End of Year – 2018

Greeting Programs. It has come to my attention that I haven’t posted anything here for some time. That’s not entirely unexpected, the name of the blog is a clue in that regard. But I thought I might take the time to do a sort of end of year summary, things I’ve enjoyed this year, interesting games I’ve played and so on.

So without further ado, here is my year in games.

We’re going to start with a look at some of the tabletop RPGs that have impressed me this year and talk a little bit about each of them.

Please Note, this is in no particular order other than my general stream of consciousness.

Tabletop RPGs

Sins (http://sinsrpg.uk)

This game is a weird post apocalyptic fantasy, the world has been destroyed by beings of immense power who for some unknown reason just stopped and disappeared. Leaving behind a plague of monsters (called The Brood) that still strives to wipe out humanity as we know it. Rising to meet the challenge of this threat are the PCs, called Nemissaries they are people who died and were taken by the Brood but managed to retain enough of their individuality to seek out a shard (a narrative device in the game world that can provide power and knowledge but often at a cost and never without an agenda) and recover their sense of self. As you might expect this transformation gives them incredible powers and pits them against forces both mundane and supernatural as they try to prevent the end of the species.

This game delivers a tense world with lots going on in it, politics, factions, survival and battle. There is an obvious anime influence to both the combat and the aesthetic and it works very well to drive you towards that kind of high drama and epic conflict.

I would strongly recommend this game to anyone looking for an unusual action game with a strong set of mechanics and a lot of options for both RP and action scenes

Star Trek (Modiphius Version – https://www.modiphius.net/collections/star-trek-adventures)

I ran a campaign of this at the start of 2018 for my regular Monday night gaming group, the group is comprised of three serious Star Trek fans (one of which is me) and two others who are fans but in the sense of they will watch it when it’s on TV but don’t class themselves as serious fans.

Turns out that we all loved the game though. The one thing that this game does better than any other attempt at a Star Trek RPG that I have seen is make it feel like you are in the Star Trek universe, everything from the momentum/threat mechanic, through the Ship as a Character conceit, the way the system is put together mechanically and the excellent supporting case system drives you to tell an excellent Star Trek story.

Both myself and my group are really looking forward to going back to this campaign in 2019.

Blades in the Dark (https://www.evilhat.com/home/blades-in-the-dark/)

A tabletop RPG about a crew of scoundrels seeking to steal their fortune on the streets of a magical, haunted, dieselpunk city.

If that isn’t enough to interest you then you should also check out the mechanics. One of the best things about this game is how it handles The Score, every crew needs to being doing stuff to earn coin and respect, you decide what to do, figure out your basic approach and then make an engagement role to see how deep in the shit you are when you start. This idea of skipping most of the prep for a mission and then starting in the middle of things and backfilling with flashbacks and neat inventory mechanics looks like it would make for fast and fun play.

I haven’t been able to find a spot to run this yet but it looks like it’s going to be insanely good fun when I do and at least one of my regular play group is super excited to try this game out.

SIGMATA (No official Website, available on https://www.drivethrurpg.com/)

Ok so this was a Kickstarter from a while ago, it appealed to me on the basis of Cyberpunk Superhero 80’s inspired by lots of things I am interested in and some really amazing concept art. I was slightly concerned about this game, it puts it politics front and centre and spends a huge amount of time trying to be representative (some times to the point where it feels really strained and that parts of the book were written just to get a minority character shoehorned in). So beware if this kind of thing is a no go for you.

That said, SIGMATA delivers a really fun and well written superhero game in a very interesting setting. You can dial the political rethoric up or down as you want and the setting has a lot of things that mirror current events, but not in a way that is going to become tired or boring in say 5 years time.

It’s a heavily narrative game that does a fantastic job of not letting its system or narrative conceits get in the way of the actual game. The action scenes play out very well and the framing of actions within the game is both well presented and well balanced. If you are looking for an alternative to the traditional superhero game then I would strongly recommend this game.

Invisible Sun (http://invisiblesunrpg.com/)

From the mind of Monte Cooke comes a surreal fantasy game that is nothing like anything else.

There is so much in this game, but first I feel I must speak to the downside of it. This game is big and expensive, the basic box is about £200 and that is if you can find a copy. So far there have been two kickstarters to fund print runs of this game but it is so big and so expensive that it’s not really the kind of thing a store can keep ‘in stock’.

However, that said it is absolutely worth the money. The box comes packed with things, there are the game books and character sheets, dice, tokens, props, cards for everything, maps, a special tarot deck invented for just this game, play aides, handouts and secrets hidden in the box and props themselves.

It’s about magic and reality and new ways of playing RPGs.

I ran this game for my very good friend Paul on his birthday (he requested it), so we all got together on the Friday afternoon and spent that afternoon/evening creating characters and doing all the cool session zero stuff (like creating neighbourhoods for people to live in and deciding on connections, relationships, objectives etc). Then we spent the Saturday playing, it was an awesome experience. As a GM this game runs like almost nothing else and my players loved it.

This game tries new things and creates a new space in the RPG design world and I am so glad it does. So much so that I slapped down another £200 for the expansions and follow up materials without it even being a hard decision.

Board & Card Games

X-Wing 2.0 (https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/x-wing-second-edition/)

This year saw the release of X-Wing 2.0 from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), a tabletop minis game that I loved dearly in its original edition. For the most part this game has been improved across the board in v2.0. The only issues with it are that the App (a mandatory part of game play because this is now how points costs and upgrades are now managed and assigned) is total garbage and the changes to the competition play have meant that while I was considering attending and playing in some of the open events I now have no plans to do that at all.

Thankfully there are a number of 3rd party apps that are much better than the dumpster fire FFG put out and the competitive play part isn’t that relevant anyway.

Still, they have simplified the rules, removed a lot of the cards that were big problems in first edition and reworked the ships to fix things where needed.

Star Trek Ascendancy (https://startrek.gf9games.com/)

Ok so I wasn’t expecting to like this game as much as I did. It’s a multiplayer competitive game where each player takes a civilisation (Federation, Romulan, Klingon, Ferengi, Cardassian) and fights it out for either cultural or military dominance across a star map that is built as play and so will be different every single time you play.

You can also add The Borg as an NPC threat race.

I played this once with a couple of friends a few weeks ago and we have another game of it scheduled for the Christmas break.

Keyforge (https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/keyforge/)

I was interested in Keyforge when it was announced, but recently I finally got to take a look at it properly and I love it. For anyone who doesn’t know, the decks in this game are provided complete and are algorithmically generated around certain rules and combinations of houses of cards.

Team Covenant have a great series of videos on YouTube where they talk about how to play the game and play through some examples.

The game looks to play quickly, with matches taking often less than an hour. Plus the buy-in is cheap as chips with a single deck being £8.99. (Although you probably want the starter set as it comes with all the tokens and such).

PC & Console Games

Ok, I say PC & Console, I mean PC & PS4. I don’t have an XBox so can’t speak to that.

Monster Hunter World (PS4)

God I love the Monster Hunter games, the idea is great, you are a monster hunter. You live in a world with giant ass monsters and you hunt them for parts and points. There are crazy weapons, mad combos, cat companions and other great humour. It also has a system that really rewards you for learning how to play the game, the nuances of each specific weapon and playstyle reveal themselves over time.

Spiderman (PS4)

If you haven’t played this game and have the option to do so then I cannot recommend more strongly that you play it. Do you remember playing Batman Arkham Asylum and being super impressed with how much it made you feel like Batman. Same deal but for Spiderman.

This game absolutely nails the web swinging movement mechanic and the quip and agility based spiderman fighting style. It also contains the final Stan Lee cameo to be aired before his death.

Warframe (PC, https://www.warframe.com/)

I played this for a bit on the PS4 but stopped as none of my friends were playing it. I went back to it on my games PC earlier this year and loved every minute of it. This game rocks so much, there is so much to do and the new cinematic quests really push the quality envelope.

The game is an endless play farming game with so much stuff to collect and build. It is supported very strongly by the publisher and their excellent development, audio, product management and community support teams. Also it’s free. Give it a try.

Ok, that’s it. We’re done here. There are more things I could add to this list, but honestly I’ve spend two hours writing this so far and I have other things to do. Merry Christmas programs.

Awesome Computer Games – Part 1

As the title might suggest I’ve decided to do a post on some computer games that I consider to be awesome.  This topic might sprawl over a couple of posts as I talk about various games, I’m going to start by talking about ‘Retro’ games that I have enjoyed.  These games will be presented with no regard for the chronological order of release, the order I played them in or how well they were reviewed, this remains (as always) my opinion and your mileage may vary.

This idea was brought on by events of last night.  I was looking for something to play, having completed all the games in my recent stack, so I browsed to the PlayStation Store to see if any new content was available for favourite games of mine (the answer being no).  I did however find the original Deus Ex on download for £7.99 which I immediately downloaded and started to play, so that’s where we’re going to start.

Please note – There may be spoilers in this post for these games, I take no responsibility for this as they are old games and I subscribe to the Penny Arcade idea of spoiler expiration dates, if you’ve not played them then either don’t read or suck it up.

Deus Ex
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_Ex)

Published in 2000 on PC , a couple of years later on PS2 and even ported to Mac & Linux (something that remains unusual even today) Deus Ex is a hybrid of both traditional FPS & RPG Gameplay styles and is the game that opened the way this style of gameplay.

You play as agent J.C. Denton a newly commissioned agent for UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition) and second of a new wave of Nanotech enhanced UNATCO agents (the first being your brother), the game starts out with a fairly basic premise of ‘Terrorists’ are doing bad things and you must stop them.  From there it takes turn into crazy conspiracy land with some really awesome betrayals and revelations, predictably the UNATCO group turns out to be a bunch of bad guys but (and I believe this may be a first for the genre) there are numerous conflicting groups trying to take control of the situation and your choices about who you help, who you kill and who you leave alive shapes the story the game follows.

Along the way you earn skill points for completing objectives that can be spent to upgrade various skills (allowing you to customise your skillset for your approach) and Augmentation Canisters which allow you to choose how your nanotech upgrades.  The combination of these two things gives huge flexibility in how you approach the game.

Why this game?
Easy, this was the first game I’d played that really did something new, the setting was (and remains) awesomely detailed, you had a feeling of really interacting with the world and of your choices having a huge effect.  The skill trees and nanotech as well as the huge choice of lethal and non-lethal weapons gives you a variety of approaches.

X-Wing & Tie Fighter
(
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_X-Wing_-_Space_Combat_Simulator & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TIE_Fighter_(video_game))

X-Wing was published in 1993 & Tie Fighter the next year in 1994, both of these games were (in my opinion) the start of the golden age of Star Wars games and I played them avidly.  This was back when Joysticks were a must have PC Accessory and space combat simulators were a genre people still produced games for.  The premise is simple in both games, you are a fighter pilot for the Rebel Alliance/Galactic Empire and as such you are tasked with a number of missions from simple ‘Stay here, defend this’ to more involved convoy interdiction, patrol and base assault objectives.  You are provided with a number of different ships and they are assigned to you depending on the mission type, scout/intercept missions tend towards A-Wings and Tie Interceptors, heavy attack Y-Wings and Tie Bombers etc.  Each game also had its ‘secret’ craft, the Rebels had the T-Wing and the Empire the Tie Advanced, TIE Defender & Missile Boat, each of which had distinct advantages.

The games also involved an element of tactics, you had wingmen you could command for example and you had to pay constant attention to the balance of power between your engines, shields, lasers and ion weapons.  Most craft also came equipped with a launcher weapon of some kind that you would use to rain death upon your foes from a great distance but with limited ammo.

Why these games?
I have many excellent memories of playing these games on my 486 PC with friends and on my own, they were atmospheric (helped by the inclusion of MIDI versions of the movie scores), had great plots and attention to detail in the story, you actually felt that you were fighting for something.  Technically these games were excellent examples of a genre that doesn’t really exist anymore, they were immensely playable and for the time the graphics were cutting edge stuff.

I-War
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-War_(Independence_War))

This is not a conspiracy where Apple attempts to take over the world via global conflict (although I wouldn’t put it past them), the I in I-War refers to Independence.  This is another example of the Space Combat Simulator games of the 90’s (1997 to be exact) that do not seem to exist as a genre anymore, however it is very different to the previously discussed X-Wing & Tie Fighter games, they we fairly simple re-skinned fighter games with some extra space stuff thrown in (like shields), I-War on the other hand was a proper full on Space Combat Sim that implemented Newtonian physics and put you in command of a corvette scale craft rather than the traditional fighter.

You could move your PoV between 4 workstations allowing you to swap between Command, Weapons, Engineering & Navigation, each workstation allowed you to do specific things; for example the Weapons station gave you a 3D wireframe view of the ship with a PoV locked to your current target and allowed you to access the ripple fire fast fire mode.

The story was a fairly basic corporate overlords versus plucky rebels but was well enough executed and fun, the game used full CGI Cut Scenes for a lot of story advancement, which were (for their time) amazing.

Why this game?
I love space combat sim games and lament their loss greatly, I-War was (for me) the greatest example of the genre, the ship felt like a big ass space ship, the different flight modes and full Newtonian physics model added a huge amount of fun to the game.  Plus it was hugely satisfying to blow things up with your array of missile and particle cannon. 🙂

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That brings us to the end of this blog post, next post on this topic will cover off more of the RPG games I loved, expect to hear about Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape Tormet & Final Fantasy VII….

For anyone who may be interested there is a website at http://www.gog.com  who specialise in making old games available for a reasonable fee, they include all patches and if emulation is needed to run them on newer systems they include that as well.

 

Console, Games, Music, Books & DRM

Something that I feel has been bubbling under my threshold of rage for the past little while is the ever increasing presence of DRM in my life and all the problems it’s causing me.  So I’m going to talk a little bit about why I’m so opposed to it.

First up, let me get this straight from the very beginning, I fully support the writers, developers, artists etc.  A number of good friends of mine make their living in the creative industries and they deserve to get paid for the awesome work they do.

Right then DRM first; this is the core of all the problems and, in my opinion, also the cause of a lot of piracy as the more intrusive the DRM gets the higher the incentive the get the pirated version.  DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, it is basically a way that the providers of content (note this is not the creators) or the creators of hardware trying to assert their ownership of the thing you have just purchased.

Now you can probably tell from my wording above that I have a huge bias here, I HATE DRM and all that it stands for, the DRM/Walled Garden model is one of the primary reasons I have such a problem with Apple and their products.  DRM is, in my opinion, actively harmful to the development of new technology and any kind of creative innovation as well as a method of actively punishing consumers.

The pro-DRM group always try to make the case that we are not purchasing the product only a licence to use it under conditions they can specify.  This is bullshit in my opinion.  If I buy something I own it, I can modify it and resell it however I want and you can all fuck the hell off.

Again, in danger of getting a bit ranty about that, so moving on….

But what about the pirates?

The reason often given for companies calling for stricter DRM and other controls is that piracy is costing them a fortune, this is (I believe) a total lie.  Most people who have downloaded a pirated album, game or movie simply wouldn’t have bothered to buy the product in the first place, hence why the figures quoted by the ass-hats over at the RIAA & MPAA (I’m using the American organisations in this example as they are both louder and more obviously evil that the UK versions) are nonsensical.

DRM & The Future Games market

This is the problem at the moment, the reliance on DRM and the legal ‘stick’ is now at a point where it is actively harming things.  I know several people who are massively into the computer games scene who have actively refused to by recently released titles because of the requirement for an always on internet connection for DRM verification.  I also know at least one or two who went out and purchased the game, then downloaded the pirated version just because it was a more fun experience without the intrusive DRM.

Microsoft have suggested that the next generation Xbox may require you to have an always on internet connection to play _any_ game at all, if that’s the case then I simply won’t be buying one, same with Sony and the next gen Playstation, if it requires an always on connection then I’m simply not buying it.

Read All About It

Ok then, books.  Everyone loves a book (or should do in my opinion) and eBooks have exploded onto the scene in the past couple of years, unfortunately this again brings up the topic of embedded DRM.

I have a Kindle (which I have fallen utterly in love with) and I am fully aware of the DRM issues surrounding Amazon’s format and the limitations an eBook has, for example I cannot lend or gift an eBook to anyone at the moment, which is quite annoying, and I cannot buy a Kindle book as a gift yet.  Hopefully these things will come and in general Amazon is considerably less evil than Apple.

The biggest issue for me at the moment is the stupid pricing in the UK, we are charged VAT on eBooks (an extra 20%) but not of the physical ones, this means that in a lot of cases an eBook is actually more expensive than its dead tree counterpart despite having much cheaper manufacturing costs (i.e. the layout and upload to Amazon).

What This Means for Me

Pretty basic, I object to DRM in all its forms and companies who consistently endorse stronger controls on these things will be companies I will not be doing business with.

Syndicate – Game Review (Leads to a bit of a Rant)

At the weekend I purchased the new Syndicate game for my Playstation 3, at the not inconsiderable cost of £40.

I have a few things to say about not only this game but a general trend that seems to be spreading over the computer games world.

But first, a review.

Syndicate is an FPS reimagining of a classic small unit strategy game.  This game, despite its name, is actually the 3rd in the series.  The original Syndicate found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicate_(video_game)  was a squad based game that put you in command of a team of 4 Agents working for one of the Syndicates (mega corporations that now run the world).  Your job was to blow up other syndicates, steal stuff, brainwash civilians etc.  It was awesome.  There was an expansion for that game and eventually a sequel that expanded on the conflict and gave us a really interesting and kick ass world.

Then there was nothing for a long time.

At the end of last year an announcement trailer was put out for a New Syndicate game, it looked very stylised, had an awesome soundtrack provided by Skrillex and the story was written by Richard Morgan (who is an amazing author who I will talk about more in an upcoming post on books).  Despite my misgivings about the game moving from 3rd person squad based & tactical to 1st person FPS I was sold.

Last week it came out and I brought it.

So here are my thoughts…..

The game is quite pretty, not as striking as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but definitely true to its stylistic origins.  The guns are suitably groovy and possess multiple fire modes, this leads to the combat which is fun and quite well executed, although it doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a traditional FPS for a cover based shooter.  The breech combat hacks make for some interesting options in a fight and there is an upgrade path available to customise your abilities and add more funky stuff.

The boss fights are quite well executed; more Skrillex soundtrack mojo makes the boss fights feel properly action move badass.

The story is quite interesting but compared to Deus Ex: Human Revolution comes off as a bit lacklustre.

That said, now the bad, the game is far far too short, especially for its £40 price tag, I completed it the same day I purchased it.  I’m getting fed up of games doing this, if you are going charge me £40 for the game there should be a minimum of a weekends worth of playtime in it.

The problem with the extremely short nature of the story is that you only get to pick maybe ¼ of the available upgrades and I finished the game feeling both cheated and disappointed.

I got to the final scene in the game and was genuinely shocked when it ended, surely there was a whole other half of the game somewhere that took the story to its logical conclusion.  Yes there is a multiplayer but I don’t accept that as being an excuse for a 6-8 hour single player campaign, I can accept the single player being less polished and less of a focus for things like Modern Warfare and Battlefield 3 where they are all about the multiplayer, that is not the case here.

Basically it’s a really good half of a game and if the other half had actually been done then it would have been brilliant.

Graphics:             6/10       Quite pretty but not exceptional
Gameplay:          6/10       Fun but far too short
Value:                   3/10       £40 for a game I can finish in an afternoon is not good value.

Final Score 5/10

It’s definitely worth playing the game but I wouldn’t rush out and buy it immediately, either pick it up used or wait for it to appear in a sale somewhere.

The Future – Technology Snapshot

One of the things I spend quite a lot of time thinking about each day is cool new technology. So I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve come across.

First up my friend Savs (@21stCenturySci) mentioned this on G+ today: http://www.txchnologist.com/2012/charged-up-electric-rockets-are-set-to-transform-space-flight

This article talks about Electric Rockets, a very cool emerging technology that provides a much more efficient engine for use in space. You still need good old chemical rockets to get out of the gravity well but once in space something like is just much much more efficient and cheaper to run.

The reason this is cool is that a large chunk of our future as a species is going to be in space. Our planet only has a limited amount of resources and we are going to run out, at which point importing them from space is a good plan. The best way to do it is looking to be unmanned vessels, so we don’t care that it takes 10 years to do a round trip (please note for the space nerds, 10 years is a number I just pulled out of the air) and a more efficient engine is much cheaper.

Second, Ubuntu for Android: http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android

This is a very exciting project. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that most modern smartphones are as powerful as a decent PC (Dual core processor, 2-4gb RAM 16gb+ storage) and also have hi-def video out, USB & can use Blue Tooth Peripherals such as keyborads. The ‘app’ contains a fully functional deployment of Ubuntu which can be started when the phone is docked and connected to an external screen/keyboard combo this lets your phone function as a full desktop replacement. This is the first real step in device convergence and looks really promising.

Third is V-to-V Technology: http://money.cnn.com/2012/02/21/autos/vehicle_communication_v2v/index.htm?iid=HP_LN&hpt=hp_t3

V-to-V stands for Vehicle to Vehicle and is an idea that a computer system in a car will communicate with all other nearby cars, sharing info such as road quality, current speed, accel/deccel, direction of travel etc. This means that cars can warn each other about accidents and hazards, if one car spins out then the others will know its spun out and will be able to adjust for this and actively avoid/reduce the collision.

Mate this technology with things like traffic lights, emergency services sirens and possibly even a mobile app that could warn cars of your presence and you have a system that could dramatically increase the safety of motoro vehicles.

Finally I want to mention Google Drive: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2012/02/09/google-drive-rumored-to-launch-soon/

Rumors have been flying around about this for quite a while and I am quite excited about it. I am a Dropbox user, I use it for all kinds of stuff and find it to be incredibly handy. Now if Google manage to make a cloud storage solution that is as easy to use and friendly as Gmail/G+/Google Docs then Dropbox are going to have a serious competitor. Hopefully more news about Google Drive will be available over the next month or so.

Anyway, I think thats it for this entry. Don’t want you all to start thinking that this will become a thing. 🙂