Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one

With the massive popularity of Minecraft producing a generation of budding geologists, Geoscience Australia have released a poster pointing out that not all the game mechanics translate directly to real life. “Gold” for example “is very soft, nearly as soft as fingernails, and so is not useful for pickaxes or armour.” Furthermore “Putting cobblestone into a furnace will not create stone. It would, in fact, achieve nothing but a very warm rock.”

This seems like a fine way of introducing real subjects and clearing up misconceptions, and there must be other opportunities out there. The Army, for example, could mention to keen fans of the Gears of War series thinking of enlisting that “Not all gunfights happen in areas conveniently provided with numerous bullet proof chest-high obstacles.” Meanwhile the General Medical Council, in response to Every FPS Ever, may like to remind people that “Gunshot wounds require dedicated medical treatment, simply standing on an unopened first aid kit is not sufficient. You’ll only squash the tube of Savlon.” Over on mobile devices, the Meat and Livestock Comission could clarify for Angry Birds players that “Pigs are foraging animals, primarily eating leaves, grasses, roots, fruits, and flowers. They rarely band together to steal bird eggs. Furthermore the primary defensive mechanisms of birds are flapping or pecking, rather than firing birds from a catapult that break up into smaller birds, knocking down wooden structures causing heavy objects to fall upon pigs in the process.”

The National Association of Tanners and Leatherworkers may be the busiest, though, thanks to the crafting system of Far Cry 3. They’d need an extra large poster to cover everything: “Producing usable leather from an animal carcass is a more involved process than sort of waving a knife around for a few seconds.” “A pouch made from Komodo Dragon Skin can hold any item small enough to fit inside it, not just grenades.” “The amount of money you can fit into a wallet is a function of the size of the wallet and the denominations of banknotes in question, not whether the wallet is made of Cassowary Leather or Shark Skin.” “Even we, a bunch of people who turn dead animals into useful stuff, think it’s a bit nuts to slaughter every living thing within a seven mile radius just to carry ammunition in bizarrely specific containers. What’s wrong with a nice nylon rucksack, for heaven’s sake?”

Can’t you see I’m easily bothered by persistence?

After last year’s Giant Snail Attack, Gaijin added a couple of events to War Thunder on April 1st this year. Firstly “Unrealistic Battles”, with everyone flolloping around in tanks reminiscent of the inflatable decoy vehicles used in World War II, gun barrels bouncing in a mildly disturbing manner. Instead of firing dangerous explosive shells the tanks lobbed vegetables at each other, able to load potatoes or carrots; in a not-so-subtle dig at World of Tanks they also had health bars.

I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like

I’ve got a bike, you can ride it if you like

A fun gag, but a couple of battles were enough to get the joke, it wasn’t a mode I’d spend a great deal of time playing. The modellers have a commendable eye for detail, though; activating the X-ray style module viewer uncovered the bicycle powerplant of the vehicles, and close inspection revealed the gunner standing in the turret with a slingshot and a bucket of potatoes as his ammunition supply.

The second item, “March to Victory”, was teased beforehand with a mysterious silhouette on the War Thunder Facebook page. A Development Diary blog post fleshed out the (alternate) history of the ST-1 walking tank:

He do the song about the sweet lovin' woman, he do the song about the knife

He do the song about the sweet lovin’ woman, he do the song about the knife

In the game itself, a special event gave players a line-up of regular tanks and planes plus the ST-1 (or, for the Germans and Americans, the captured/evaluation version, the former thankfully not called “wanzers“). Using a point-based system everyone had to start out in tanks, but by securing objectives and getting kills then enough points could be earned to spawn a walker:

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds

The walkers were fantastic, very dieselpunk/Weird War II, garnering considerable interest in more permanent availability. I’d certainly love to see them put in another appearance, perhaps even (in the distant future) as the basis of a whole spin-off game, but just opening up the March to Victory event now and again or allowing players to set it up as a custom battle would be good.

All the old paintings on the tombs they do the sand dance, don't you know?

All the old paintings on the tombs they do the sand dance, don’t you know?

Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind

Fantasy RPGs are like buses, you wait two and a half years then three turn up at the same time, though technically one has been around for a year already but just dropped its subscription fee, and another one came out last year but I still haven’t finished it, and none of them are replacements for train services due to ongoing engineering works enhancing passenger accessibility, we apologise for the inconvenience. With hindsight the entire Fantasy RPG/bus comparison was fundamentally flawed from the start, but there seems to be a vacancy for a presenter on Top Gear so I’m trying to work in more automotive content, just go with it.

Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian’s Kickstarted spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale & co., was released last week; I even saw an actual boxed copy in GAME, after wandering past the shop and performing the traditional Inspection of the Shrinking PC Section (down to two shelf units now, one entirely devoted to game cards for F2P titles). PoE is universally acclaimed on Metacritic, and certainly filled me with the warm glow of nostalgia (much like the electrically heated front seat option on the new Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer 1.4i) during character creation. It looks fantastic, but upon finishing the prologue (or possibly just the introduction to the prologue) I decided that before embarking on a new big old epic fantasy RPG, I really ought to finish off Dragon Age: Inquisition, the slightly older big old epic fantasy RPG I haven’t quite got around to completing yet.

DA:I has a strong start, but bogs down a little if you spend too long doing simple box-ticking quests in The Hinterlands, picking up again as the story moves on after that. Being something of a completionist I was thoroughly investigating every zone, and got rather bogged down again (if only I’d opted for the Subaru Forester 2.0D XC with symmetrical all wheel drive and Lineartronic CVT). I was popping in most weekends for the multiplayer events, but as The Inquisitor couldn’t really be arsed to go and close more rifts or tidy up other MMO-esque busywork. Pillars of Eternity has given me the kick I needed to just get on and finish the story (I seem to be closing in on the final act) while I still have a fighting chance of remembering what’s going on; if I leave it too long, I fear the dramatic tension of the climactic confrontation could be slightly undercut as I nudge my companion and whisper “Who’s that again? And why does he want to kill us? And whose pig is this? Also are we an item, or was that in a different save game? Ow! Ow! Don’t be like that, of course I love you. I think. I could’ve sworn I picked the elf… Oh, you *are* the elf! Sorry, couldn’t tell with the helmet on. Ow! Ow! Look, can we talk about this later, this gentleman/sorcerer/demon is presumably trying to take over the world. Or destroy it. We’ve got to stop him, anyway. Or help him. Oh come on, someone must have been keeping notes…”

Completing the triumvirate, with The Elder Scrolls Online newly subscriptionless I thought I’d take another look at it; I say “another” look, my first glance on release didn’t even make it through the pre-order head start before I got distracted by something else. The introduction didn’t entirely grip me; there seemed to be good dollops of what Mark Kermode would call “hobbity tosh“; “… actors saying things like ‘The Narf is coming out of the tree followed by the Scrunt, but the Iggledy-Piggledy is hiding in the Biddly-Bong'”. Obviously a certain amount of that comes with the fantasy RPG territory, but for some reason it stuck out a bit more in TESO, possibly due to one of the key Basil Exposition figures being voiced by Michael Gambon (possibly driving a reasonably priced car). Once out in the main world I adopted my standard Elder Scrolls character, The Adventurer With A Five Second Attention Span. “I should investigate that temple? Of course, I shall go there immediately, straight to the tem… hello Mr Farmer. What’s that, you’ve lost your tools? Fear not, I can go and retrieve them from this… whoah, a spectral figure! Demonic books, you say? Crikey, I’d better hunt them down, I’ll just… yes, we should destroy those wards with all speed, lead on and… oh, wait, my backpack’s full of iron ore and insect parts and flowers and four identical iron swords and some cutlery and bread and a set of portraits of the Emperors of the Septim Dynasty, I’d better get back to town and find a shop, I really need a vehicle with exceptional boot space like the Mercedes E-class Estate.” I don’t think I’ve completed the main plot in an Elder Scrolls game yet (apart from possibly Daggerfall, I can’t remember how far I got there), I’m not sure I’ll get very much further in TESO. At least until I finish Dragon Age: Inquisition. And Pillars of Eternity. And, all being well, Series 23 of Top Gear.

In Memoriam Terry Pratchett

So. Farwell then Pterry.
Or should I say

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 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.