Nothing truly valuable can be achieved except by the unselfish cooperation of many individuals

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I was rather pleased to see the news of a co-operative multiplayer mode in the forthcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition as the multiplayer aspect of Mass Effect 3 turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. There was some debate at the time over whether the character building/progression in ME3 was too simplified, but I thought the combat system worked very well, being solid enough to stand on its own in the stripped-down wave-upon-wave-of-demented-avengers gameplay of the co-op mode, which in turn meant the battles you encountered throughout the single player story were enjoyable challenges rather than a chore. Well, mostly. The snippets of DA:I multiplayer looked pretty fast-paced and fun, it’ll be interesting to see how that carries over to (or is carried over from) the single player gameplay as I seem to recall suggestions that the combat would be more tactical than Dragon Age II.

The multiplayer aspect of Mass Effect 3 also worked well for DLC, from my perspective. I tend to play through story-driven games once, and if I picked them up at launch then by the time DLC packs roll around I’ve usually forgotten what happened in the plot and how to play my character, ending up like those people who always end up behind you in the cinema: “Who’s that again? Why is he so cross? Didn’t she die? Oh, no, I’m thinking of that other film aren’t I? Oh, look, it’s thingy from Coronation Street, you know, the one that married the other one! Ooh, nasty piece of work that one, don’t you trust them dearie!” I can take a decent run-up at a fairly chunky expansion, like the old Tales of the Sword Coast, or Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, but for a few side-missions somewhere in the middle of a story I’ve already finished (as I gather something like Omega is for ME3) it doesn’t really seem worth it. The multiplayer DLC packs, though, adding in new classes, weapons, gear and suchlike were a nice incentive to hop back in and mow through a few waves of mobs.

Of course the main reason I’m looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition is the hope that every conversation will start with your character having dialogue choices like…

“Nooooooooooobody expects the Inquisition! Our chief weapon is…

a. Surprise
b. Fear
c. Ruthless efficiency
d. An almost fanatical devotion to repeating this skit long after everyone else is really, really sick of it”

Posted by Zoso at 1:50 pm

Some kind of madness is starting to evolve

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Summertime Madness in War Thunder is having a good crack at living up to its name with the Hunting Frenzy phase of the event. To secure a Tier II premium plane you need to win 125 matches in a week. That’s quite a lot of matches, in case you were wondering; six hours of solid War Thunder every day for one plane, assuming an average of ten minutes per match and a 50% win rate, if my rough calculations are correct. If you want all five premium planes, well… more back-of-envelope jottings suggest that if you do nothing but play War Thunder for all seven days, without bothering about fripperies like “eating” and “sleeping”, you’ll be cognitively dysfunctional at best and possibly dead at the end of it. Remember to eat and sleep, kids. Meanwhile, our guinea pig will need to be maintaining a 62% win rate to earn all five planes, difficult enough even before factoring in sleep deprivation and hallucinations.

Predictably enough, after the initial excitement over the prizes mentioned in the Summer Madness announcement, some players expressed mild displeasure at the onerous requirements, in much the manner of a toddler throwing a tantrum after finding out that a promise of ice cream was contingent upon first tidying their room. I have to admit I’m slightly surprised at the effort required, Tier II premium planes aren’t terribly expensive to buy, and of limited use in earning research for high-tier planes (there’s a significant penalty when researching something more than one tier higher); I didn’t think they were going to be handed out like flyers for an Edinburgh fringe show, but I thought most players would have a good chance of earning one.

Having match wins as the requirement is also a bit unusual, with most previous events being kill-oriented. A requirement for kills certainly didn’t help with team play, with objectives being ignored and even more of an every-plane-for-itself attitude than usual, but at least it was something within your control. It’s enormously frustrating when, in a Domination match, you pull off an amazing 300mph airfield capture and knock out a couple of enemy aircraft before succumbing to overwhelming odds, then look around the map and see three quarters of your team chasing a single enemy bomber in the middle of nowhere while the enemy team leisurely recapture the airfield with no opposition. The event is limited to Tier II, III and IV aircraft as well, which rules out the old standby of grabbing starter biplanes and heading in to the typically much shorter matches that they enjoy. Requirements based on matches played, team wins and aircraft restrictions are understandable, but combined with the sheer numbers in question it becomes a massive time sink.

There are a few consolation prizes; reaching 25 wins at each eligible tier for each country earns a pile of silver lions and a chance at winning the premium plane in question in a raffle, so I’m plugging away at that, just playing Tier III Japan rather than flitting from country to country for the daily double experience. It’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of the event plays out, and what the requirements for the Tier IV premium aircraft might be…

Posted by Zoso at 4:24 pm

Summertime, and the grindin’ is easy

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School’s out for summer, and the weather is fine; long, hot days perfect for a picnic on the beach or chucking a ball around a park, kicking around a piece of ground in your home town, lazing on a sunny afternoon watching little fluffy clouds A time for holidays, getting away from it all, leaving technology behind.

Doesn’t that sound awful? Thankfully games companies are doing everything they can to keep us all beavering away in front of glowing screens devoting absurd amounts of time to earning digital tchotchkes. Steam kicked things off a bit early with its Summer Psychological Manipulation Sale, this year shoving everyone into a random coloured team in some sort of Five-Way Stanford Prison Buy Trading Cards And Make A Number Go Up Experiment; as Melmoth observed “Steam’s sale is now more of a game than the games it’s selling.”

Neverwinter is never (hah!) short of an event or two, recently celebrating an anniversary as well as indulging in assorted skirmishes, firework parties and suchlike. There’s usually a few cosmetics up for grabs, perhaps some themed consumables, often a green-quality companion, nothing too over-the-top but quite fun. This weekend is the Wonders of Gond, with a chance of earning a rather desirable purple-quality mount, though it does seem that an awful lot of grinding is required to refine an item to that point. I might’ve given it a bit of a go, if not for other games…

Over in the World of WarTankGaming, they’re also celebrating an anniversary, and handing out free tanks to all and sundry for the next week. TANKS very much, Wargaming! (Do you see what I did there?) A Tier II light tank might not be much, but hey, don’t look a gift tank in the barrel and all that, and there’s the garage slot if nothing else. There isn’t so much generosity in the skies in the EU, just some discounts in World of Warplanes (the US seem to be getting a free plane from the 8th), and the chance of a hanger slot if you complete a bunch o’ missions. A Tier VII Gloster Meteor seems more of a tempting reward, but just one of the tasks requires 250 wins at Tier IV or above, being in the top 10 XP earners for your team (presumably to avoid joining and immediately quitting/dying), no ta.

No, I think my grind of choice is going to be good old War Thunder, where there’s Summertime Madness!!!!! (I think they missed a trick not using five exclamation marks, a sure sign of madness.) Amongst assorted discounts and bonuses, the big draw is the chance to earn premium tanks or planes that normally have to purchased with real money. At this very moment you can earn a premium T-34-57 or Panzer IIIN by recording 90 kills using Russian or German tanks respectively, eminently achievable in a week if a bit of a slog. From August 4th – 10th there’s a Tier II premium aircraft for each country up for grabs, the mission details yet to be announced, but I’d hazard a wild guess it’ll involve shooting down a bunch o’ planes… Finally, from August 11th, the big stuff, Tier III and IV premiums including some very nice (and expensive) planes like the American Spitfire IX; I imagine these will have quite insane requirements like some of the more unusual rewards from last year’s Indian Summer event, but we’ll see.

Posted by Zoso at 2:40 am

We believe that when men reach beyond this planet, they should leave their differences behind them

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The cold, black years since the dying embers of the 20th Century have been a barren time for the space game enthusiast. Many placed themselves into the timeless slumber of stasis, preserved in pods, a sophisticated artificial intelligence left in place to monitor the sensors and awake the sleepers should a favourable home be found. Of course the AI immediately became corrupted by contradictory instructions/a sinister hacker/an alien broadcast, went rogue, shut off the life support of half the passengers and turned the other half into killer zombie-mutant-cyborgs, because that’s what AIs do, it’s almost like nobody had taken any notice of any sci-fi book, film or game. Fortunately a solitary hero overcame the nigh-insurmountable odds, shut down the AI (at least until the sequel) and reversed the zombie-mutant-cyborgification, setting the interstellar ark back on course under a much more basic autopilot whose source code definitely did not include comments like “/* Fairly sure this subroutine won’t cause genocidal insanity but double check before going live */”.

Fifteen years later, there are several promising blips on the space-game-radar: new games under development; the Oculus Rift offering the possibility of a fully immersive cockpit; an update for a patch to a fix for X Rebirth 2.0 Game Of The Year Edition… The two clearest contacts offering the most promise for sustenance are Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous, projects spearheaded by grizzled space-veterans Chris Roberts and David Braben. With initial thrust provided by Kickstarter they made it out of the earth’s atmosphere, the crowdfunding boosters dropping away as both games start to release playable elements, setting course for the mythical destination of An Actual Released Game.

Having two such promising games in development is a great situation. Healthy competition spurs development and discourages complacency, differences in emphasis allows players to gravitate towards the game most suited to their preferred style of play, and, most importantly, gamers can form themselves into two tribes, blindly worshipping one of the two games and hunting down treacherous unbelievers who dare speak positively of the other on official forums, unofficial forums, comment threads, or, after consuming sufficient quantities of special brew, in the queue at the post office and on benches in the local park. Roberts and Braben are at pains to stress the friendliness of the competition between their companies, both being backers of the other game and wishing each other success, but wouldn’t it have been fun if the overlapping Kickstarter projects had taken on some of the insanity of the forum zealots…

November 7th, 9am, new Star Citizen stretch goal: “We will add a new NPC, a washed-up alcoholic Commander, named after his favourite whiskey, who used to be a hot-shot pilot but got all obsessed with physics and boring and nobody likes him any more.”

November 7th, 3pm, new Elite: Dangerous stretch goal: “We will add a new NPC, Colonel Christopher ‘Callsign Blatantly Ripped Off From Top Gun’ Brown, who used to be a hot-shot pilot but got all obsessed with movies and made everyone watch a ten minute film before they could fly anywhere and nobody likes him any more.”

November 8th, 10am, new Star Citizen stretch goal: “Your starship will include a full copy of Elite: Dangerous running its navigation console if you want to play it. Which you won’t. Because even just flying through space in Star Citizen will be, like, loads better.”

November 8th, 2pm, new Elite: Dangerous stretch goal: “An expanded galaxy featuring billions of star systems, each modelled in incredible detail, featuring countless fully populated planets. And on not a single one of those planets did the Star Citizen Kickstarter meet its goals.”

November 8th, 4pm, new Star Citizen stretch goal: “If we reach this target, we’ll just buy Frontier Developments and sack the lot of them, muahahahaha!”

November 9th, 7am, new Elite: Dangerous stretch goal: “If we reach this target, we’ll donate the additional money to Cloud Imperium Games, and they’ll get so stupidly overambitious that the game won’t be released until 2094″

November 9th, 7.30am, new Star Citizen stretch goal: “Yeah, whatevs. With that much backing we’ll give every one of our players an actual working spaceship in 2094.”

November 9th, 8am, new Elite: Dangerous stretch goal: “Yeah, right, like you could actually… hang on, where have all our backers gone?”

November 9th, 8.01am, “Huh, everyone’s withdrawing their pledges, what the…”

November 9th, 8.02am, “Oh, god, Molyneux’s set up a Kickstarter.”

November 9th, 8.05am, “… fly through both all of space and all of not space creating and destroying and ignoring entire civilisations and galaxies and universes and blocks of cheese… oh come on, everyone knows Kickstarter projects are stupidly overhyped and can never live up to the pitch, why are people backing that?”

November 9th, 8.07am, “Pff. No accounting for taste. Shall we go down the pub?”

November 9th, 8.08am, “Yeah, all right.”

November 9th, 9am, new Elite: Dangerous stretch goal: “Seven pints of bitter, two bottles of lager and a Diet Coke”

November 9th, 9.01am, new Star Citizen stretch goal: “And a bag of peanuts.”

Posted by Zoso at 2:48 pm

Geoffrey Wellum at Chalke Valley History Festival

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QJK

My personal highlight of the Chalke Valley History Festival was seeing Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC in conversation with James Holland. The two first met when Holland was writing a book about the Battle of Britain and seeking pilots to interview; Wellum had jotted some memoirs in the 1970s, not particularly intended for publication, and after the interview offered a chapter he thought might be of interest. Recognising the quality of the writing it didn’t take long for a book deal to be offered from Penguin, and First Light was published in 2002. It’s a terrific book that starts with Wellum, aged seventeen and a half, attending an RAF selection board in March 1939; fourteen months later he’s posted to 92 Squadron with 168 hours of flying under his belt (95 solo), never having seen a Spitfire, let alone flown one. The next day the squadron is in combat over Dunkirk and loses several pilots, including the commanding officer.

There’s a brief respite after Dunkirk as the squadron moves to Wales, at least allowing some time to get familiar with the Spitfire, before they move to Biggin Hill in September 1940, right at the heart of the Battle of Britain. Wellum’s description of his first combat mission is particularly gripping, with the squadron thrown into a raid of more than 150 German aircraft; a head-on pass through the bombers, picking off a straggler, a probable kill but focused too hard on the target, bounced by an enemy fighter, desperate manoeuvring to escape, finally home, damaged but alive. As the Battle of Britain winds down at the end of 1940 the squadron move on to offensive operations over France in 1941, until eventually a posting to an Operational Training Unit to pass on hard-won skills to new pilots brings some respite, but also a sense of despair, being past it, a “worn-out bloody fighter pilot at twenty years of age”.

Wellum returns to operations in early 1942, first with 65 Squadron flying over France again, then finds himself on the aircraft carrier HMS Furious. Malta has been under siege since 1940 and is critically short of supplies; fuel, ammunition, aircraft, food, beer! Operation Pedestal is a an effort to resupply the island, a convoy of fourteen merchant ships with a formidable escort including two battleships and three aircraft carriers; Furious will fly off land-based Spitfires to reinforce the Malta squadrons. Nerves aren’t helped as another carrier, HMS Eagle, is torpedoed as the Spitfires are taking off, but the flight make it to Malta safely. Over the next few days the convoy is hammered by German and Italian aircraft, torpedo boats and submarines; four battered merchant ships make it through, and, barely, the tanker Ohio, just enough to sustain the island.

Wellum himself is also in a poor state, suffering severe headaches while flying; an X-ray reveals fluid around the eyes, chronic sinusitis. A rather unpleasant business with what looks like a long sharp knitting needle resolves the immediate issue, but a subsequent check-up reveals he is “absolutely played out mentally and physically, no reserves left”. The book ends with an epilogue, Wellum passed fit to fly again, on secondment to the Gloster Aircraft Company and about to climb in to a Typhoon as a production test pilot.

Reading an overview of the Battle of Britain it’s easy to be swept along in statistics, sorties flown, victories, losses, tons of bombs dropped; First Light is deeply personal, taking you right into the cockpit of the Spitfire, giving a brief glimpse of how life was. The BBC made a film of it in 2010 for the 70th anniversary of the battle, I missed it at the time but must get around to picking up the DVD. The book is certainly well worth a read, and I was keen to get a chance to see the author in person.

At Chalke Valley, the tent is packed for the talk. At 92, Wellum is still sharp and clear, a very engaging speaker, self-effacing and funny; there is a lot of laughter throughout the event, often prompted by wonderfully British understatement. Holland starts with a quick overview of how First Light came about, with the effort to find Wellum to offer him the publication deal ending with him being tracked down by a phone call to the local pub! A quick run-through of initial training, and a question on how pilots were selected for fighters, bombers or other aircraft: “They probably thought I was too irresponsible to have a crew, if I was going to kill anyone I could kill myself, not take a crew with me!”

Moving on to 1940, and being posted to 92 Squadron, Holland asks about the Commanding Officer at the time, Roger Bushell; Wellum relates how Bushell was shot down over France the day after he arrived and taken prisoner, later to organise the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III only to be murdered by the Gestapo after being recaptured. 70 years on, there is still clear and understandable anger.

Happier memories, first flight in a Spitfire; characteristic humour after a run-through of the controls, the instructor about to jump down off the wing: “Don’t go anywhere for a minute… how do you start it?” A sense of immense power after the Harvard trainer, “hanging on for grim death!” Wellum’s account of his first encounter with the Luftwaffe is even more compelling first-hand, emerging from cloud to confront 150 enemy aircraft, feeling it was “a bloody stupid place to be”! There’s a brief discussion of tactics, the RAF still using the tight Vic formation, not adopting the more effective “finger four” (nothing rude, a formation where, if you lay your hand flat, each plane is positioned on the tip of a finger) until after the Battle of Britain; Wellum points out that the Luftwaffe had rather a head start from the Spanish Civil War, giving them the opportunity to develop the Messerschmitt 109 both technically and tactically in actual combat even before the first production flight of the Hawker Hurricane. Apologising for stepping on his soapbox for a moment he was emphatic that we won the Battle of Britain, it wasn’t a draw, it was the first time the Germans had been stopped, prompting a hearty round of applause; I’m not sure if that was in response to anyone in particular, there was a fine BBC programme recently about Eric “Winkle” Brown (who was at last year’s Chalke Valley festival), in which he talked about interviewing Göring who declared the battle a draw, oddly enough.

92 Squadron had something of a wild reputation around Biggin Hill, not something dwelt on in the book; Holland briefly hints toward it:
JH: “And after a day’s flying, perhaps you’d go to the White Hart?”
GW: “Yes”
JH: “After every day’s flying?”
GW: “Yes”
JH: “Perhaps drink a little too much?”
GW: “Yes. This is easy, isn’t it?”
*laughter*

It’s impossible to imagine the strain, flying multiple sorties a day, losing friends and colleagues on an almost daily basis, no great need to dig too deeply into what it took to get through a time like that; with a brief allusion to some interesting sounding “parties”, they decide they ought to move on…

Reaching 1942 and the operation to Malta, Wellum recalls going to check over his plane in the hanger to find an armourer unloading the ammunition from his guns.
“What’s all this about, then?”
“Cigarettes, sir”
“Cigarettes?”
“Yes sir, they’re awfully short on the island, so we’re going to fill the ammunition boxes with cigarettes.”
Thankfully there aren’t any enemy aircraft as they come in to land, as they couldn’t have done anything about them anyway!

There’s a nice long opportunity for questions and answers at the end of the session. Some questions can be a little disjointed or rambling; “What’s the précis of that, James?” Fortunately Holland is a dab hand at paraphrasing, every query yields further interesting answers. Someone asks how he used his experience when he became an instructor at an Operational Training Unit, he explains that the training programme at the time was fine for teaching students to fly, but not to fight; he’d had no combat training before being posted to his squadron, never fired his guns, hadn’t been taught how to properly use the reflector sight, so he tried to teach his pupils to use their aeroplane as a weapon. Asked if he’d had a chance to fly a Spitfire since the war he replies that indeed he had, a few years ago in a two-seater; once up in the air the pilot in the front seat asked if he’d like to take control, he answered in the affirmative. “Are you sure?” said the pilot. “Oh yes” replied Wellum; “are you sure?” After all the years, he said it was like he’d never been away; testament, I think, to both the man and the machine. Had he met any German pilots after the war? Yes, a few; he didn’t seem too keen on Adolf Galland, but talked more warmly about Gunther Rall. A lady in the crowd says that her father desperately wanted to be a fighter pilot but his work on aero engines at Rolls-Royce was deemed essential and he wasn’t allowed to join the RAF; Wellum is thankful, as the Merlin engine never let him down, no matter how much he thrashed it in combat, a tribute to the Rolls-Royce team.

On the differences between flying in Malta and England, Malta was tougher; the heavy bombing, the heat, and the lack of supplies (more difficult to get hold of beer!) Someone asks if it’s not true that the Luftwaffe found that best way to attack bombers wasn’t from above and behind, but from underneath; “I wouldn’t know about that, I wasn’t a German and I wasn’t shooting at Lancasters!” His technique was more just to “get in and at ‘em”. There’s a question about ammunition; after unsuccessful trials with 19 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, 92 Squadron received cannon-armed Spitfires just after the battle, and resolved most of the issues by rotating the cannon mounting, the additional power of the cannon was appreciated, though the early versions only carried 60 rounds per gun. Asked about differences between Spitfires, Wellum said he hadn’t flown any of the Griffon-engined variants, his favourite was probably the Mark XVI, with cut-down fuselage and clipped wings; he was fond of the Mark VB, but it was a little outclassed at times.

I would’ve liked to ask about his time testing Typhoons, or the rest of his RAF career (he stayed in the service until 1961), I’ve been able to find very little about that; perhaps it just doesn’t compare to 1940. Time flies by and I don’t get the chance, many hands are still raised but things have to be wrapped up to give a quick chance for signing books before getting out to see the flying display from a P-51 Mustang. A thunderous standing ovation, and we file out into the warm Wiltshire sun. Wonderful.

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC

Posted by Zoso at 2:22 pm

Chalke Valley History Festival 2014

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Chalke Valley History Festival is, as could be surmised from the name, a week-long history festival held on a farm in Wiltshire’s Chalke Valley, combining historical talks and presentations with living history encampments spanning the centuries from Anglo-Saxons to World War II. We’d thoroughly enjoyed the event last year, after finding out about it the day before, and with sufficient forewarning booked tickets in advance for a couple of talks this year.

Wandering around the site we happened across a column of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons waiting for troops of the American Revolutionary War to clear the arena (a noteworthy occurrence anywhere else, just another day at Chalke Valley), and needing to make a bit more room for a gun carriage they started shuffling backwards. One wag at the front called out “Beep! Beep! Beep!”, and soon the whole lot were beeping along to the cry of “Attention! These Vikings are reversing!” Once in the arena, they set about each other with sword and axe:

Skol, Skol, Skol, Skol...

Skol, Skol, Skol, Skol…

The day was punctuated with fly-pasts from classic warbirds. Unfortunately the scheduled Spitfire PR XIX was unable to fly, but an extra display from a P-51 Mustang from the Hanger 11 collection wasn’t a bad replacement:

P-51 Jumpin' Jacques

P-51 Jumpin’ Jacques

Hurricane R4118 has had a rather tough life, being shot down during the Battle of Britain, suffering a few prangs when used in Operational Training Units, then used for engineering instruction in India. Painstaking restoration work has brought her back to flying condition with impressive results:

Hawker Hurricane Mk I

Hawker Hurricane Mk I

Last but by no means least, Sally B, the only flying B-17 in the UK (don’t worry, the smoke is part of the display):

B-17 Sally B

B-17 Sally B

Giving impressive displays throughout the day were Destrier, demonstrating the skills and armour of medieval knights. In the morning, skill at arms: male and female riders dishing out violence to unfortunate fruit and veg, setting about cabbages and apples with sword, axe and warhammer, quite a sight as they thundered past at speed. They also picked up rings with light lances, flung javelins at targets and a straw-stuffed Yorkist (bonus points for an amusing kill), and hunted boar from horseback (just a dummy, no animals were harmed during the making of this festival).

How To Defend Yourself Against Fresh Fruit

How To Defend Yourself Against Fresh Fruit

A second presentation showcasing armour of the period in fascinating detail built up to the grand finale, jousting. No script or hokey story, just the spectacle of fully armoured riders thundering towards each other, quite amazing.

It's Only A Flesh Wound

It’s Only A Flesh Wound

Thing didn’t quite finish according to plan with dented armour, trouble with a caparison and a skittish replacement horse conspiring to prevent the final rounds to determine the grand champion, but the eloquent and witty master of ceremonies managed to hold everything together despite the unprecedented setbacks. Dispersing, we followed a German mortar platoon, who set themselves up for a Normandy ambush in the main area, which looked set to be quite a spectacle, though we had to head off before it got underway.

Mort 'ar?  I hardly know 'ar!

Mort ‘ar? I hardly know ‘ar!

Unquestionably, though, the highlight of the day was a talk from Geoffrey Wellum, a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot, which deserves a post of its own that should be coming soon!

Posted by Zoso at 7:13 pm

The football it has taken away the little bit of sense he had

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I haven’t played World of Tanks for a while, but with the start of the four-yearly Cue To Start A Comment Thread War Over The Preferred Shortened Form Of ‘Association Football’ (known as the ‘World Cup’ in some circles), Wargaming have added a fun little event…

come on football - i hope that our football team gets the points that they require

come on football – i hope that our football team gets the points that they require

Translating foot-to-ball into the rather more exciting armoured warfare variant “tank-to-ball”, all WoT players have been given a special T-62 Sport. Entering battle with this vehicle, two teams of three face off against each other, attempting to push or shoot the giant tank-ball into a goal. Tanks can’t be destroyed, but hitting an opponent’s tracks will briefly disable them:

it is a good job that he has got plastic shin sheets on the bottom of his legs or he would have to be carried home in a wheelchair

it is a good job that he has got plastic shin sheets on the bottom of his legs or he would have to be carried home in a wheelchair

Delicate touches are tricky to pull off with 39 long tons of steel plated fury, so matches can bog down into a bit of an Eton wall game-esque stalemate:

what is wrong referee is your throat flute poisoned or something just have a blow on it for once in your life

what is wrong referee is your throat flute poisoned or something just have a blow on it for once in your life

Ball control via cannon fire appears to be the key skill for tank-ball, being responsible for most of the goals I’ve seen so far. Just be prepared if your team does score, the ball respawns on halfway almost immediately so some frantic defensive realignment may be required.

he striked that one like he was kicking a ball at a prison

he striked that one like he was kicking a ball at a prison

I’ll wager that you’re mightily impressed by the in-depth football knowledge I’ve displayed in the captions of the screenshots, but I’ll let you into a little secret… I didn’t really know very much until I read this excellent guide. If you’re going to try a few rounds of tank-to-ball, you should try and remember a few phrases and use them in chat – lets get this event started, i am enjoying myself!

Posted by Zoso at 9:09 am

Gaming Diary – Defiance

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I picked up Defiance when it launched last year, but didn’t get much further than the starting missions. It wasn’t terrible by any means, a solid enough MMOTPS, but other shooters proved a bit more compelling at the time, particularly Planetside 2 which I was playing quite heavily then. I caught the first few episodes of the TV show and it, too, was solid enough, but with time being irritatingly finite it wasn’t at the top of the list of Stuff To Definitely Watch Right Now, the episodes started stacking up on the PVR and eventually got cleared off to make room.

Planetside 2 had a good old run; even after peak playing-most-days-enthusiasm it was still fun to log in on a Friday with the Five Rounds Rapid outfit and rumble around Auraxis in an armoured convoy singing Jungle Book songs, but with newer, shinier temptations like The Elder Scrolls Online the outfit drifted a bit, and I was fading myself. Despite ordering TESO, and at least making a start on the tutorial during head start, I was away for the official launch, and just haven’t got around to activating the full game since; I can’t really put a finger on why. Instead, when a few of the other FRRers headed for Defiance I thought I’d dust it off and give it another go, and it’s grabbed me a lot more this time around.

A particularly good first impression was the ease of playing with other people. Though the interface in general is rather awkward, presumably due to being a multi-platform game, once you’ve cudgelled it into letting you add someone as a friend then the “Go To Friend” option immediately takes you to their location, no hanging around trying to get everyone in the same place. Once you’re there you can pitch in with whatever they’re doing (typically the usual MMO staples of Killing Some Monster Things, or Clicking Some Glowing Things, or Clicking Some Glowing Things Then Killing Some Monster Things While A Progress Bar Goes Up Or Down) with no issues of quest sharing, kill stealing or the like. Levels (or “EGO Rating”) don’t seem to be a problem, players or mobs are scaled such that a disparate group can all contribute; other than in fairly exceptional circumstances we haven’t bumped into overwhelmingly powerful or trivially easy encounters. The fixed group size of four is a minor irritation, particularly for co-op maps (instanced encounters, broadly similar to a “dungeon”), other than that it’s admirably suited to casual drop-in-and-out group play.

There are obvious similarities between Defiance and Borderlands; weapons of various classes (pistols, SMGs, shotguns, assault rifles etc.) drop in white/green/blue/purple/orange flavours with varying stats, weapons can have “nano-effects” such as electricity for greater shield damage, you get a single activateable power (cloak, overcharge, decoy, blur), etc. You can also draw comparisons with Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; there’s a central cut-scene driven storyline to follow, but when you pull up the map there’s a plethora of side missions, events and challenges to take part in. Driving is the main method of moving around, though with the lack of convenient sports cars to jack in the devastated future you have to spawn your own vehicle. Some of the missions are for a single person, courses to race around as fast as possible or timed rampage-type fights against waves of mobs, other events can draw crowds of players, most notably the Arkfalls, scaling public-quest-type-things along the lines of the titular rifts in Trion’s previous MMO.

The game-specific main story involves chasing some sort of MacGuffin because of Some Plot, I haven’t been paying too much attention if I’m entirely honest. There are also “Episode” missions that more directly link to events in the TV series, initially time-limited so you progressed at the same pace as the show but later opened up for people who’d missed out; it was neat to bump into digital versions of some of the characters I just about remembered, but it doesn’t make for a particularly cohesive narrative. The tie-in reminds me a little of the physical comic books that accompanied City of Heroes for a while, interesting for a bit of shared backstory, but not really a transcendent pan-media experience greater than the sum of its parts; in general I found it hard to reconcile nuanced character-driven plots with my own deeply moving story of Shooting A Metric Fuckton Of Mobs Looking For Big Guns. I posted about the problem with story in MMOs before, particularly in relation to Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Defiance has that same disconnect between repeatable MMO content and more linear story elements.

I can’t speak for potential longevity or how things are at the end game, but I’d say it’s worth a look if you fancy a bit of online multiplayer shooting. It’s just gone free to play, if box cost was an issue before, with a fairly standard looking model (limited character, inventory slots for free players, a premium option to boost gains during play etc.), seems to be pretty reasonable, I’ll have to see if it makes much of a difference in the long term.

Posted by Zoso at 4:16 pm

Gaming Diary: Neverwinter

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Also holding an event last weekend was Neverwinter, with the Coins of Waukeen. All mobs had a chance of dropping a coin purse that could be opened for a variety of shiny baubles or exchanged for larger treasure chests containing even shinier baubles, and if there’s one thing I like more than shiny baubles it’s even shinier baubles, so I thought I’d potter around and try and collect up a few.

I had got quite into Neverwinter, working through the various zones and running all manner of skirmishes and dungeons, but had run out of steam around level 53. As per an old post (Heavens to Murgatroyd, seven years?) I prefer games that are structured but free-form, and Neverwinter is perhaps a touch heavy on the structure. Every zone seemed to be Go To Quest Hub A, Do X Quests (Kill Y Mobs or Collect Z Things), Go To Quest Hub B, Repeat, interspersed with an occasional visit to a solo dungeon to kill a boss-type-thing. Some of the story threads running through zones are quite interesting but they’re very linear and I didn’t really feel terribly personally involved, more like observing a series of vignettes than really participating, Dragon’s Lair with Killing X Mobs instead of pressing a button as the “quick” time events between each scene. The release of the big Curse of Icewind Dale expansion/module wasn’t of immediate interest either, being aimed at characters already well into the end game, so I hadn’t been seriously playing for a while.

In other news, I hit level 60 (the cap) in Neverwinter the other day. Despite not going out questing I still logged in most days to Invoke (an in-game action that earns experience and various currencies) and send off various minions to perform crafting actions, a system with some similarities to duty officers in Star Trek Online. I’m not entirely sure why, apart from that most primal compulsion to Click Things To Make Numbers Go Up, but it became a bit of a habit, and between the Invoking XP and the Leadership profession I gained the final 7-odd levels without leaving town. The Coins of Waukeen event prompted me to actually go off and do some proper Using Abilities To Cause Damage, so first stop was the auction house to replace my obsolete gear. The levelling part of Neverwinter is comparatively brief (as demonstrated by my idle XP gains) and level 60 loot drops plentifully, so a full set of blue weapons and armour were incredibly cheap. Next stop, the level 60 campaigns: Sharandar and The Dread Ring. I gather these were the first two expansions for the game and, again, broadly comprise zones with various quest hubs, but geared towards repeatable content. A “Campaigns” window of the interface gives a flow-chart-esque overview of the progression; do a certain thing three times, unlock another thing, do that seven times, etc. Daily quests at the hubs award the myriad tokens and tchotchkes that contribute to these unlocks: seeds, sparks, scrolls, socks, sandwiches, the currency systems of the Forgotten Realms really are a mess, the sooner everyone starts accepting credit cards the better. Over the weekend I dipped a toe into both the campaigns, earning a couple of boons to boost my character’s stats and a pile of coin purses along the way in which I found a nice pile of Astral Diamonds (yet another currency) and, most importantly, a pair of Gold Pantaloons.

There’s plenty to like in the game; combat is dynamic and fast-paced, and though you can get into a bit of a rut using particular rotations of abilities, positioning and movement is still important so it’s seldom just case of standing around and hitting the number keys. There’s plentiful solo content if you don’t fancy teaming up, and group opportunities if you do. Low level skirmishes and dungeons were quick affairs that didn’t need too much co-ordination, and were quick to get into via the group finder; approaching level 60 they get more challenging, the queues get longer, and the few that I tried with PUGs ranged from painfully lengthy battles of attrition to desperately hanging on to the coat-tails of a massively over-geared player soloing everything in their path. I imagine they offer a reasonable challenge for an organised group, the issue being the more fundamental one of group finding systems and PUGs than the game itself, and if I were really keen to get more involved then finding a like-minded guild would doubtless pay considerable dividends; there’s even an area, Gauntlgrym, only accessible to suitable affiliated guild members. There are PvP options if you’re interested; I fear they suffer from the usual difficulties of balancing stat/gear/build-heavy mechanics, but have only tried a few low-level matches so couldn’t say for sure. If you’re after a wide open world with freedom to roam then it’s certainly not going to be your cup of tea, if the idea of a more distilled Essence of MMO Progression appeals then it’s worth a look. I’m not sure I’ll seriously throw myself into the end-game, but might well chip away at the campaigns now and again and pop in for events.

Posted by Zoso at 10:54 am

Gaming Diary: War Thunder

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I do like a bit of an event in games and War Thunder held a “100K Festival” last weekend to celebrate 100,000 concurrent players, handing out 100 Gold Eagles for every 100 kills (to a maximum of 1,000) and 100,000 Silver Lions for 10 victories. 1,000 Gold Eagles aren’t to be sniffed at, but even when recklessly going for death or glory (or cake) it’s difficult to average more than one kill per minute of game time, and, splendid as War Thunder is, it gets quite tiring after a couple of hours let alone 17. Fairly normal play with a couple of matches per country per day at least netted 100 Eagles, better than a poke in the eye with a pointed stick, and I rounded things out with a few Reserve biplane matches just to get up to 10 victories – the matches are nice and short to start with, going all-out for ground targets stands a good chance of boosting your team to victory, and you don’t need to feel too guilty about strafing AI armoured cars and emplacements.

If a couple of hours of War Thunder gets tiring, a 72 hour non-stop round the world (simulated) flight would be the act of a madman. A madman like Zeke from Iron Man Mode, who did just that. I popped along to his stream a few times over the weekend, a fine distraction while grinding away at game events with its mix of sleep-deprived piloting, live music, quizzes and cat food. Many congratulations to everyone involved, raising over $2,000 for Child’s Play, it’s not too late to pop over and donate to boost that total even more (unless you’ve just unearthed this post as part of a curious digital archaeological expedition in the year 3073 when poverty has been eliminated, in which case it probably is too late. But well done on the whole utopian future thing.)

Away from the big festival, some of the How To Murder Time posse have also been Thundering in a War-like fashion. It can be something of a challenge to get ten or eleven people playing together as in-game groups are limited to four players, to prevent organised teams completely dominating random matches, but Custom Missions work rather well. You can choose the game mode, mission type, map, number of players/bots etc., allowing everyone to shoot the bally heck out of each other without interference from random strangers (don’t forget to set a password on the Custom Mission if you don’t want anyone else dropping by!), or to team up and shoot the bally heck out of some hapless AI opposition. They’re also an excellent training venue, you can pick an appropriate map to practise various aspects of the game like landing on airfields, torpedo attacks or (most importantly) activating coloured aerobatic smoke and making pretty patterns in the sky.

You really have to play the standard PvP matches to earn resources and unlock new aircraft, though, so we also try and form up two or three teams with similar Battle Ratings and have the squad leaders simultaneously click the “To Battle” button, something of a challenge in itself…
“OK, after three, click ‘To Battle’. One, two…”
“On three, or after three?”
“After three. Three, then click. Right. One, two, three, To Battle!”
“One two three two?”
“No, one two three *to*, tee oh, to battle…”
“OK, I’ve clicked To Battle!”
“No! After three!”
“Five, sir!”
(etc)

Results are somewhat mixed, but we generally have a reasonable chance of ending up in the same match, albeit usually on opposing teams, rendering Cunning Plans on the shared voice server somewhat less cunning…
“Don’t tell the other team, but I’m going to attack the left hand bombing target!”
“Hey, chief; I might be wrong, but I think some of the enemy might be coming to bomb our right hand target…”

With Ground Forces moving into open beta I’ve clanked around in a few tank battles, nothing terribly serious; they’re fun enough but I think flying will remain as my primary focus in the game. I’ve updated the Beginner’s Guide with a very rudimentary guide on getting into a tank battle, starting with some Fascinating Tank Facts:

“Aeroplanes, invented by Ian Aeroplane in 1903, really caught on with the military in World War I, initially for reconnaissance, then for bombing and ground attack. One area in which they didn’t fare well was trench warfare, where manhandling bulky aircraft “over the top” then pushing them through no man’s land towards enemy trenches proved rather ineffective, so in 1916 Ian Tank had the idea of taking an aeroplane, removing the wings and propeller, and adding armour plating and caterpillar tracks to create the vehicle that bore his name: the Armoured Fighting Ian. The British government wished to hide the true nature of these new vehicles, though, so created a cover story that hundreds of sweater vests were being sent to the troops, with shipping crates stencilled appropriately, and the nickname stuck.”

Disclaimer: Fascinating Tank Facts may be neither Fascinating nor Facts. Your results may be at risk if you use these facts in a school assignment. Terms and conditions do not apply.
Posted by Zoso at 12:34 pm
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