Wednesday 17 July 2024

Chalke History Festival 2024

This year was our tenth visit to the Chalke History Festival, we've been regulars since 2013 (except when stymied by automotive issues or Covid). The Festival goes from strength to strength with a slight rebrand this year (it was Chalke Valley, but that sounded a little yoghurt-y) and the merciful loss of the Daily Mail as title sponsor. The crowd is a good mixed bunch, it's heartening to see youngsters with brightly coloured hair alongside the brightly coloured trousers that might be a little more traditional.

The trouble we always have is cramming everything in - at any given moment there are likely five talks on at various stages and tents around the ground and a couple of living history performances/demonstrations, any one of which I'd quite happily sit and enjoy, so we decided to do two days this year, one focused on talks and the other to soak up everything else. Fortunately we rolled a critical success on the random British Weather Table avoiding torrential rain and dangerous heat in the bucolic Wiltshire setting, and have a splendid old time: swords were forged, pies baked, weapons, armour and uniforms demonstrated, artillery fired.

A live recording of Charlie Higson's Willy Willy Harry Stee podcast was particularly good, after enjoying a Best & Worst Monarchs discussion last year I'd worked through the whole monarchy with Charlie while walking the dog, I can highly recommend it if you're a bit hazy on chunks of British history.

With festivals being an expensive business they've also launched the Chalke History Hub, membership giving access to recorded talks and online events, which I might well sign up for to catch some of the talks we couldn't get to. Roll on 2025 and More History!

The festival ground

Foreign Field foot tourney

25 pounders? I hardly know 'ers!

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling.

Thursday 27 June 2024

The loveliest and the best

By jove, Baldur's Gate 3 is quite good isn't it? I suppose there were one or two clues, like the raft of awards from hither and yon including BAFTA wins warranting a mention on the News at Ten, but maybe the entirety of games media and the overwhelming majority of player reviews were mistaken?

Spoiler: they're not. So I'm too busy playing to write a proper post about it for the moment. Maybe in a month or three...

Wednesday 22 May 2024

The bridge at midnight trembles

When Midnight Suns first released I caught a little of the buzz around it - a turn-based Marvel game with deck building from the XCOM 2 people. Sounded my sort of thing, PC Gamer liked it, I stuck it on the Steam wish list and recently picked it up with all its DLC in a sale. The turn-based card combat is just what I was expecting, but I wasn't anticipating quite how much time I'd spend organising a cake for a surprise party and customising Doctor Strange's swimwear...

Not having read a detailed review I didn't know there's a lot of downtime between missions in Midnight Suns during which you can explore the background of your own character (The Hunter, introduced for this game), chat with the cast of Marvel heroes you can recruit and befriend, and explore the mysterious Abbey that forms your home base (with its own pool, hence the importance of swimwear options). This is done in a third person explore-and-chat-'em-up where you can also gather ingredients for crafting and find chests of (mostly cosmetic) loot, some behind puzzles. This worked well to mix things up; do a bit of research, unlock new abilities, use those abilities to build decks for your team, head out on a mission, biff evil-doers on the nose, back home for tea, biscuits and movie night (or book club, or other team-building exercises).

There's a large cast of heroes to recruit and befriend. I'm reasonably familiar with Marvel characters, partly from the comics (though I've fallen out of reading them for a while), partly the Cinematic Universe (a decent chunk of the Midnight Suns crew have their own film series), and partly other games (my main point of reference for less well known characters like Nico Minoru (excellent for strengthening special tiles in Marvel Puzzle Quest) and Magik (a staple for adding turn 7 to a Marvel Snap match)).  At first I wasn't quite sure about the game versions of the big names - obviously there've been any number of variations across different media with different writers, artists and performers but some stand out as iconic like Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man and Huge Action's Wolverine. The voice cast of Midnight Suns are all strong, though, so after getting used to them it didn't feel like a bunch of knock-offs. There's a good range of customisation, a variety of outfits for all the heroes and more in-depth options for The Hunter.

Things were progressing quite nicely as I learned the various systems, but then everything started to bog down somewhat. The game is centred around the magical and supernatural elements of Marvel - plenty of spells, demons, gods and such. For some reason that's never worked well for me; in Dragon Age or D&D, perfectly fine, but not so much with superheroes. It's ridiculous, I know; a radioactive spider bite resulting in superhuman powers? Sure! A flying suit of nigh-impervious armour with an improbable arsenal of weapons? Absolutely! A bloke doing magic in present day New York? Hmm, not sure about that... Technological superheroes might as well be the poster child for sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, but for some reason I have double standards for how things are hand-waved away.

The supernatural aspects drive the whole plot along, a good old battle between good/light/order and evil/dark/chaos, unfortunately that never particularly grabbed me. The lead character of The Hunter is a fairly blank tablet allowing for some player agency, but lacking a strong identity; I never got terribly invested in their relationship with the game's antagonist.

Each of the characters who can accompany you on missions has a Friend-o-meter that can be increased by selecting conversation options they approve of, giving the right gifts, and taking part in suitable activities. It's not so different to something like Mass Effect, but with twelve of them in the base game plus four more from DLC that's a lot of present-based admin. If you reach Level 5 Friend-osity you unlock a new costume and power so I'd been trying to do that with everyone, but just ran out of steam towards the end. I'm not sure the Marvel IP does the game any favours here; delving deeply into the background of Captain America or Spider-man hardly breaks new ground, and the previously unknown Hunter becoming the Super Best Friend of the entire Marvel universe didn't ring terribly true.  

Without that investment in the story or characters everything ossified maybe halfway through my play-through, every day following an almost identical pattern of research, training, mission, chat; I had ability decks I was pretty happy with, sufficiently fabulous costumes, the between-mission segments were more of a chore than something to look forward to. It didn't help that the combat and non-combat aspects are so clearly delineated and feel rather disconnected. In hindsight it may have been the DLC that tipped things over the edge. I played through all of it as soon as it was available, and enjoyed those interconnected stories a bit more than the main plot. Without that diversion, and the additional admin that the extra characters brought, I don't think I would have been stuck in quite such a rut towards the end of the main story.

Thankfully even when the narrative aspects dragged, the actual missions kept interest up. The turn-based combat with decks of cards for powers works really well. PC Gamer have an interesting piece about the way the XCOM model wouldn't have worked for superheroes - they shouldn't need to take cover, shouldn't miss their attacks, and shouldn't have limited movement. The use of cards flips things from XCOM, where you have a consistent set of actions that may or may not succeed, to a random selection from a set of (mostly) guaranteed actions. Both approaches have their merits, I'd probably tend towards the latter - I prefer backgammon (roll two dice and decide how to move your pieces with the results) to Blood Bowl (decide to do something then roll a dice to see if it succeeds). Characters have interesting selections of powers with varying degrees of damage, tanking and support options, I enjoyed pretty much whatever combination I, or the game, selected. Positioning, environmental effects and knockback make for interesting puzzles in how to use your powers in the right order for maximum evil-biffing.

It's a pity the non-combat aspects of the game didn't really work for me; with a more interesting original (or at least different) IP it might've worked as a full RPG, or with that side of things stripped right back to focus on the tactical missions. Still, worth a look if it sounds like it might be your thing, especially with the deep discounts its been getting. Maybe don't worry about the DLC, though. Unless you really want to deliberate over Eddie Brock's swimming trunks.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page

I've got a fairly stable collection of regular games. Not quite so stable that they haven't changed since I was last posting to Blogger in 2008 - that would be a bit much. Mind you, Hellgate: London was one of the last things I posted about before moving over to KiaSA, and I just saw news that its creator has announced a new Hellgate title is in the works. It seems the original has been tweaked and re-released a few times, I was almost tempted to grab the current version from Steam, but a tenner seems a little steep for what would likely be a brief nostalgia hit rather than a serious diversion.

War Thunder is a bit more recent and has received considerably more updates, thundering along in a warlike fashion into its eleventh year. This year's April not-exactly-Fool's event was an apocalyptic resource gathering and crafting affair, Mad Thunder, bringing elements of Crossout into the game. Lightly armoured vehicles with automatic weapons made life nasty, brutish, and short so the mode was fun and frustrating in fairly equal measure - one round with a couple of good kills and a large haul of crafting materials was almost inevitably followed by another of immediate death to unseen opponents with nothing to show for  it. I crafted a couple of new vehicles and might have dabbled further, but as it was only around for a month it didn't seem worth devoting too much time to. Otherwise I try and get a few battles in each week flitting between modes and nations - British ships, Swedish tanks, French aircraft.

Speaking of fun and frustrating, Marvel Snap also fits that bill. I tend to find a deck I like and stick with it - between the randomness of the hand you draw, your opponent's deck, and the locations that appear there's plenty of variety. It's not ideal to get too set in your ways, though, and the game seems to have an uncanny ability to send me on a terrible losing streak, either with a shift in the meta or just a run of bad luck, to the point that I'm on the verge of quitting. I'll grudgingly sort out something new (usually dusting off a previous deck and slotting in a couple of the hot new card gets them competitive again), and frequently get on a hot streak and shoot up the ranks. There's probably some psychological element, like the other queue always moving faster, but it's kept me playing. The small decks and quick matches are a real plus point; it's entirely supplanted KARDS for my card gaming as I found the meta there shifting towards lengthy matches of attrition, with decks of 40 cards from a choice of around 800 needing rather more effort to build and test. 

Around other games I still tend to have Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms idling along in the background. I wasn't sure about its longevity, but three years on it turns out that Making Numbers Go Up still works for me. There are (very) long term goals of hitting some Really Big Numbers (Complete 200 variants! Collect 1000 feats! Acquire 1.00e14 influence!), with regular releases of new characters providing more immediate content while working towards them. Also regularly releasing new characters is Marvel Puzzle Quest - you might've thought they'd be running out with 300+ already in the game, but between some pretty deep cuts ("Hit-Monkey possesses the normal attributes of an Earth Japanese macaque, which includes superhuman agility and reflexes") and multiple versions of better known characters (good old multiverse!) the well runs deep. It's still my mobile game of choice, alongside 2048 Ultimate as a sort of fidget-swiper par excellence during calls and similar (up to 8,388,608 in one square so far!)

Destiny 2 had been a regular for a good while but fell out of rotation a few years back; it recently got an update, Into The Light, with a new Onslaught activity pitting players against waves of mobs. It generated some positive buzz so I got it patched up to have a nose around, and enjoyed a bit of blasting. I'm not sure I'm motivated enough to start on the heavy admin - working out a build, finding weapons with particular perks, touring the Tower for bounties and the rest, but it scratched an itch and might be something I head back to.

Aside from the regulars a light dabble in Fortnite didn't last too long - Festival Mode didn't grab me like Guitar Hero 3 had back in 2008. Saints Row 4 was more diverting, but got a little same-y after a while, so when a decent bundle of Mechwarrior 5 and its DLC turned up in a sale I picked that up to clamber back into a 'Mech cockpit for the first time since Mechwarrior Online back in 2013; I'd loved the rest of the Mechwarrior series but could never get into MWO. For some reason I hadn't got around to MW5 before, but that allowed for plenty of improvements and additional content. It was most enjoyable to work through the main campaign, building up a collection of increasingly heavy 'mechs. I carried on for a while after completing the story, but with a couple of reliable lances of assault 'mechs things got a little humdrum, so I had a look around for something else. Midnight Suns was another game I'd had my eye on for a while that popped up on sale with its DLC, so I grabbed that and it's proving... interesting. More on that next time when I'll hopefully have finished it.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Bringing It All Back Home

As my posting has dwindled over the years it seems a little excessive maintaining an entire hosted site for irregular burbling. I've gone back to where it all started and dusted off this here Blogger blog formerly known as MMO Musing, renamed it to Killed in a Smiling Accident, and (more or less) migrated the content from there to here.

I'll probably shutter things over there, maybe re-point the domain if I can be bothered or leave a placeholder of some sort. Monthly-ish posts should continue if you have a burning desire to re-point feeds, bookmarks or what-not.

Welcome (back) to where time stands still!

Friday 16 February 2024

Forever lasted a fortnight

I know you all come here for the latest up-to-the-minute buzz from the gaming world, so, hey – have you heard about this little indie called Fortnite? I reckon it might get pretty popular, you know…

My consumption of gaming news might generously be called haphazard these days, generally comprising A Random Subset Of Things Posted To The Site-Formerly-Known-As-Twitter (a rebrand that must be a source of constant joy to whoever came up with Consignia, safe in the knowledge that it’s no longer the worst rebrand in history) . In the year since The Event things have definitely fragmented; some folk headed off to Mastodon, an old chum sent over a Bluesky invite before it flung open its doors and it’s got a good community going, but Twitter continues to limp along so I still check back in, albeit not so religiously.

My Twitter feed is more of a historical curiosity than a carefully curated ongoing concern, much like the blog roll here (with apologies to the last few diehards still blogging away). It’s been pretty stable for the last ten years or so with an occasional addition and even more occasional removal (in most cases from seeing some crypto-bollocks pop up, kicking off a game of ‘which dormant account got hijacked by scammers this time?’) A few gaming sites like Massively OP and PC Gamer are in there, and the latter posted about Harmonix ceasing Rock Band DLC. Having been quite the plastic guitar aficionado back in the day that was a shame, but my instrument peripherals went to the Great Charity Shop In The Sky (or down the local high street, at least) a few years back so there wasn’t a direct impact. Reading on, the article said Harmonix were focusing on their work in Fortnite for Epic Games – my random news consumption had entirely missed Epic buying Harmonix in 2021 and the resulting release of Fortnite Festival at the end of last year. That prompted me, for the first time, to go and download the Battle Royale juggernaut to see what’s what.

I started out with the Festival mode, and it’s… fine. There’s a limited number of free songs available with some rotation – a few from the dim mists of history (i.e. I’d heard of them), a few newfangled popular rhythmic artistes (that I usually hadn’t heard of, but generally proved quite catchy) and a few Epic Games offerings (pretty forgettable). There’s a peculiar Jam Stage that lets you play snippets of different tracks with others to create… weird noise? There are achievements for spending 5, 10, 15 minutes in there, I couldn’t see much point in it past that, maybe I’m missing the appeal. The Main Stage is, oddly enough, the main draw – essentially Rock Band on a keyboard (QWERTY, not musical) or controller, though I’m not sure how well it translates to the latter. You can pick lead, bass, drums or vocals, all of which use four lanes of notes (five in expert mode) to tap along to – no mic for vocals, no ‘strum’ in the guitar modes, just hitting buttons. For a couple of songs I tried the old technique from PC guitar-alikes back in the day, holding a keyboard upside down with F1-F5 as ‘frets’ on the left hand but without needing the space bar for strumming it didn’t really work. Instrument support is on the way, though apparently first-party peripherals aren’t on the cards.

It was diverting enough, Harmonix obviously have the background for a solid rhythm game, but without an instrument controller it’s not really the same; it’s a curious thing, how essentially the same action of pushing a button can feel so different on a silly plastic guitar rather than a keyboard. Once it gets support the current music library wouldn’t really compel me to go hunting for a USB guitar either, my nostalgia isn’t that strong. Still, it was enough to make me download Fortnite, so I figured I might as well have a look around the rest of it.

Atop a vast array of user created modes are the core options – the original Battle Royale and more recently added Festival, Rocket Racing, and LEGO. I hopped in for a round of Battle Royale, parachuted down, ran around a bit, shot a few folk, got shot. I can see why it’s popular, but not really my thing – I never really got into Apex Legends either for all its qualities. The construction element didn’t seem terribly useful in my initial mash-buttons-no-idea-what-this-does run; presumably it plays more of a part when you have a vague idea what you’re doing and can set up a strong position, a couple of the folks I bumped into started building a wall but I countered with an incredibly advanced tactic I developed I like to call “Running Around The Other Side Of It And Shooting Them Anyway”.

Rocket Racing, developed by the Rocket League folk, is a well executed racing game, but again not really my thing. LEGO Fortnite turned out to be my favourite of the modes, a survival game that doesn’t deviate terribly far from the Minecraft blueprint – gather stuff, build stuff, gather more stuff – in a LEGO brick format. The building aspect works very well, with plans that allow you to create a series of components that assemble into a specific larger structure, or can be used in a more freestyle way. Combat with bricky skeletons and spiders yields further crafting components allowing for expeditions into caves for more advanced materials. I didn’t bump into anything wildly innovative, but it was very well done, I stuck around for a while until the craft-and-upgrade-and-craft cycle got a little stale.

The addition of Festival, Rocket Racing and LEGO around the same time is interesting in developing an interlinked ‘metaverse’, with a degree of commonality across the modes. One scenario touted by the NFT crowd, between inexplicably attaching value to horrifically ugly JPEGs, was being able to own virtual items and transfer them from game to game; the Fortnite cash shop (Eminem and The Weeknd to the fore when I had a look – perhaps the latter could buy his missing ‘e’ for 200 fortbucks) has a dash of that, letting you be Slim Shady in both a Battle Royale and a rhythm game, but even within its own ecosystem things are hardly universal (there doesn’t appear to be a LEGO version of the skin, presumably as the rights and brand representation get a bit tricky).

Overall it’s not really my bag, baby; there’s a distinct lack of walking sticks and Werther’s Originals in the shop, though at least I have a bit more of an idea of what’s going on with this Fortnite malarkey now. If they keep developing Festival mode and I happen to find a reasonable guitar peripheral I might even pop back for another bash.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

All the sinners are Saints Row

Hunkering down over Christmas to avoid spreading COVID did give me a chance to wrap up Cyberpunk: 2077. The game received another reasonably chunky update in December, adding a working metro system amongst other elements. I might have been mildly miffed if there was anything in there that would have made a significant different to my second playthrough, but after taking the train once and admiring the effort put into the system I never used public transport again, fast transport was just so much more convenient; maybe there’s some deep message there about public infrastructure (or rather more prosaically, maybe teleportation is better than buses). My first time around, I had sided with Arasaka at the end of the game (not entirely deliberately, I’d hoped to spring some sort of inside-job double-cross but was never presented with the option to do so). This time I called in favours from the Aldecados, and went in guns blazing. I much preferred it as a conclusion, going out with a bang rather than a whimper, a fitting end to 100+ hours back in Night City.

Casting around for something else to play I noticed that Vampire Survivors had also received a few updates since the last time I played it, so I fired that back up. I particularly enjoyed its Adventures – small sets of missions that take you back to basics, only a single character to start with and a more limited set to unlock. That kept me going until the Epic store gave away the Saints Row reboot for the new year.

It’s a bit of an odd duck, the new Saints Row. I remember enjoying Saints Row 3, and Saints Row 4 before it got a bit silly (having superpowers was fun, but made foolish human contraptions like “cars” and “guns” obsolete rendering chunks of the game a bit pointless); I didn’t think they were that long ago, but Google says 2013. The new game seemed comfortingly familiar right off the bat, popping up a map full of icons to visit for a variety of activities, some from previous games and some new; you get little bonuses for things like driving on the wrong side of the road (something that comes very naturally to a British player) and narrowly missing or indeed slamming into other cars (something that comes very naturally to an incredibly careless driver) (and in the game, ahhhh). Last year I contemplated the changes in games from 1993 to 2003, and the rather more leisurely progress from 2013 to 2023; I’m not sure the new Saints Row brings a whole bunch more to the table compared to its predecessors. It’s a perfectly good game, I’m enjoying running around doing slightly goofy missions (including LARPing and hijacking fast-food toys, so far). Compared to something striving for more realism I appreciate the more laissez-faire approach to law enforcement and physics (without going full bananas), but it feels a little incidental; I’m not sure much of it will stick with me after I head off to something else. £50-ish at launch would have been a bit steep, as a giveaway it was very generous; worth a look, certainly, but not a must-play.