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Ian O'Rourke
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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
State, Murders and Graduations
Keywords: TV.

I've watched the first three seasons of Friday Night Lights and after discussing the brilliance of season one, I feel the need to reflect a bit on the first three seasons, since they represent a transition point in the show. A transition faced by all shows that have a highly locational and temporal focus (in this case a High School) as characters age and need to graduate.

First I want to go back to season one.

After watching it I compared season one to Battlestar Galactica and True Detective, because of the way it's filmed in the case of the former and it's very evocative location and culture in the case of the latter. Having thought about it much more there is another show it reminds me of: The Wire. You might say that's an even loftier comparison than the previous two shows? Yes it is. To be fair it falls short of The Wire, but not by an amount that should take anything significant from the show in season one. It's like The Wire in that it's about a group of people in a specific place, with its own culture and they are all trying to make their life within it. It just happens the culture is a small, depressed, religious, Texas town and the High School Football team everyone seems to put their hopes on, live vicariously through or see as a route out, rather than cops and drug dealers (I realise The Wire went to include schools and town politics, which Friday Night Lights touches on through its lens).

The good thing is it does this while being a much more positive and life affirming show. The marriage of the Taylor's is one of the best written on TV. The aspirational choices of the various football team members and the problems they face are by and large positive. Coach Taylor is amazing, he should have got an award for that role as he managed to take what could have been a saccharine coated role of 'Internet Life Coach' statements and turned it into something else. That's enough about season one, but suffice to say it's very good.

Regrettably, season two is a bit of a mess. It's actually still a very interesting show and it's lack of quality is less about the season itself and more about the lofty heights of season one. It just feels more like a standard show than it's inaugural season did. They run with a bit of a lame murder plot which doesn't really make much sense and is resolved in a way that leaves glaring gaps in it. The focus moves away from the ever escalating pressure of the football season that framed the first season with the ever increasing pressure of the matches, the radio commentary and how this impacts the town to just being slightly more 'general soap opera'. It's not bad, it just becomes more normal. It then just ends, abruptly. The football season isn't over. Characters stories are still really in motion. It's very odd. A bit of research shows the season was supposed to be 22-episodes long but got cut short due to the Writers' Strike, so this might explain a lot about season two.

Season three is much better, it returns the focus to the anchor of the football season. The season is shorter, which I think works for the show as there is only so long you can do 22-episodes a year about this stuff. A shorter seasons brings focus. I liked season three. It's not season one, I've given up thinking the show will return to that, but it is very good. It's very much a season about its beginning and end. The beginning is mired a bit, albeit it's very interesting, by events that should have happened in the missing episodes and have still happened but you didn't get to see them. A number of these things are pretty damned big and would have made a good final third for the second season. It's also about the end as key characters are graduating in season two which means they exit the show if their future isn't within Dillon. This means the season has a final season feel for characters you've been following from the beginning and that is done very well. It's good stuff. It's the whole college, life goals and future aspirations piece and Friday Night Lights does it very well.

The way to see it is this: Friday Night Lights is a great show. Season two is the weakest of the first three but it's a far cry from terrible when compared to other shows. In truth, season two is still good. Season three is very good. The way to look at season one is it's like the ridiculously good mini-series, albeit a very long one, that kick-started a TV show. It's a whisker away from the quality of the The Wire which, considering its subject matter is pretty, bloody astounding.

It's worth watching because three episodes in to series four and I'm fascinated again. The school districts have been split. Jobs have changed. The town has two football teams. We get to see what High School football is like when it's not controlled by its generations of past heroes, albeit not perfect, but well meaning and instead by people who have their own goals in mind. It gets off to a very good start. Its hit the wall that all shows hit when their main cast out grows the locational and temporal crucible it's set within and its done it extraordinarily well. Its managed to make it feel like a new, fresh show while not discarding what makes it great. Very clever.

Friday Night Lights, if like me you completely missed it, then you need to watch it. If nothing else watch series one as it does have a beginning, middle and end that's self-contained enough, and it's ridiculously high quality TV. I then defy you to not want to keep watching.

It's on UK Netflix..go click that button, it's well worth it.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 05/04/2015 Bookmark and Share
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts! Can't Lose!
Keywords: TV.

I often spend more time looking for something to watch on Netflix rather than actually watching something on Netflix. Despite this, you occasionally, well, often very rarely, discover a hidden gem. A while back I saw something called Friday Night Lights. It looked like an interesting film. I put it to the back of my mind. Then this week I went to give it a go but ended up watching a TV series of the same name instead. Mental mix up.

That was good, as Friday Night Lights the TV show is brilliant. I binged watched the first 22 episodes of season one.

On paper you'd think it wouldn't be a good idea. A drama about a High School football team stretched out across 22 episodes a year (though as it happens post-season one it drops to 13). The usual stereotypical characters, the usual plot set-ups. All of which sort of work when fitted into 120-minutes but would get very tired episode after episode. Imagine something like Varsity Blues attenuated across that many hours? Soul destroying. You don't get that though, you get something very different. Friday Night Lights isn't just a sports drama about American Football. It isn't a High School drama, far from that. It's essentially a drama about a town and its obsession with its High School football team because that is, by and large, its biggest success.

The strangest thing about Friday Night Lights is the two TV series it reminds me of the most? Battlestar Galactica and True Detective. I know, a lofty comparison, and there are many ways in which the show is nothing like either of these two shows, yet I can't help but feel the connection.

It's like Battlestar Galactica in the way it's filmed. It has that close, 'amateur', grainy and intimate camera work which works surprisingly well in this small town, High School and football setting. Really odd, but it works. It makes it a very intimate and intense drama. You are drawn into scenes about the most mundane of things. I don't mean mundane in the sense they are boring, but mundane in the sense they're about important, character driven stuff but there is hardly any 'chewing of the scenery' in Friday Night Lights and it is brilliant because of it.

Then you have the setting, it's not as a big a portrait of its setting as True Detective was, but it plays along similar lines. The Texas small town, its inhabitants and its all consuming obsession with football is brilliantly portrayed. The buildings, the rich family owning the car dealership, the poor housing, the fields, trees and dust hanging in the sunlit air. You feel embroiled in the culture and the place and I think this is one of the biggest facets of the show that helps raise it above the numerous genres it's pulled from. As a place on paper it's somewhere that you'd be inclined to not like, make fun of or ridicule, but Dillon with its religion, prayers before games, run-down housing with posters outside declaring their sons playing position, and varied inhabitants, just works. It is the fabric of the series in a similar way to True Detectives setting been woven into the fabric of that show.

Dillon, Texas may not be a place I'd want to live, but as a place for drama it is a thing of beauty. Its fascinating.

Ultimately, it's about the characters and their relationships and there is something being captured in the show that isn't present in others. True, it's easy to see it as sporting all the stereotypes: the star quarterback who gets crippled; the lead cheerleader who is the daughter of the 'better off' car dealership owner; the young quarterback with confidence issues, forced to rise to the occasion; the poor kid, with father issues, who the women fall before; and the super star black running back who refers to himself in the first person.

All this doesn't matter as it doesn't really play out that way while still allowing the characters to be essentially who they are. The star quarterbacks journey through dealing with being in a wheelchair is fascinating and, in my view, one of the best examples of a storyline dealing with crushed dreams and adversity. The issues around that star running back and the pressure he faces as the single way to raise his family out of poverty manages, for the first time, to make me feel the weight of that responsibility. Even the young, naive quarterback rising to the occasion, while dating the coaches daughter is incredibly well done. The relationship between the daughter, the quarterback and the coach is brilliant and you want him to do well. In fact, I'd say Friday Night Nights has one of the best explorations of family relationships I've seen without falling into the safe bet of shouting and scenery chewing.

It's just an incredibly well implemented show. I understand the rating weren't great. In a way I can understand why, it was probably quite a different show when it aired. Very understated. Filmed differently. It's essentially a study of character, place and culture. Now, it would be different, coming in as one of those 13-episode HBO style affairs. Hopefully, it doesn't make really bad changes in the second series onwards to try and become more popular.

I don't know about the proceeding seasons, but Friday Night Lights season one, for me, is a bit of a TV show work of art.

Permalink | Comments(1) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/04/2015 Bookmark and Share
Have Ship, Will Travel
Keywords: Video Games; SWOTOR.

I've not played SWOTOR for over a week, a combination of time and fitting in some Destiny raiding, but events have moved on. It also means I'm also totting up a healthy pot of rested XP. My experience playing Warcraft is I tend to favour having a break, playing something else, and then levelling up faster later on with rested XP. This is especially true if I'm not trying to co-level with anyone, which I'm not.

I'm now level 19. I have my personal starship and I've also invested in my first mount. This opens up the game somewhat. I can travel to any planet on the galactic map, in theory, since each planet has level ranges and some are allied to the other faction. I believe the area immediately around the space port offers a zone 'free of enemies'. What's interesting is the planet I've been 'directed' to go to is for level range 16-20. I can only assume rested XP and three instance runs has resulted in me over-levelling on the Imperial home world.

I thought I'd finished chapter one of my class story, but apparently I'm not even close. It felt like a conclusion of sorts, with the events on the Imperial capital coming to the close, the resistant movement, headed by The Eagle, being born and the 'terrorist' attack against a Sith Lord (I'll not be losing any sleep over that one, the git gave me the force lightning when I refused to bow). I am now codenamed Cipher-9 charged with bringing down the terrorist network. Hence the new ship so I can hyperspace around the galaxy doing what's necessary. While it wasn't the end of any chapter of my class story it did feel very much like a graduation, from the Imperial Agent running missions to one being given a sort of personal remit to hunt down the enemy. It was pretty cool. It felt a bit like when you get to be a roaming Spectre in

The ship is nice, as described it is a modified yacht, so it has the elegance of a yacht but with the armament of a heavy fighter. Nice. Got to travel in style.

I'm glad I've got my first vehicle. The running around wasn't bothering me, but the last session it started to. I think it was because I was on a new planet and none of it was discovered and the thought of running everywhere felt like a bit of a barrier. It's much faster via my personal speeder-type thing. I am enjoying being able to rush from place to place and just get things done. There are a lot of varied mounts in the game, including all sorts of animal mounts. I don't know the details you just see people using them in the game. No idea how you get them. I am assuming they are an end game thing. I'm controlling my exposure to such things and just keeping on playing.

I've done three instance runs, Black Talon twice and Hammer Station.

I entered both through the group finder which is a great tool and what's amazing about is it still works at the lower levels. While it took a while for Hammer Station to pop, Black Talon opened up in a couple of minutes in both cases. Not only that, all three instance runs have had someone experiencing it for the first time (and other than me, making it two in the first runs). This is just...fascinating. The lower levels seem to be thriving as the same is true for heroic quests in the various zones.

It seems not all the flashpoints are equal when it comes to story content. Black Talon had quite a few dialogue scenes the results of which created minor variations in the ending. Quite cool. It felt very cinematic. I went into Hammer Station, being polite, making sure people knew it was my first time and I was going to listen to the dialogue. Then there was none. Period. There was a bit more voice work than a Warcraft instance because stuff kept coming over the station comms network, but there was no story scenes with dialogue choices. It'll be interesting to see how many flashpoints fall on either side of the line. While I like the story content, and the flashpoints as contained dramas, Hammer Station does have the advantage you have no group drama over skipping the conversations or not.

As a result of the lack of conversations, the context for Hammer Station felt a bit distant. It's a super weapon in the hands of aliens. It looks gorgeous. Beyond that it went by in a whirl of mobs and bosses. There was no dramatic equivalent to the heroic Jedi Padawn standing against us to protect her charge.

I've started to experience the usual problems with MMO communities. The individual who uses a group to get his quest done and then buggers off not caring what the status was for others. The group quit on my second aborted run at Black Talon because someone wanted to listen to the conversations. Some passive aggressive comments on general chat when asking a question about how gear works: apparently that is so Warcraft. It seems some people on general chat are oblivious or deluded to the fact that, yes, in many ways, SWOTOR is very much Warcraft. I am getting a handle on the gear, it appears a lot of it is much simpler than originally thought. While it can appear gear is complicated, it's incredibly simple: you have one primary stat, upgrade that...always. If the primary stat isn't on the gear then it's not for you. There is no such thing as upgrading other stats in SWOTOR. Like it. Simple.

I am resisting all attempts to create another character. Two reasons. It will spread my time and my time is already spread enough across other things without spreading it within the game itself. I really want to use the legacy system. I know I can already, but what I can't do is make my Jedi Guardian the same race as my Imperial Agent, so they would be siblings, which is what I really want to do. In order to do that I have to get my Imperial Agent to 50, the original max level of the game. I've thought about creating a different class, with a different relationship to the Imperial Agent, but then that would be three characters and that road leads to madness. I'm also finding it hard to get excited about the other classes. I suspect a combination of zones and factions is resulting in me being interested in two very different characters and then calling it.

The mystery remains as to whether a Chiss Jedi Guardian will speak like a posh bird off of the Empire or whether she'll suddenly adopt the cheerleader voice of the Republic? I am looking forward to wielding a lightsaber though. Just the sound of will never get boring. Well, it might after a while. What will get boring is the daft glow stick you wonder around with for a whole until the game has the common sense to give you the real thing.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 30/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
Defeating The Red Skull
Keywords: Board Games.

A gaming first was undertaken today? I played a card game. This is different to playing cards, which I've obviously done. A hobby card game, involving the building of decks. I stepped away from card games during the height of the collectable card game boom as it just all seemed toxic. Collecting linked to tactics, linked to system mastery linked to financial outlay. I know it was a great period for many people, but I was not going to get remotely close to it.

It pushed way too many distaste and dislike buttons.

The move away from collectable card games to living card games and cooperative stuff has got me intrigued. I decided living card games are still not for me. While they remove the hardcore collecting, they still involve too much 'out of game' system mastery. The card games that operate more on board game principles, while still having 'deck building' elements, have drawn me in.

Enter Marvel Legendary, a deck building game. It's not collectable in any way, though it does have expansions. It's competitive and cooperative, more on that later. The genius of it, for me, is it involves deck building, but not in that spend hours mastering the perfect deck as a transaction cost of playing. The deck building is part of the game and exists only in the scope of actually playing. It's also based on superheroes and has all the Marvel theme going on which is the icing on the cake.

So, how was the game?

It broke a number of expectations, but not necessarily in a bad way. I assumed each player would have a hero's deck, so you might be playing Black Widow or Spider-Man. This isn't the case as you'll have cards from each hero, as well as shield agents, in your deck at any particular time. The narrative model is more that a group of heroes and shield are fighting against a Mastermind and the playing of cards represents the activities of those actors. I also went in thinking you'd choose to play and retain cards, but this isn't true either. You always discard all cards at the end of your turn and draw new ones. This was confusing at first and I think there is still probably some detail in how cards are played that we are missing (order, etc).

You draw cards. You recruit, thus building your deck, which naturally gets more powerful over time as weaker cards are selected to be KO'd and you recruit others. You defeat villains and groups of henchmen. You attack the Mastermind. In turn they flood the city with their villains and henchmen, strike out themselves and work to complete their nefarious schemes. This creates an interesting dynamic that can vary considerably each time depending on the cards potentially in play and the ones that get played. It isn't complicated, and I suspect some people may think it's too simple and it's not their thing, but I found it involved enough. We're also almost certainly not experiencing its full depth as there are many heroes we've not used and we were playing the simplest Mastermind and the simplest scheme, so their is an opportunity for things to get more complicated and difficult.

The heroes win by taking down the Mastermind, by taking out each of his tactics, and he has four, and an individual player is declared the victor by having the most victory points (you keep the villains you defeat throughout the game). As stated, it's cooperative and competitive.

On the heroes in play over the course of two games (the same Mastermind and scheme) it's obvious each of them plays quite differently. Out of the seven heroes (Cyclops, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, Hawkeye, Hulk, Black Widow and Deadpool) we probably clued in to the approach of Cyclops, Black Widow, Hulk and Iron Man (though the last one was by and large my nephew). Black Widow has a capacity to rescue lots of bystanders and then abilities key off those, such as an attack that has +1 power per rescued bystander. That has the potential to be very powerful. The Hulk has a whole card synergy thing going on between his own cards and wound cards. Cyclops was the paramount leader in terms of recruitment and dishing out some damage without much combinations needed. Deadpool was just unfathomably random. Basically, each hero probably has a deck built on specific strategies and / or combinational approaches.

This raises one of the first dualities of the game: to what degree do you concentrate on perfecting the potential of your deck as opposed to taking the odd card away from the perfect deck of your fellow players? It's cooperative as well as competitive, after all. This duality comes up in numerous places. You have a big attack lined up do you go for the Mastermind or a villain in the queue? You'd say Mastermind, right? But what if one of the villain's in the queue gives another player a massive number of victory points because it acts in combination with other cards already in his victory pool? This happens with the Hydra cards, for sure.

We seemed to be able to keep on top of the villain queue in both games, but I suspect this was because we were playing the easiest scheme. I've seen at least one scheme in which the villains in the queue have the potential to be enhanced in power as the scheme unfolds. A few cards proved to be tricky as well. In the first game we got Venom twice and he could only be taken down by an 'espionage' hero and we didn't have one. Then there was the Hydra horde (not their actual name) which, when taken out, had you draw two more villain cards! This meant taking them out at the right time was essential, otherwise killing them could push another villain into escaping. The take down of villains is interesting because of their rules on take down, such as taking a wound, them KO'ing a hero in your deck, and so on, as a result of the conflict.

One issue we noticed, though it didn't ruin the enjoyment, is the experience can be quite dependent on the shuffling of the cards. Despite numerous attempts to not cause grouping of cards it happened anyway. We shuffled them by hand. We spread them out on the table, swirled them around and pulled them back together. We made sure Mastermind Strikes and Scheme Twists got spread out around the deck before we shuffled. Inevitably we still had numerous Scheme Twists at once, often early. We'd also get batches of henchmen in a row. It didn't actually cause a problem but, in theory, where the Scheme Twists fall in the villain deck can bring the game to an early close. We lost the second game because of this. There is no way to claw back Scheme Twists entering the board so it's an inexorable march to defeat rather than one that ebbs and flows as the game progresses.

The confusing element was in how cards are played in your turn. In the one video I watched they just played all the cards at once, but it seemed to me there was advantages in playing your cards in some sense of order due to the abilities on the cards. I'm going to have to read the book again but I don't remember any detail on this, just that you recruit and fight in any combination you wish (and you can see how that is important). It's conceivable you may recruit a hero, only to have another card immediately drawn that may change your next step? Or you may fight and then the outcome of that villain card could increase or decrease your chance to recruit? Around all this is the fact that you do effectively use all cards as you discard them all at the end of your turn. Your hand only has the life of one turn. It's going to take some experimentation. It's possibly there is a process of 'tapping' or 'using' cards that isn't made explicit but is implied - so you always play them all (as that is implicit as they're all discarded) and it's just when you use one or more and the order of that (effectively tapping in some sense of order). It can make a difference for some cards how your turn is processed and in what combination that process happens in.

As for the deck building? Well, this is deck building I don't mind because it's only within the scope of the actual game. It doesn't involve a need for deep system mastery and some sort of 'cleverer than thou' artisan-based deck building done on your own, outside of the game being played, to create the perfect deck. What's also interesting is, under this dynamic, the deck building takes place in cooperation and in competition! You're not sitting and constructing based on cards you have available because of money you've paid, but based on what is available in the hero deck and all other players are trying to do the same thing at the same time! Going for that Black Widow bystander rescuing deck? Great, but what if another player has some of the key cards? While the Hulk damager and rage synergy deck helps the team win it also spread wounds across the team both increasing one player's chance of winning and limiting your chances? It's an interesting one, the degree to which you allow other players to recruit great cards for their deck. The rest is down to memory of what you've recruited and why and the luck of the draw as your deck cycles round (getting shuffled each time).

Overall, it was a great experience. It was fun. It also still has a lot of potential in it both in the options we haven't utilised, in the form of heroes, masterminds, schemes, villains, etc, and in realising the tactics of the game as it's being played. As an example, I was fully focused on controlling the villain queue and defeating the Mastermind, I put little effort into competing with the other player. We've also only played it with two players, I'd like to see what the differences are when Louise fills the third slot.

We shall play again. It would seem the scourge of my gaming existence, the deck building game, has finally been found in a format I can enjoy.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
Waylan and Red Get to Cyseal
Keywords: Video Games.

One of the reasons I purchased a Gaming PC was the resurgence of gaming genres long since dead, primarily due to Kickstarter. One such genre is party-based role-playing games. It's been an age since the classics of Baldur's Gate, Icewindale and Torment, albeit I never finished any of them and didn't get to experience Torment. I did enjoy them, especially Icewindale. I really loved that game. Now we have Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity providing that party-based adventuring experience combining the great things of yore with a very updated experience.

I've started playing Divinity: Original Sin and the adventures of Waylan and Red have started.

I purchased the game a week before the PC was supposed to arrive. Then it didn't arrive in a working state for over a month. Then I held off starting to play the game as it seemed to have a high transaction cost. A high chance of falling into a 'character trap' were at some point in the game you find yourself with a character than isn't powerful enough, or has the wrong mix of abilities to get passed a specific fight, and you're basically stuck.

Epic options paralysis.

I finally found some time this morning to figure out what I was actually selecting and what my options would be down the road. While I'm still nervous about it I'm now hoping it's not as complicated as was originally thought or communicated by the general chatter on the web. If you follow a few key principles. There is probably two stats I need to level per character and the rest can be left. It's true that talents are in short supply but I'm not sure how key a lot of them are. Despite being the rarest they don't seem to be the game changers. It's abilities and skills that seemed to be the main area of paralysis and potentially where the mistakes can be made and the complexity is. They are in ability groups, these abilities can be levelled from 1-5 and that gives access to skills, etc. Do you save points and get something to five first? Spread them in the early phases? What skills should you learn? And so on.

In truth, Divinity: Original Sin isn't a class-based game, they just represent bundles of attribute, ability, skills and talent distributions around a concept. I decided going totally unbundled would only lead to insanity, so I went with a Ranger (Waylan) and Wizard (Red, specialising in Earth and Fire magic) and tweaked the defaults around that theme. Even this came after a bit of research, as without doing that you don't know the two companions you meet are a Knight and a Wizard specialising in Air and Water magic. You'd be a bit annoyed if you'd duplicated these areas when you started with your duo. I nearly did as I was quite interested in the Knight. Now I'll have a more rounded party once I get the two companions.

I've investigated the area outside the city of Cyseal, after landing on the beach, gone through the first dungeon (essentially a tutorial) and made my way through the gates of the city.

It's a very interesting game. It delivers a cleverer, more smooth and updated infinity engine experience. This is even down to the text-based conversations. Yeah, it would have been great if it was fully voiced, but that isn't the end of the world. The combat is turn-based, utilising action points which I'm still figuring out. I can see it getting more involved down the line. I'm enjoying my giant spider summon at this point (especially since it seemd to aggor enemies, keeping me safe from attach) and there is plenty of opportunity to combine environmental effects. As an example, slicking the area in oil and then hitting the area with flare. I've not even started to use Waylan's various speciality arrows that come with effects like fire, poison, stunning, etc.

It's not going to be a quick game. It's undoubtedly long and it's not quick to play mechanically. You've got the written conversations. Then movement through areas tends to be slow and deliberate. Then combat is turn-based which I'm sure takes more and more thought as the number of abilities increases. Then you're constantly picking things up and many of them can be used in crafting recipes (Waylan is skilled in these things, and that's another skill that has a bit of option paralysis around it based on when I spend points on those skills as opposed to ramping up my primary bow skill).

I am hoping the experience isn't that long it inevitably becomes one that is never finished. While everyone may complain about games being short these days there is an argument to say that too long isn't that great either. A long game is very long if it's not being played for literally hours at a time, late into the night!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
Having Gone Cold Turkey
Keywords: Role-Playing Games; Video Games; Board Games.

So, four months ago, I effectively dropped out of playing tabletop role-playing games. The first thing to say is it doesn't feel like four months, which probably says something in and off itself. The second thing to say is it was a bit strange, but only at first. The usual thing happened and my mind started flooding with gaming ideas. It's a bit like Ross and Rachel, you assume you're 'on a break'. You have the deluded belief you'll use the break to put something together and come back with an idea or two and run something.

Never going to happen. I think that was my cold turkey phase. That just seemed to suddenly drop off and now, surprisingly, I don't miss it.

This hasn't really happened before. During previous lulls I've still been involved either because I've been writing material for magazines, buying games but not playing them, avidly involved in various forums or all three. There was always a big armchair gamer thing going on. What can I say? last time I had a serious break, four years in length, it was the nineties and a lot of people did armchair gaming back then, that's why so many supplements were released. I've never really had a complete break.

A core of the time has been taken up with computer games. While it's not something that can be documented like the cycles of the moon, there has been an element of computer games rising as tabletop role-playing waned over the course of my life. It's even got me back into PC Gaming which, despite the dramas getting a PC to me in one piece, is turning out to be a great experience.

I've only skirted the edges of the PC Gaming really, as it's primarily consisted of Star Wars: The Old Republic. There is a number of genres I want to get into but it's finding the time: Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity (party-based role-playing games), Elite: Dangerous (space sims) and DCS World (flight sim), etc. I am looking into a joystick, more specifically, a HOTAS, which is a Hands on Throttle and Stick. I'm finding it hard to jump into anything like Elite or a flight simulator without one. I have this vague sense it'll be more...immersive. These things can cost a fortune but there has been some good reviews of a sensibly priced one. A worth an experiment price. In a way, this is a nostalgia thing, but with all new experiences, as I feel PC Gaming is now delivering like it used to back in the day before 'the grand culling of game genres' and the rise of the FPS.

While not PC Gaming, after a bit of a lull I'm getting back into Destiny. The problem with Destiny is I'd just lost any incentive to keep playing. While there is always a bit of gear you might want, there wasn't really much reason to have it. It wasn't giving me access to new experiences, my future in Destiny was grinding patrols or strikes no matter what gear I accumulated. This has changed though as we now have a fire team of family and partners which means we can raid. We are currently giving Vault of Glass a go and it's great fun. It's progressing at just the right speed at the moment while also being a great social occasion. It's brilliant and hopefully this perfect balance will continue as we get to the harder bits. Yeah, it's a raid behind, the loot is behind the curve, but it's still a good enough challenge and you get to see it!

I've also started on a road travelled by many a person who is seeing role-playing games diminishing in their lives: board games. I never thought I'd do this. I'm aware of a number of people who walked this road and I was convinced it was never for me. I guess I was wrong. We're playing board games every other Sunday (myself, Louise and my nephew) and it's great. We've been enjoying the Imperial Assault campaign for the most part, but we've just added Marvel Legendary and Zombicide to the collection. I'm not 100% sure how the board game methadone works, as they don't really offer the same experience at all, yet they seem to be working as a very fun replacement. I guess the social element is a big thing, along with the drama of it. It's a different sort of drama, but the drama of victory, loss and the odd surprising turn of events, while of a different sort, works really well.

Will I ever get into tabletop role-playing games again?

I think the problem comes down to the fact I could see myself getting quite taken with an idea or an experience, but not so much a week in week out gaming group (never say never on that, but at the moment it doesn't feel like it'd happen). In some strange fantasy world were tabletop gaming occurred divorced from a gaming group, and people came with pitches and looked for people who really wanted to fully throw themselves into it, I could see myself really jumping head first into one thing or another. That never happens though, as that is a fantasy world. Gaming groups are consistent. Sticky. They are the medium through which games get run and get played. No problem with that, in many ways it's a great thing, it just doesn't match the way I may currently want to experience them. I guess I'm saying I could see myself being passionate about an idea, not so much tabletop role-playing games as a perpetually regular thing in and of themslves.

As for now? Let the computer and board gaming roll on.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 27/03/2015 Bookmark and Share
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