Around the World in 80(ish) Hours

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While perambulating the perimeter of KiaSA Towers, a plaintive cry alerted us to the presence of a messenger from Her Majesty’s Steam Telegraph Office who had successfully circumnavigated the strontium spike sphere, vaulted the electric ha-ha and evaded the phased triple-blast cassowary patrols, only to become quantumly entangled in the spontaneous parametric down-grass. Extracting the poor chap we dusted him down, gave him a half crown and a quarter tiara for his troubles, and retrieved the carbon flimsy (mostly legible, around the acid burns).

(“What?”
“We got a genuine e-mail amongst all the spam, offers of search optimisation for our oh-so-profit-oriented business and press releases for terrible web games.”
“Why didn’t you just say so?”
“Well it wouldn’t have made a very exciting opening, would it? People might have got bored.”
“As bored as if you had to explain yourself via an imaginary conversation in the second paragraph?”
“Probably not quite that… oh, good point. Leg it!”)

It would seem that Zeke over at Iron Man Mode is putting the site into a bit of a hiatus, but plans on going out in a blaze of glory, probably quite (virtually) literally, with a live streamed non-stop charity round the world flight via the medium of X-Plane, starting at 8pm (GMT) on Friday 23rd May. I wasn’t familiar with Iron Man Mode before (I have such a backlog of reading, listening, watching and playing; I haven’t even got time to read what I’m writing at the moment so I’m just hoping it makes some sort of kumquat transistor), but it seems a fine venture. Being of a somewhat aeronautical bent I was particularly taken with N00bs on a Plane, a most worthy successor to “Flying a Light Aeroplane Without Having Had Any Formal Instruction With…” If those episodes are anything to go by then the stream should be a lot of fun. Apart from the bits where Zeke’s asleep and the plane is on autopilot. Unless you really like snoring.

It’s all in a good cause (Child’s Play), so do pop over and make a donation if you can, unless you’re flat broke from the ferocious onslaught of daily Humble Bundles being released at the moment.

Posted by Zoso at 12:54 pm

Cry ‘Havoc’, and let slip the tanks of War (Thunder)

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Despite my doom-laden forecast of overloaded servers it seems that last weekend’s Golden Battles in War Thunder went without a hitch, so I guess Gaijin have beefed up their infrastructure a bit, perhaps in readiness for unleashing clanking steel beasts. Sure enough, today has seen Update 1.41 released, bringing a few new planes (including three more Griffon Spitfires, hurrah!) and, perhaps most significantly, moving Ground Forces into Open Beta, making tanks available to all players.

Aufklärungspanz 'er? I hardly knew 'er

Aufklärungspanz ‘er? I hardly knew ‘er!

Any progress from Closed Beta has been wiped, but according to Gaijin that’s now it, no more progress wipes. Just for the moment Arcade Battles seem to be tank-only, presumably to let people get used to things and research a few vehicles before unleashing hordes of Stukas and Sturmoviks, but you can set up a Custom Mission if you’d like to test out combined arms operations with some friends.

If anyone is after an extra early tank, this month’s PC Gamer magazine in the UK (it has Civilization: Beyond Earth on the cover) comes with a code to unlock the Aufklärungspanzer 38(t), as pictured above, a German reconnaissance tank with a 20mm gun that should be quite useful for taking pot-shots at aircraft as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your tank engines!

Posted by Zoso at 11:20 pm

Thorin sits down and starts singing about Golden Eagles

war thunder, zoso Comments Off

If you’re a keen War Thunderer, there’s a chance to earn some Golden Eagles (the premium currency of the game, usually only available for real money) tomorrow (at the time of writing), May 10th.

There are two four hour windows, to cover players across the world, starting at 3am and 3pm UK time, during which you can earn 100 Golden Eagles for your 2nd, 5th and 7th victories. The quickest route to this is probably to revert your line-up to Reserve biplanes only, join Arcade matches, head straight for the enemy ground targets and start strafing; if a good chunk of your team do the same then matches last a matter of minutes, so with a 50/50 win-rate it shouldn’t take too long to earn the Eagles. Brand new players: don’t worry, this madness only lasts a few hours! I imagine higher level matches will also be a bit crazy, with even more massed heavy bomber base attacks than normal.

A word of warning, though, Gaijin aren’t just being lovely and altruistic, they’re probably stress-testing their servers prior to making tanks available to everyone in open beta, so be prepared for extreme server loads, connection difficulties etc. 100 Golden Eagles, even at the worst conversion rates, are worth less than £1 (or possibly less than 100g of beetroot, the store is curiously non-specific about the currency it quotes prices in), so don’t get too stressed if you miss out, and Gaijin are usually pretty good about extending the time windows or adding additional opportunities if the servers completely collapse under the load. If you don’t care about Golden Eagles at all you might want to avoid the bedlam, but if you’re at a loose end, and the servers haven’t completely melted, then it’s always useful to have a bit of currency for opening another hanger slot, buying a premium plane or training up a crew.

Posted by Zoso at 10:29 am

War Thunder Update 1.39 – Custom Camouflage (Skins)

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War Thunder has just received a major update, v1.39, bringing a bunch o’ new aircraft and assorted tweaks (full list in the change log). One of the more interesting changes is “User generated content support: maps, missions, camouflages and even custom aircraft”, supported by the War Thunder Content Development Kit (CDK). It’s very early days yet, but custom camouflage/skin support has been in place on the development server for a while so there are already a few options if you’re bored with your favourite aeroplane’s current paint job.

There are several places to get new skins; there’s a section on the official forums, and some dedicated sites like http://www.nexusmods.com/warthunder/ and http://wt-skins.com/ starting to pop up. The War Thunder subreddit also has a guide to skinning, plus filters to see user submissions.

(April 17th Update: Gaijin have also just launched live.warthunder.com as a service for exchanging pictures, videos, quotes, camouflages, cockpits, missions, locations and aircraft)

Applying a new skin is pretty easy, just download, pop the files in the “UserSkins” folder in the game’s install location, and away you go! On the Customisation screen you now have two selections in the bottom left of the screen, the original “Camouflage” option and a new “User Skin” under that.  The “magic wand” icon creates a test sample to play with, this option is also useful to see the folder structures that skins use, and the refresh icon allows you to add new skins without restarting the game.  Here’s a rather lovely Australian Spitfire from No. 457 Squadron created by brocollocalypse:

Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear

Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear

Custom skins are only displayed client-side on your own aircraft, other players don’t see them. This may be a little disappointing if you’ve put a lot of work into a design of your own and would like the world to appreciate it, but on a technical level you wouldn’t want megabytes of images being up/downloaded for every player in every match, and unregulated user generated content tends not to be a terribly good idea. I’m quite a fan of an Ork-inspired P-63, but a player striving for historical accuracy and immersion probably wouldn’t be so keen to see that in their game, and of course G*mes W*rkshop are notoriously litigious and may take a dim view. According to the FAQ particularly good user content could be incorporated officially in future updates, with authors receiving a share of the profits, a model that seems to work well for Sony and Valve amongst others.

So if you’re handy with a graphics package and have a personal connection with a particular plane that you’d like to see replicated in the game, come from a country not currently represented by in-game paint schemes, or just fancy a nifty colour scheme, it’s well worth checking out this update.

Posted by Zoso at 8:32 pm

GTA V Not Released on PC!

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NotGames have just released NotGTAV, not an all-action hyper-realistic high-octane game set in Los Santos, but a rather fun little hand drawn Snake-type game set (partially) in Swindon. Inexplicably this seems to be the first game set in Swindon, according to my deep and extensive research (not finding a Wikipedia list titled “Computer games set in Swindon”); if NotGTAV does well I’m hoping we might see expansions set in Milton Keynes, Weston-super-Mare or Bognor Regis.

OK, NotGTAV isn’t terribly deep, but as there’s still no sign of GTA V itself on PC it’s the closest thing you’ll get. Apart from GTA IV. Or III. Or the Saints Row series, or… quite a lot of other games, I suppose. Rather more importantly, though, it’s for an excellent cause, Peer Productions. If you feel that your sins are outweighing any Gaming Indulgences obtained via Humble Bundles, why not pop over and play with their slider (matron), even that raises a few laughs.

(Disclaimer: I don’t not know Jay of NotGames, who hasn’t not paid nothing for a plug. Hang on, I’ve lost track of the negatives… hasn’t not paid something? Didn’t not fail to not pay… Failed not to refuse to not… Oh, you get the idea, no money has changed hands. I mean you don’t get the idea. Don’t not get the… oh, never mind.)

Posted by Zoso at 1:27 pm

Up from the depths, thirty stories high

war thunder, zoso 3 Comments »

Testing has started on the next major update to War Thunder, so I wandered off to the development server to see what’s new. Hopping in to a trusty Hurricane, the mission briefing screen warned of a terrifying new Japanese secret weapon; what could it be?

What's that coming over the hill?

What’s that coming over the hill?

Better take a closer look…

Giant snail at 11 o'clock! No sir, that's not banter, it really is a giant snail.

Giant snail at 11 o’clock! No sir, that’s not banter, it really is a giant snail.

Could it be a giant mutant radioactive version of Gaijin Entertainment’s snail mascot? I think it could…

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound...

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound…

Yes, for one day only, War Thunder went a bit Kaiju, with one team trying to destroy Gaijilla and the other defending the giant snail-beast. Really rather fun! Could be an interesting asymmetric battle type in the proper game as well, though obviously you’d need to slightly tweak things to fit into a more realistic setting, perhaps having a formidable battleship like Tirpitz or Yamato as the main target. Or Mecha-Streisand.

Hey, chief, I might be wrong, but I think we're flying into a giant snail. This makes me feel... scared of the giant snail.

Hey, chief, I might be wrong, but I think we’re flying into a giant snail. This makes me feel… scared of the giant snail.

 

Posted by Zoso at 8:33 pm

There is no escape from the realm of Dungeons and Dragons!

neverwinter, zoso 4 Comments »

Cryptic are having a bit of early April fun in Neverwinter. The announcement of Dragons as a playable race was a fairly conventional jape, and news of a Gelatinous Cube mount seemed to be along similar lines, but no: it really exists as an in-game… thing. You can buy one from the store, and it’ll schlupp up your character and transport them around with an 80% speed boost while making strange glooping noises.

The centrepiece of the whole business is Respen’s Marvellous Game, a really rather splendid event in which you find yourself transported to a strange dimension…

Don't look now, but I think we're being watched...

Don’t look now, but I think we’re being watched…

Yes, it’s a pen and paper D&D adventure! The players all adopt their best Heroic Figurine Pose and glide around the map on fixed bases. A dungeon masterly wizard briefs you on your quest, investigating a dread dungeon or enchanted forest, and provides further narration and convincing NPC voices as you progress.

Tow 'er?  I hardly know... no, that doesn't work...

Tow ‘er? I hardly know… no, that doesn’t work…

The mechanics are fairly conventional, you use your standard abilities (with animations), but there are plenty of nice touches, like the DM being a bit short of monster miniatures and using dice as stand-ins:

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

There’s even a Dread Gazebo:

Don't worry, I have a +3 arrow

Don’t worry, I have a +3 arrow

With two basic adventures, each with several randomised encounter elements, there’s a lot to enjoy in the event, especially if you can run through it at a relaxed pace with a group of friends. Completing the event gives a chest of rewards with a chance for a couple of uncommon items, and the lustre wears off slightly when blitzing through at high speed with a PUG for the 19th time, but c’est la MMO-vie. The event is running until Friday 4th April, so if you’re reading this before then and have a level 6 character in Neverwinter (or the spare hour or so it takes to run through the tutorial to get one) it’s well worth a look.

Posted by Zoso at 10:43 am

A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational

waffle, zoso 1 Comment »

With the European Commission being concerned that “Games advertised as ‘free’ should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved” there’s a bit of kerfuffle over whether the phrase “free to play” is a perfectly clear description of a game that can be played (to some extent) for free, or a misleading veil drawn over an inevitable cash shop of some sort. It’s easy to forget, amidst its current ubiquity, that the phrase “free-to-play” is actually rather recent, coined in 2007 by Ian Free-to-play, but it has rapidly supplanted other models like Shareware (invented by Ian Shareware) and Adware (invented by Bob Holness during the sessions for Baker Street, between saxophone solos).

Delving further back into the past, it’s not too hard to find similar controversies over terminology. The earliest references are probably ostraca from Giza that, though fragmentary, seem to record exchanges between Pharaoh Khufu and his vizier Hemiunu, starting with the latter promising that “… a magnificent pyramid may be constructed, and the treasury of the kingdom shall not need to be depleted to fund this endeavour.” It’s not known if Khufu was influenced by the accompanying hieroglyphs of scantily clad maidens entreating him to “Come Build, My Lord”, but he was clearly delighted with the rapid speed at which plans were drawn up and foundations dug. As construction continued the Pharaoh became increasingly unhappy with the length of time the project was taking, a later note from Heminu assuring him that: “… of course construction shall continue without a single copper deben being invested, my initial assurance is entirely correct in that respect, however the next layer of stones may be put in place almost immediately should you make available nine hundred sacks of grain for hiring further masons and slave overseers.” A similarly dated ostracon indicated that an order for 1100 sacks of grain would grant the purchaser a bonus 150 sacks, but the Best Value option was 3500 sacks of grain with a whopping 600 bonus sacks.

Somewhat later, Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language records:
“FREECOST n. ∫. [free and cot] Without expence; free from charges.
We muſt not vouch any man for an exact maſter in the rules of our modern policy, but ſuch a one as has brought himſelf ſo far to hate and deſpiſe the abſurdity of being kind upon freecoſt, as not ſo much as to tell a friend what it is o’clock for nothing, nor to permit him to gain experience points leſt at a much reduced rate”

Unwary coffee shop patrons such as Johnson himself would often be lured with a cry of “Come hither and MANIPULATE the sugar-preserved fruit ‘pon this TABLE for FREECOST”, but after five minutes the Freecostermonger would whisk a cloth over the table exclaiming “Nay, sirrah! You shall not proceed further lest THREE of your friends VOUCHSAFE that you may CONTINUE, or you may give me SIXPENCE and proceed FORTHWITH”

As the idea of mechanical computation took hold in the 19th century, so too did various payment models. Rather than employ a clerk as a human computer, paying a monthly wage (or indeed “subscription”), de Colmer’s arithmometer promised “… COMPUTATIONS* at NO FURTHER COST, for as long as your ARM has strength to CRANK”, though digging in to the small print revealed “(* basic model allows for addition only, subtraction available to preferred customers, preferred customers may multiply or divide five times per week or purchase a TimesOver season pass)”.

The real breakthrough would have been Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, had the technology of the time been up to actually building it; glimpses of its potential can be seen in Ada Lovelace’s notes on her translation of Menabrea’s Sketch of The Analytical Engine:

“[…] it might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine. Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent. Operations cards capable, when combined with appropriate cards of variables, of the composition of short and simple musical pieces might be made available at no cost, so as to entice and intrigue, with a charge then levied upon cards that would engage the mechanism so as to compose longer and more elaborate forms, perhaps coloured green, blue and purple to indicate yet more prized attributes, offered for sale as a package containing a random selection of operation and variable cards within a plain wrapper, thus offering a tantalising air of excitement to the transaction.”

It took another hundred years for computers, as we know them, to start to appear. Colossus at Bletchley Park was the first programmable electronic computer, designed to break ‘Tunny’, traffic encoded by Lorenz cipher machine, and it must have been tremendously exciting to see the results of a successful run, plain text appearing letter by letter on the teletype: “3. PANZERGRUPPE UMZUSCHICHTEN NACH SORRY YOU HAVE EXCEEDED YOUR DAILY DECRYPTION ALLOWANCE PLEASE PURCHASE MORE TURING-ENERGY TO CONTINUE…”

Posted by Zoso at 12:26 pm

Thought for the day

tftd, zoso 2 Comments »

Would the largest number of raincoats designed to fit serious power armour suits from Planetside 2 clustered around the burial site of a popular entertainer be the max. grave MAX macs by Max Bygraves grave?

Posted by Zoso at 11:31 am

Wot I’m Playing – Roundup

wot i'm playing, zoso 3 Comments »

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying the Winter Olympics both on television and in War Thunder, where the Russian developers celebrated the Sochi games by adding a couple of special events. First there was a Biathlon, each team having to race through a series of checkpoints, periodically engaging a number of targets (either tanks or barrage balloons), before finally having to land on an airfield to finish the match. If you’ve ever wondered what the biathlon might be like if the competitors decided not to shoot at the targets but take pot-shots at each other on their way around the course, the War Thunder event gave you some idea. In some matches teams would focus on the objectives, in others they just ignored the whole checkpoint business and instantly headed straight for the opposition forming a mass dogfight around the start line, finishing only when one team was wiped. The second event, Curling, was a little more tenuous, with each side having a number of AI tanks representing stones moving towards a central control point, teams having to “sweep” the way clear by eliminating artillery and pillboxes in their path. All good fun, and keeps things a bit fresher than playing the same old maps all the time; they also had a contest for players to submit Olympic-themed content, I was most impressed by the organisation of the team who created the Olympic rings using five Hurricanes and acrobatic smoke. The ground forces beta is also rumbling on, looking pretty good at the moment, so another heavy year of War Thunder seems quite feasible.

Planetside 2 is ticking along as well; server issues with our usual European home caused us to decamp to a new US server for an odd sort of holiday in identical surroundings (same three continents, same bases and everything) that nevertheless felt slightly different, starting out again with new characters. Also like a holiday it’s nice to get back to home comforts, such as heavily upgraded weapons and vehicles, but a change is a good as a rest and all that.

Star Wars: The Old Republic holds down another weekly spot for regular grouping, though it can be a little awkward with a fixed party size of four for Flashpoints and a requirement for a balance of classes (slightly alleviated by some reasonable hybrid options) at similar levels. The most recent patch sorted out some of those issues by introducing a “Tactical Flashpoint”, a randomised set of encounters where the group are automatically bolstered to the same level and clickable healing devices go some way to removing the need for a dedicated healer (though boss fights still go better with a balanced group). Even with the randomised elements it’s not something I’d fancy doing every night (and twice at weekends), but it’s a welcome way to allow a more diverse group to play together. Having been a full subscriber to get early access to the starfighter content I was playing quite a bit, alternating between two characters to stay in the same level range as everyone else, but the initial excitement has worn off slightly; this is where the free-to-play aspect is really helpful, no more agonising over whether to keep a full subscription going just for a night a week, I can cancel the sub and drop down to “Preferred” status. There’s a few days of subscription left, then it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any subscriber-only features I really miss, or whether it won’t make too much of a difference.

One of the reasons I haven’t been in SWTOR so much is that I’ve started dabbling elsewhere… An e-mail from Perfect World announced a new Arc client for accessing their games, including Star Trek Online and Champions Online. I’m not really bothered about Yet Another Steam Knock-off, but the e-mail also contained the magic words: Free Hats! I haven’t played Champions for ages, but could hardly spurn an offer of a “Hats and Heads” costume set, so grabbed the Arc client and associated bonus code. While there, a Khan costume set for STO? Well, it’d be rude not to… I fired up the game and it looks like it’s had a bit of an interface overhaul, all seemed quite swish, had a little jog around the starbase, checked out the new costume at the tailor, haven’t logged back in again since. It’s another Perfect World/Cryptic title that’s grabbed me, Neverwinter. Melmoth had mentioned a few times that he was rather enjoying both the main game and the web-based elements, as did Van Hemlock on the HTMT podcast, so I thought I’d take a proper look – I’d actually downloaded it back around open beta/launch (I seem to recall it was rather a fluid release) but was in such an MMO-funk at the time I didn’t make it out of the tutorial.

Neverwinter seems nicely done, if not exactly deep; it has “action combat”, a bit like Dungeons and Dragons Online, more focused on movement and positioning and a small number of abilities rather than three full hotbars of stuff to click. Plenty to do, between adventuring, skirmishes, PvP and the like. It’s really the Gateway that sets it apart so far, a web portal that allows you to review your character and their inventory, manage crafting, and take your companions off on Sword Coast Adventures that work a lot like many Facebook/web games, quite simple dice rolling encounters, but an engaging little mechanic. The Gateway works well via Android browser, so after working through both seasons of Doctor Who Legacy (with a fair bit of repeated level running to pick up additional companions), Sword Coast Adventures have taken over as my “five spare minutes” mobile game of the moment.

Away from the online stuff, I did manage a few levels of Tomb Raider after picking it up in Steam’s Christmas sale, all quite enjoyable but I haven’t felt compelled to finish it off (or Dishonored, or any number of other games kicking around my “must get back to sometime” list). I can’t really remember the last single player games I got properly engrossed in, probably Bioshock Infinite and Saints Row IV (half the reason I keep blogging is so I can go back and check on stuff like that…) I also grabbed the Sid Meier Humble Bundle, partially for the Civ V DLC on the (very) off chance I manage to get back for another playthough, but mostly for the two Ace Patrol games. They’d been on my radar (as much as canvas biplanes can show up on radar) since featuring in Tim Stone’s always-splendid Flare Path, and are indeed a quite delightful bit of drop-in tactical dogfighting fun, the turn-based nature and AI opposition allowing for a slightly more relaxed approach when the frantic furballs of War Thunder get a bit much.

Posted by Zoso at 4:44 pm
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