Wednesday 18 December 2013

Changes to the War Thunder research system in Patch 1.37

Father Christmas arrives a week early for keen War Thunderers, with Patch 1.37 today bringing a veritable sack-load of new goodies: new planes, new maps, new flight models, DirectX 11 support, and perhaps most noticeably a major change in the research system. Previously you had a rank for each country, each plane had a rank, and achieving a new rank in an air force unlocked all the planes of that rank. This system had several good points, but a few disadvantages; progression could be a bit uneven as a new rank might not unlock planes of your preferred type (the US tree had a particularly bad Fighter Gap pre-v1.33 between the rank 13 P-51 Mustang and rank 18 F-80 Shooting Star, only partially filled by a couple of F8F Bearcat variants at ranks 15 and 16), or even any planes at all. In 1.37 you pick one aircraft at a time to research per country, a little more like World of Tanks, but with some key differences.

Aircraft are now grouped into five Eras instead of twenty Ranks, broadly chronologically but with a few tweaks to reflect their performance. These eras are also used for matchmaking, but with slightly fuzzy edges and player performance factored in, so a mid-late Era II plane with a good pilot might well be grouped with an early Era III plane with a poorer pilot. Here’s the first four Eras of the new British tree:

NewResearchTree

You can see the Beaufighter Mk VIc in Era II is “in research”; every match played with Britain will contribute towards unlocking the Beaufighter, even flying biplanes will contribute towards jet research (though not very much…)

To unlock a new Era, you have to research a number of planes of the previous era. At the very left of the screen you can see “2/4” under the “II”: I’ve researched two Era II planes (the Hurricane Mk II and Spitfire Mk I), and need to research two more to move on to Era III, so I couldn’t immediately research the Era III Beaufighter Mk X after the Mk VIc. Premium planes count towards this number, though, so if I finish researching the Beaufighter VIc and buy a Boomerang Mk I or D.520, that will allow me to move on.

To unlock a specific plane, you’ll need to have researched the previous plane in its line (connected via an arrow). In this example I haven’t started on the Wellington bombers yet, to research the Mk Ic/L, I’ll have to first research the Mk Ic. Some planes are “stacked”, like the Spitfire Mk II (clicking on it will reveal two variants, the Mk IIa and Mk IIb). You need to research them separately, but you don’t need to unlock them all to progress to the next aircraft in the line (the Spitfire Mk V in this case).

Individual module research on each aircraft has also been tweaked slightly so that you research a particular module, rather than modules automatically unlocking according to a predefined sequence previously. You can select the module to research in the usual Upgrade screen, if you complete that research in a battle, you’ll get a pop-up afterwards letting you know, and allowing you to select the next module to research:

NewModuleUnlock

The general consensus seems to be that the new system may be slightly quicker for advancing all the way through one specific line of planes, but quite a bit slower for researching everything; a lot depends on the rate at which Research Points (“RP”, the replacement for XP in the new system) are awarded, which could well be tweaked a few times as the system beds in. There’s a Developer Diary that goes into a bit more detail, it looks like victory for a team will be a major factor in the number of RP received, which could be a positive factor in encouraging good teamwork, or equally terribly frustrating if you perform magnificently but lose a match due to a team full of buffoons. So much the same as ever, really!

Monday 16 December 2013

We'll have to destroy them ship to ship. Get the crews to their fighters.

When it was announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be getting free-flight PvP space combat, my interest was piqued; being a fan of the old X-Wing series, and having spent most of my brief Star Wars Galaxies tenure jumping to lightspeed, I thought I might as well resubscribe to be first in line for starfighter access. And for free hats. Mostly the hats, to tell the truth.

I’ve only dabbled a little in space fighting since the update arrived, and I’m not sure I’ll be throwing myself into it in a big way. It all seems nice enough, you have a variety of ships, can tinker with the crew and the fittings, level up various aspects of their abilities, but the actual flying-around-and-shooting side hasn’t really grabbed me. I think I’ve been spoiled by War Thunder, which uses a “virtual instructor” so all you have to do is point the mouse in the vague direction you want to fly, and the instructor accordingly adjusts the elevator, rudder, ailerons, elevons, upperons, downerons and any other control surfaces that happen to be kicking around; once you’re pointing the right way, the camera aligns, and you’re flying straight and level. It’s a brilliantly intuitive and easy system; I was showing the game to Van Hemlock, lined him up a Spitfire for a test flight, and with minimal instruction (“press shift to go fast!”) he took off, flew around, shot up a practise target and landed, without crashing. Galactic Starfighter, like a lot of other flying/space combat games, uses more of a mouse-as-joystick approach: move the mouse left and your ship goes left until you move the mouse back to the middle of the screen, a scheme that needs a bit more practise to get to grips with.

Needing practise, it would be a nice if you were thrown into battle with fellow novices so you could all bumble around together, with your wingman struggling to put his starfighter into gear while you accidentally turn on the windscreen wipers instead of firing your blasters. With a phased approach to release (subscribers having access now, ‘preferred’ players getting access on January 14th and completely free access from February 4th), it seems that the pool of potential pilots is too small for any matchmaking niceties like taking account of player performance or ship upgrades, and most rounds I’ve played so far have been dramatic mismatches differing only in whether the Imperial forces disconsolately hang around one of the three control points for an inevitable but prolonged loss, or just get camped on their spawn point.

At this point I could knuckle down and jolly well harden the ruddy heck up, keep on plugging away and gradually improving, or… not bother. And with War Thunder and World of Warplanes available to scratch the dogfighting itch, not to mention space games like Star Conflict if gravity and an atmosphere is too much of a drag, Option 2 looks rather tempting.

Though the space combat itself hasn’t been terribly inspiring so far, Galactic Starfighter has got me back into SWTOR more generally. I’ve been on an MMO-break for a fair while, but seeing as I’d subscribed again I thought I might as well have a look at the expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, that added a new planet and raised the level cap. It was rather fun to dust off my Imperial Agent and chat to the old crew again, but upon landing and actually getting into combat it was the familiar old problem of having four hotbars of random icons to get to grips with again. Fortuitously the FRR posse were just piling in, a fine opportunity to roll a new character and get back into the swing of things, and it’s been most splendid rampaging around the place and discussing the quantum state of Schrödinger’s Black Talon Captain with others.

I may still try the odd starfighter flight, then, as a bit of downtime between quests and flashpoints; perhaps once preferred players have access there’ll be a brief flurry of newcomers I might have half a chance against, while the even-more-seasoned-by-then veterans enjoy a Happy Time in a potentially extreme case of free(ish) players being content for subscribers, unless the matchmaking system keeps them apart. As part of the wider whole of SWTOR it’s nice to have options alongside the main story, the PvE on-rails flying the game launched with, conventional PvP battlegrounds, flashpoints, operations etc., but I’m not sure Galactic Starfighter is really strong enough to pull people into the game by itself, especially with dedicated projects like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen inching towards playability. Still, the beauty of free-to-play is that you give it a try yourself from February without any financial outlay.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Hat News Now Today Returns!

Badadadadada dum dum dum dadada daa daaa dum dum daaaaaaaaa! It’s been almost two years, but Hat News Now Today is back, today, now! Our correspondent is still in The Old Republic, and received four packages in the mail for the launch of the Galactic Starfighter update, containing…

Imperial Battle Ace Pilot Helmet

HNNT3

A good start; a sound base of flying helmet (textbook), a dash of Stormtrooper, a pinch of Cold War gasmask and just a soupçon of gimp. Equally at home in the cockpit of an Imperial starfighter during a fierce dogfight or hanging around the fleet station bar trying to work out where to pour a drink.

Republic Squadron Commander Pilot Helmet

HNNT2

What is it about the Republic and orange? Really, guys, 1993 called, it wants its bold colour blocking back. Oh, hang on, not 1993, we’re in… what… 3953 BBY? So… 3973 called? And it wants to know how it’s possible to use a chronological system based on the Battle of Yavin that won’t happen for thousands of years. And also how time travelling phones work.

Republic Experimental Pilot Helmet

HNNT4

Does my face look bovvered? Does it? Oh, it does. Yes, well, so would yours under this monstrous carbuncle. The Republic don’t do terribly well out of the Starfighter headgear; about the only thing you can say in favour of this one is that the peak/visor thing doubles as a handy can opener, so if your starship crashes on a deserted planet you’ll be able to get into the tinned food in the emergency supply kit.

Imperial Covert Pilot Helmet

HNNT1

The second Imperial helmet, and my personal favourite. Hints of the original TIE pilot’s helmet (via some timey-wimey inspiration, as previously mentioned they won’t be around for a few thousand years), but with the help of Darth Bradley Wiggins it offers an optimum aerodynamic profile when riding a speeder.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Black. Black! Like the clouds of death that follow me into the Forest of Doom! And hide in the wardrobe of darkness!

Amazon’s Black Friday deals week is always a bit of fun, and this year we’ve come up with a new game: Write An Episode Of MacGuyver Or The A-Team Where They’re Trapped In The Black Friday Warehouse And Have To Escape Using Only…

Today’s challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to Write An Episode Of MacGuyver Or The A-Team Where They’re Trapped In The Black Friday Warehouse And Have To Escape Using Only cricket leg pads, a window mounted bird feeder, a box of twelve ballpoint pens, a floating bath thermometer and clock, a squash racket, a Plant Theatre Funky Veg Kit and an IPL Hair Removal System. Submissions in by midnight, please, and the mandatory puns of the day are “Well that was a close shave!!” (IPL Hair Removal System) and “I guess he couldn’t take the heat!!” (floating bath thermometer and clock).

Friday 15 November 2013

They're all frightfully keen, those magnificent men in their flying machines

It’s a busy old time for virtual pilots of World War II(ish) crates with World of Warplanes hitting official release this week and War Thunder ramping up for its launch on the PlayStation 4 and the addition of ground forces.

I popped back in to the World of Warplanes open beta last month when they added British planes, and patched it up for release a couple of days ago. The controls certainly seem to have improved from earlier beta versions so WoWP is perfectly fine for a bit of flying-type fun, but not enough to displace War Thunder as my dogfighter of choice. Still, I’ve got a bit of premium time left from tokens earned during the beta, so I’ll at least try to use that for a bit of a leg-up towards a Spitfire. I won’t be going all out to be First to the Top, though, that way madness lies. I didn’t think it was a particularly good idea when Blizzard started handing out server first achievements, and that was without an incentive like ten years of premium account time.

As a canny marketing stunt/completely coincidental bit of timing/evil underhanded plot, Gaijin are also dangling a carrot to encourage War Thunder players to jump through a few in-game hoops, offering players the chance of participating in the closed beta test for ground forces by completing daily challenges over the next three weeks. The first challenge, to destroy 60 ground targets, was pretty straightforward. The second, to shoot down 35 opponents, was rather trickier as you had to be flying one of five specific aircraft (one per country), which made Arcade battles a little unusual as many players quit after losing their challenge aircraft rather than respawning. Today’s was better, shoot down 30 fighters, sorted out with a few trips back to low level furballs. I won’t be going mad to try and complete every challenge, but it’s quite fun mixing up the type of aircraft you fly and way you play to at least have a crack at different challenges.

The announcement also offered a hint at dates, “The testing itself is currently scheduled to start before December 4th”, so it looks like tanks might be coming in early 2014. I had a brief peek at the forums to see if there might be any more hints, but after seven pages of frothing excitement, bitter complaints and animated GIFs I had to close the browser window for fear of developing photosensitive epilepsy.

More positively on the forums there’s a rather splendid British Tech Tree Project, a collaborative effort that’s produced an impressive looking possible tree. Aircraft suggestions usually range from “You know that plane, yeah? The one with the guns and this and that, yeah? That would be all amazeballs they should totally put that in the game, you know what I’m saying?” to “Gaijin must implement pastes Wikipedia list of all military aircraft 1934 – 1952“, but this group have taken the time to sift through the possibilities, assemble cohesively themed branches with suitable ranking and produce a graphical version of the tree in keeping with the in-game interface. Most impressive.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

I bid you good day, sir!

Cosmetic items are an important element in many free-to-play games, offering a chance to earn a bit of money from item shops without disrupting game balance, and Hawken is no exception with several chassis components available to change the way your mech looks. Unfortunately there are no hats, rather a shame as I think giant battlemechs would look quite dashing wandering around in a fedoras or trilby. It’s doubly unfortunate as Hawken also offers emotes for its mechs, and the combination of a top hat plus a hat-tipping emote, ideally accompanied by a cry of “I bid you good day, sir!” would be a splendidly gentlemanly way of greeting friends and dismissing opponents. In fact you could get rid of that beastly shooting business altogether, I’d be perfectly happy just to wander around a map tipping my hat to other robots, rather like Charlie Brooker’s Pleasant Neighbourhood Simulator, only better, as it’s a scientific fact that giant robots improve anything.

Speaking of good manners, Twitter was set all of a fluster recently with news of a Kickstarter Project, Ever, Jane: The Virtual World of Jane Austen. An intriguing prospect, an MMO based around gossip and dinner parties instead of swords and dungeon crawls, I’m hoping the project secures enough funding, although the high tier rewards make me a touch wary; for $1,000, for example, “… your own estate rather than a cottage, the title of Baronet and your estate named after your character” smacks a little of pay to win (or perhaps more accurately cash for honours).

It being a scientific fact that giant robots improve anything, though, I humbly submit a setting for an expansion pack…

SCHTOMP

UND

GERSCHTOMPABILITY

A NOVEL


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a giant battlemech, must be in want of a wife. And a shoulder mounted gauss rifle.

At Netherfield Park the Fotherington-Autocannon family prepare to receive the visit of Colonel Short Range-Missile with considerable excitement.

Bzzzt-whirrr “WHY MAMA, DO YOU SUPPOSE THE COLONEL MAY CONSIDER ELINOR A DESIRABLE COMPANION?” said Marianne.

Clank-clank “AFFIRMATIVE” replied her mother, “THREE AND TWENTY IS CONFIRMED AS OF OPTIMAL SUITABILITY FOR A MATCH AND ELINOR IS POSSESSING OF MOST COMELY HEAT SINKS”

At this, Elinor became most flushed and did increase her coolant flow. “UPON MY WORD, I MUST OBJECT” she cried and spun upon her heel, activating jump-jets to leave the room, resulting in a tumble of lathe and plaster as she smashed through the ceiling.

Marianne projected a winking smiley holo-emote at the discomfort of her sister; “I DO BELIEVE ELINOR MAY HAVE FOUND SEVERAL DESIRABLE QUALITIES IN HER ANALYSIS OF THE COLONEL’S ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE”

At this moment a great crash from outside signified the arrival of the Colonel’s dropship, setting a swathe of lawn afire and crushing several petunia bushes in the process. The ramp descended on the remains of a laurel hedge and the Colonel deployed to the drawing room.

“MRS FOTHERINGTON-AUTOCANNON, MISS FOTHERINGTON-AUTOCANNON, MISS FOTHERINGTON-AUTOCANNON” said the Colonel formally, raising his robo-hat to each.

“COLONEL RANGE-MISSILE” replied Mrs Fotherington-Autocannon, “WE ARE MOST DELIGHTED THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO VISIT DURING YOUR RECONNAISSANCE OF THE ENVIRONS. WOULD YOU CARE FOR TEA?”

“AFFIRMATIVE”

Mrs Fotherington-Autocannon busied herself with the tea things, sweeping several cups from the table with the barrel of a PPC and incinerating the teapot with a flamethrower. “OH ELINOR” she called “I DO BELIEVE COLONEL RANGE-MISSILE SHOULD ENJOY TO HEAR YOU PLAY UPON THE PIANO-FORTE”

“WHY INDEED” said the Colonel “LADY ECM-SUITE ASSURES ME THAT YOUR RECITAL OF CLEMENTI LAST MONTH WAS QUITE EXQUISITE”

Elinor sat at the piano-forte, and was gracefully hammering the instrument into firewood with delicate blows from a pair of linked medium pulse lasers when Marianne gave a soft cry: “OH ELINOR! I AM UNDONE! I HAVE RECEIVED A BURST TRANSMISSION FROM MORTON COMPOSITE-ARMOUR AND HE… AND HE… HAS ENGAGED WITH AN ASSAULT-CLASS MECH ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF LONDON TOWN!”

Mrs Fotherington-Autocannon fell into a swoon, knocking over two bookcases and a sofa as Colonel Range-Missile hastened to her aid. Elinor clasped her sister’s pulse lasers between her own.

“MY DEAR SISTER” she said “HAD COMPOSITE-ARMOUR NOT LOCKED UPON YOU WITH HIS TARGETING COMPUTER?”

“HE GAVE ME MOST SOLEMN ASSURANCES THAT I WAS ATOP HIS TARGET PRIORITY LIST” her sister sniffed, “BUT I NEVER… NEVER DETECTED THE TONE OF A MISSILE LOCK WITH MY OWN SENSORS”

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Achtung! Doppelgerschtompen

I’ve been a fan of BattleTech games on the PC for a long time; my original 8086 wasn’t quite up to running BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception or the first MechWarrior game, but I played through BattleTech 2: The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge (a splendid early top-down real-time tactical game) and the two MechCommander games that came later, and the excellent MechWarrior 2, 3 and 4 plus expansions. A couple of years ago MechWarrior Online was announced, last June they put Founders packages up for sale, and I was rather tempted.

The trouble with pre-launch offers such as Founders packages is that if you plunk down a wodge of cash on an amazing never-to-be-repeated offer then Murphy’s law dictates you’ll end up not really liking the game (or the company implodes before launch, or they offer the same benefits for half the price later, or…) Course if you cunningly sidestep that issue, by ignoring pre-launch offers entirely, Murphy still gets you, as you wind up trying the game sometime later, you find it’s amazing, and bitterly regret missing out on a great value offer that will never be made again. Still, reasoning that I liked both the previous MechWarrior games and also World of Tanks (which MechWarrior Online broadly resembles, only with Mechs instead of tanks oddly enough) it seemed like a fairly safe bet, and I opted for one of the packages.

Needless to say I’ve hardly played MechWarrior Online, only clocking up a few hours of giant robot gerschtomping in the past year.

Perhaps it’s not so much Murphy’s law as expectations (cf. David Mitchell), if you’re excited enough about something to have been gathering every stray snippet of gossip and publicity, constructing visions of the Best Game Ever in your head (aided and abetted by the PR department), even Quite A Good Game can seem something of an anticlimax, whereas if you start playing Quite A Good Game with no preconceptions you’ll probably find it Quite Good. Or perhaps it’s just fate – monstrous and empty, you whirling wheel, you are malevolent, well-being is vain and always fades to nothing. Anyway…

The path of development doesn’t seem to have been completely smooth; a slashdot article suggested discontent within the community over features such as the introduction of a third-person view. I suspect it’s something of an overreaction from highly invested fans to decisions made by Piranha Games trying to balance sometimes mutually exclusive requirements of disparate elements of the player base (and potential new players), perhaps exacerbated by poor communications. On the Internet in general though, and with gamers particularly, a Cyclops suffering from Alice in Wonderland syndrome looking at an M C Escher picture has a better sense of perspective (typical starting point: minute adjustment to the reload speed of a gun = LITERALLY WORSE THAN HITLER), so without deeper involvement it’s hard to distinguish between brave consumers standing up to malicious or incompetent developers, a bit of a storm in a teacup based on some genuine concerns, or the deranged rantings of a tiny group of lunatics (and that’s before bizarre comedic-perfomance-art-installation-protests confuse matters still further).

MWO was officially released in September after a year or so in beta, and the PC Gamer review certainly chimes with my admittedly limited experience, solid mech-on-mech action but a lot to get to grips with and a rather clunky out-of-combat interface. Not insurmountable issues by any means, but with a plethora of other drop-in vehicular combat options like World of Tanks, Planetside 2 and War Thunder, MWO hasn’t really hooked me in yet. Apparently there’s going to be a “UI 2.0” revamp, hopefully that might make it a little easier to get into.

There’s also a giant stompy robot rival in the shape of Hawken; I first heard about it during last year’s E3 where MWO had a crazy controller, the Razer Artemis, and Winged Nazgul pointed out the Rogue Mek-Fu for Hawken in a comment (sadly the controllers don’t appear to have made it to market). Seeing as I already had one Mech game I wasn’t playing I didn’t see much point in trying another, but in its most recent patch Hawken introduced a co-op mode against AI bots, which got Melmoth interested (despite being terrifyingly lethal in Planetside 2 with a k/d ratio to match, he’s not such a big PvP fan), and he extolled its virtues so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Hawken takes a different approach to mech combat, somewhat stripped down (e.g. two weapons per mech, a health bar rather than armour and damage per location) at a much faster pace, lots of dodging and boosting. It’s very straightforward to hop in and get to grips with. I’m sure there are plenty of forum and comment skirmishes between advocates of the two games putting forward balanced, well-considered and rational arguments over the pros and cons (ha!), the Ten Ton Hammer comparison seems well balanced. I think I might drop in to Hawken now and again for a spot of high tempo robo-blasting, and if War Thunder starts to pale then maybe take a closer look at Mechwarrior Online again in the future.

Saturday 2 November 2013

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

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.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

In Memoriam Warhammer Online

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.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

The RAF in World of Warplanes - Textbook

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.

Sunday 6 October 2013

War Thunder - Tanks in Advance

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.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Spaceteam review: Dilate Eigengeode!

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!

Saturday 28 September 2013

War Thunder Update 1.35 - Events

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.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

War Thunder Indian Summer event

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!

Thursday 5 September 2013

Wot I'm Playing: Roundup

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.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

A Beginner’s Guide to War Thunder, Part 4

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.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Colourless greenlit ideas sleep furiously

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!

I once saw a forklift lift a crate of forks, it was way too literal for me

Apparently “literally” literally doesn’t literally mean “literally” any more. To signify something is intended in a literal manner or sense, exactly, you now have to follow it with “and I’m not even joking”, and I’m not even joking.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way

I like xkcd. I was going to say I love xkcd, but that might be going a bit far, I haven’t gone geohashing or played chess on a rollercoaster; thinking about degrees-of-liking-stuff rang a vague bell about a quote, from back in the dim, distant past when I had a quotefile, a bit of Googling turned it up as Skif’s Internet Theorem:
“Every fleeting thought you’ve ever had in your life, no matter how bizarre, is someone’s lifelong obsession. And they have a website.”

It really needs an Ironic Addendum: “… except Skif’s Internet Theorem”, as the majority of Google hits appear to be from other people’s .sig quotes, the only real page I could find devoted to the theorem itself was in archive form. “You know people deeper down the rabbit hole than yourself, so you reassure yourself you must be the normal one” is a similar sentiment, expressed in one of a series of 28 dates on 28 different dating sites by a former WoW raider and dab hand at 40K that I stumbled across when random browsing and Related Articles links turned up a rather fun account of a Date in Day Z.

Anyway, xkcd; I read the strips when they pop up in the RSS reader (I’ve switched to Feedly, after the poor folks of The Old Reader got somewhat overwhelmed, with the added benefit of a nifty mobile app I can take advantage of on a shiny new Android phone), check the alt-text, smile (mostly) or look slightly puzzled, then wander off to the next article. I don’t particularly remember strip 1190, Time, I guess I filed it as one I didn’t really get, but a blagpost revealed something quite amazing: it’s a story that played out at one frame per hour over four months, 3099 drawings in total, and had developed a thread/wiki/subculture all of its own. I had no idea the rabbit hole was there, let alone how deep it went…

Tuesday 16 July 2013

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results

Thanks to the good ol’ Steam sale I snapped up a bargain “Gold Edition Upgrade” for Civilisation V with a bunch of DLC and the Gods & Kings expansion, so if I ever get around to finishing my ongoing campaign (where I’m feeling slightly guilty about bombarding enemy cavalry with MLRS units) I can kick off another bout of world domination with even more options. The addition of trading cards to Total War: Shogun 2 also prompted me to get that patched up, and dust off another campaign that ground to a halt last year sometime. Today I picked up another umpteen hours of strategy action with the Wargame bundle; I was a fan of R.U.S.E. so I’d had my eye on the imaginatively titled series for a while, especially after a positive review from hex-maestro Tim Stone of Wargame: AirLand Battle (presumed tagline: “It’s a wargame with both air and land battles”; I hope Eugen expand into other genres and release Fightinggame: Cartoon Characters Punch Other Cartoon Characters, or Drivinggame: Cars Drive Around Trying To Drive Around Faster Than Other Cars).

It’s something of a cliché to have a Steam library backlog longer than the average human lifespan, but when Galactic Civilisations II Ultimate Edition popped up in a Flash Sale I had to resist, otherwise the only strategy game I’d ever play would be trying to allocate the time and bandwidth resources needed to download and play a library full of strategy games…

Friday 12 July 2013

Random Roundup

Posts about pricing are swirling around the place, f’rexample at Gamasutra; I don’t think much has happened over the last three or four years, since the first big wave of subscription MMOGs turning free to play, to change my general position; “free to play” covers such a wide range of methods and models that it’s pretty meaningless to discuss in generalities. Rob Fahey on gamesindustry.biz has a fine and balanced take on the whole business.

Also swirling about the place are sharks, in a tornado. Sharknado (tagline: “Enough Said”) has been trending on Twitter, and there’s a great article about the wave (MEGA-SQUID-WAVE!) of Asylum/Syfy B movies, with some interesting snippets perhaps somewhat relevant to price/content discussions, B movies in previous eras being packaged with A movies, quality not being a priority (Drive-in-movie-theater owners of the post-war era snapped up the cheap fare to pacify captive viewers stuck in their cars. “As long as people were heading to the snack bar,” Davis says, “exhibitors didn’t care.”), with the current generation performing a similar role to pad out subscription service catalogues.

Speaking of padded catalogues, the Great Steam Summer Sale is upon us, together with recently added trading cards. They seem to have snuck under the radar somewhat, I haven’t seen too many pieces about them. It’s quite an odd idea, meta-achievements and badges effectively in a shop; possibly evil, possibly genius, probably both. Trading cards do take me back to the 1980s, small boys, in the playground, isn’t it? Wasn’t it? Return of the Jedi, the 1986 World Cup, Garbage Pail Kids, got, got, got, NEED! I’ll give you the Belgian goalkeeper and a shiny badge for R2D2… I’ve assembled a couple of collections from buying and selling cards in the Community Market, Valve must be absolutely raking it in from the fees there. I also stumbled across a bunch of Team Fortress 2 items in my inventory from assorted other pre-orders and similar, which gave a bit of an insight into the crazy world of the Team Fortress 2 market; never mind Bitcoins as a digital currency, Valve are probably plotting a Steam based global economy centred around virtual trading cards and hats…

In other forms of alternative funding Kickstarter projects continue to proliferate, I recently backed Satellite Reign, a sort of spiritual Syndicate successor, and slightly more unusually, jerky; Martin’s Jerked Meat had a stall at Chalke Valley, and their wasabi jerky was most excellent, so I jumped in after seeing Warren Ellis tweet a link to their Kickstarter for new equipment.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

In Memoriam Google Reader

So. Farewell then
Google Reader. It saw things
you people wouldn’t believe:
the very mysteries of the
universe, recipes for cupcakes,
slightly rehashed
press releases, the raw stench
of desperation.
All these moments
will be lost in time
like posts after you “Mark all as read”.

E. J. Zoso, age 17½

(OK, so it happened a couple of days ago; I migrated over to The Old Reader after the initial announcement a few months back so didn’t really think about it, until talking to Melmoth about how todaysgamingdrama.tumblr.com really distilled the gaming news of the day; as he put it, “A real solution to the loss of Google Reader.”)

Monday 1 July 2013

Chalke Valley History Festival 2013

The Chalke Valley History Festival is a week long combination of a literary festival, featuring talks and debates with many leading historians, and living history encampment, with re-enactors from Romans and Vikings to World War II and myriad periods between. I saw a piece about it on the local news; sword fighting school, a World War I trench and an air show with Spitfires? Perfect!

Unfortunately, only finding out at the last minute, many of the talks were sold out; I would’ve particularly loved to see Eric “Winkle” Brown in person. Still, we toddled off through beautiful rolling countryside to the festival site in the depths of Wiltshire, and the English weather was good enough to to forget it was supposed to be turning Glastonbury into a mudbath.

Not all of the talks were completely booked, there were spaces in many of the morning sessions, so I went along to see “ACHTUNG! Commando Comics”, editor Calum Laird talking about the history of the comic from its first issue in 1961 to present day digital distribution (with great foresight, the comic is about the same size as an iPad screen), and how an issue is put together. Taking advantage of the venue, a parade of re-enactors covering just about every theatre of World War II lined the stage, including a couple of Commandos able to display the real Fairbairn-Sykes dagger present on the cover of every issue of the comic.

Wandering around the festival presented some fantastic scenes, I’m not sure where else you’d see a troop of Napoleonic soldiers marching past a group of Regency dancers being watched by a Waffen-SS Hauptsturmführer eating an ice cream. A group of Plantagenet re-enactors demonstrated weapons and armour from various phases of The Hundred Years’ War:

Is there someone else up there we can talk to?

Is there someone else up there we can talk to?

It was quite warm enough wandering around in a pair of shorts, I can’t imagine the heat under the padding and multiple layers of armour they were in. If you were inspired by what you saw there were plenty of stalls selling all manner of arms and armour, from full size helmets and pikes to wooden swords and shields for kids.

Lunch was accompanied by a Hurricane IIc of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and a couple of hours later the airshow kicked off with a Hawker Sea Fury, followed by a World War I dogfight between a Junkers CL1, Sopwith Triplane and a couple of SE5As, then three Spitfires Mk IXs, one solo, another pair arriving in formation with a Hurricane and Messerschmitt Bf 108. Jon from How To Murder Time had a suitably large lens and got some magnificent shots:

Sopwith Triplane

Sopwith Triplane

A pair of SE5As

A pair of SE5As

Messerschmitt Bf 108

Messerschmitt Bf 108

Hawker Hurricane

Hawker Hurricane

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX

All in all a really excellent day out, and I’ll be keeping a close eye for announcements about next year’s event.