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Ian O'Rourke
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The Imperial Assault Play Test
Keywords: Board Games.

We played a test play of Imperial Assault today, and it was great fun. It was very much a test play, I’d read the ‘read this first’ book and we planned to play the tutorial. We ended up playing the tutorial twice and then the first mission in the campaign twice.

The first observation is the game takes a while to set-up and I need to make this more efficient. It took a while to get all the components out and it can take a while to identify the tiles and connect them up. This will be able to be speeded up by getting better bags for all the components and having them all individually bagged. Easily resolved. It does mean if you plan to play multiple missions in one sitting it probably could take 20 minutes to set up the next mission.

We ended up playing the campaign mission because the tutorial didn’t provide a great experience. It uses a reduced, but core to the game set of rules, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the win conditions for the Imperials. We didn’t see how the Imperials couldn’t just rush one of the two terminals and then win in 2-3 turns. Just ignore and rush. There is no way to permanently block movement so it would not have been different if we had four heroes on the board rather than just two (with a bump in Imperial units as the tutorial scales Imperial units while the campaign scales heroes, it seems). The same result every time was guaranteed. Someone on Twitter said the Imperials had no chance in the tutorial, so one of us is doing something wrong (and I fully admit the applying of the rules in a better and better way grew over the four mission attempts).

As you’d imagine the campaign mission was better. The objectives for each side were richer, with the heroes having to destroy four terminals spread across the tiles in six turns and the Imperials having to wound all the heroes (and they are quite tough). Since we had two heroes, they both got legendary cards, bumping health and allowing each of them to activate twice which essentially doubles them up to account for four players not being present. This method of bumping the heroes seemed to work well and made a two player game feel quite cool, with both heroes feeling quite epic. It’d be interesting to see how that compares to four players all activating once and with less health.

In the four attempts at the game a couple of things came across: it’s very tight and claustrophobic. This is a good thing. I’ve played the first edition of Descent and it seemed to take 4-5 hours to finish a mission. Imperial Assault seems to have it down to 60-90 minutes. The maps seems very small, minis can bunch up. At first this felt a bit disappointing. It’s certainly not a game of long range blaster combat. This is initially a bit visually disappointing but you sort of need to reassess your perspective of where the tactics are. It’s tight in the sense, at least in the first campaign mission, you don’t spend any turns figuring out what to do or affording yourself some experimentation. You have to have a clear and aggressive plan and go for it! The heroes can’t be defensive, they have to go in blasters blazing and axes swinging, at least it’s Star Wars in feel. Any wasted turn can put the mission at risk.

It works well.

The game seems so tight the character choice can influence it heavily, especially in a two hero game. In the campaign mission the natural choice of Jyn Odan and Gaarkhan was chosen, providing a good quick and ranged character with a slower and heavy melee one. If the heroes chosen had both been melee, forcing the heroes to have to be in adjacent squares to destroy the terminals, the game would have been significantly different and harder. The tactic with these two heroes was certainly for Gaarkhan to pile in while Jyn Odan dashed around the terminals. It was on the second attempt this was figured out.

It was a test play, the results being that we want to play through the campaign with Jyn Odan and Gaarkhan by starting again even though this would be a third play through of the first campaign mission. Obviously, this is a good sign of how fun the game was. We’re also aware we aren’t maximising the tactics. The game isn’t complicated it’s just there is a lot of it. You get the rhythm of the game quickly and how the dice work, but each character has special abilities. You possibly have cards to use. It’s a bit like Dungeons and Dragons 4E, there is just a lot of stuff to remember to use in the most efficient manner and then ensure you know the rules for each. The applications of each hero and Imperial units powers to maximum efficiency will have a considerable impact on the mission, obviously, such as the ability to wound the heroes more easily.

The plan is to read the larger rulebook, referred to quite a bit during the four tries, and digest the rules in the context of having played the game. Fully understand how to set-up and run a campaign which involves quite a few new cards and things like side missions and agendas which I couldn’t really figure out this time.

Till next time, though there is the threat of Star Trek Catan being purchased off the back off this and giving that a go!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 24/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
You're Using Two Exotic Weapons!
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

I don’t do the Pokemon collecting thing. In fact, games that involve collecting, especially if linked to competitive edge, I avoid like the plague. Destiny is okay though, as I’m not in competition with anyone and the exotic weapons in the game don’t do any more damage than the legendary weapons, they just break the rules around the edges.

So, I was going to keep it simple: one exotic weapon only. I’ve even dropped exotic bounties because of the ridiculous effort it takes to do them and I’ve seen no advantage in having another exotic weapon (as you can only use one at a time). I use an exotic as my primary weapon…done.

I purchased Ice Breaker this morning with my strange coins, which is an exotic sniper rifle. Everyone was just telling me to get it. The Internet was telling me to get it. Apparently, it’s one of the best weapons in the game. These are the strange coins I’ve been holding onto waiting for Xur to sell the exotic chest armour. I’ll need to try and recoup them before next weekend as he’ll probably offer it up now.

It’s a sniper rifle, which hasn’t really featured much in my playstyle so far. I tend to go for an Auto Rifle and Fusion Rifle combination. It works well. The problem with Destiny is switching weapon load outs is a real pain. You have to come out of the game screen and to another menu, meanwhile the game doesn’t stop. Considering how often it’s beneficial to switch between weapon types or weapons doing different damage types this is a major oversight. This is primarily why I try and not switch load outs. You also have to throw in the fact that if I swap to the exotic Sniper Rifle not only do I have to switch my secondary weapon I have to switch my primary out as well to meet the one exotic weapon rule.

Now I’ve used Ice Breaker I can see why people have it. It actually makes the game easier…period.

As you’d expect from a Sniper Rifle, it does what it says on the tin and causes a lot of damage at range especially if you hit enemies in their sensitive spots. This means some content can be done at a distance which makes things a bit easier. The problem in the past has been Sniper Rifles have a very low ammo count and you’re reliant on secondary ammo dropping to reload. This means that the sniping option tends to have to be balanced with the more abundant primary weapon ammo.

The game changer with Ice Breaker is one of its exotic rule breaking perks is it regenerates its own ammo. You don’t have to pick up secondary ammo drops. You never run out of ammo. It takes a while to regenerate but it’s not ridiculously slow and if you’re hitting the sensitive spot of a boss it’s certainly fast enough considering the considerably damage it does. This gun is why you see some players sniping strike bosses from ledges. I’ve done a few strikes with it today and the different tactics it offers are great. Excellent weapon. It just needs to be upgraded!

This tends to mean I have two load outs now: Suros Regime and a legendary Fusion Rifle and then a legendary Auto Rifle and Ice Breaker (Fusion and Sniper rifles take the same slot). I mentally call out for a way to quickly swap between defined load outs via a radial menu every time I play the game.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 17/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
The First in...22+ Years?
Keywords: Board Games.

There was a time when I played quite a lot of board games. In fact, as I consider this there might have been two phases of great board game buying, but I’m having trouble pinning down exactly when one of them was.

The first one, well, I think it was the first one, it’s distinct in my mind but it may have overlapped with the second, seemed to involve a lot of those boxed war games you don’t see any longer in stores. We’re talking things like Squad Leader and Flight Leader and a few others my memory is failing me on. Pretty sure we had an attack helicopter one and another designed specific battles in World War II. The Avalon Hill stuff. They had common elements such as very densely written rules, lots of little cardboard counters and many colour, paper mats. Where they really complicated? I have no idea. I think I thought so at the time, but that was back then.

One thing I do know? I am pretty sure these games never actually got played that much. I remember trying Flight Leader a few times. Possibly we just got the counters out.

The second phase was the big phase. This was primarily kicked off by Games Workshop’s board game era. This featured games like Bloodbowl, Talisman, Warrior Knights, Fury of Dracula, Space Hulk, Dungeon Quest. I remember playing Block Mania, but I didn’t own it, the same goes for Space Hulk. Then you can throw in others dredged up from my memory such as Battletech and FASA board games like Interceptor and Centurion with their strange cardboard playing pieces. I also remember quite a bit of Hero Quest. In truth, it was the Games Workshop board games that dominated. We especially played a lot of Talisman and Fury of Dracula. I also remember two Bloodbowl leagues and even a Dungeon Quest league for laughs in college based on treasure retrieved. If I have my timelines right, that was all at least 22 years or so ago and, yes, that was shocking when I worked it out. Now I’ve made my first board game purchase in just as long. I had some Christmas money lying around and decided to take the plunge with Imperial Assault.

The new renaissance in board games has always sat in a strange place with me. I’ve been aware of it. I’ve been intrigued by it. I’ve never gotten involved much. I’ve played one session of Descent (First Edition), I liked it but we didn’t seem to play it again, a couple of games of Arkham Horror (it was okay) and then Super Dungeon Explore and X-Wing (probably more a miniature game, though Imperial Assault is in Fantasy Flight Games miniatures section while Descent is not) at the last Cottage Con. If it hadn’t been for the ‘what to do with this £70 factor’, I may still have not taken the plunge.

Imperial Assault is basically two games. In the first instance it’s a a modern version of games like Space Crusade, Space Hulk and Hero Quest, and on this basis it has its roots in Descent: Second Edition. This is a good thing, in fact it was Descent I was thinking of investing in, but this came along and I decided I’d rather give this a go. New game. New start and all that. It helped the reviews were very positive. The second game is a miniature skirmish game, you can use the rules, floorplans and miniatures to do a skirmish battle and this is probably why it is in miniature section of the site).

The quality of the game is impressive. I’ve always known the quality had gone premium, having seen a few, but it really comes home when you’re unboxing your own game and punching out the components. They’re all thick, solid card and they all popped out easily enough with none of the usual ‘component damage’ of yore. The various tiles for constructing the maps are solid. The miniatures look great as far as I can tell though I’m no expert. While it would have been great for them to pained, as I’ll never do it, I understand this adds considerable cost. The only negative with it all is the front turret gun on the AT-ST Walker was hard to snap in which puts the two guns on the piece at risk of getting damaged. I got away with it damage free, but it was quite a risky manoeuvre.

The various books that come with the game are in glorious colour, covering rules and the campaign. The rules seemed simpler than I was expecting, this suggests they really have streamlined Descent, I remember that as more fiddly. I like the campaign, loads of missions, with branching options as the players fail or succeed. The missions are smaller than I thought they’d be, some have like time limits with quite a low turn count, which gives an indication of length. I’m thinking they might be hanging around an hour? We shall see. This is a good thing really, as when we played Descent it went on for some considerable time (4 – 5 hours I think). If you want to play for a while you can do multiple mission.

The other observation: the board game had an awesome smell, a bit like the crack of new stationary, but bigger. Nice. Weird, but nice.

It took me two weeks to unbox it, now it might take me a while to play it. Currently trying to drum up a bit more interest in the family PS4 lot. Hopefully playing it will be great, though if it is it may well set me off on that tried and tested track back to board games that many a person who has de-prioritised role-playing games tends to take.

And there is also that Star Wars: Armada game that sits looking at me and tempting me. I’ll probably manage to resist that as it is significantly different in how it plays, I suspect it involves more time and money. It is looking very nice though.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 17/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
They Get Gear Right
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

As you can imagine, like with any MMO (and, yes, it is an MMO) there are constant complaints about gear in Destiny. The core complaint has always been about it being at the hands of the random number gods. RNG, it’s now and acronym and a thing. It didn’t seem to be during my entire play history of Warcraft, but now it is.

The strange thing is, despite all these complaints, I think Destiny gets gear right. I’m obviously just playing it ‘wrong’.

In the case of legendary gear equipping up is very predictable. You need so many Vanguard (or the reputation of your choice) ranks and then you can buy gear with marks. You get marks from grinding various bits of content in the game. While grinding this content you also get drops. The drops aren’t the focus, it’s the predictable accumulation of marks. There is no frustration of running something for months and nothing dropping. It’s something every other week or faster. Okay, you now need commendations which means gaining reputation ranks to buy some gear, but generally this comes from doing what you’re doing anyway (and you get reputation ranks a lot quicker in compensation).

Exotics are also…interesting. At first I thought they were just another level of gear that would be rare and be the sort of gear the hardcore paraded around in because they’re doing all the raids. I thought exotics would not be, practically, for me. They’re nothing of the sort, you can even get exotics via a predictable accumulation of strange coins to buy them from a vendor who appears every weekend. Okay, what he is selling is random (allegedly, the other argument they’re a product of Bungie data mining and choosing), but there are exotics available every weekend. They’re not even statistically more powerful than legendries I don’t think, it comes down to how they break the rules. I got Suros Regime this way and I am now just waiting for the Titan chest piece to show up. It will. I’ll have my two exotic pieces. Done.

They’ve also made the exotics unique, they’re not just an extra level of gear. They’re unique in terms of feel, aesthetic and the various ways in which they break the normal rules of the game.

There isn’t that many exotics in Destiny: 38 in total I think, but 18 of those are armour pieces distributed across three classes and then the weapons come in numerous types as well. You can also only use two exotics at any one time: a weapon and an armour piece. Really, you only need two per character, 4-5 at most. I’m sticking with three probably: a main gun, a chest piece and an alternative helmet which has a funky power (blinding in my Ward of Dawn). I may stretch it to an exotic heavy weapon for when I’m using the legendary auto rifle. I love the look of the Suros Regime rifle and I like how it handles. I’d like to keep it over a long period of time. It's perks also work for me, making it a very stable and slower firing weapon. I like using it.

All this tends to mean exotics do feel special, you get attached to the ones you use the most. This brings me to the final thing Destiny gets right. Your exotics are so special they’re not designed to be replaced through gear inflation. That is an amazing decision. When The Dark Below expansion came out it introduced some new exotics, but also allowed you to upgrade existing exotics to the stat ranges of the expansion. Done. Your exotic is a top tier piece of gear again and its integration into the way you play is secured. Brilliant. Think about it? An MMO that allows you to have enduring, upgradable gear? It does do this while maintaining a bit of the grind, as you’re exotic piece comes back stripped of upgrades (like it’s just been purchased or dropped), but it’s still better than having a whole new piece of funky gear forced on you due to gear inflation.

Of course, there was lots of complaining about this. The fact you might have to wait for Xur to stock your upgrade. The fact you would have to level it up again. I take a bottle half full approach and was surprised they didn’t make you hunt down new exotic equipment entirely! I think some people still delude themselves into thinking it’s not an MMO with the usual MMO baggage. It would have been nice for them to auto-upgrade, but that was never going to happen.

In summary, Destiny makes the acquisition of gear predictable, measurable and in no way random. It makes the fancy, exotic gear a choice based on personal criteria and it manages to engender a form of attachment as a result. It allows you to keep the gear as if it is special and part of your identity. As far as I am concerned, that’s a great set of decisions? This is linked to how I play, as I only have one character who will have a maximum of 2 – 4, some people collect them all and they moan they have to upgrade them all again. Guess what? You don’t. You really don’t. Possibly you should reflect on whether you should be moaning about the game or addressing your personal hangups?

Of course, you can ignore that and go hunting for gear through drops. I’m not blind to the fact there are some advantages in that, such as different sets of upgrades on randomly dropped weapons and not all exotics are available for purchase, but don’t pretend for a second that Destiny is a dire, at the altar of RNG game. You always have a very predictable road. You don’t have to put your hand into the fire if it’s too hot.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a typical MMO that begins a new upgrade cycle with every expansion, but that is normal in an MMO.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 10/01/2015 Bookmark and Share
Glorious In Its Illegality
Keywords: Role-Playing Games; Star Wars.
I think about a month ago someone posted a picture on Twitter of a thick, hardback edition of the WEG Star Wars role-playing game. It looked in every way to be a resurrected from the dead re-publishing of the last version of the D6 role-playing game with a bunch of stuff from the supplements thrown in. Occasionally, RPG publishers do this, they pick an old game that went out of print and throw together a super edition, call it something snazzy and charge a fortune for it (sometimes limiting supply).

It appeares this is exactly what has been done, but of course the thorny issue of the Star Wars license is involved and that sits with someone else, so it must have been a ‘fan endeavour’ and illegal. Apparently this is the case, but with a plethora of Star Wars artwork across Star Wars properties it’s easy to make it look gorgeous.

I ran three games the most during my role-playing history: Golden Heroes (1984), WEG Star Wars (1987) and Vampire: The Masquerade (1991) in that order of time, I’m not going to guess volume. A plethora of other games influenced me, but I never ran them (twice in the case of Spirit of the Century): Ghostbusters (1986), Over the Edge (1992), Fengshui (1996), Sorcerer (2002), Primetime Adventures (2004), Spirit of the Century / Fate (2006) and no doubt a few others I’m forgetting.

I also sold a load of role-playing games in 2004. Literally cleared out the collection. I don’t regret this, but there are one or two titles I did miss, the WEG Star Wars rulebooks being one of them.

Looking back on it it’s easy to see why I liked it. It fostered a low role-playing baggage mode of play as well as a big, cinematic action focused playstyle. Why blow up a spaceship when you can blow up a planet it asked? Funnily enough, as I rack my brains it actually has some core similarities to Fate, which isn’t surprising. The Fate idea of everything being a character? It’s similar in WEG Star Wars characters, vehicles and spaceships are all very similar to characters and they engage in conflicts in a similar way. Fate is a bit more literal about it, but it holds true for WEG. It’s a straight roll over system with a dice pool. Fate is similar to this, while not exactly the same. It has a set four dice, but it’s roll over. There is even a way of moderating rolls via hero points, again not exactly the same but it’s still a way for players to influence events (albeit the Fate model is bigger in scope and links to aspects). It even, to some degree, follows the Fate model of having quite a thick rulebook despite the core system being remarkable consistent and simple.

In short, it’s easy to see in WEG Star Wars the embryonic things I would like in Fate. Easy to use. Easy to apply a set of simple tools to resolve situations in the game. Heroic characters with a purpose and big, brash cinematic action as the implied or literal playstyle.

WEG Star Wars isn’t perfect. I tended to think the game edged a bit over the complication barrier as it went through the editions. The original rulebook was a work of beautiful simplicity. It covered the Jedi, but I never fully liked it and I always kept their powers at a low skill level. They got a bit ridiculous in many ways as they gained higher skills. Still, this wasn’t a problem as it was initially a game primarily focused on the Rebellion Era. A simple and effective way of handling the Jedi in the prequels it wasn't. In fact, that’s I’d use WEG Star Wars for, if anything, an Edge of Empire style game that, if featured force users at all, they’d be on the subtle end.

It also feeds into the fact that what small amount of tabletop role-playing thinking I am doing, and it's seriously not much at all, is harking backwards not forwards. Not so much systems, though in the case of WEG Star Wars that links into it, but in terms of approach and philosophy. The Arrow and The Flash TV shows are also an influence. As well as two blogs that went unpublished. Simpler times, etc.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Grand Theft Tourism
Keywords: Video Games; Grand Theft Auto.

I’ve spent the afternoon playing Grand Theft Auto V. Not playing in story mode, but Grand Theft Auto online. I didn’t really do much, it was like grand theft tourism as I bummed around with the more experienced members of the crew while doing a good job of looking like the pervert off of Derek. Despite it being a passive experience, it was awesome.

It’s awesome because Los Santos is brilliantly realised. It comes across as a vibrant, varied, beautiful and rundown place that lives and breathes. The realisation of the city in GTAIV was great, this time on the PS4 it’s just unparalleled. It’s a city in which scenes out of Heat, Gone in Sixty Seconds or the car combat of Bourne play out regularly, but you’re the criminals pulling off the action. You may even being doing less law breaking activities like just parascending off mountains and it’s all good. It’s a far cry from the days of relatively flat graphics and being obsessed with shagging prostitutes in the back of basic representations of cars.

To cut to the chase you create an instance of Los Santos with a specifically created GTA Online character and you do jobs, hang out and do wacky shit in the city and surrounding island, level up, get new stuff due to your enterprising form of criminal capitalism (cars, clothes, weapons and the usual paraphernalia of a cinematic criminal).

I’m glad I saw it through, at one point the whole online experience was frustrating as I had some player in my instance I was doing the tutorial in and he’d obviously figured I needed to get to a certain place so he kept doing a drive by shooting on me. I’m thinking organised team play might be a small percentage of the players in GTA. I guess ganking is written into the DNA? I avoided this problem by creating a private instance of Los Santos for my tutorial and we tend to create friends only instances for our antics.

It’s a bit weird playing a game of violence and crime with brothers, nieces and nephews, but it is fun. It just all looks so damned gorgeous, it’s actually interesting to go all law abiding citizen and just soak in the sights, which I’ve not fully explored yet and probably should do a bit more of.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 28/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Valour, Robocops and Red Tails
Keywords: Film; Film Review.

We have Netflix again due to that time coming around when you need to ring Virgin to stop their prices getting out of control. The usual practice of stiffing the long-term customer while offer new customers get cheaper prices, even after the opening give away has ended. The new deal happens to include Netflix for six months.

Yesterday I binged on it a bit and watched: Act of Valor, Robocop (2014) and Red Tails.

Act of Valour aired at the cinema while I was working out of Crawley, I think. I intended to see it but one thing lead to another and I never got around to it. It was the trailer that sold it as it just looked…gorgeous.

It was a bit of a weird beast as the acting of the central cast, the Navy Seal team, was a bit stilted. Checking up afterwards I learned that the core Seal Team were actually playing themselves! On that basis they didn’t actually do too badly. It starts with the kidnapping of a CIA operative and from there careers into an attempt to stop a terrorist incident on US soil. It is gorgeous, whether it’s a sweaty jungle, a sun soaked drug cartel outpost or a dark tunnel complex. It’s a pretty cool globetrotting action and adventure tale. I really liked it, though I’m probably not revealing anything too shocking when I say the guy whose wife is expecting their first child dies. It’s laid on a bit thick and the whole thing is structured around a voice over of his friend.

Robocop (2014)? It was okay. A bit like the Total Recall re-make. It just happened. It wasn’t bad but neither did it inspire in anyway. It was like a sanitised version of the original. I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence for the sake of it but it always seemed to be the violence of Robocop was part of the natural fabric of the film and linked in with the allegorical elements. Apparently it’s a horrible, crime ridden Detroit but you can’t tell in this film. In the vein of all films these days the new film is a PG-13. The fact Murphy knew who he was from the beginning also didn’t work for me, neither did the fact they humanised him by having his face showing most of the time. Peter Weller managed to act the role with half his face covered and slowly remembered who he was over the course of the film. It seemed more powerful that way. In fact, the best bit of the film was the TV broadcast showing the various robots bringing peace and order to Middle East.

I always liked the trailer for Red Tails but I never saw the film. I guess it hard a bit of a Pearl Harbour feel about it, but it piqued my interest. Now, having watched it, it’s not bad. It’s not Band of Brothers or anything, but it’s…professional. It follows all the usual tropes: the leader suffering with responsibility, the hotshot pilot who never listens and the African pilots having to prove themselves. Still, the fact they were the only pilots willing to give up the ‘glory of kills’ to successfully protect the bombers was cool, doubly so if remotely true. It was nice.

It was Act of Valour that was the best of the three though. I do like that Tom Clancy stuff though, so I may have been biased.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 21/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
A Weekend of the Dark Below
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

So, I spent last weekend playing the new Destiny content. Well, in truth it was more as much as I could fit in on Saturday. Has my opinion changed on the expansion now I've played through the story content, but for the strike? Yes and no.

The 'story' is pretty much on par with the original game, which means there is something there but it's pretty thin and it's hard to count it as narrative. It's more bits of background that sort of make sense but you always feel like you're missing something. The biggest example? The story missions are given to you by what feels like a vendor, she is some sort of exile who is some sort of hero from past battles on the moon, I think. You always only think these things. There is something really heartfelt and epic in there but it just feels like it's wasted. The Warmind Rasputin makes a return, sounds awesome again, but you feel like more should be made of it, and there are two ominous figures lurking across the content: Crota who you don't get to face until the raid and Omnigul, who leads his armies, who you get to take out in the strike after encountering he / she / it in the first and second story mission.

It's just a pity you don't get to engage with either of these two figures in some sense of narrative way. Omnigul could have been a great face for the conflict. As always the story potential of Destiny remains just that...potential.

I did enjoy the story missions. Well, the second and third one, the first one was very disappointing as it was essentially just a few extra rooms. The second one delving into the Warmind Rasputin was cool as the environment was new. It would have been better if you got to interact with the Rasputin AI, but alas no. The last one I really liked. It was quite long, and enjoyable battle deep into some Hive structures to take out some sort of Spirit of Crota. I quite liked the final battle taking out four 'Wizards' in turn as they tried to free Crota. The two missions themselves weren't bad. Just add more narrative! How many times can I say that?

Strangely, after the story missions there is a number of bounties you have to do before the strike playlist and heroic strikes unlock for you. Strange thing to do. They are a bit random these bounties and it's just odd they are tagged on the end. There is a bit of a why bother thing about them? Some initial interviews suggested they were going to use a similar approach to the exotic bounties in the expansion, which filled me with dread as they are long and mind-numbing, the only good thing is they are quite short.

I had a goal to unlock the heroic strikes this weekend, which meant doing all the story missions and those odd bounties, then do the heroic strike to get my seven strange coins and then upgrade Suros Regime. This would have been great as it would have given me an instant The Dark Below level weapon (the base damage starts higher than previous weapons even before you start upgrading). Alas, I didn't make it and just got to the point of unlocking the strikes. As I look at what Xur offers this weekend, he doesn’t have Xuros regime for upgrade, even though I could now do it due to some lucky strange coin drops earlier in the week.

I've also got two new strikes to do. The strike that works as the finale to the story missions and the PS4 exclusive strike. The plan was to get the family group up to the same content point so we could run it together, but this does not seem to have happened yet.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 21/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Are Things Changing?
Keywords: Life.

I have a sense things are changing a bit in relation to my hobbies. It’s not something I’ve put a lot of thought into or theorised about a lot, it is based purely on the facts on the ground.

I just can’t be arsed to go to the cinema. Cinema visits have been reducing in frequency for some time and I suspect the number of visits has been artificially raised over the last few years due to working away from home and at it being a logical thing to do every other week or so. When in Crawley I had a cinema pass and saw anything remotely interesting. In Barrow-in-Furness it was slightly different, but I still went quite a bit. On returning to work close to home I thought it would become a regular Tuesday or Wednesday thing every week, but this doesn’t seem to be how it is panning out. The last Hunger Games film? I’ve let it slide on by. The final film in The Hobbit trilogy? Can’t be arsed to go out of the house to see it.

These are big films I’d normally be keen to see. It seems I lack the enthusiasm.

Gaming? It seems gaming of any sort other than video games has also practically stopped. I backed off the role-playing a few weeks ago and I haven’t really missed it. Don’t get me wrong, the right game at the right time and I’m sure I’ll still all be for it variables allowing, but it’s true that I’m not missing it. I thought I would. I thought there would be a period of time were it felt like something large and significant had been ripped from my life. Apparently not. I had an idea of some of this time might have been replaced with certain types of board game but this hasn’t happened. It just doesn’t seem to be that big a draw.

It’s all a bit strange as, at the moment, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything or have an urgent vacuum that needs desperately filling.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 20/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Being the Local Guy
Keywords: Life.

There was a time I didn't think about being the 'local guy', it wasn't something that crossed my mind. Obviously, I went to the local junior school and went to the prescribed comprehensive school. It all worked out well.

I then made my first highly local choice: I went to the local polytechnic, though it would be a University before the year was out. I didn't think about this much either. It was quite well known for its computer courses, and it did an interesting degree that was a business and technology mix. At that point in my life going away to University just wasn't me. Psychology I just wasn't ready for it. While I probably didn’t think of it this way I was also managing my risk as by going local it was a smaller financial decision (I actually got paid to go). I didn’t even consider going away to University. I travelled backwards and forwards to University on the bus on a daily basis for three years.

It was a sandwich course with a year out? I even managed to wrangle a local gig for that, despite going for numerous interviews in different locations, including a couple in London. I can't remember how I did that, it just seemed to happen naturally (and worked out well as I seemed to get paid just as much while living from home). I think I did worry about it a bit, but I don't remember it being a big problem.

Job wise after graduation? Again, I interviewed in numerous place around the country. I do remember none of them where inspiring. It's not like I turned down anything exciting. Eventually I shifted onto a partnership project with the University and a local firm and stayed their three years. Local..again. This wasn't a problem. I was happy. It also began my long career as the SME guy largely working with bigger companies as clients.

Then I did my first period of time away from home. The local firm shifted me to Aberdeen, but even then I never saw it as permanent. I went to Aberdeen on Monday and travelled back on a Friday while having my expenses paid for which meant I saved ALL my income back at home. While the intention was for this to be transitional, I was never going to make the move official. I looked at flats, most of them terrible as Aberdeen used to cost a fortune and probably still does. I worked out of Aberdeen for a year. I realised as I was going to marry Louise in Aberdeen. I proposed in Aberdeen. I fully intended to live married life back in the North East.

I got a new job to facilitate this 'move back' even though I never actually left.

I spent eight years in that new job entwined well and truly in the North East as Head of IT for one of the biggest SMEs with its head office in the area, but with offices in Texas and the Netherlands. I was happy for eight years, well, probably six. It was still good in those last two years but it probably was drawn out.

So, when did I become conscious of the local thing?

Around 2003 we had this grand and mad idea to move to Australia. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We went in late 2004. It didn't work out for a number of reasons, but one of them was we didn't have a good enough reason to keep us there and I suspect I began to realise that in the latter half of 2004. We weren't fleeing anything, which seemed to be the reason many people made the move. All the UK negatives people quoted didn't seem to apply to us much. I learned something when you try and emmigrate? You really have to hate the place you left or persuade yourself you did or it's hard to stick it out. As I say, not the only reason, but this was a factor.

A big, grand move just brought me back to being a local with an even better appreciation of what I'd left behind. It did also make me feel a bit small, back to the local town so to speak. This seemed to combine with a period of time in which my 'world' shrunk. When I got back to the UK I worked for a local IT company with all local clients. Then I ended up working for an incredibly small SaaS company which seemed to end up disconnecting me from my network shrinking my world even further. Hell, I even worked on my own in a small office in Stockton.

At this point I didn't just feel very local my world felt incredibly small and I'll admit that was one of a number of reasons I did the MBA.

So I did the MBA and that really makes you feel local. There was people with global careers. They'd move around different countries as they got promotions and whatever else. We'd have the yearly summer schools and people would come from all around the world. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that bad. There was other local people and while some people may be flying in from Norway they had local jobs, just in Norway. Still, it did feel a bit weak when I'd describe that I'd driven 30-minutes up the road to get the the business school. It was probably at this time I started to notice people from school who'd moved away living in the US and New Zealand and yet I'd not moved, geographically, at all. After an attempt to move halfway around the world I was living hundreds of metres from where I used to live despite the fact I could have, in theory, moved back to live anywhere.

I'm still living in the town I was born in? When I walk the dog I walk passed the bus stop I used to get to school, or passed the house of one of my best school friends who now lives in New Zealand. I have people on my Facebook stream taking jobs all over the world, one is starting a new life in Shanghai, literally flying out on News Years Eve.

But, you know what? I've got over all that. It was never the biggest of issues, but it was a minor...thing.

I've got over it because I've spent three years with my place of work being disconnected from where I live. I could have lived or moved anywhere as I was working as a consultant on big projects near London and on then on the west coast. But I didn't want to move, in truth working like that reinforced the fact it meant I didn't have to move. I was happier going to the work and leaving my home pretty centred.

So, despite moments of working away, despite damned fool crusades halfway around the world I’m the local guy and I no longer give a shit. In fact there are numerous times while walking the dog early in the morning with the winter sun playing across the sea and beach I don’t just not give a shit, it’s pretty awesome.

Permalink | Comments(1) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 20/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
The Wonder of The Flash
Keywords: TV.

Way back in 1997 (to 2003) there was a TV show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It aired in a decade when TV had just started to get great. It was a brilliant show. It was great because it was incredibly well written as well as being witty and clever but also because it made you care. You cared about the relationships and the epic trials that the characters were put through. It was emotional. It was a show that wore its heart on its sleeve and this was a good thing.

I look back and it seems to me it hasn’t been since Buffy that I got to watch a show like that? There has been great shows since but that sort of 90’s TV model with heroic individuals, doing heroic stuff, with great team dynamics capable of generating a bit of ‘hell yeah’ have fallen away. True, they may have existed somewhere out in TV land, but they weren’t particularly good ones. I’m thinking of the myriad of Stargate shows. In the meantime, TV watching just seemed to move to a different sort of show as I watched Battlestar Galactica, 24, Lost, Spooks, Life on Mars, The Wire and probably numerous other things I’m forgetting. There was some reprieve in the form of Firefly and Doctor Who, but the Buffy model did drift away (from me at least).

This is the one reason why Arrow and The Flash are great, they are a return to that hero, with a team, involved in great heroic action and emotional, melodramatic activity. They even run in parallel and do the Buffy and Angel thing and do cross over episodes, albeit it the romantic connection between the two shows isn’t between the two leads but connected by Arrow’s gorgeous IT expert. They even have the lulls associated with 24-episode seasons, especially in the longer Arrow (The Flash is still picking up). Was it a 'simpler' time? Probably, but this can be a good thing.

The Flash is particularly good. In fact, I think it’s a very clever show. The Flash managed to do something very few TV shows manage to do. It fills you with wonder. The first time Barry runs up a building is sweet. When he runs on water it’s..yes! When he first has to perform a supersonic punch to take out a particularly tough villain and starts his run from halfway across town you want to cheer. He moves so fast he rescues people from a crashing train...while it crashes! Wonder is a very hard thing to generate on TV and The Flash does it…repeatedly. In the latest episode, when The Flash and Reverse Flash finally face of it is! The race, the battle around the football stadium and the dialogue that has one side meeting his nemesis for the first time while the other is battling an enemy he has faced many times. It’s like a form of..rush.

While Arrow and The Flash may not be as good as Buffy the Vampire Slayer across the board, though I’d argue it is touch and go with Angel, they are a great return to form for a 90’s model of TV and I am enjoying them immensely. I cannot express how much I look forward to The Flash every week. It has some magical quality that just makes you look forward to experiencing it and what wonders will occur next. The Flash has worked for me so well I’ve started to enjoy Arrow less. Not dislike it, but Arrow seems to have lost some of its magic since the death of Canary, while The Flash was gone from wondrous strength to wondrous strength.

It’s a great show. It has captured some form of red lightning and for that it deserves great praise as that is something elusive and very hard to capture. This is a show that continues to tease the fact that a major enemy to come as a super-intelligent ape and it doesn’t make you roll your eyes but look forward to the showdown.


Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Getting Away With Being Lame…
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

So, last week I spent £35 on the Destiny Expansion Pass so I could get the first expansion The Dark Below. It also gives me the second expansion when it comes out. This was a commitment decision I’d made to the game. I enjoyed playing through the story content, anaemic though the narrative was, and I enjoyed levelling up beyond level 20. I even enjoyed getting my exotic rifle, Suros Regime, which is the first piece of ‘virtual gear’ I’ve actually been attached to and enjoyed using.

The problem is the expansion is starting to look pretty lame and magnifies all the problems with the original game!

It niggles that there is a host of content I’m not interested in. I’ll never utilise any of the PvP content I’m paying for. There is also the raid, which has a very high chance of being the best bit of design in the expansion. This means it’s probably a substantial amount of the financial outlay. The chances are I’ll never see the inside of this raid. The chances are many people who buy the expansion won’t see the inside of the raid, certainly a lot won’t seriously progress through it.

In a way, all that wouldn’t matter if everything else was up to grade.

The new ‘story’ content seems to be a disaster in that there isn’t any new ‘story’. The ‘story’ is even more wafer thin than the original disk! The new NPC isn’t even an NPC really she’s a bloody vendor and the introductions to the story missions are the usual mixture of waffle and bollocks about things no one really grasps. This is based on the first one, I’ve not heard any indications this isn’t representative. It’s like they’ve given up on delivering story all together. We failed in the original release, let’s just give up.

There is also exploration. The simple joy of seeing new environments. No chance of that. Well, I am sure the raid is gorgeously designed, just like Vault of Glass is, but I’ve covered that. All the ‘story’ content takes place on all the same planets we are used to already. It looks like they’ve just opened up a few ‘rooms’. That is a complete joke. I’m a realist. I wasn’t expecting new planets and their awesome new environments. I sort of guessed everything would take place on the existing planets. I thought they might have at least expanded the maps on the existing planets with new overland areas. It seems not. There is literally no new geography in the expansion.

I have to seriously sit back and contemplate what is really new? Nothing really, other than going to level 32 (or more likely 31 considering farming the raid will never happen). This is the ephemeral beauty of Destiny as all the above won’t matter. They’ll get away with being lame.

You see I’ve already opened Word and spent half an hour this morning planning out what I need do to get my character to level 31. It’s not complicated, but it’s a good idea to know what exotics you need to upgrade and what you need for that, where you’re getting the legendries from and what marks and commendations you need. An immediate outcome of this plan is I’m best getting through the new content, unlocking the heroics and getting three strange coins so I can upgrade my Suros Regime rifle upgraded this weekend. This means doing it today as Xur only appears on weekends and it may take a while for my upgrade to get into his inventory again.

If I get to fit that in the plan is then simple: do the strike play list to earn reputation and marks to buy new weapons and armour. These then need upgrading, especially the armour, which is what will slowly get me to level 31. It's a lot of marks. The new commendation system also means I can't just buy gear when I have the marks as you only get commendations when your reputation level goes up (and yes it is has meant gaining reputation level four and five has been a waste of time). This means some items can only be purchased once per reputation level, which is a serious pain and may yet break me. Still, there is always stuff dropping which may shorten that process.

I’m not sure why I am doing this is as it’s not to access the raid? It seems to be an activity in and of itself. So, why bother? Well, it’s a game that is easy in and easy out. You don’t have to play it for hours at a time. It’s great fun with friends. It’s a weird one as, other than the core FPS mechanics, the delivery has serious flaws. If the game could just deliver on its promise of being a long-term space fantasy would be awesome. I have my doubts this is ever going to happen, not until Destiny 2 anyway, the next big 'main game' release. You never know.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 13/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Putting the Story on Hold
Keywords: Video Games.

One of the strange things you need to figure out in any Bioware game is how the game is structured. You need to do this so you can get a sense of your progress and so you don’t inadvertently move the story along and lose your chance to do something.

I think I’m getting the hang of it in Dragon Age: Inquisition…possibly.

Cleverly, as I said last time, the game merges the expansion of the Inquisition, setting up imperialistic camps, making alliances, dealing with problems and, as it happens, doing all sorts of simple quests all together as you roam around the vast maps. No doubt about it, the maps are very large. Hinterlands is big and there is at least two other smaller, but still quite big, maps in the form of a coastal region and a desert locale.

What I don’t know at this time is what happens to these regions once I progress the next big story quest? Do they stay the same? Do they alter to the extent I lose content I’ve not done? Do I go to all new places (I doubt it, but you never know)?

So, I am holding off on the next big story quest as I play around in the current status quo. The next story quest is for 8-11 level, so I am going to push it out a bit and try and get to 11 before pushing the story on. I am already level eight (or it may be nine, as I’m not fully sure).

All this is interesting because the whole focus has been on closing the rift that opened and kick-started events. There is a heck of a lot of stuff going on even before I close the rift and I’m beginning to think that closing the rift is like the opening play, a sort of epic prelude rather than attacking the rift being the conclusion. This is quite exciting as it means I have no idea what the story is going to be if that’s the case. The great unknown!

It also seems I’ve already made some serious choices, possibly without fully realising it. It seems some of these decisions aren’t given the dramatic framing they should have. In Mass Effect and, as far as I remember, the original Dragon Age, the big decisions were very clearly dramatically framed and they felt consequential, ominous and impactful. Apparently, I’ve already chosen between the Templars and the Mages, and I didn’t fully realise I’d done that. I think this means the quests about recruiting the mage, in Redcliffe, are closed to me.

I just think it should have felt more ‘big moment of decision’, but it sort of just flowed along by.

It’s an enjoyable game. I am tending to like the two rogue, one fighter (Cassandra) and mage (Solas) group. All I really alternate with is whether the second rogue is melee (Sera) or another archery rogue (Varric). I’ve gone archery rogue as I tend to find it hard to manage a melee character in these sorts of games as archery allows me to stand back and see what’s going while bringing all the power to bear.

In the near future I am searching for a remote elven temple in the desert. A whole new area I didn’t even expect to appear!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 30/11/2014 Bookmark and Share
...And RPGs Go Down!
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

Well, today I made a decision to step back from the RPG group. No great fallouts or arguments. Everyone is still friends. It's just I haven't full on enjoyed the gaming since about 1.5 to 2.5 years ago with the Prometheus Institute and Fate Fading Suns games. Numerous reasons why which I'm not go on about. It's suffice to say I tend not like doing things by halves so that has something to do with it.

The gaming group has had people drop in and out for periods before, due to family commitments or other life circumstances. This is a bit different as it's not a drop out for a specific game, or until specific life circumstances change. It just is.

Last time this happened it resulted in a four year hiatus between 1996 and 2000 and that only ended when the current gaming group formed. Admittedly, it was different back then as the reason for leaving was it had become untenable to remain friends with gaming group. I lost a gaming group out of choice. It's slightly different this time since it's not about the people, but it's possible the hiatus could be long-term or permanent.

The immediate impact of this is moving the shells around so that RPGs feature in my life less. It's not that they are all consuming now by any stretch but now I am giving up on the illusion. I need to find something else push some of the buttons.

I suspect videogames will take up some of the slack as usual. Not sure about the rest.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/11/2014 Bookmark and Share
Delving Into The Dragon Age
Keywords: Video Games; PS4.

So, I've purchased my second PS4 game, Dragon Age Inquisition. The short answer is it's a really good game. It looks gorgeous. It plays well, and I've encountered no bugs yet that have ruined my experience. I think if I have any problem it's that Mass Effect has spoiled me for these sorts of game.

I have a strange history with the Dragon Age games. The first one was good but just way too long. It had some great, dramatic and meaningful narrative and decisions. The trouble was it seriously dragged towards the end. I liked to describe it as a GM's overly long and laboured, traditional Dungeons and Dragons tabletop campaign. I even turned the difficulty down in the final phase because the story was done, you were ready for the end, but phase after phase of enemies and environments were thrown at you before you could get to the conclusion.

It was like they thought more equalled epic.

As for Dragon Age 2? Well, lots of people didn't like it, but I liked how it approached its narrative and the more focused location, despite the repeated graphics. The trouble is I didn't finish it. I hit a section that involved battling mage group after mage group and I just got frustrated, stayed away for too long and never went back. It was working for me though, I liked the central character in a localised setting sort of deal.

The good thing about Inquisition is it looks gorgeous. The central idea is also brilliant. A disaster occurs during a pivotal event, placing you as a potential person of divine importance (or not) and some of the structures that held the world together are torn asunder. The Inquisition is launched to stabilise everything and face the threat currently facing the world. It puts your character about as front and centre as you can get. It's a great premise.

I think the minor problems, as in it doesn't stop me enjoying it, are inherent in how that's implemented.

The game has done something quite clever, but this is probably also its fault. The structure of how you prosecute the Inquisition manages to integrate in how you'd approach such a set-up: controlling the landscape by setting up camps; sending ambassadors, spies and soldiers to deal with problems; closing rifts and solving problems. The trouble this is also a structure to integrate in all the small and stupid quests that fills out the content in these sort of games. All this generates power which acts as a pacing mechanism as it seems you use power to access key plot quests. It allows for an illusional lack of structure or rails while quite clearly pacing events.

It's called open world, and that excites people, but to me it's a just way to ensure the game takes 60 hours? You sort of have to engage with all the minutia to progress the game it would seem. Throw in the fact that there is also crafting, which I'm hoping isn't essential to completion of the game, and you have a lot of gaming baggage that I'd prefer we'd left behind. The overall effect is it's just not as punchy, fast-paced or as cinematic feeling as Mass Effect. While Mass Effect feels like a grand, cinematic film that your making epic choices in, representing a better balance between game and narrative, the Dragon Age games always feel more like traditional RPG experiences that simulate elements of bad tabletop games.

It's still a type of game I like, but I guess since Mass Effect I am substantially less prone to suffer some of the elements. For example, why do I have to spend so much time in the damned inventory screen trying to ensure my party is always using the best gear? Not only that, why do potential party members arrive wearing pyjamas (they don't look like they are wearing pyjamas) which means you have to juggle equipment around again or buy loads of stuff (but some of your gear will be blue or purple so you'd want to move some). The end result for me is I tend to keep the same party members because it's all too much of a chore.

It's all going to come down to how epic the story is and how frequent, dramatic and consequential the narrative decisions are. I don't' care about open worlds (and I wish the fascination with them would die a death a bit). I can't be arsed to craft anything. I just want exciting fights, great locations and big decisions that drive the story in different directions. The risks is, based on my experience so far, it's not going to be Mass Effect scale on that front either.

I am hoping though, I want it to be as memorable as Mass Effect, rather than just a good game.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 26/11/2014 Bookmark and Share
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