My position on cake is pro-having it, and pro-eating it

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Gaijin are celebrating the birthday of War Thunder by giving away presents rather than demanding them; there’s a discount on plane packs bought through Gaijin, experience bonuses, some in-game plane discounts, that sort of thing. Particularly good value is 50% off a full year of premium account time, bringing the price down to 7,600 Gold Eagles. How much that costs in actual money depends how you buy those Gold Eagles; if you haven’t already bought the Ace Advance Pack on Steam it’s a really good deal, it includes 10,000 Gold Eagles (enough for the discounted 12 month option with a bit left over), a couple of useful premium aircraft and two months of premium account time that stack on top of any existing time, all for £24.99 (the Gold Eagles alone would cost about £40 if you bought them direct). If you’re fairly confident that you’ll be playing for the next year that’s not a bad deal at all.

Unfortunately someone is being a bit of a party pooper at the moment and launching a DDOS attack on their servers, but hopefully that’ll be sorted out before too long, as the discount premium offer only runs to 6AM (GMT) November 4th.

Posted by Zoso at 3:27 pm

In Memoriam Warhammer Online

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So. Farewell then
Warhammer Online
They say that in the
grim
darkness
of the far future there is only WAR
But it looks like
they were wrong
(unless Keith gets his server
emulation working and it
merges with Shodan or Skyguard or
that one out of Wargames
and wipes out humanity, maybe
that’s what they
were talking about)

- E. J. Zoso, age 17½

News of the impending closure of Warhammer Online came as a surprise to some, in much the same way that people are surprised when they read the obituary of a celebrity they thought had died years ago. The last major patch had been game update 1.4.0 in 2010, other than the announcement of an arena-ish Play4Free spin-off, Wrath of Heroes, it had been pottering along quietly for the past few years, so it’s not really surprising it had dropped off the radar.

It was a different story before release, publicity for WAR was swirling around at the time Melmoth & I started this whole blogging business putting it quite firmly on the Anticipated Future MMOG Radar; my fourth ever blog post, from 2006, linked to a Slashdot WAR Q&A. The early buzz was good, but over time there were less positive signs; release date slipping to the right, content being cut from the initial release (four classes, four of the six capital cities), nothing particularly shocking for a game (or indeed most large IT projects) as The Crunch sets in, but not ideal, especially with a World of Warcraft expansion in the offing.

Casting back through the blog I’d forgotten the landscape WAR launched in; around 2005/6 the rising tide of World of Warcraft looked like it might lift all MMOG boats into the mainstream, an enticing prospect for Games Workshop and EA, but by 2008 it seemed fairly clear that wasn’t the case, nothing was getting near WoW, especially in the west. Except in rare cases (like EVE, pre-dating WoW) it didn’t seem possible to gradually build a player base, subscriber numbers for new games peaked at launch then rapidly fell away.

Personally, after drifting away from City of Heroes and WoW, I’d been pinging between newly launching MMOs like DDO, LotRO, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Hellgate: London, Age of Conan, playing a month or two at most, and had a bit of a breakdown at the prospect of killing 10 more things. Warhammer Online hooked me in for a good old run, though, getting up to the level cap and doing a spot of end-game city raiding on the Order side. There was a lot to like; the visual style, public quests, poking around zones, the Tome of Knowledge, besieging and defending keeps and castles… Course there were rough edges too, some that got ironed out fairly quickly, others that are probably still kicking around in tier 4 public quests. Some elements didn’t quite work out, like those good old Kill Collectors; Barnett really nailed a frustration with a game mechanic (I hadn’t realised quite how much my History Repeating post echoes it until looking at the two together), but there were still plenty of bog standard “Kill 10 Things” quests in the game, available resources couldn’t quite support the ambition (see also: P. Molyneux). A long term PvP-centric endgame is also somewhat problematic for new/more casual players if characters keep getting more powerful with time and success.

Player numbers dropped (not least when Wrath of the Lich King was released shortly after), the inevitable server merges followed, I drifted off myself on another MMO-break. I drifted back a while later and rampaged around on the Destruction side of things with Van Hemlock’s Hipster Battalion, hitting the level cap again, pushing WAR up to second place on both my Total Subscribed Time List and Most Fondly Remembered MMO List after City of Heroes (*sniff*), so far those are the only two games where I’ve hit the level cap with multiple characters.

The 1.4.0 patch hinted at the possibility of a move to a free to play model, with “booster packs” available in the EA store; other major titles like Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online seemed to be doing well after conversion, but it never transpired, though it turns out the work had been done behind the scenes if EA, Bioware, Mythic, Games Workshop or some random combination of the four had wanted to go down that path. Perhaps closure was inevitable from that point; the end of the Games Workshop license deal is being cited as the reason the game is closing in December, with WAR not turning out to be a money-printing bonanza I guess neither side had much appetite to renegotiate the license for a different revenue model, especially as with lawyers involved the costs could easily spiral into the realms of “the price of a couple of Space Marine squads”.

All right, that’s just silly. One Space Marine squad.

Towards the end of last year SEGA and Creative Assembly announced a partnership with Games Workshop for a “multi-title licensing deal” … “to create videogames based in the Warhammer universe of fantasy battles” … “scheduled to launch from beyond 2013″, prompting some speculation over the future of Warhammer Online amongst those who remembered it. Not long after that key WAR figures either jumped or were pushed, including the lead developer and community manager, the Wrath of Heroes beta closed down, and the only news on the WAR homepage was the withdrawal of six month subscriptions. Some speculated that was because the game wouldn’t be around in six months, suspicions confirmed three months later.

So. Farewell then.

Posted by Zoso at 8:51 pm

The RAF in World of Warplanes – Textbook

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Wargaming have gone some way towards atoning for past transgressions by adding British aircraft in the 0.5.3 update to World of Warplanes, so I thought it would be rude not to take a look at least.

As per most of the other tech trees there’s a decent core of “proper” World War II aircraft in the mid-tiers with more unusual stuff before and after; a good chunk of the the fighter branch is taken up by key Spitfire marks (I, V, IX and XIV) followed by a couple of Supermarine jets, the heavy fighter branch features the Beaufighter (albeit with stupid Mk V Boulton Paul experimental turret option), Mosquito and Hornet before wandering into the realms of prototypes. No sign of the Hurricane, presumably to be part of a future Hawker branch with the Typhoon, Tempest and Sea Fury.

sshot_037
The early part of the fighter tree is padded out with some more unusual stuff like this Tier IV Bristol 146, based on a single prototype. I think the pilot might be David Niven, though he looks a bit grumpy about something; probably being stuck in a plane that even Hurricane pilots think is for remtards on free dinners and having to grind through the rest of Tier IV to get a ruddy Spitfire.

sshot_003
The heavy fighter line starts at Tier II with the Hawker Demon, a fighter version of the Hart inter-war bomber, one of the last RAF biplanes, still in limited service in 1939.

sshot_023
The Tier III Blackburn Skua, an early war carrier aircraft somewhat hamstrung by having to fulfil both fighter and dive bomber roles.  The model includes the swing bomb-crutch designed to throw the bomb clear of the propeller, though unfortunately it doesn’t animate on bomb release.

There’ve been a few other changes since I last tried the World of Warplanes beta. Aircraft handling in general seems a bit smoother; aircraft camouflage now works in the same way as World of Tanks, with separate summer/winter/desert/marine paint schemes offering slight concealment benefits; crew skills have been implemented, again very similar to World of Tanks. Overall, though, despite the improvements the general conclusions of my War Thunder vs World of Warplanes post still hold, I prefer the flying and damage modelling in War Thunder, and the different modes and battle types keep things fresh; War Thunder events even offer no-respawn Arcade action, if garage battles were a complete dealbreaker. World of Warplanes is fun for a drop-in blast, though, and at least you can fly Spitfires now.

Posted by Zoso at 8:04 pm

War Thunder – Tanks in Advance

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There hasn’t been much concrete information on ground forces in War Thunder; the odd tank-y screenshot, assorted rumours about how game modes might work… until now. At the Russian IgroMir gaming exhibition people can play a build of the game including tanks, and Gaijin streamed 20 minutes of gameplay, captured by a YouTuber:

As a game expo demo with limited time and random visitors in control it shouldn’t be taken too definitively, but it’s rather interesting. The commentary is in Russian, but a a helpful Redditor has translated the salient points.

Some bits that stood out for me:

1m00s: a combined hanger/garage, with both tanks and planes. As far as I know, Wargaming are keeping World of Tanks and World of Warplanes (and presumably World of Warships) as entirely separate games, albeit with a combined account for access; War Thunder chucks everybody in together (or at least gives the option to; they’re saying there will also be tank-only and plane-only modes).

2m54s: KV-1 on the move. War Thunder looks good in the air, and allowing for the low graphical settings and streaming limitations it looks good on the ground as well, nice detail on the tank and scenic landscapes.

4m20s: Tank on Tank. World of Tanks/Warplanes have hybrid damage systems, with some locational damage but fundamentally a “health bar” that has to be knocked down, tanks in War Thunder will have a similar system to the planes, completely locational damage. Couple of impressive explosions, especially at 5m00s.

9m27s: Artillery strike. It seems like some tanks will be able to call artillery strikes, perhaps a way of giving lighter tanks something to do against heavy tanks apart from ping shells off their armour. In this instance the driver, perhaps somewhat unwisely, drives straight through the barrage he just called in, but without fatal damage.

10m23s: Achtung – Panzer! A second round, this time selecting the German garage, and a brief glimpse of a combined tech tree (somewhat truncated for the demo, presumably).

11m57s: Stuka? I hardly know ‘er! Flying a Ju 87 looks familiar for current players. An enemy plane is clearly marked, as are friendly tanks, but enemy tanks aren’t highlighted so won’t be easy to spot, especially from high altitude.

13m16s: Bombs away! A tank kill from the air. One of the question marks over combined arms gameplay; getting hit with a 250kg bomb without warning won’t be much fun for a tank, but friendly air cover, and possibly player controlled anti-aircraft guns, should make it more of a challenge. Also, in Arcade mode at least, the ability to grab another vehicle from your garage will lessen the sting, especially if it’s a fighter and you can find your aerial nemesis.

14m31s: Wicked air, man. A StuG hits a rock at speed and flips; not sure if that’s early build issues, or a more lackadaisical approach to physics in Arcade mode.

15m40s: Careful with that barrage, Eugene. Another artillery strike, this time successfully taking out an enemy tank… and a friendly as well.

There’s no firm word of timescales yet (just the obligatory Soon™). With War Thunder being a launch title for the Playstation 4 perhaps that’ll be their target, either way my interest has certainly been piqued for ground forces.

Posted by Zoso at 6:05 pm

Spaceteam review: Dilate Eigengeode!

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Spaceteam, as the app description goes, is a cooperative iOS/Android party game for 2 to 4 players who shout technobabble at each other until their ship explodes. Alerted by tweet it sounded rather fun, so when we found ourselves with four people, two Android tablets, an iPad and a phone, we gave it a go.

It’s dead easy to pick up. Each player has an assortment of buttons, switches and dials with random techno-labels, and an instruction (such as the titular “Dilate Eigengeode!”) that corresponds to a control on somebody’s console, so you have to listen out for anything relating to your knobs (matron) while shouting at everyone else. It’s a bit like Simon Says, except you’re all Simon. On a spaceship. Shouting strange nonsense.

Spaceteam

If you’re being serious about the whole thing you should probably take it in turns to calmly call out orders and get acknowledgement, but it’s a lot more fun if everyone just bellows at increasing levels of excitement and volume, which the game helps with various events like incoming asteroids, requiring all players to simultaneously shake their device, and control malfunctions obscuring labels or causing bits of your panel to fall off.

What really makes Spaceteam, both for those participating and as a spectator sport, is the control names. Some are plausible techno-babble, others have a hint of flushed grolling-esque innuendo, some are just funny. The overall effect is something approaching The Doctor playing Mornington Crescent with his companions while trying to pilot the TARDIS out of a particularly sticky situation.

The basic game is splendidly free from Google Play or the iTunes store, there are some in-game options you can purchase such as different visuals for the controls if you’d like to support the (Space)team; here’s the Steampunk version:

Spaceteam_Steampunk

It’s incredibly easy to get running, we sometimes had a little bit of trouble getting four players simultaneously connected but retrying a couple of times seemed to do the trick, with Android and iOS devices working side-by-side in perfect harmony. The controls are a bit more fiddly on a phone than a tablet, but still entirely usable. Two space-thumbs up!

Posted by Zoso at 6:01 pm

War Thunder Update 1.35 – Events

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War Thunder released an update this week, version 1.35. It’s got the usual patch gubbins: new maps and planes, tweaks to cockpits and armaments, that sort of thing (full details in the change log). Something I’m particularly enjoying so far are Events. Aircraft in War Thunder are arranged into ranks roughly by their capabilities rather than strict dates to try and avoid mismatches (it’s not perfect, but the matchmaker does a decent job most of the time), and though Historical Battles limit the nationalities involves you can still end up with rather ahistorical fights like 1942-era British and American aircraft taking on the Russians in Korea, land based aircraft on naval maps and vice-versa, and significant numbers of Premium aircraft based on prototypes or one-off instances of captured aircraft. It’s fine in game-terms, but events offer something slightly more interesting historically.

You can still hit the “To Battle” button as normal, but there’s a new button on the screen, Events:
shot 2013.09.28 20.13.57

Click this for a list of available events. Currently there are three available at any one time, and they change each day, though I imagine both those parameters can be tweaked. The really, really important thing to notice here is that events can be Arcade, Historical or Full Real, currently there’s one of each per day. They can also have slightly tweaked rulesets, for example an Arcade Battle but with no respawns. The difficulty level isn’t quite as obvious as it could be, so there are reports of people joining in a Full Real Battle without realising it, resulting in a lot of crashing on take-off (via Reddit). Note the difficulty at the top of the event screen!
shot 2013.09.28 20.46.52

Events are (broadly) historical scenarios, with a limited selection of aircraft available based more on actual combatants than in-game ranks, as shown in the list on the event screen. Planes are colour coded: red if you don’t have sufficient rank in that air force, dark yellow if you’re high enough rank but haven’t bought it yet, bright yellow if you own it. For Historical and Full Real battles you just pick the one you want to use as normal, for Arcade you only need one qualifying aircraft to take part, but you’ll be more effective if your whole hanger is eligible. Arcade teams are also still mixed nationalities.

I’m finding the events a fun way of mixing things up between different levels, countries and difficulty modes, well worth a look.

Posted by Zoso at 9:13 pm

War Thunder Indian Summer event

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As the British weather turns distinctly autumnal there’s an Indian Summer event going on in War Thunder, the objective being to shoot down massive piles of enemy planes. Not quite sure what the thematic link is, but hey, they’re giving out premium aircraft rewards. Don’t look a gift Typhoon in the radiator chin scoop, as the old saying goes.

The event is on until September 23rd, and there are six levels of reward available for each nation in each realism mode. The first five levels award silver lions (10,000 per level), the sixth level awards 100,000 lions plus a premium aircraft. The planes up for grabs are:

USSR: P-39N-0, Rank 8

Requires 1100 Arcade air kills, 360 Historical Battle air kills or 300 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying Soviet aircraft). The Soviet version of the P-39N is two ranks higher than both the US P-39N and the other Soviet premium Airacobra (P-39K); it’s probably slightly over-ranked, especially compared to the Yak-9, but it was only available in the store during one weekend event previously, hence the high kill requirements. If you like big guns (and you cannot lie) then you could stick it in an arcade line-up with the Yak-9T, Yak-9K, P-39K and P-63A for a whole lot of 37/45mm action, otherwise it’s a bit superfluous.

USA: A-26C-45 Invader, Rank 16

Requires 1100 Arcade air kills, 360 Historical Battle air kills or 300 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying US aircraft). Speaking of over-ranked, the A-26 does have a larger payload than the Rank 5 A-20 and (theoretically) better performance (there seems some debate over whether it’s modelled correctly), but that’s not really enough to justify the dizzying heights of Rank 16. It’s rare, though, previously only available via promotions on Facebook, in magazines etc., so has the joint-highest kill requirements. Unless you’re a dedicated plane collector and must have absolutely everything, I wouldn’t go crazy trying to earn one.

Germany: Fw 190D-13, Rank 14

Requires 900 Arcade air kills, 300 Historical Battle air kills or 250 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying German/Italian aircraft). Available in a decent value gift pack, once upon a time swarms of Doras plagued Historical Battles, swooping down from great height upon Allied aircraft and causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Over various patches the Focke-Wulf’s flight model was tweaked with some extra weight, and other aircraft received performance boosts such as the 150 octane fuel upgrade for the Spitfire Mk IX, and lo, was there much Allied rejoicing. Axis opinion is split between the Fw 190D-13 now being an utterly worthless pile of junk, and being a decent but tricky to master boom-and-zoom fighter, I suspect it’s more the latter but don’t have one myself.

UK: Typhoon Mk Ib, Rank 10

Requires 540 Arcade air kills, 200 Historical Battle air kills or 180 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying UK/Australian/French aircraft). A good choice for British pilots, the Typhoon Ib has decent performance and great firepower from the 4x20mm cannon. It’s not as nimble as a Spitfire, better suited to boom-and-zoom tactics than dogfighting, and is ideal for Historical Battles, or can slot into a nice Arcade lineup with the Spitfire Mks IX and XVI and Mosquito. The Typhoon is part of the Steam Ace Advanced Pack (also includes a Pe-2, 10000 Gold Eagles and two months of premium account time), an excellent value bundle (especially if on sale), so if you’re thinking of shelling out some real money then that’s a good option, but if you can’t or won’t buy a Steam pack then this event is a fine opportunity to pick up a free Typhoon.

Japan: A6M5 Ko, Rank 12

Requires 540 Arcade air kills, 200 Historical Battle air kills or 180 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying Japanese aircraft). Highly manoeuvrable but fragile, a bit slow compared to most opponents of similar rank; I don’t play Japan very much myself, but if you do then the comparative paucity of the Japanese tree probably makes any addition useful. The A6M5 Ko is also in the War Thunder Steam Pack or Pacific Advanced Pack from the web store, presumably why it requires comparatively few kills.

If you really want to earn one of those planes, you’ll need to get flying. You should’ve probably got flying a few days ago when the event started, but barring the invention of a time machine that’s not very useful advice, and if you have a time machine I’m sure there are better things to be doing than playing War Thunder. Unless you’re an ace of such incredible skill that you never die and shoot down innumerable opponents every sortie, the easiest way to rack up kills is “seal clubbing”, flying low level aircraft against less experienced players. The game has some safeguards to protect completely new players, once you’ve passed a certain pilot rank I don’t think you can be matched up against rank 0/1 opponents even if you only equip rank 0 reserves yourself, so assembling a rank 3 lineup is the way to go with as many fighters as you can pack in. Playing at lower levels also means lower repair costs, if you’re constantly playing higher level aircraft somewhat recklessly then the monetary reward from the event might not even cover the repair bills. I do feel a bit guilty about going back to lower levels, but all is fair in love and war, as the LaGG-3 pilot said after tearing apart a poor biplane with 20mm cannon shells. I try not to be a total bastard, there usually seem to be at least a couple of seal clubbers on each team and I’ll go for the higher scoring opponents if I can, but the event does exacerbate the every-man-for-himself nature of Arcade battles. If you’re a brand new player, perhaps consider not buying a Rank 2 aircraft until September 24th.

If you only really enjoy one particular realism mode then you might as well stick to that, but if getting the premium aircraft is the main goal then you may want to record the duration and results of a few matches and use a bit of maths; if, on average, you can get 10 kills per 10 minute Arcade battle then you’ll need to be playing for 18.3 hours over the next couple of weeks for a P-39 or A-26. If in a Historical Battle you average 2 kills and the matches last around 15 minutes then that same plane will take about 45 hours to earn in that mode, bit of a tall order.

Don’t drive yourself mad with grinding, though, the planes are a fine bonus if you’re playing anyway, but you’re not missing out if you haven’t got the time to rack up the requisite kills; enjoy War Thunder responsibly!

Posted by Zoso at 4:21 pm

Wot I’m Playing: Roundup

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Glancing back at the last roundup, remarkably little has changed over the last few months. Planetside 2 and War Thunder are still time-murderers-in-chief, waxing and waning according to whim and assorted updates. Perhaps the main issue with Planetside 2, as with so many open world PvP games, is finding “Goldilocks fights”: a decent balance of forces, not so small that you might as well be in a 1-vs-1 deathmatch, but not so big that you spend more time getting run over by your own team’s vehicles than shooting at the enemy. When it’s good, it’s very very good, but when it’s bad it’s a deeply tedious procession of inevitable deaths in the face of overwhelming force. Population imbalance doesn’t help, a three-way (Mr Dalliard) conflict is probably a slight improvement on two factions, but it’s no magic wand; rather than ganging up on the most populous empire, it’s easier for the second largest to ignore a massive zerg and pick away at the smallest empire instead for short-term gains. Still, hopping between continents it’s usually possible to find some reasonable action, but I’m mostly popping in for brisk half-hour firefights rather than settling in for a whole evening of conquest.

War Thunder mostly avoids those balance problems; its matchmaker can be subject to the vagaries of fluctuating populations, but the recent Steam release seems to have helped in that respect. It has some Goldilocks issues of its own around the economy, with patches tweaking rewards, upgrades, repair costs and aircraft prices to try and provide a strong incentive to invest real money without being punitive to those who don’t; I think the most recent patch, 1.33, has struck a better balance than its predecessors, but I’m currently luxuriating in a Premium account after snapping up a couple of discounted add-on packs from Steam. A while back I’d become frustrated with Arcade battles that had changed from fun furballs in the lower ranks into demolition derbies as heavier cannon armaments became prevalent and one-burst kills were the norm, so mostly moved to the more tactically cautiously Historical Battles. Recently, though, fancying some more instant gratification, I dropped into a few more Arcade battles, and with the benefit of a slightly more circumspect approach (looking for a lone enemy or two to pick off, rather than diving right into the middle of eight bogeys) am doing a lot better there too. With War Thunder being a launch title for the PlayStation 4 and offering cross-platform play it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out, whether it’s a herald of greater co-operation possibilities on the next generation of consoles, or as much of a damn squib as the Vista/360 version of Shadowrun.

I did try out the closed beta of Wargaming’s dogfighting offering, World of Warplanes, and though it’s serviceable enough for a bit of a drop-in arcade action, I wasn’t particularly impressed in comparison to War Thunder. I’ve kept it patched up as it moved into open beta, and taken the odd flight now and again, but it doesn’t seem to have fundamentally changed in that time. I’ll probably pop in when it officially launches later in the month, whizzing through the low tiers is a bit of a giggle, but I can’t see myself sinking too much time in.

Outside the online-PvP arena, I finished off Bioshock Infinite, perfectly enjoyable but didn’t leave a particularly lasting impression, and went back rather earlier in the spiritual series with System Shock 2 from a Steam sale. In general it holds up remarkably well, except when the graphics stray outside fairly regular polygons (I thought I was being attacked by a hideous mutant in basic training at one point, but it was just a technician with a head made out of about five triangles), but I fear I don’t have the patience for a full replay, so it’ll doubtless sit alongside UFO Enemy Unknown, Terror From The Deep etc. in the few-hours-progress-save-game stasis pods.

I also grabbed the Humble Origin Bundle, mostly for Burnout Paradise, though the rest of the bundle might also come in handy if the games industry implodes so spectacularly that no new game is released for the next 27 years. I can’t remember the last time I played a dedicated driving game, the original Driver possibly, and Burnout is rather fun, apart from the half-arsed interface; where other multiplatform games at least manage “bit clunky, but usable” (Borderlands 2), or “doesn’t really need text that size, fixed by a mod” (Skyrim), it’s almost painful trying to navigate the menus in Burnout.

Most recently I picked up Saints Row IV; I sank a fair amount of time into III, almost to the point of 100% completion, and IV is more of the same, really, as might’ve been expected from its origin as an “expanshalone”. The third game had some fantastically mad set pieces, but the story as a whole didn’t particularly gel, the Saints somehow being both global media brand and street gang; not a major problem, as story in a Saints Row game is about as important as it in a Gentleman’s Specialist Interest Videograph (can provide an interesting context for the action, but not the main reason you’re there). The fourth game ratchets up the implausibility still further in the first five minutes, but with the cunning twist of genre from Action Blockbuster to Sci-Fi suddenly even the most ludicrous events make sense (of a sort), thoroughly enjoyable so far.

Kickstarter has borne both metaphorical and literal fruit (and I’m not even joking), the literal in leather form, the metaphorical being the first playable game from the assortment I’ve backed: Sir, You Are Being Hunted. I’m not sure the game is quite my cup of tea, despite the fact that it features flasks of tea, but that doesn’t really matter; I thoroughly approve of games featuring top-hatted robots in balloons and am happy to support them just on principle. Similarly, I grabbed Gun Monkeys: Kevin Eldon and monkeys with guns? Awesome, even if an online deathmatch platformer isn’t precisely what I’m after at the moment. I view myself as a sort of 19th century philanthropist, benevolently doling out sums of five or even ten English pounds to projects that generally seem like a Good Thing. Course a fiver wouldn’t have gone very far even in 1879, but hey, I like wandering around the house in a top hat. In a similar vein I’ve just backed Sunless Sea (who wouldn’t, with an influence list including the Crimson Permanent Assurance; it’s fun to charter and accountant, and sail the wide accountant-sea…), and off the back of that started to have a bit of a look at Fallen London, the browser game formerly known as Echo Bazaar. I’d noticed it popping up in friends Twitter feeds a few years back, and the snippets did look intriguing but also just a smidge spammy so I hadn’t delved in myself. It doesn’t require a Twitter sign-up now, and gameplay-wise seems a fairly conventional browser game, but the lore and atmosphere are excellent; probably not something I’ll get too caught up in, but a fun diversion with ten spare minutes and a smartphone.

Posted by Zoso at 4:22 pm

A Beginner’s Guide to War Thunder, Part 4

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Part 1 got us into our first battle, Part 2 covered the main mission types and Part 3 the aircraft types, in Part 4 we’ll look at upgrading aircraft so they are, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “well blinged up innit?”

When you buy a new plane you might think you’re getting a shiny factory-fresh model in tip-top condition, but I’m afraid that’s not the case; as a rookie you’re assigned a battered old thing that’s had several not-so-careful owners. At least that’s the excuse for why you need to gain experience and spend money to knock out the dents and service the engine…

After a battle, you might see an aeroplane icon on the results screen with a message along the lines of “New modification for Hurricane Mk II: Offensive 7.7mm belts”, indicating there’s an upgrade available for that plane; if you quit a battle before it’s over, the message might appear on the next results screen you see, so it won’t necessarily relate to the aircraft you were just flying.

shot 2013.08.18 17.09.37

To access the upgrade screen click the “Weapons” icon with three bullets, it should have a pulsating gold background if new options are available:
shot 2013.08.18 17.10.07

That should bring up the upgrades:

shot 2013.08.18 17.10.20

The precise options vary from plane to plane; the Hurricane Mk II just has one set of machine guns, other fighters can have weapons of two or three different calibres with separate upgrade options, bombers tend to have turrets, like the Blenheim Mk IV here:

shot 2013.08.15 19.23.33

Across the top of the screen we have the weapons: Offensive Armament (standard guns), Secondary Weapons (bombs, rockets, torpedoes, gun pods), and then the ammunition load of guns and/or turrets. For a brand new plane, you won’t be able to change any of these.

I wouldn’t worry about the two Premium options, purchased with Golden Eagles. “Backup plane” allows you to use the aircraft twice in an Arcade battle, potentially handy if you have a particular favourite but by no means essential. “Talisman” gives an experience bonus for the aircraft, worth considering in the higher ranks, but not so vital at lower levels when experience comes quickly.

Underneath those are the upgrades that are unlocked as you gain experience with the aircraft, four tiers grouped into Flight Performance, Survivability and Weaponry. These upgrades can be bought with silver lions (earned in-game) after you unlock them, but if you really can’t wait you can purchase locked upgrades with gold lions (real money). Hover your mouse over a locked upgrade and a box will show the XP required to unlock it, a “Buy” icon underneath will show the cost in gold lions to immediately purchase it.

Citius, Altius, Fortius

The first two groups allow your plane to fulfil the Olympian ideals of Faster, Higher, Stronger. As the names suggests Flight Performance upgrades to components like the radiator and compressor improve the performance of the aircraft in flight, Survivability options improve your chances of surviving a battle (though really quite marginally, you get a slightly stronger and lighter airframe rather than super-adamantium armour). To see precise details, hover the mouse over an upgrade:

Radiator?  I hardly know 'or!

Radiator? I hardly know ‘or!

In this example cleaning and tuning the radiator increases maximum speed by 4mph and climb rate by 0.1m/s; it’s unlikely you’ll notice a massive difference in a fight, especially in Arcade battles, don’t be too worried about upgraded opponents having an insurmountable advantage, but every little helps. The cumulative effects of a full set of upgrades is more noticeable in Historical and Full Real battles.

Use of Weapons

The Weaponry options are less Olympian in their ideals; “Improved Air-to-Air Combat Effectiveness” isn’t such a catchy motto, even when translated into Latin (Google Translate suggested “A’ris amplio-ad-caeli certamen efficaciam”, and struggled with some of my alternative ideas like “MOAR DAKKA”). There are three main types of weapon upgrades: new guns, ammunition unlocks, and pylons.

New guns, like flight performance components, tend to grant a slight improvement to e.g. reliability or accuracy, useful but not terribly exciting.

Ammunition unlocks tend to be the first weapon upgrade option, “Offensive 7mm” in the above screenshots. Once purchased you can ditch the boring Default ammunition and switch to something crazy like All High Explosive Incendiary Tracer, All The Time (note: not actual name).

Pylons allow you to fit secondary weapons to the aircraft. Most bombers start with a single default bombload, pylon upgrades allow them to carry more or heavier bombs, or alternative secondary weapons like torpedoes. The Blenheim Mk IV starts with 4x250lb bombs, with the MBC-B pylon upgrade it can carry 2x500lb bombs instead:

shot 2013.08.15 19.23.27

Some fighters only have guns, others have pylon upgrades for a fighter/bomber role; the Hurricane Mk II can carry 2x250lb bombs with the HSBC mk.2 upgrade, or 6xRP-6 rockets with the HRC mk.8. Some German aircraft have also recently gained the option to fit additional cannon as secondary weapons, as per Rüstsätze (field modifications), so the range of options are getting wider.

Guns n’ ammo

Once you’ve unlocked new secondary weapons or ammunition belts you can fit them to the aircraft using the drop-down arrows in the bar at the top of the upgrade screen. Note that upgrades are a one-off cost but you have to purchase non-default secondary weapons and ammunition with silver lions each time you use them. Don’t worry too much, though, they’re not particularly expensive, and even if you go on a crazy spending spree and have no money left at all, you can always equip the default options for free.

The types of ammunition available will depend on the weapon calibre and country selected. If you want to see the exact contents of an ammunition belt hover your mouse over it, in this case the British Universal 7.7mm belt:

shot 2013.08.15 19.23.12

Once I’ve got ammunition unlocked I tend to use Universal/Omni-purpose; it’s an improvement over the Default ammunition (the Default 7.7mm belts include Ball rounds, just plain chunks of metal, fine for making small holes in stuff but not very exciting compared to an Amour Piercing Incendiary round), and suitable for both air and ground targets. I haven’t found any particularly good discussions of the relative merits of other ammunition loads, feel free to experiment.

For a bomber you might have a few choices of bombload; the Su-2, for example, can carry 12 x 50kg bombs, or 6 x 100kg, or 2 x 250kg once you’ve unlocked the pylon upgrades. Though, as per the old maxim, quantity has a quality all its own, I tend towards the other maxim that bigger is better. If you can get nicely lined up on a road packed with a column of vehicles it can be glorious to drop a long string of bombs down it, but irritatingly the enemy are seldom generous enough to lay out their forces in nice, geometric, easily bombable patterns. Small bombs (50kg/100lb) have to be very precisely placed, they do little splash damage, larger bombs give you a bit more leeway, particularly useful if you’re intending to bomb from altitude, and some targets need heavy ordnance to destroy them.

Regarding weights, just to confuse things metric and imperial weights are used by different nations (e.g. 250lb bombs on the British Blenheim, 250kg bombs on the Soviet Su-2). 1kg = 2.2lb, so as a very rough rule of thumb you can multiply or divide by 2 to get a general idea of comparative bomb loads, or type a phrase like “500lb in kg” into Google and its handy-dandy converter will give you a more precise figure.

Choose your weapons

After you’ve kitted yourself out with new weapons and ammunition on the upgrade screen, you can change the load of your plane before going into battle. Here’s a spawn screen at the start of a match with our newly upgraded Blenheim:

shot 2013.08.18 16.39.51

Under Secondary Weapons we can choose 2x500lb bombs instead of the default 4x250lb bombs, and we can change the Default shell racks to Omni-purpose. Don’t worry too much about the other settings for now.

Once you have a bit of a feel for different maps and game types, you can tweak which plane you start with and its weapon load. In a Ground Strike battle you might want to start off in a fighter-bomber, head for the nearest ground targets, rattle off a few rockets or bombs, then look out for any friendly bombers who might need an escort; alternatively you could start out in a pure fighter, skip the secondary weapons for optimum performance, and climb up to high altitude in case an enemy heavy bomber is lurking up there going for your airfield. In a Domination battle you could start in your lowest rank fighter and have a crack at capturing the closest airfield (lowest rank so it isn’t too great a loss if you misjudge the approach and crash a bit), or pick a bomber, head for the enemy airfield as fast as possible and hope to catch one or two of the capturing team on the ground.

So that covers trivial things like the weapons load of your plane, Part 5 covers a far more important feature: painting your aircraft, along with a general wrap-up of crew skills, premium options and the like.

Posted by Zoso at 1:25 pm

Colourless greenlit ideas sleep furiously

war thunder, zoso Comments Off

Good news for War Thunder, as part of the Steam Greenlight programme it’s been released on the digital distribution behemoth. Good news for players too, as a number of DLC packs are available on Steam with a 25% discount until August 19th.

I’m still thoroughly enjoying the rather splendid World War II flying fun of War Thunder; I’m not completely convinced by the revised upgrade system added recently in patch 1.33 with four tiers of individual components, resulting in a more significant difference between a newly purchased plane and a fully upgraded one, but it’s a fairly minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re at all tempted to grab your eggs and fours and get some bacon delivered, my complete beginner’s guide might come in handy (though I need to update part 3 to reflect the new upgrade system), and if you get into it then the Ace Advanced Pack is well worth buying for two nice premium aircraft, two months of premium account time and a nice stash of golden eagles. You can even buy a couple of packs, if you’re really keen, the premium account time stacks up; just be a bit careful about putting high level premium planes into service, you’ll get put into higher level matches, and that’s not so fun if the rest of your hanger is full of biplanes!

Posted by Zoso at 12:02 am
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