Thursday 5 December 2019

They call him The Accidental Horsepunch Kid

A new season of Destiny 2 is on the way. I’ve ticked off most of my goals for the Season of the Undying – gear cap hit, the season pass track finished, assorted weapons and bits of armour obtained – so it’s good timing, I haven’t had much motivation there for the last couple of weeks. I don’t know whether I’ve been conditioned by games, particularly MMOGs, or it’s deep psychology that’s always been there (see also: Everquest as Skinner Box and the old Operant Conditioning stuff), but when there’s a Number To Make Bigger (gear level, season level, whatever) then a Strike or Gambit or Crucible match is rip-roaring fun with lovely shiny loot and progress at the end of it, but once The Number is as big as it gets I can barely muster the enthusiasm to start any of those exact same activities in the first place. On a rational level I’m sure I’d enjoy them as much (I mean I think I enjoy them, get too far into deep introspection and you can hardly be sure of anything any more), but if a tree falls in a forest and it doesn’t Make A Number Bigger, does it really exist? Aaaaahhh! (No, not aaaahhh.)

While not suffering from existential crises I’ve been taking to the skies again in War Thunder after a fairly lengthy naval interlude. A new country has been added, China, with a new set of aircraft to unlock (and thus Numbers To Make Bigger). With the vehicles of War Thunder spanning the mid-1930s up to (at least) the 1980s (I haven’t been paying much attention to the higher tiers where the most recent vehicles are found) the era includes such straightforward and completely uncontroversial events as the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, formation of the People’s Republic of China, and so forth. Good job gamers are knowledgeable, reasonable and well-balanced types, so nobody went completely mental over particular flags or insignia (aside: some people went completely mental over particular flags or insignia). Funny how some of them were the same folk who previously insisted that politics must never interfere with games in any way, shape or form… Fortunately gamers also (genuinely) have the collective attention span of a gnat, so there was something else to be Absolutely Furious over within a week or two.

Going back to lower War Thunder tiers is always fun, when you open up new aircraft after a few battles rather than a few months, and the addition of new nations alleviates some of the guilt about picking on brand new players as there’s usually a fair sprinkling of more experienced folk around. I strongly suspect that, as with the French and Italian trees before, I’ll run out of steam around Tier III as things bog down and you need more and more Research Points to unlock new aircraft. It’s vitally important to Make A Number Bigger, but if the target number is Really, Really Big and you’re only Making A Number Very Slightly Bigger each match it’s also poor motivation. Tricky things, Numbers.

I also picked up Red Dead Redemption 2 when it released for PC; I was a big fan of the open-world type games that Grand Theft Auto III really kicked off, and though Grand Theft Auto V left me a bit cold in the end RDR2 was very well received so I thought I’d give it a crack. I’ve found it quite tough to get into, it’s a pretty slow introduction with occasional gun battles interspersed with lengthier spells of riding along and talking. It’s not bad as an extended tutorial covering riding, hunting and suchlike, but doesn’t lend itself terribly well to playing an odd chunk here or there with a few days between. Never mind the old 747 cockpit problem when returning to games after an extended absence, whether it’s my poor ageing brain or the scope of the game and number of systems within it, it’s like starting from scratch each time.

There’s always been a learning curve with game controls – way back in the early 14th Century some games (particularly simulators) came with keyboard overlays to help out. Things have generally converged in the worlds of first- and third-person shooters, WASD on PC for movement, space for jumping, R tends to be reload, E or F usually some sort of interaction. Context sensitivity is a great thing allowing one or two keys to do a variety of things, though can result in the absurdity of the infamous “Press ‘F’ to pay respects”. Other keys vary more – crouch, for example, as in perhaps the greatest bit of video game comedy, Dara Ó Briain’s “Jump-Crouch-Touch” routine.

The basics of running, jumping and shooting are fine in RDR2, but other elements of interaction with the world are a bit variable with a very fine line between a friendly hello and a fist fight. I got into a friendly bout of target practise with a stranger, and after shooting a few bottles and jars I was trying to have a quick chat to see if he fancied another round but ended up shooting him in the leg instead, which understandably made him a bit cross. Another time my horse was grubby so I was trying to brush him down (and, ideally, give him sugar lumps, and ride him over fences; polish his hooves every single day, and take him to the horse dentist). I thought I’d equipped a horse brush after rummaging around assorted inventory settings and clicked to start brushing, but apparently there was no brush so I punched him instead, which understandably made him a bit cross. Melmoth has a theory that this could be a deliberate design choice to put you in the shoes of a grizzled mean stranger-shootin’ horse-punchin’ outlaw, which is plausible, or I might be a ham-fisted buffoon, which is perhaps a bit more plausible. It looks incredible, I was riding out of camp at night watching a thunderstorm rolling in, lightning strikes illuminating the valley, but it’s hard to really settle into the world when trying to figure out whether to rapidly tap ‘E’, or hold down ‘R’, or right click then ‘F’. I’m sure it’ll get there in the end, but fear my horse might have had enough by that point.

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