflected in numerous negative Steam reviews. Again I’ve only played a couple of missions so far, it seems solid enough without being exceptional, worthy enough of spending a bit more time with at least; from a brief glance at the comments in Steam a frequent complaint seemed to be that it didn’t feel like a Jagged Alliance game, so perhaps not having those expectations gives a slightly different perspective on things. I gather there’s also been an update or two since launch, which may have helped.

Elsewhere, over on Massively Overpowered (itself a crowdfunded reboot from the ashes of Massively), I spotted a piece about Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade planning on launching early access this Autumn to paid founders. I vaguely remember talk of a 40k MMO years back, I’m not sure if Eternal Crusade is the same project after numerous iterations or something entirely unrelated, but the pitch is a massive online third-person shooter with guns n’ swords n’ tanks n’ stuff. Sounds like fun, and I do have a soft spot for the old Warty Thou universe. The business model is a mix of money and points and packs and items and this and that; standard, isn’t it? Isn’t it though. Slightly more unusual is the idea of “Free to WAAAGH!”; you can pay to unlock Space Marines, Chaos Marines or Eldar, or play Orks for free. Seems like a nice way of representing the “quantity has a quality all of its own” spirit of Ork armies, if the balancing works out. Founders Packs are on sale, starting at a fairly pricey $40 and going up to obligatory eye-watering levels like the $450 (with 15% saving!!1!) Xenos Pack. The lowest price pack comes with 40,000 points (some sort of space currency, I gather), which sounds like a lot, but as Eddie Izzard observed of food labels, really needs a frame of reference (“I see this has 0.02 milligrams of sodium… is that a lot? Too much? Not enough? Am I going to explode in water?”) Talking to Melmoth, I worried that things were headed for the MMO version of Weimar Hyperinflation, where you pitch up to a virtual vendor with an online wheelbarrow loaded with digital banknotes, and, as he put it:
“I’ve got 20 million flingy-bongs, what can I get?!”
“Half an eyepatch.”
“Half an eyepatch?”
“This bit of string here. There you go. Save up, and one day you might be able to afford a gun, yours for only 10.9e1000e000 thrumpty-bings[1]!”
[1] 1 thrumpty-bing = 10e189 flingy-bongs

Anyway, debates over the merits and ethics of pre-orders and founders offers and what-not will doubtless continue to rage as bitterly as ever; there are strong arguments for waiting for official release and reviews (and indeed giving a game a few months after that for the worst of the launch bugs to be patched out; Van Hemlock’s three month rule, as mentioned on some of the earliest posts here from 2008, still holds as true as ever). There are also compelling arguments in favour of early access, when done well (just as with business models, nuclear physics, and so much else, they can be used for both good and evil). With all sorts of tempting booty in pre-launch/Kickstarter packs, from a discounted price to exclusive items, it’s essentially a gamble: for a pre-order/Kickstarter pledge of £x, will you get £x-worth of fun out of a game (itself rather a hard thing to measure, even using the Sherbet Dip-Dab scale)? If “yes”, and said amount of fun would have cost £y (where y>x) or not been possible at all without the pre-order, you win! If “no” (or “yes” where y<x), better luck next time. I don’t usually go in for betting, even random real-money lockboxes in other games, but if a game looks promising I don’t mind taking a punt and rolling the dice of pre-order, so come on Eternal Crusade, come up sixes!

Ruling Update – KiaSA Five-a-side League

Greetings People of the League!

After the successful and fun inaugural event, we’re excited to announce that the next leg of our next All-human tournament will be held in Chipping Sodbury Leisure Centre on February 22, 2015. For this coming leg, we intend to experiment with some changes we plan to put in place with regards to who can join the five-a-side league. This is related to the open discussion about whether professional footballers, ex-professional footballers, semi-professional footballers, professional footballers but from a different sort of football, professional sportshumans from sports apart from football, people who don’t like cheese, left-handed people, people whose surname begins with a vowel, and killer cyborgs from the future be allowed to participate. We’ve given a lot of thought on this subject, and we’ve similarly consulted and talked with various parties including FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and the National Foundation for Killer Cyborgs from the Future.

For any events we do, we always want to make sure we are able to have an inclusive environment where no one feels left out, and of course for everybody to enjoy. On this angle, we believed that allowing more to be eligible to join is obviously the answer and as many of our human teams have expressed – killer cyborgs from the future are their friends too. Except when they try and kill them. On the other hand, for any competitions, we seriously look at ensuring there’s a fair level playing field for all participants. And there are arguments and concerns from other participants who disputes that someone who doesn’t like cheese may probably have some unfair advantage at playing football.

Putting all these points into consideration, we wish to experiment on the following changes to be implemented in this 2nd leg:

1) Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of one (1) professional Association Football player for the entirety of the tournament day. Therefore, teams cannot do the following: Team_A’s first game will be 4 people who like cheese and 1 professional footballer, then on Team_A’s second game, they will have 2 members whose surname begins with a vowel, 1 killer cyborg from the future, 1 former presenter of The Antiques Roadshow and replace the professional footballer with a different professional footballer.

2) Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of two (7) professional American, Australian, Gaelic, Canadian, Central African Republician or Rugby Football players, as long as they promise to stop picking the ball up.

3) Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of five (5) players. That’s why it’s called five-a-side. We’re very sorry if people feel we’re discriminating against groups of six, or people unable to count to three (five, sir!)

4) Although killer cyborgs from the future aren’t technically human, we’re allowing them to participate because they look human… sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot. And they threatened to kill us, what with it being their raison d’etre and everything.

5) The surname of each player must be less than char(100) letters. Blame Geoff, I told him to use a longer varchar, but would he listen? Nooo…

6) Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of three, four (knock on the door) players who like salt and vinegar crisps and must have a minimum of two (ii) players who like cheese and onion crisps, because we’re getting multipacks again and Clem was furious when all the salt and vinegar had gone before he got to them. No team will be allowed any (>0) smoky bacon or roast chicken, otherwise we just get stuck with leftover prawn cocktail.

7) There is no rule 7.

8) Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of five (five) members of the band Five (5ive).

7) Oh, wait, I just remembered Rule 7! Each team will be allowed to have a maximum of four (4) Emeritus Professors of Greek Culture and/or Gresham Professors of Astronomy, so long as no more than one has also played football to a semi-professional level or higher, no more than three have been members of the Shadow Cabinet, and no more than two have appeared on Celebrity Tipping Point (members of the Shadow Cabinet may have played semi-professional football so long as they haven’t appeared on Celebrity Tipping Point).

9) The team who play in blue (#0000FF) have a Norwegian captain. The team with the Spanish captain have a dog for a mascot. The team on the left, wearing red, drink coffee. The team in the middle do not drink tea, or have a mammal for a mascot. Which team drinks water?

10) Any team who has violated the above provision, regardless if intentional or otherwise, whether discovered during the day of the event or some time after, will have all their team members (the Little-Endians as well as the Big-Endians) sanctioned with a 1-year ban on all KiaSA-organized events, including the darts tournament, pub quiz and pro-am karaoke.

It is our hope that with this change, we’re able to realize our goal to have an event where everybody can enjoy while at same time preserving the competitive aspect of this tournament. We intend to closely monitor the impact of the changes made and will continue to have an open dialog with all parties involved as we continue to look for ways to keep improving the KiaSA five-a-side tournament while also preventing an AI network eliminating all human life.

Gamers shocked as Elder Scrolls Online drops subscriptions

ROCKVILLE, MD – The MMORPG industry has been shaken to its very core by the news that The Elder Scrolls Online is dropping its monthly subscription, becoming what experts are now calling “buy-to-play”. The unprecedented move without any precedent, apart from any other game that once charged a subscription but now doesn’t, has plunged gamers into a state of confusion. “Let me get this straight” said Ian Gamer on a fictional gaming forum “I have to… ‘buy’ this game… and then I can play it? No, sorry, I’m not following.” Elder Scrolls spokesman Ian Spokesman tried to explain the change in a press release accompanying the news: “So you know free-to-play, yeah? And how it’s, like, free, except where you want to do stuff that isn’t free and you have to pay money but you don’t have to do that so it’s free as in beer not free as in speech, if it was free beer with optional microtransactions and a premium beer option that wasn’t free as in speech or beer or the French forces under De Gaulle. You know that, yeah? Well buy-to-play is like that, but without the option not to pay.”

When The Elder Scrolls Online launched in 2014 the subscription model for MMORPGs was completely normal, every single other MMORPG requiring the purchase of a box then payment of a monthly subscription except for 99.487% of them; nobody in the industry was at all surprised or commented on the monthly fee at all. Not even the most radical of soothsayers could have predicted that the subscription would be a sort of additional “enthusiasm tax”, making the most out of keen early adopters before dropping the requirement for regular payment once players numbers had slumped after launch as had happened with almost every MMORPG launched in the ten years since WoW. The occasional dissenting voice, who didn’t really exist because there weren’t any but just imagine if there had been, was silenced by the cast iron logic that even if some other MMORPGs had struggled to retain players, which they hadn’t, then a really big franchise with a rock solid history of single player games was a guaranteed sure fire hit when MMOGified, and nobody could think of a single instance of well-regarded single player RPGs set far back in the history of a colossal interstellar franchise that had spawned a MMORPG that had been a perfectly good game but just not retained the sort of subscriber numbers required as a counterexample.

Unable to cope with the radical new gaming landscape that has resulted, several MMORPG industry experts have vowed to move into safer areas of commentary such as the continuing non-Catholicism of the Pope, and absence of bear excrement from wooded areas.

We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not happen

By Jove, Christmas is a busy old time isn’t it? What with all the presents and visits to relatives and turkey and sprouts and Steam sales and tinsel and Steam sort-of-sale-auction-event-trading-card-gem-things and Doctor Who specials and baubles and destroying 40 ground targets with any Ju 87 variant and figgy pudding and winning five matches each day with Rank II-V vehicles and carols and wintery walks along the beach, it’s a wonder there’s any time left to sit back and consider the real meaning of it all, the birthday of a rather special person. But enough about me.

Plenty of games put on events of some sort over Christmas, and the eagle-eyed viewer may just have spotted that some of the items in the previous list have a hint of the War Thunder about them, as Gaijin seen to have gone a bit event mad. One set of tasks allow players to unlock more of the recently added US tanks, another set offer the prospect of a new plane or tank (self-propelled howitzer, if being pedantic) through 19 daily tasks, and the most recent addition rewards first place on a winning team. Coupled with assorted discounts and experience boosts, most of my gaming time between aforementioned festive activities has thus been spent flying and driving around. I picked up Dragon Age: Inquisition on release, and sunk a fair amount of time into it (summary so far: pretty good) before the War Thunder event madness started, and when shooting up endless waves of planes and tanks got a bit much I took some time out to… go and do the Dragon Age weekend multiplayer events!

The multiplayer component of Dragon Age: Inquisition is very much like that of Mass Effect 3, and a similarly fun way of spending 10-20 minutes in a quick dungeon romp, gaining XP and loot along the way. Like ME3 you can buy boxes of random loot with either in-game or real currency, though a distinct improvement in DA:I is the ability to break down common tat into components with which you can craft armour to unlock new classes, so at least you’re not entirely at the mercy of the RNG. The weekend events offer the opportunity to earn a bonus box of loot by making 100 kills with a particular weapon, which I haven’t found to be too difficult, though the killing frenzy does mean that tanking and coordinated team play tend to go out the window; fortunately on the lower difficulty settings Plan A (“maximum AoE kill everything as quickly as possible”) tends to work much of the time anyway. One “interesting” design decision was that, initially, voice comms were permanently active (on the PC version, at least, I believe a push-to-talk option has been patched in). The ability to mute other players just about preserved sanity in the face of random background noise, but I couldn’t help listening in to one side of another player’s phonecall (he’d thoroughly enjoyed a Micky Flanagan DVD and was relating bits of it to whoever was on the other end of the call), and another match featured the only stereotypical angry teenager I’ve encountered so far. I’m not sure if he was aware that people could hear him, it sounded like he was muttering away to himself at first, but as the levels went on he got progressively more furious at the terrible performance of the rest of the team (who were doing perfectly well), culminating in the final wave when he buggered off and got himself killed; I was running over and in the process of resurrecting him when the dulcet calls of “GET ME UP YOU RETARDS” started, and blow me if I didn’t entirely accidentally run away and let him die while the rest of us cleared up and successfully finished the mission. Oops.

Apart from that, not much other gaming of note; in the Steam pre-sale-gem-auction-thing I did manage to snag a copy of the HD remake of Speedball 2, which I loved back in the day, but have only had time for a couple of quick matches. I got Race The Sun as a gift, from a brief dabble it plays rather well, but again no time for a proper crack at it; with those plus the usual backlog I didn’t bother picking anything else up in the Steam sale itself. Elite: Dangerous is looking thoroughly interesting, the time murderers are back with an all-new picture-type eye-watchable video-style podcast in glorious technicolour, including a guide to Elite exploration, but with War Thunder thoroughly satisfying my flying itch at the moment I haven’t picked it up yet, and I fear I might end up drifting along somewhat rudderless (metaphorically, and perhaps literally depending on combat damage) in the wide open galaxy. A while back I plunked down a bit of cash for a Star Citizen ship, as much in hope as expectation, and maybe it’ll turn out I backed the right horse after all, because the prospective features look awesome, and the projected full proper release date of 2045 coincides nicely with my planned retirement, when I might finally have some spare time to play it.

Happy Christmas (War Thunder isn’t over)

Just in time for Christmas, Gaijin have unleashed Update 1.45 for War Thunder. The main addition is American tanks, joining their German and Soviet armoured brethren in the Ground Forces part of the game, but there are also a few new aircraft, maps and assorted tweaks; full details in the patch notes. One of the new features is tow ropes for tanks, allowing you to rescue unfortunate team-mates who’ve ended up on their sides; to avoid griefing a tow has to be both offered and accepted, and you can only target friendly vehicles, but there must be potential for some future tug-of-war type game modes…

Oh, and the hangers have been spruced up a little for the festive season as well:

Merry Tankmas

Merry Tankmas

So quick bright things come to confusion

You’ve got to hand it to Valve, and by “it” I mean “lorry loads of small denomination coins”. In much the same way that kids have more fun playing with a big cardboard box than the expensive toy that came in it, they presumably concluded that spending ages on stuff like gameplay was completely wasted in Team Fortress 2 compared to the all-important hat market, and have now abandoned conventional games entirely except as a form of currency to power the Steam Event Metagame. Building on this summer’s Five-Way Increase An Arbitrary Number Decision Theory Paradox Event, Valve have finally caved in to the ceaseless demands to make their sales vastly more confusing by allowing trading cards and emoticons and profile backgrounds to be transformed into Gems, a new form of pseudo-currency to use to bid on auctions or alternatively to transform into booster packs for more trading cards. Gems can also bought and sold for real money, alongside the emoticons and hats and games and trading cards and profile backgrounds, in a strange and confusing swirl of gems and money and games and hats and socks and toasters. Only without the socks and toasters. For now. Those will probably come in the Easter sale.

Q: What do you call a website with a shovel and the base of the natural logarithm and a red-coloured soft drink? A: Dig-e-tizer (Digitiser)!

Many years ago, in the dark ages of the last years of the twentieth century, this “internet” thing was starting to catch on but was still largely the domain of tech-enthusiasts navigating a sea of “Under Construction” messages via primitive search engines, not the first port of call if you were after up-to-date news, weather, live sports scores, share prices, TV schedules or recipes to accompany cookery programmes. For those, we had Ceefax and Teletext. Imagine a World Wide Web of 999 pages, squished onto screens of 40×24 characters, accessed by typing in a three digit number and watching the page counter tick, tick, ticking along… A smidge primitive compared to almost instant access to the sum total of all human knowledge (or as close as the ‘net gets to it), but a fine and useful service, and free (as long as your television could display it), an important consideration when ISPs had a monthly fee on top of the cost of phone calls (for you crazy kids who don’t remember the olden days: you used to have to “dial” “up” by getting a lengthy bit of cable and running it from the computer to the telephone socket in the hallway, then you shouted “cssswwsswwswswwwwww WEEEEEEoooooWWEEEEEooooooWEEE ccsssssswwwwwsswwswww”, and hoped nobody would trip over the cable or want to use the phone until you’d finished downloading a Metallica song from Napster).

As well as the aforementioned news, weather etc., there were subtitles on page 888 (turning Top of the Pops into instant karaoke), quizzes like the classic Bamboozle!, even a textual soap opera. Most pertinently, though, there were pages about games. On the BBC, as I recall, rather staid reviews, infrequently updated. On Channel 4, Digitiser, a magnificently anarchic array of madness that was only about games as much as Jaws was a book about a shark. Accompanying the previews, reviews, and hints and tips were a whole cast of regular characters, spoof adverts for German metal albums, Mr T admonishing kids to stay away from his bins and, best of all, nonsensical anti-jokes (Q: What do you call a man with bread and butter pudding on his head? A: Pudding Gentleman Type B!) and incredibly laboured sort-of-puns (Q: What do you call an android adjudicating officer who decorates the sycamores in his garden with girls’ toys? A: Ro-Judge Doll-Tree (Roger Daltrey)!) I had no idea of the ructions behind the scenes, I think I’d drifted away from Teletext in general by the time it finished, but have retained a fondness for blocky cartoon snakes ever since.

Good news, though! Mr Biffo’s back with a whole Twitter of words including Man-tastic jokes, and Digitiser rides again as one of those ocelot-come-lately “pages” on the “web”. The future is uncertain as Biffo & Hairs grapple with both the issues of sustaining a site in an atemporal zone of content production and a greased tramp riding an elk (the elk isn’t really an elk it’s a metaphor for a moose), but even if it’s only a fleeting return of Insincere Dave it’s good to see him back again!!?!?!?!!!!!!!!!