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Ian O'Rourke
United Kingdom
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From Rares to Commodities
Keywords: Video Games.

Elite continues apace, just when things become routine another challenge comes along. The first thing to get out of the way is the fact I’ve consolidated my vessels. I’ve sold the Cobra and the Hauler as they’re not going to be used. I’d have sold the Sidewinder, but you get it for free so it has a zero value. I am now operating primarily out of a Lakon Type 6 for trading and my Diamondback Scout when I feel like blowing other vessels up. I’ve also got all my vessels in the same space and I have the George Lucas space station at Leesti as my base.

Item number one. I’ve nearly completed my outfitting of a Diamondback Explorer. It’s just waiting for the money to fit the scanners it needs. I headed down this road because I want to give exploring a go, the difficulty I’m getting into is the fact it precludes doing anything else. Since playing the game with relatives seems to be dying a death this might not be as a big a deal. I could take it on a short run as an experiment. What I’m aware of is it is quite a few credits sitting in storage. I’ve not checked but the Frame Shift Drive itself is 5M so I’m guessing it’s over 10M.

Item number two is I’ve shifted from the Cobra to a Lakon Type 6 for the bigger hold. I’m now operating with a 100 cargo capacity. This puts it at the borderline between rare trading and commodity trading. I’ve still been working off a few rare trading routes, which is fine, but I want to shift to commodities to see how that works out. I suspect, on the Type 6, it’s a matter of which works for you, but if I upgrade to a larger trading vessel I’m well into commodity territory due to bigger holds and drives with much less jump range. It’s been difficult so far finding a commodity route that is worth the time. You really need items that generate 1K profit per tonne and aren’t that far apart (otherwise you might as well be running rares). Harder to find than I thought it would be. I’ve started experimenting with online tools and I’m going to see how that works out.

Beyond these current vessels for trading, combat and exploration I’m not really sure what to do next.

I think up until now the direction has been appealing and the vessels have, by and large, been affordable. All the vessels have initial purchase cost under 2M, all of them but the Diamondback Explorer have been 1M or less. They cost more to outfit, but the initial price is probably indicative of the outfit cost. I am now in the territory of vessels that are 17M+ just to buy in a virtually unusable state. There is also a bit of a why do I want them factor other than to get them, which didn’t feel the case with the purchases so far.

The main issue is my Type 6 will cap my ability to generate money, so I need to decide to do something with that if I want to progress at all. The logical next step is the Type 7 but that just seems as boring as hell. Twice as big a hold, smaller jump range and it looks awful. It does allow me to earn twice as much money per run but it would well and truly restrict my style of play to shorter commodity runs as branching out into rares for variation just would not be an option as I’d not fill the hold and the number of hops across the route would be radically increase in number. The Type 9 is more of the same. Even bigger. Even slower.

What’s the end goal?

This is a good point. The natural tendency is to gun for one of the 50M ships, a Python or an Anaconda (which is a whopping 146M without any outfitting). The Type 9 itself is 76M so it's actually less than the Python straight out of the shop.

I probable want to own a perfectly kitted out Python or Anaconda. I’m not really sure why, other than the fact it seems to represent a certain point in the development of the game. Hell, it’s not like you can even fly about in it just to show people you have it as meeting other player ships is quite rare (though I admit I’m not in Open Play, but a group with 9K pilots in it). So, what I’d be doing with those ships is a bit of a mystery. I probably do need to be trading Type 9 levels of earning capacity to afford these ships though and the Type 9 then necessitates the Type 7, etc. I suspect I’m for a period of grinding out trades, while the game has not felt like that so far.

I’ll be honest, trading in a Type 9 is something I can get into. The sheer balls of its size appeals. It is like a vast, lumbering whale plying the space lanes. It sends a signal you’ve made it as a trader, you’ve ceased to be the ‘white van man’ of the space lanes and you’re one of the big traders. It also has the advantages of looking really, really cool. It’s actually one of the best looking ships in the game, which is saying something for a trading vessel. It looks like a bulked up Defiant off of Deep Space Nine. In all honestly, it looks like some ‘bring the hurt on combat vessel’, a slugger that can take and dish out epic punishment. It’s a bit weird that its design is for trading. The only problem I have with it is getting to a good, short run trade route with a Type 9 would be an epic journey, but that’s the same with the Type 7.

I just have to grind out the crappy looking, and middle ground status that is the Type 7 to get to the Type 9. Despite liking the look of a Type 9, at that point I'd not be sure what to do with the money I was earning!

I may avoid the decision. I may jump into the Diamondback Explorer and head off into unexplored space to see what that is like. It allows me to do something else that by its very nature puts the other avenues totally off the agenda. Shake things up a bit. When I return there may be another vessel progression option? Or I may find the Type 7 easier to stomach as a stepping stone to the ‘balls out’ trading option of the Type 9.

That Type 9 does look cool though. It can generate loads of money that can sit in the bank. Doing nothing.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 15/06/2015 Bookmark and Share
The Enemy Has Been Engaged
Keywords: Video Games.

I've purchased my fourth ship. After a bit of deliberation of what to buy next I decided to dabble in some combat, especially if I can do it in a wing with my brother and nephew. I had a look at the various combat ships, discounted the expensive ones for the experiment, and ended up buying the Diamondback Scout. Since then I've been involved in three sessions within asteroid fields hunting down wanted pilots: two in a wing and one solo.

The Diamondback Scout isn't perfect, it's got weak shields. It probably does work for the way I'm playing though. It's got could weapon coverage, it's ridiculously agile so I can keep things on target. It is also known as a 'Combat Scout', so this means despite being geared up for engaging the enemy it keeps a healthy jump range. Some of these fighter craft have a jump ranges under 10 when unladen, this makes it very difficult and frustrating to get anywhere. This would annoy me. I've got multiple ships so I have to travel to and from stations to swap ships. I also can't see myself farming one location, I'd like to mix it up and do missions and bounties with my 'combat ship', which means travelling.

I've enjoyed the combat so far, it reminds me of X-Wing and TIE Fighter, which is officially a good thing. It's even more funky than those games as the ships in Elite fly more like the vessels out of Babylong 5, in that you're not flying like you're in a World War II fighter. As an example, the key with the Diamondback Scout, due to its agility, is to literally 'reverse' and 'forward' thrust and pivot around things to keep then in front of you. It's quite exciting when you pull it off and get extended multi-canon time filling your enemy full of lead Battlestar Galactica style. The pulse lasers are cool, but there is something about pumping out those canons.

This means I'm now enjoying trading and combat in Elite, which opens up the various ways of playing the game such as hunting wanted pilots in extraction zones, taking on bounties and hunting specific pilots down and engaging in the various Powerplay expansion stuff which I've not really figured out but undoubtedly involves direct combat or the chance of it.

One problem is it becomes apparent that having multiple ships is a pain, more specifically multiple ships for different purposes. The problem is you have to put ships not being used into storage. The location of that storage is set. It basically ends up being where you purchased your last ship. So, the Sidwinder is where I bought the Hauler, the Hauler is where I bought the Cobra and the Cobra is where I bought the Diamondback Scout and so on. If you want to swap ships you have to travel to the space station. This is particularly bad when people jump on Elite for some combat action and your in another ship which has to fly to a space station to swap ships and then that ship has to fly to the location your friends are at. Even if the location you do your combat doesn't change, it doesn't help you as you have to fly away from it to swap back!

I've done some consolidation and got my main two ships at the same space station now, but that 'travel tax' on swapping activities is a real barrier.

The other thing that occurred to me as this frustration kicked in? Exploring is pretty much an all or nothing activity. If you jump into your chosen exploration vessel and set off on a 1000 light year plus journey into the unknown coming back to engage in some Wing-based combat sessions isn't an option at all. Obviously, but a bit disappointing. The only way you could get around that is to have two copies of the game. The other option is if the game allowed you to have multiple pilots, ideally sharing a bank account, then one could be off exploring and the other could focus on trading and combat.

This makes exploring a big choice to make. It also means I'm still not sure what ship to buy next so I may concentrate on getting the Cobra and Diamondback Scout perfect for a bit. A part of me still wants an ASP Explorer and to set off across the map, but I suspect the romance of that doesn't meet the reality.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 08/06/2015 Bookmark and Share
The Cobra Goes Primary
Keywords: Video Games.

There is one good thing about the Hauler, which I'd recommend to anyone, as I think it's a great ship, is it is ridiculously cheap to outfit. It would seem you can have a fully outfitted Hauler for about 200K. Since any ship beyond that is looking at a price tag into the millions to fully outfit, this is one of the vessels major advantages. If you're into trading, get a Hauler, jump out to a rare goods route and hit it hard. I've been doing that and funnelling the money into outfitting the Cobra which has been sat at a high technology station being outfitted.

This seems to be a good way to go, as the ship you buy is not often the ship you want until it has some upgraded gear. The goal with the Cobra was to get it to 36+ tonnes of cargo space and a laden jump distance of 20+ light years. As far as I cant tell this meant a 1.6m frame shift drive and a 1.6m power plant. That's without a few other sundry upgrades.

The outfitting work is complete and yesterday I moved the Cobra to being my main vessel. Really liking it.

I'm not sure about my next ship. I start getting into 1m+ ships at this point, so my expenses go up in terms of outfitting and repair. There was substantial increase in outfitting the Cobra with its Grade 4 equipment and the next vessels have Grade 4 or higher options.

The logical step is to start down the Lakon Spaceways route investing in their trading vessels in order of cost: Type 6, Type 7 and the Type 9. The trouble with this is it keeps the focus of the game on moving between planets and buying and selling cargo. It would probably represent a shift from long distance rare trading, to shorter distance mass commodities, but it would still be trading. These vessels have ever increasing, massive amounts of cargo space. The trouble with that is I'm finding it hard to get excited about that at the moment.

This leaves combat or exploration.

I wasn't too fussed about combat, as I was equating it with PvP. In truth I can enter combat with NPC vessels which is substantially easier and will hopefully allow an interesting route in. It will allow me to start hunting down bounties, entering combat zones, etc. This may raise my comfort level and allow me to start investigating elements of Powerplay down the line. It's helpful that I like the sound of the Diamondback Scout, which comes in at about 0.5M. I may get one of those as a 'combat experiment' sort of ship. I'm hoping the combat allows for me to have an experience similar to the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games of old from Lucasfilm. Great times.

The other option, which has me intrigued at the moment, is the exploration route. This would mean investing in a Diamondback Explorer or an Asp Explorer. It's intrigued me because I like the idea of being well out of discovered space and potentially getting my name on some systems. One of the things the game does well is the impression of deep space, I'm feeling the need to branch out at least once way beyond the red line and see how it works (the galaxy is massive). I'm also finding myself liking the look of those ships more. At first it was the Asp that intrigued me with its vast, open cockpit but that would have probably demanded a trade vessel upgrade to get to the 6M+ initial outlay and then the upgrade costs. Now we have the Diamondback Explorer which comes in at under 2M. It also looks like a Raptor off of Battlestar Galactica, which is an aesthetic boost.

So, the next ship is almost certainly going to be one of the Diamondback vessels, it just comes down to whether it will be the Scout or the Explorer. I guess the sensible route would be the Scout first as it is cheaper and opens up another way of making money and adds some variation into the game.

We shall see.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 06/06/2015 Bookmark and Share
Second Star On The Right
Keywords: Video Games.

I did it. I took the plunge. I have purchased Elite: Dangerous. I got a fancy HOTAS joystick, well, not so fancy, as in didn't cost hundreds of pounds, and this persuaded me to use the rest of some money that came my way on my birthday to get Elite. It's odd, I could get it any time I wanted, but it feels like this money is 'free' money and if it didn't work out what the hell.

It's safe to say it's worked out. I played it virtually all last weekend from Saturday morning through to 0400 Sunday morning and then back on at around 1100 Sunday through to midnight. At the moment, it has me hooked. The odd thing is? It shouldn't. I should be avoiding this game like the plague.

I should detest Elite: Dangerous, and that's why I was reticent to buy it. Is it game that doesn't present a narrative to you? Check. Is it a game that sort of involves making your own entertainment? Check. Is the galaxy mindbogglingly epic in terms of its incompressible size but largely 'empty'? Check. Is it a game that is, when you strip of all the atmosphereaway, a 100% pure grind-fest? Check. I should detest this game on a level that would be hard to calculate. Despite all this I don't. I'm loving making 360 lightyear round trips to earn 300K credits to upgrade my current ship and look forward to which new model to buy next. What will I do in that ship? At the moment, probably more of the same. I may get bored at some point, but I suspect by the time I do I'll have got my money out of it in terms of time. It may also be true other things will grab my interest in the game as time goes on.

At the moment I'm enjoying the trading as I feel it is consolidating my position and security in the game. I feel I need a certain amount of cash to secure the vessels I want and as a cushion against the dangers of open play. I've had a bit of help, as I was boosted out of my starter vessel when my brother dropped off some rare cargo for me to sell. This has helped, as it allowed me to jump over the possibly endless hours or weeks of small profit trading. I'm now in a Hauler and trading rare goods for a good amount of credits. I could have got my next ship after one of those runs, but I'm choosing to not leap from ship to ship with little reserves.

A point may be reached when more and more cash becomes pointless. At this point I'm interested in how the new Powerplay expansion plays out, as it provides context to the various activities you can perform. The activities of the players push the agendas and expansion of various powers and this will hopefully make the game a bit more dynamic. It may even bring players together to achieve bigger objectives either directly or through the invisible hand of a guiding purpose.

I'm intrigued by exploration. Literally picking a point off out in the middle of nowhere, out from the borders of currently expanded territory, and hit the frame shift drive. You read some of the forums of people doing this and it seems really cool. It seems the galaxy is simulated on a level that is much deeper than the glorious visuals you're presented with. They speak of the galactic plane, discovering black holes, different types of stars, etc. Elite is also great at evoking the atmosphere of being 'out in the blackness' of space, and that's when you're in explored space. The evocative feeling of not even knowing what's out there until your scanners find it and you go and look has a certain...romantic allure.

I'm slowly transitioning to Open Play, though I might never get 100% there for a 100% of my actual play time. Elite is unique in the sense that it allows players to switch between solo, group and open lenses of its galaxy. The galaxy is the same and any changes impact everyone, but the game does allow someone to trade their way into lots of money in a galaxy full of only NPC pilots. Once they're rich beyond avarice they can start playing in Open Play. This is cool, but odd, as usually games stop such lines being straddled.

I started in private, as the last thing I wanted was to be jumped by other players while just learning the game. This might not have happened. Possibly all such players aren't in the starting zones as they have bigger ships and more profitable cargoes to pirate in other parts of the galaxy. I was happy doing that and then I discovered the Mobius group of 9K pilots and counting. Mobius is basically a private group with some basic rules that essentially turn the Elite galaxy into a PvE server. I'm not playing all the time in that Private Group – so in theory there is up to 9K other pilots out there (at a maximum). Not bumped into any of them, but I guess space is big…..

I have been tempted to give Open Play a shot, just so I can fly back to my start area and possibly help a few new people out with some rare goods. A bit of payback, but I've not done that yet. I'm not stupid, I'd fly all the way there safely in my Mobius Private Group, first….

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/06/2015 Bookmark and Share
Highway To The Danger...Zone!
Keywords: Video Games.

I have a long history of playing flight simulators, even going back to when it was probably a bit of a stretch calling them such. I remember playing a flight simulator on my first computer, the Vic 20, and that was a triumph of imagination., then there was F-19 Stealth Fighter on the Atari ST, which I'm undoubtedly remembering as having better graphics than it did. This was followed by the 90's run of PC games: F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0, Falcon, Tornado, AV8B: Harrier Assault and Total Air War.

They seemed to be very much a 90's thing, military simulators of all types used to come out on a regular basis like FPS games do now. Then the millennium rolled around and the genre all but died. Now there isn't anyone pumping out modern versions of this genre despite the potential in processing power. The world simulator has ceased to be military orientated and turned into odd things like Construction Simulator and Truck Simulator.

This leaves DCS World, with DCS being short for Digital Combat Simulator.

The idea behind DCS is quite simple. Provide the engine for free, along with a couple of planes, and then sell additional modules to allow you to fly different planes and even control land forces. As the name suggests the engine creates a digital combat space with a mission editor, campaign editor and the ability to fly the aircraft you've purchased in that combat space. As free games go it is ridiculously complete, robust and content rich. The military aircraft you get free is the Su-25T, developed in the 70's, introduced into service in the early 80's. I tend to play these games for strike missions not air-to-air combat, so a plane designed for close air support is a good choice.

I've taken the plunge and I've been trying it out.

I don't remember these games having such a learning curve? Possible DCS World is more complex, albeit the Su-25 has the middle tier of model complexity in DCS World. It's also possible I just didn't think about it much back then while now you're more conscious of the time investment. I do remember Tornado being a game I purchased only to decide it was unplayable. DCS World isn't that bad, but after a handful of hours put into it I can take-off and fly steadily. This was a process of learning to start the plane up. Learning to taxi it. Learning to take-off. Then learning about this odd thing called trim. I don't think any of the flight simulators in the 90's worried about trim. I also spent time playing with the auto-pilot, trying to figure what it does and does not do and how that relates to the waypoints in the mission editor.

The next step is learning to land the plane. I've done it once, on my first attempt, but forgot to open the shoot. This might have been a bit of luck as it's not gone so 'well' since. I may actually have played it for over ten hours before I actually get to fire a single weapon at an actual target. In this day and age some games are over by this point! I'm playing it with my brother and nephew, so the ultimate goal is for us all to graduate to flying a combined strike on a complex target with actual air defences.

The architecture of the game takes a bit of figuring out as there is three levels of flight models, two levels of system models and two levels of cockpit models. The most visible difference is the two levels of system model. The Su-25 uses the standard model which models only essential systems for flight, navigation and combat. This isn't an arcade simulation, it easily matches the complexity of the games from the 90's, but the advanced system modelling includes all systems, even if not directly related to flight and the cockpit buttons can actually be clicked as if you're in the plane (rather than relying just on a keyboard button). The A-10 module that my brother and nephew have uses the advanced model and it's way more complicated, layered with jargon and system acronyms as it hits you full force with the simulative reality of the A-10. It always sounds like there is a lot of bullshit to cut through. The A-10 model is so realistic it actually takes a ridiculous amount of time to get it powered up, never mind beginning to taxi it along the runway.

DCS World may be a transition moment for the gaming PC which has been sat under my desk relatively unused as my time spent on Star Wars: The Old Republic has diminished. It's the sort of game I purchased the PC for and it's what I associate with PC gaming. I don't see the point in buying games I can happily play on the PS4 on the PC, so this rules out a lot of titles. I've since ordered a fancy joystick, but it's mostly been used for Elite currently (and yes, I decided to give Elite a go). I'll admit that's part of what I associate with the modern experience of PC Gaming, it wasn't something that featured in my 90's run.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/06/2015 Bookmark and Share
Star Wars Days To The Rebels
Keywords: Board Games.

A while back, on good old Star Was day, we decided to play Imperial Assault. I'll admit to also doing this because last time we played Zombicide it proved to be completely exhausting to the point no one has recovered yet to play it again! It was like an intense and relentless episode of The Walking Dead. It felt like every decision was momentous yet it was just one small step to failure with every action taken. We were worn out and had headaches after we finished!

The first mission was interesting because it did something different to the other we'd played. The winning team had to make it to the 'exit' with a droid memory core. It's interesting because the Imperial side could win by doing it, not just the Rebels. It's not as easy as that, of course, as a Rebel characters are very hard to take down, especially when two Rebel heroes are in legendary mode, while each Imperial unit is much more fragile. Since the only way to retrieve the droid memory from a unit or character is to 'kill' them it would be almost impossible to remove the droid core from a Rebel hero but not that difficult to down an Imperial unit.

It was all a moot point though, as my first mistake as the Imperial player was not making a run for the droid memory core. This put control in the hands of the Rebels. If I'd made a run for it, while I may not have made it to the exit before being taken out it may have kept the control of the game with me. The other problem was the usual one: the Rebel characters are ridiculously mobile and can almost cover the 'mission board' if they choose to double move and not attack. There isn't really a way to stop this.

It felt like the mission came down to trying to predict where Jyn Oden would make her run for the exit? As usual, she played the running back while Gaarkhan tanked and, as his gear has accumulated, he can play havoc with the action economy of the Imperial player's units. This prediction factor is incredibly difficult as she moves that fast that changing her mind doesn't incur that much of a negative, especially since the Imperial player doesn't have as many options to screw with their action economy. I also think two legendary Rebel heroes makes it easier than four normal Rebel heroes. In a game with two Rebel heroes, Jyn Oden can move 20 squares in a round if she double moves for her two activations! If there are four Rebel heroes then there are more of them, but they only move 10 or less in a turn. Despite this I did make a few mistakes which probably didn't help me.

Jyn Oden got to the exit and it was a Rebel victory.

The second mission we did felt a bit all or nothing, as it was a side mission inserted by an agenda card I purchased: the reward for me would have been Darth Vader as a playable unit! Have to admit, it probably sounded better than it actually was as he costs about 18 threat to bring into play. This is quite a lot even when you're getting 5 threat per round in the latter stages of the campaign. Still, I wanted him and the Rebel players certainly didn't want me to have him.

It was an interesting mission, as the Rebel heroes basically had to survive six rounds without both of them becoming wounded. The Imperial player had to wound both Rebel heroes and then Darth Vader, who was on the map, could go for Luke. There was also some options the Rebels could use with respect to closing doors. It was a mission that was in the hands of the Imperial player. I must admit, I probably didn't aggressively pursue that as much as I should have done. I forgot what we learned in the very early missions: you never have enough time to take it slow, you always have to play aggressively in terms of movement and / or attack.

I think a sequence of lucky rolls meant I didn't damage the Rebel heroes as fast as I'd have liked. While Jyn Oden trapped herself in a relatively small area, thus removing her movement advantage, she got about three complete dodges in a row and started to remember to use her ability to attack an enemy figure upon activation which can take some units out before they get a chance to complete their actions. It's sort of the ultimate action denial ability for lower health Imperial units. Darth Vader is a beast, causing significant amounts of damage with a hit (and he gets to attack twice, but it has to be two different targets so Jyn locking herself in saved her from that). At the same time, the Wookie could damage him, he could also stun him! A stun in round five probably vastly increased the odds of the Rebel heroes winning the game. It just shows how those equipment upgrades add up.

The end result was I did wound both Rebel heroes, but I'd not positioned myself sufficiently to give Darth Vader enough time to run to the sabotage point (and that timely stun didn't help) and confront Luke.

It was a great game as usual, no mission felt hopeless or that one side ran away with it completely, but it is starting to feel a bit like the momentum is with the Rebel heroes at the moment. They do have some really good equipment. While the units I have are better, due to some class cards and having more threat available, they don't feel astronomically powerful and the killer units still take some rounds to bring in. It's also true that a stun on an Imperial unit feels much more dilapidating than it does on a Rebel hero.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/06/2015 Bookmark and Share
House of Wolves
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

The latest Destiny expansion was enabled earlier in the week courtesy of the fact I purchased the season pass for the first expansion. I've given it a bit of a run, having completed all the story missions and given Prison of Elders a go.

It's a strange beast.

The best bit about the expansion is undoubtedly the gear changes. They come in two flavours: you can literally upgrade any legendary or exotic to the current light level and they've done away with basic levelling upgrades on gear leaving only the funky perks. This is quite a major change. This makes no gear useless. This is streamlined significantly for exotics which just need an exotic shard to instantly boost them to the maximum power level of the expansion. They no longer lose their upgrades either, so you're not forced to grind out the levelling of your equipment again.

Legendary equipment needs the elusive Etheric Light.

Despite being simpler it did leave me a bit confused as I was left wondering if the search for new gear had gone completely? Surely if I could ascend all exotic and legendary gear to the current max light why would I not just do that with the gear I have? It seems to come down to where you can get Etheric Light. It tends to drop in content that needs you to be level 32. That makes doing it in your The Dark Below legendaries quite difficult. This means you need Crota gear or House of Wolves legendaries. The people who are best off are those who have fully levelled Crota gear as they were ready to go straight into hunting for Etheric Light so they can just ascend what they had. No middle step.

The great mystery in all this, of course, is how hard Etheric Light is to get. If it's ridiculously hard this whole idea could turn out to be worse than levelling up your gear again. It also puts the ascending of your gear in the hands of the RNG Gods, while before it wasn't, it was a predictable matter of time. A small part of feels this may be just a bit more frustrating. I have sneaky feeling it's going to feel great, with much rejoicing, and then everyone will hate it as it moves more things into the realm of the random numbers Gods.

The rest of the expansion is a bit odd or is going to take some getting used to.

They've provided a second social space. It looks nice. It's quite small. I'm not really sure what the point is? In a more traditional MMO, let's say World of Warcraft, new locations make sense. They make sense because they become part of a world map that can be traversed from end-to-end like one continuous landscape by running, riding and various forms of travel. Destiny is different. The setting is disjointed because you essentially load areas by flying to them in your ship. It doesn't feel like a setting but more a point-to-point system of content. As a result, the extra social space is another area with some new vendors in, etc. It lacks any real feeling of 'being' or 'setting' though. I'm not really seeing how an extra social space adds to 'the setting' like a lot of people feel it does? It doesn't in the sense the cities in Warcraft did. It's there, it serves a purpose and that's about it.

The story missions follow the same set up as in The Dark Below, you essentially get them from a vendor who speaks to you over your comms. They're a bit less 'spaced out space opera' than the previous expansion, but they still offer very little engagement and you only half really know what's going and why it's remotely important to you or anyone else. The House of Wolves has one more story mission than The Dark Below, but I'm pretty sure the The Dark Below story missions hard more to them. I felt like the The Dark Below story missions had adopted some of the feeling of strikes, making them more involved and providing a bit more meat to them. The House of Wolves story missions are pretty short and to the point. It also doesn't help they are level 28 which is pretty low. They feel a bit dialled in. People seem to be saying they are an improvement, but I can't get my head around that one.

Bungie have also made a bold choice and not introduced another raid. I can see why they did this. The raid content just seems to be out of the reach of the vast majority of the player-base. The usual MMO story. A combination of level requirements, difficulty and the really hard prospect of finding six people to regularly play with. I know, a bit shocking. There was a time you needed 40 people for these sorts of things, which was madness, apparently console players can't even find six! It's also true that Destiny was leaving people behind (in terms of a level gap) which means every successive expansions would have less of a potential pool of players to run the raid even ignoring the above.

The solution to this seems to be the Prison of Elders.

You can see it being an attempt to carry more people forward with the game. First, you can start doing it at level 28. Second, it only needs a fire team of three. Third, based on my experience so far on the level 28 version, while I am sure it gets horrendously more difficult due to the level and aggression settings of the enemies, it doesn't require anywhere near the coordination and timing required of the raids. It is this coordination over space and time within a dynamic environment that made the raids hard. It's what required the investment of time. I never thought I'd say this as, historically, I've never been a big consumer of raids. We had our period of relative glory in World of Warcraft, but the guild stalled at beating Molten Core back in the day. I'll miss it in Destiny though. Still, we are going to keep doing the current raids as they drop exotics and some of the legendary weapons are really cool and they can now be ascended to being relevant!

At the moment, I'm experiencing my usual Destiny expansion hump were I realise I need to start grinding out strikes again for marks to buy some of that vendor gear. At this point it always feels like I'll never play the game again, but I'll get over it, I always do. Quite often, it's not as bad as expected once you start either.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 21/05/2015 Bookmark and Share
Die! Alien Hordes!
Keywords: Video Games.

It's been a bit of a slog finding games I want to play on the PC. It seems to me PC gaming isn't as great as I'd hoped it would be. Star Wars: The Old Republic is proving to be too repetitive. Divinity: Original Sin has just way too high a transaction cost and is built on 'discovery of the rules and the challenge' as a model of play. As for Space Hulk? Still haven't figured out that game, it seems to be a mixture of indecipherable and impossible. This leaves Infested Planet, by Rocket Bear, which I purchased for £3, it's a bargain and it's been great fun.

The premise of Infested Planet is quite simple: You have a team of marines facing off against a veritable horde of aliens, you have to clear the map. It gets a bit more complicated than that, as you can upgrade your marines, the aliens sometimes have funky power ups, etc. It's essentially a tower defence game, but instead just laying down static defence structures against the horde of attackers, your main focus is the highly mobile team of marines who go on the offensive. This makes it a bit of a small scale RTS and tower defence hybrid.

Graphically the game is simple. It's top down with simple graphical 'models'. You have the horde, the alien bases, your researched structures, several different types of marine. The draw of the game isn't in the graphics, it's in the feel of the marines fending of the relentless horde, the music and the sound of the continually firing weaponry. This isn't one you need a gaming PC for. I suspect many a PC can play it. It's a great game if you travel, as it would run on a laptop. If I was still doing the consultancy thing I'd probably be playing it while away, especially since it doesn't demand an Internet connection.

The game comes up with a campaign, which hangs missions together around a very loose story. You also get a highly configurable skirmish mode which is handy for accessing some of the research upgrades ahead of purchase so you have some idea of what they do. While I don't believe there is any multi-player modes, challenging other human beings seems to come down to various games that have leader boards so you can rank yourself against the best of the rest. I've primarily played the campaign with one or two experimental skirmishes.

They vary missions up, but in each case the core strategy is to take all the alien bases, which spawn the vast horde, while keeping the bases you've taken until the map is totally clear. There seems to be a core strategy to this: advance while blocking off avenues of attack to bases you've taken with turrets. Everything costs BP and you earn BP by taking bases (sometimes there are crates you can drag to a base for extra BP). As you earn more BP and use it to deploy more marines, upgrade marines and set-up installations (which you've researched out of game with credits). At the moment I'm finding you rarely have enough BP to bring on what you've researched, often one if you're lucky. The reason being you tend to just have enough BP to deploy turrets to tower defence the various avenues of attack. Later in the mission, when a few avenues have closed down you may get an installation and a few marine upgrades.

You then hit missions where the above does not seem enough? So, what do you do? The answer seems to be in the one off purchases you can make. You can buy an upgraded marine as a one off purchase, for example. I can only assume the idea is on some of the challenging story missions I'm on at the moment the idea is you've gone into it with a pre-purchased, one mission only, mini-gunner, flamer, sniper and officer marine in order to make your life substantially easier! The other element of the game that suggests this is true is not all missions in the campaign are story missions. You also get random missions, which are essentially skirmish missions with pre-set settings (they have their own tree with the deeper ones being more difficult and earning more credits). These generate cash. At a certain point, progress seems to be linked to grinding these so you can overload on one off mission upgrades.

I can certainly see how some story missions, such as the one I'm on now when you defend in the night cycle and attack in the day cycle (both on timers), would be a lot more easier if my marine team came pre-packaged with a flamer, officer, mini-gunner and sniper! It's just a pity this means you'd be doing a mission, grinding credits and then doing another mission. It would have been much better designed if they'd managed to use the supply of credits over the course of the story missions and the allocation of BP as the campaign progressed so that progression and use of available options was more natural. The other issue with entering a mission with one off purchases is should the marine die he doesn't re-spawn as the upgraded type, which is the case if purchased with BP during the mission.

Normally, this grinding aspect would put me off, but it's not too bad in Infested Planet. The reason being the 'random missions' are no different to playing a skirmish mission it's just the options are pre-set. The fact progressing through those repeatable missions also reveals more difficult ones also helps. It's still enjoyable, strangely hypnotic and a great way to spend twenty minutes blasting your way through the veritable horde. It will come down to how often I fail at the story mission, as while grinding up the credits is still fun, repeatedly having to do the story mission with a credit grind gap between each attempt may get a bit painful.

We shall see. At the moment I'm seeing how far down the random mission tree I can get as each one reveals a repeatable mission that is worth more credits. I'm intrigued by how hard they get and how much money they offer!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 18/05/2015 Bookmark and Share
A Weapon From A More Enlightened Age
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

We had another five hour Destiny raid session yesterday, and great progress was made. We did the two hour run at Vault of Glass and them moved on to the bridge in Crota's End since it hadn't reset yet. We were expecting to practice, fail and make small steps to getting closer to being able to do it, but we actually did it. Not only that, the rewards for that stage dropped raid set pieces for three of the six people in the raid. Not bad! The first two stages are a bit away from farm status, but it was still way beyond expectation.

We tried the next section and it was astronomically harder!

The trouble with the next section was it felt like a hard break, not a soft break. A soft break is when it feels achievable and it's just practice at the complex coordination needed to pull these things off (and it's a timed coordination in this case). A hard break is when you just don't feel powerful enough to do it. This felt like that. It's surprising because I have a first expansion weapon, fully levelled to the correct attack rating and it still felt like a pop gun. We are aware some people are using pre-expansion weapons and then not fully upgraded so this isn't helping. We've stepped back and recognised we need to concentrate on gear upgrades while hopefully farming the hell out of the first two stages of Crota (it can get us every armour piece but the helm). Will that make it feel like less of a hard break? Not sure, as I say my weapon is of the correct power and it didn't feel like it was helping. I suspect it's something more unique, like everyone having a very good heavy weapon of the correct power, and some heavy weapons making it even easier, etc.

Speaking of weapons, I've come to realise that the best looking weapon in Destiny, in my humble opinion, is to be exiled to the bank. There are a couple of reasons for this.

In the first instance it comes down to the fact your only allowed to have one exotic weapon actively equipped at any one time. This means it is hard for any primary exotic to compete with the useful support and heavy weapon exotics. Icebreaker (support) is so useful it squeezes out any exotic you might be tempted to use in the primary slot. Depending on circumstance you could say the same thing for Invective, the ammo regenerating shotgun and heavy weapons like the Gjallarhorn rocket launcher. Since the attack power of exotics is no better than legendaries it comes down to the perks and the support and heavy weapons just, across the board, have better perks than their primary weapon counterparts (a few raid specific weapons aside).

This is obviously a design floor and needs to be rectified. At one point Suros Regime was the gun to have, but primarily because of PvP. Apparently it was felt to be an overpowered beast. It seems to have had one or two reductions in power due to that, which is annoying for those just using it in PvE. It's reduction in hitting power, along with Auto Rifles generally, has been so big that now its only real usefulness is when killing enemies lower than you. This can't be correct for what is supposed to be an exotic weapon that you behold with awe? In the level appropriate content it just doesn't take enemies down fast enough. I'm not sure why it's not allowed to. I can't believe a slower firing, harder hitting Auto Rifle is that hard to balance, but apparently it is. It's a Auto Rifle and Scout Rifle cross after all, as Scout Rifles fire slower and hit harder.

The combined result of this is I am invariably better off just keeping my legendary rifle equipped as I need the other exotic slot and even when I don't it's not worth equipping it. Pity. I really do like the look of it and the way it handles, the sound of it is quite unique, it just doesn't put out enough damage to be useful.

I will resist going off on a rant about PvP ruining it for the rest of us when it's combined with PvE and levelling mechanics.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 04/05/2015 Bookmark and Share
Not Seeing The PC Awesome
Keywords: Video Games.

I've probably had my gaming PC for about two months now. It hasn't turned out how I thought it would, this is entirely my fault. At the moment I'm just having trouble finding games to play on it. The focus of my gaming is still primarily on the PS4.

I think a core of this is a number of games have fell through as options for investing my time. I was going to punt for Elite: Dangerous, but I'm not convinced about it. It seems the game is vast and massive but actually just amounts to going from planet to planet selling stuff so you can buy bigger ships until you have the biggest ship and then you're done. I was hoping there would be a bit more to it? A bit more of an overall context to the market, the trading and people doing more of the ship combat stuff. It doesn't seem to be the case other than in the most abstract sense. There needs to be societal structures above the individual to give it all some impact and consequence or to allow something to be built above that of getting the next ship. It seems to be a very lonely game.

I've still got Divinity: Original Sin, but I've not played it for a long time. I always intend to but I'm beginning to suspect I never will. Some games are just so big, open ended and full of the slight 'promise' of having to face starting again I can't bring myself to engage with them. Never say never, it does tempt me occasionally, but I'm conscious I haven't yet. It's on this basis that I've not purchased Pillars of Eternity. It sounds like it has a much better design behind it in terms of progression, avoiding trap builds and the like. It also has a very simple crafting system that essentially de-prioritises crafting. In many ways they've made design decisions for me. Do I really want to wage through acres of text though? Do I really want the pretence of order that is the chaos of real-time, paused combat? I can't bring myself to take the plunge.

The Old Republic is a good game. I was really enjoying it. Yet that has also tailed off and I just never get around to playing it. It feels like effort to get me back into it. The only reason I can think why this is the case is it's very repetitive. There really isn't much variation to it at all. This is weird, as there really isn't much variation to Destiny either (but the team of six raiding is very good), but it feels different. I suspect a part of it is the MMO-like mechanics, which distance you from the immediacy of the action and focus you on the tool bars and rotation cycles, etc. It's very mechanical and sterile. This is probably what's causing it to wear a bit thin.

This is a symptom of a larger issue: what great are the games that make the PC the great platform?

Let's take Gamespot and look at the coming soon section, a few titles I am interested in: Tom Clancy's The Division, Arkham Knight, No Man's Sky and Star Citizen. The trouble is the first three of those I'd purchase on the PS4. It's just easier. Star Citizen has potential as it offers something that is a uniquely PC experience, but it's a good way off. I also think it is pretty unique, doesn't seem to be a legion of games that offer that uniquely PC experience? What should is the great PC experience these days?

I'm certainly having to look hard for it. I haunt Steam looking for titles but I never find any. So far the best buy has been Infested Planet for £3, but it hardly needs a powerful gaming PC to play. It's fun though.

I was hoping for a wealth of great strategy, simulation and I don't know...just something. Now that the games that drew me in have sort of fell by the wayside I'm finding it's not that a fantastic experience. Yet. One day it might happen. I really want to find the experience that makes you think 'that is why I put the money down for the PC'.

Is it possible the PC is only awesome if you're not having it compete with the PS4?

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/05/2015 Bookmark and Share
Avengers: Age of Disengagement
Keywords: Film; Film Review.

Earlier in the week I went to see Age of Ultron. This was my first trip to the cinema in what feels like eons. I could tell this by the fact the price of entry had gone by nearly £2! Still, we now have Meerkat Movies to replace Orange Wednesdays so it was two for one.

The short answer is I was disappointed with it. I found myself not really caring as it played out as I wasn't overly engaged with proceedings. On this basis it was disappointing and nothing like the first in terms of engagement, but too much like the first in other areas.

The longer answer follows.

Warning: Beyond this point there may be significant spoilers.

I like to start with the positive, so let's get moving with that.

I liked the look of the Avengers. The costumes enhancements were great. The fact they'd become a well oiled machine over the course of two years (if I remember the reference correctly) was cool. Captain America's costume was well over the stupid, tight pyjamas period of the first Avengers film. Black Widow looked awesome in her, okay Tron-like, but still great outfit. As a team, they looked fantastic.

I liked some of the personal stuff. The relationship between Black Widow, Banner and The Hulk should have got more air time. There scenes played really well but they never really got to the meat of it before events moved it on. I loved the Hawkeye stuff, especially since he really got the short end of the stick in the first film. It is well done and plays out well as the most normal member of the team in terms of his powers and psychology. His marriage and family would have also played in nicely to the idea of the Avengers needing to find an end game, but despite being the man with the truly normal life to return to he never has a significant towel in the fight over making The Avengers irrelevant.

Despite all that I didn't like the film. It's not terrible, it just is. I'll give it another shot at some point, but I'm not sure it'll be on my re-watch list as it is. At this point the 'internet' will say I had too much expectations going in? I say bollocks. I had some, primarily from the first trailer, but it wasn't too high an expectation, just an expectation of a narrative I'd care about. The 'internet' will say it had all the ingredients of the first one, so you can't not like it? Well, first I don't agree with that, though I do think it didn't differentiate itself enough, but I'd also say many a meal has the same factual ingredients, but you're not guaranteed the same result. Then the 'internet' will say it's not supposed to be a work of art, or some Oscar winning masterpiece, you got a summer blockbuster? True, but this is where the film commits its cardinal sin for me: it fails to be engaging.

I'd also put a counter argument in while we are on this subject, that some quarters of the 'internet' are too busy getting excited over the realisation of their characters on screen the story is secondary? That some parts of the 'internet' see a thousand and one references to comic book events, history and imagery as what is engaging? Personally homages of any sort don't make a movie and Easter eggs are only good when they come in chocolate form.

Ultimately, I didn't care. Louise fell asleep. She never fell asleep during the first one. The Avengers seemed to lose their heart and what replaced it was exactly that, a typical summer blockbuster, albeit not a terrible one. The original Avengers film was successful, for me, because it was like a blockbuster of yesteryear, when there was more to them than just noise. That is very disappointing. So, why did it fail to make me care? Numerous reasons for this I think.

The film got off to a bad start, which then proved to be indicative of the feel of the whole piece. Not a single action scene engaged me. This was very surprising, as it was exactly the opposite in the first one. It's like they dropped the core of what made the first one great! What we got in Age of Ultron was way more CGI and a complete lack of narrative conflict within the action. There was much more character defining, philosophical narrative in the fights in the original film. Even when we hit the 'battle of New York' it was inter-sped with moments that mattered: Cap becoming the leader? Tony actually making the sacrificial play? Philosophical sparing between Loki and Thor? The special effects had a realistic and grounded edge, and the narrative kept it there. You watch the first one again and it's fascinating how long the characters are just allowed to talk with quite a clever script. This isn't the case with Age of Ulton, by the end of the opening sequence I was already suffering from CGI brain freeze and was Transformer'd out.

This bring me to the main point, which elevates any other as if this is present your brain tends to gloss over other faults: there was just so little narrative glue holding it together that whatever happened you really just didn't care about it.

In terms of interesting character stuff it is actually a Hawkeye and Black Widow film, which is really odd as it should be a Cap, Stark and Ultron film but there is something about the dynamic of how that plays out between the three of them that it doesn't have as much emotional resonance. The scenes that leave you caring are the ones with Hawkeye and Black Widow.

This sums up the film though, there is great character and narrative moments but nothing that carries the whole piece. The discussion between Stark and Cap over chopping logs. Great. Similar the discussion between Stark and Nick Fury. The moments between Hawkeye and his wife. The odd character just gets 'to be', such as Thor who is just Thor. There is something going on with some damned weird magical pool, but that seems to have got lost on the editing floor despite the fact the outcome of that decides a conflict later. I suspect editing, with a bit of a script issue, is the primary failing of the film.

Don't get me wrong, there is one there, a very good one in fact. What can the Avengers do so they're not needed and the world can still be safe? From this they could have dealt with issues over freedom and peace, or whether humanity is doomed into its own extinction event. They play, but never pick and explore either. It doesn't work though, the scenes just aren't written as well. Primarily this is possibly because Ultron ain't Loki.

I was looking forward to Ultron, but he just isn't given any major scenes with the heroes that have weight, beyond his initial birth (ironically the only scene to play on the Pinocchio analogy). The rest of the time he spends in boring, almost monologue mode, with his 'we provide an audience for a while twins' and making terrible quips. How is it that Ultron, a villain with a true, mad and horrible philosophical difference and agenda, gets less seriously good scenes with his adversaries than Loki and more bad humour to boot? Loki was essentially being a lackey and didn't fully believe in what he was doing? Total madness, and a script that either didn't come together or didn't come together in the edit.

I could go on to list a handful of small things that I didn't like, but it's not worth it as, in truth, they wouldn't even register if the narrative hadn't failed to make me care and the action scenes hadn't given me a CGI brain freeze.

What is also frustrating me a bit with respect to Marvel films, as it's happened with both Iron Man 3 and Age of Ultron, is the various degrees of miss selling of the narrative. They're trailers which are supposed to sell the film, I get that. I have no problems with that. At the same time this feels new. I'm used to trailers showing you all the movie but for a few tenuous bits of muscle connection between scenes you've seen. I'm used to trailers telling you the overall narrative. What I am not used to is a sort of politician's misinterpretation approach to trailers. In the case of Iron Man 3 the narrative promised in the trailer was a bait and switch (which I get was the point). In the case of Age of Ultron,the narrative promised in concentrated trailer form, especially in the first trailer, was so vacuous in the actual film it might as well have been a bait and switch. In short, they sell you on a concentrated, and awesome, core conflict and narrative that either isn't present at all in the film or might as well not be. This is frustrating.

Obviously, Age of Ultron will make an astronomical amount of money. That's fine. It's not a terrible blockbuster, it's just one that it is hard to care about. In terms of my relationship with the Marvel films it's just a disappointing trend. When I look back over phase two I've only liked Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy (and that is a film that's way better on its original viewing). The rest have been like Age of Ultron, suffering from a distinct deficit of making you care, or have been just total brain freezes of overblown madness. This also shows a trend, for me, that is bucking the trend of previous superhero films. Normally, the sequel is better than the original. The origin story is over, now make a great film. This isn't happening with the Marvel films, the only Marvel sequel I've enjoyed has been Winter Soldier, the rest have fallen flat.

A small part of me would like to see a different edit of the same film, possibly this three hour edit that was, obviously, cut down. Possibly in that edit is all the stuff Josh Whedon talked about that isn't present in the film, in enough depth that, hit the cinemas. It is really hard to accept that the same person wrote the first and second film. He knows it as well, though he played well and didn't start to hint that he wasn't entirely happily until post-release, and even then he does it without trashing the final product directly.

The Marvel films are going to continue, so there are going to be films that come along that I like. It's just a matter of which one. I really like the look of the Ant-Man trailer, but you know what I've said about Marvel's recent approach to trailers? Also, there is a risk it might play out a bit too much like Iron Man redux, but at the same time the approach to the miniaturisation does look really cool.

Roll on Ant-Man.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 02/05/2015 Bookmark and Share
Glass Ass and Crota's Scrote
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

We have made progress with the Destiny raiding. A week or so ago we did a six hour raiding stretch which got some good results. We spent about four hours of it on Vault of Glass. We have had everything up to Atheon, the final boss, on farm so we charged through and stood before the crystalline one himself.

I liked the Atheon fight, it exemplifies everything that is great about Destiny raids and makes them feel very different to the other raids I've done (which I admit are primarily pre-first expansion Warcraft). They have a whole complex series of events and coordinations going on and all this is linked with a great deal of movement. This is the main difference between my two raiding experiences. Warcraft was always relatively static, it was positioning in terms of where you stood, possibly with the odd shuffle to the left. Destiny is different. You move all over the place. In the Atheon fight half your team goes through portals to spend time away on Mars and Venus to collect a relic that allows you to seriously damage Atheon. I was always speculating they would split the team in future raids and they did it in the first one.

It took us a few attempts to get it all coordinated as there is a lot of moving parts but we took Atheon down. Okay, we're over levelled and over geared for the raid, but it's still challenging enough in terms of pulling off the mechanics of it all. It's also not as if we are so over levelled we can literally stand against the enemies with impunity. It was great fun. We even got an exotic (I got a hand cannon I'll never use) and two people got the funky void energy firing auto rifle.

The good thing about doing the raid is Bungie have altered how equipment works in the next expansion so all legendary and exotic weapons can be upgraded washout losing any of the levelling up you've done. In the first expansion you could only upgrade exotics and then you'd have to level them up again. This means any interesting gear from Vault of Glass isn't necessarily old and useless. If that fancy void firing auto rifle is something that proves useful when House of Wolves comes out you can upgrade it to expansion II power levels. True, you need some sort of new material to do it, but it's a great option. It's a sort of 'no equipment left behind rule'.

We then went on to Crota's End. We made progress there as well as I think we increased our odds of getting to through the lamps and into the second section. I probably wouldn't say that's on farm yet, but the odds are much better. The key seemed to be to keep moving and not stand around at the lamps for too long. In short, allow the debuff to build as you can run quite happily until it gets to the tenth layer. Have to admit, I've still not mastered it. I often don't make it through the lamps, but it might be the case enough of the team do. I think a combination of my lack of fast moving thumbs, combined with the fact I do have the lowest agility class, is letting me down a bit. A few people have more agile hunters combined with a scout rifle that allows them to move even faster..very helpful in the lamps. Next time I'm going to try a shotgun strategy, we'll see if that improves things.

As for the next section of Crota's End, getting across the bridge either singularly or in groups, we've not mastered it yet but the fight in motion feels more controlled and less hectic meaning it is just going to be practice and it has a sense of inevitability about it.

All this is resulting in me appreciation different types of weapons, some of them I've had the opportunity to obtain and I've not taken the opportunity. I've already talked about the Icebreaker exotic sniper rifle changes the game quite a bit, to the extent it squeezes virtually any other exotic out of the offensive slot. I am now coming around to appreciating Shotguns a bit more, a weapon that I've not bothered with at all as I always figured why bother when there is fusion rifles? Well, they've upped their damage to ridiculous amounts and in some circumstances when the enemy is going to be in a position to mob you they are potentially a good thing. This can be the case during the lamps in Crota's End. I had the chance to do the Exotic Bounty for the fancy shotgun that has regenerating ammo like Icebraker a while back and I really should have done that. If there is one exotic I wish I had it is probably that fancy shotgun to swap Icebreaker out for occasionally.

Basically, no matter how unlikely it is you'll ever use an exotic, take it and bank it as you never know. So, this is what I've done with the exotic hand cannon I have from Vault of Glass. I can't see me ever using it and becoming a hand cannon wanker, but neither is it doing any harm in that bank slot...

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 02/05/2015 Bookmark and Share
Two Years of the Lions
Keywords: TV.

There is a point in the life of some TV shows that holds great risk. It's that point where they have to shake things up and change their initial set-up. This may be because the central premise can't continue forever or because the core idea is one that exists in time as well as space and time moves on. All High School dramas with a core of High School characters face this problem as characters age and they graduate.

Friday Night Lights has a number of advantages in this area. It's about the town and the team, not just a small group of teenagers. It's two central characters are adults. Still, the heart of the show is driven by the dramas of the members of the team and their friends and they do graduate. This has meant that characters have rotated off the show, to stay if they remain living in Dillon, or leave if they don't. Season three saw many of the established characters age out of the show.

The splitting of the school districts and the re-opening of East Dillon High School, on the wrong side of the tracks, and the power play for The Panthers seeing the not perfect, but good natured 'past heroes', who funded the team being replaced by selfish 'outsiders' was a stroke of genius. It instantly created a new crucible for the show, the much more socially deprived High School, it allowed The Panthers to become the enemy, and also allowed the show to play with what happens when a the positives of Dillon become negatives (often the more stereotypically expected narratives of such a show in such a location, but more acceptable due the fact it didn't used to be like that).

I accept that the 'school split' is a bit odd if you analyse it too closely, as you're suddenly introduced to this whole community of people, largely black, on the Ease Side of town that you'd never saw before. Surely they'd have had to be going to the original Dillon High School? But it's a conceit that was by far worth it for the reward.

I really liked season four and five. You could really get behind the team and their journey from being incompetent to ever increasing success over two seasons was brilliantly done. The marriage of the Taylor's is put under stress, in the usual, brilliant way. It continues to be the single, best portrayal of marriage on TV as far as I am concerned. The poisoning of Dillan is enthralling in a car crash, unfortunate way as the football team turns ugly, and some of the, so far benign and positive religious elements, start to take a more extreme turn causing further changes in the circumstances of key characters. I watched these two seasons in almost as many days, that's how much I was enjoying them.

The final season also handles things well and it obviously knew it was its final season going into it. This isn't to say it's one long ending, far from it. The story is very much focused on the ever increasing dominance of The Lions and the adversity they face in being accepted by the wider state high school football fraternity, but it also weaves in endings for all the characters. In a way some didn't need endings, but it was good to see them again and get an epilogue or update especially in terms of some unresolved relationships. It felt like a meaningful, and worthwhile conclusion which many a TV series has found hard to pull off.

Season four and five also brings something else into focus, which I've not reached a conclusion on, it's just something that becomes really apparent because it's all happened in the same show. It was quite stark how crime was depicted from the perspective of the 'white trash' (for want of a better word) characters and the black characters once we moved to East Dillon. While both become embroiled in crime due to social pressures and difficult circumstances, the white crime was always lacking in oppressive violence. You know it's wrong, but it doesn't overly tarnish the characters, and has the framing of almost being victimless. As soon as you move over to the East side, and the wrong side of the tracks, we're looking at hard crimes like aggravated assaults, drugs and by association, murder. Hard crimes. Crimes associated with real social consequences. The interactions over these crimes also become less 'well meaning' and enter the realm of almost violent posturing and machismo.

I don't actually have anything to say about this. I have no idea if it's representing any sense of reality? I have no idea if it counts as stereotypically racist? I just know this often depicted dichotomy between white and black crime in dramas was more stark and clear than ever before due to the fact both 'realities' having been depicted in the same show so 'close together'.

Ultimately, there are only a couple of TV shows that have risen above shows I just really like, to hold some sort of special place which is hard to define. Those two shows are The Wire and True Detective (season one at least, who knows about the rest at this point).

I have added Friday Night Lights to that list.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 07/04/2015 Bookmark and Share
Smashing Glass, Penetrating Crota
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

A while back I stopped playing Destiny. I just ran out of incentives. I wanted to get to level 31 but I had no idea why I was trying to get to level 31. I also didn’t have my armour exotic, which you have to have to fully upgrade to get to the heady heights of 31. I’d also scrapped two armour exotics I’d regretted scrapping. I’ve now learned you always put exotics in storage, never delete, as you just never know. Basically, I felt like I was waiting for Xur to sell an armour exotic and running endless strikes and bounties to level up gear, the purpose for which seemed a bit abstract.

Now things have changed as we have a fire team of six comprising of relations (brothers, nephews and nieces) and partners which means we are self-sufficient for raiding! New content. New challenges. A reason to play and level. Around this time Xur also turned up selling the exotic helmet I wanted. Win. I now have a purpose and once this exotic helm is levelled a bit more I’ll be level 31.

On this basis we’ve started smashing Vault of Glass and penetrating the early areas of the Crota's End raid.

I’m enjoying Vault of Glass. It’s a raid behind so many people discount it as the gear is old. We have better legendary gear than drops in the raid. The exotics that drop are still useful as there is an upgrade path for exotics. It’s also a bit ironic that now we are in Vault of Glass, a source of some regular ascended shards, I don’t need any! Still, it’s not about the loot, we are happy to see new places and experience new challenges.

Crota's End is a bit more frustrating, but then it would be, as it is the level appropriate raid. The first section is very clever though, and shows how the best game elements of Destiny are hidden within the raids that very few people actually access. It also shows the potential in an FPS raid. An FPS is game is free-flowing, it's in constant motion. It isn't about relatively static movement, rotations and cool downs. The first part of Crota's End involves running through a complex tunnel system from 'energy lamp' to 'energy lamp' while being constantly hounded by a horde of enemies. While running you are de-buffed (it slows you down and can be layered) and this can only be cleared by the lamps. This results in a complex sequence of events involving constant movement, strategies called in the moment, timing, best use of powers (keeping an AOE for each lamp, etc). It's fast, frenetic, and yet, you need to bring order to it. While currently frustrating, it is a very clever bit of game design.

The potential for setting up challenging scenarios is wide open, as they're nothing stopping a raid down the line separating the team for some time and having them coordinate in totally different areas of the raid! It's much more fun than the typical MMO set-up.

I like the feeling of progressive challenge. True, it’s horribly frustrating when you first try it. It seems chaotic. Lacking any sense of order or control. You feel distant from ever being able to do it. Then you slowly wrestle some sense of order out of the chaos and gain control of the various elements of the raid and that is a great feeling. It is very rewarding when what was once frustration and chaos personified starts to feel like some well oiled machine in which all the parts are coordinated, communicating and working well. That’s the feeling we have now in these raids, but obviously Vault of Glass is progressing more quickly.

The raids are also spectacular in terms of visuals. I think I've said this before when we experimented with Vault of Glass sometime ago. The graphics aren't some pinnacle of 4K graphics, but the design put into the architecture of the raids is astounding. They manage to to be inspirational, sending your imagination off in all sorts of directions (not always a good thing), while also being realistic. The tunnel system of Vault of Glass is more like epic potholing than it is moving through dungeon corridors. It feels like a realistic cave system, which just happens to be one floating around in some odd extra-dimensional space out of time. It's all great stuff.

There is some negatives to the raiding, the main one being the pressure to play the game outside of the raid in order to support it. This isn't as bad as it is in many other MMO games, which involves crafting, fixing armour, farming materials and whatever else. The raiding economy is quite low really, but you do need glimmer. The only thing you need for raids are the ammo packs, it just makes things a bit easier to know you're not entirely reliant on ammo drops. They're a bit like potions for your guns, they give you ammo but they're on a 5-minute cool down. They are quite expensive at 900 glimmer a shot. This means you tend to feel the need to do bounties, missions and strikes in order to harvest the glimmer (essentially money). One major bonus with Destiny is there isn't a death penalty or armour degradation.

This is a good thing.

It's a bit of a dilemma moving forward as I'd like to complete Vault of Glass, but Crota's End offers level appropriate loot. I just hope we don't get stuck between the two raids. The energy for Vault of Glass being dissipated because we've tried and got into Crota's End, but in turn the Crota raid becomes frustrating and difficult because we're actually doing it at its most challenging level.

Personally? I'm not convinced I'm interested in 'progression'. What will it get me? To level 32. That's it. I'm already going to be level 31 with the gear I have. Chances I'm already above the level the new material will be when the next expansion comes out. It seems to me to be a lot of effort for little reward. What seems to be important to me is seeing the place, experiencing the raid and finishing it. I'm not sure the final leap in level is worth the effort? Really. It's too small a step, for too much effort (and it doesn't really access more content) and too narrow a time window to be useful.

If I'm going to do anything just for the sake of getting there, the better bet would seem to be a raid behind.

Permalink | Comments(1) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 06/04/2015 Bookmark and Share
Facing The Zombicide Horde
Keywords: Board Games.

I purchased two new boardgames relatively recently: Marvel Legendary and Zombicide. We played Marvel Legendary not too long ago, and today we got our first experience of Zombicide.

Zombicide is a very clever game. It really feels like you're playing in an episode of The Walking Dead. The overall escalation is well implemented. The number of zombies constantly builds. You get experience for killing them, which you always have to do to some extent. The characters become more powerful causing the zombies to spawn in greater numbers and more powerful forms. It gets quite tense and each turn can take quite a bit of discussion about what to do.

It essentially seems to be a game of movement: both the survivors and the zombies, which move by a specific set of guidelines. It's paramount you don't end up in a zone with zombies in at the end of your turn as it's lethal (they cause hits automatically, it is inevitable). This means it's all about timing and predicting their movement which, like the zombies in films, follows certain laws around seeing food and hearing noise. That is until you draw a spawn card which gives them an extra activation, which is potentially lethal as it throws your predictions completely off. This is one reason why escalation due to earning experience is risky as it is a double-edged sword. You get more actions, more skills and whatever else, but you're still quite fragile and the hit on the spawns is quite high. In our second game at least one player was monitoring his experience to try and keep it from transitioning into the yellow zone.

The second game we played was an excellent experience in constant, rolling tension. It was a long trek from the start point to the exit zone and the zombies kept spawning, at one point we had a Fattie in front of us and a Fattie and a small horde behind us. We had rolling and timed movement as we tried to not get slowed down and swamped while sticking together. Very tense. Very exciting. We nearly won, but then we escalated to yellow in the final few moves and that just did us in. A great mixture of the predictable, with just enough unpredictability, to model the genre and keep things exciting.

The noise mechanic is also genius. It's genius because it's perfectly in genre. It's also clever because it acts as a way to control the game as well as expose the characters to risk. Noise brings zombies constantly to you, keeping the threat moving forward, but it can also be used to your advantage. At times, it's useful to create noise to draw zombies to you. I am sure, in some scenario set-ups, it will make sense to draw zombies to particular survivors through noise and let them die. We've not seen it yet as we've only played two scenarios and one of them had two permanent, high noise zones which made all other noise generation irrelevant.

Despite all this tension it is a game that has moments of immense release. There is nothing like tooling up with some interesting weapons (baseball bats, katanas, chainsaws, etc) and, in the right circumstances, diving in and letting rip. The chainsaw is potentially really good for this. In the second game we played I dived in to a zone and rolled five sixes, which is five hits! It did then go on to push me into the yellow experience zone which, as I said, was our downfall, but it was fun.

It has some strange rules which throws up a bit of cognitive dissonance, in that they are there to enforce a certain type of strategic play rather than modelling any sort of realistic scenario. The oddest one involves ranged combat: it's very dangerous to the survivors. When you fire into a zone including zombies and survivors the survivors take hits first, which means they have to die before the zombies start taking hits. This essentially means, unless you're sacrificing one of the survivors, you can't fire into a zone with survivors in it. This rule exists to make ranged weapons a lot more difficult to use and coordinate them with the movement rules. Personally, it doesn't bother me, I don't believe all board game rules have to make some sort of realistic, simulative sense, but it bugs other people...a lot.

The other rule which I suspect may bug people is the splitting rule. It only occurs when a zombie group faces an exactly equal direction of travel. In that situation they go in both directions in equal numbers, so one zombie becomes two, two zombies become four and so on. I am sure if I read forums there will be people complaining it's ridiculous the zombies are genetically splitting. I don't see it that way. I see it as a rule to enforce a challenging game which is fine in and off itself. I also see it enforcing the genre in the sense it adds to the 'oh shit where did they come from' scenes you see in such shows in which, almost out of nowhere, a manageable horde becomes a bigger one.

We did get a number of things wrong, some of them more pivotal to the result than others. We didn't realise you're supposed to take the Molotov Cocktail out of the gear deck as you only get that when you combine other equipment. I drew it and used to kill like 17 zombies at once that had congregated in a large zone. That scenario would have been much harder, if I'd not instantly cleared that room. We also didn't send all zombies to an open door if the noise was coming from a location closer than the door. It only impacted a zombie group that would have never caught up to us anyway, but that was wrong. Zombies will move through through an extensive building to get to an open door only to than go back along the street to the noise. It makes sense, otherwise it would be quite easy to kite zombies within buildings even when there is an open door.

Beyond that it went really well. It's a great game and we're going to give it another go next time. I'm also going to check out the Internet content as I understand there is all sorts of new scenarios to download.

Permalink | Comments(1) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/04/2015 Bookmark and Share
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