Monday, September 29, 2014

Wizmouse for Windows: Scroll the window under the mouse cursor without changing focus.

I regularly have two documents open on my screen and I try to make notes in one while I read the other. Having  a big widescreen monitor helps. Twin monitors are even better but there is an annoying windows feature that slows things up. Only one window can be active at a time (has focus) and if you want to do anything to the other window you must activate it by clicking it. Typically this means clicking a window to scroll up the text then clicking the other window to start typing again. It doesn't sound like much but the constant switching of focus disrupts my work flow and inevitably I get it wrong occasionally and try to type in the wrong place.

WizMouse from Antibody software is a simple, fix for this with an unlimited free trial. When it is active then the mouse wheel controls the window under the pointer WITHOUT CHANGING FOCUS. In practise this allows you to keep typing away in the active window while using the mouse wheel to scroll through the other window. Brilliant.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Edward Castronova (Terra Nova) offers a brilliant but poignant summary of why mmorpgs are history.

For a time in the last decade, there was a sense that an immersive 3D communal place was a substantial thing unto itself, and likely to become an important media offering. That has not happened. Instead, we've seen an unbundling of the parts of virtual worlds. Sociality went to Facebook. Complex heroic stories went to single-player games. Multiplayer combat went to places like DOTA and Clash of Clans. Economy games went to Farmville and the F2P clones. Virtual currency went to Bitcoin. 
Edward Castronova final post on Terra Nova, 25th September 2014

This succinct analysis strikes a poignant chord with me. Having grown up with 1980's Sci Fi I have always had a secret hankering for Gibsonesque virtual worlds that would allow humans to escape from the tethers of the physical world. For a brief moment in time it seemed that mmorpgs might be the first tentative steps towards making those virtual worlds a reality. Sure they were games but they were also so much more than games. They were entire social eco systems for millions of players. Some virtual worlds such as Second Life and possibly Eve offered a more complete simulation but all of these games taken together suggested that something important was really happening.

The failure of any subsequent title to emulate the success of World of Warcraft and the cancellation of the long promised successor to WoW are pointed to as indicators of the declining health of mmorpgs but I think Castronova's comment addresses the real issue. We no longer believe that these worlds are going to be anything more than just games. The naive hope that these games might be the first steps towards something that would completely transform humanities relationship with reality has proven unfounded.  The dream is over.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spellforce - Sometimes Slow is OK

I have been re-playing a bit of Spellforce-Order of Dawn this last week. I find it curiously compelling even though I can't really recommend it to a modern audience. The rts/rpg hybrid gameplay was probably innovative back in 2003 but the game feels dated today. Moreover it plays very very slowly. A key feature of the game is that your character and accompanying army spend a lot of time just walking slowly around large maps to find enemies and other objectives. A curious design decision is that every time you load a game or use a fast travel portal the entire map covers with fog of war again. This means that unless you have a photographic memory the only way to search a map properly is to walk the whole map area in one long (an hour or more) session without quitting the game and without availing of any fast travel abilities.

The game is also rather easy (played on normal at any rate) and encourages a turtling strategy. It is very easy to defend your base from sporadic enemy attacks while you build up an unstoppable army and only then bring it out for the slow walk around the map steam-rolling any opposition you find along the way.

All of the above makes the game hard to recommend and I suspect many players would find this slow unchallenging gameplay rather frustrating. Yet I find it suits my mood at the moment. I doubt i will stick it out to the end of the campaign but it is keeping my occupied for a while at least.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A month of gaming - Those I have finished and those I have not.

In the last month I have played about twenty different games. Rather I should say I started to play about twenty different games. In some cases I stuck with the game to the end of the campaign. In others I gave up with no intention of going back but there is a third category of game which just  got sidelined when my attention wandered to something else. These games remain in my "to be played list".

Analysing the list it breaks down like this:
A. Games I am currently actively playing: 1
B. Games that I played to the end of the campaign I started: 6
C. Unfinished games on hold that I will probably get back to: 4
D. Unfinished games I am unlikely to go back to: 9

Categories A and B are not really problematic except to comment that I really like finishing games. Those games in category B where I have finished a campaign give me warm fuzzy feelings. Given that the large number of unfinished games in categories C and D might seem worrisome. Ten years ago I would have been horrified to think that I started nine games in a month just to give up on them. Today however with online sales and bundles there is a surfeit of games and a shortage of time. I have long since come to terms with the fact that I cannot play every game so it makes sense to try out a game and quickly move on once I have had enough of it.

The only really problematic category is C. These are games I really would like to get back to. Unfortunately there is a similar number of games from last month and again from the month before. This is my real backlog. If I am honest most of these games will never be finished, forever being pushed aside by something newer and shinier. They will remain on my "to do" list for a few months until they fade from memory. Some of them may come back to the fore in later years, perhaps with my starting a new campaign. I can remember specific instances of this but I haven't analysed it well enough to put a percentage on it.

For Reference here is a list of the games, each of which I have actually played within the last month, (The preceding letters are the categories from above put in to help me count):

C Splinter Cell, Blacklist: Enjoying it but got distracted. Want to get back to this.
D Dungeon Siege 2: Quick Look: Seems OK but I am not sure if I have time for this.
D Space Hack: Quick Look: Seems OK but I am not sure if I have time for this.
C The Witcher 2: Enjoying it but keep getting distracted. Want to finish it eventually.
D Magrunner Dark Pulse: I played a lot of this before eventually getting bored. Not sure if I will ever go back.
A  XCOM,  Enemy Within: Actively Playing. Will Probably finish the campaign
B  XCOM, The Bureau: Finished the main campaign.
B  Serious Sam 2: Finished the main campaign.
D Gears of War: Replay got about 75% of way through before getting stuck. Have finished before so don't feel any need to continue.
D Fez: Quick Look. Didn't really grab me.
C The Bridge: Quick Look. Seems OK. Want to explore further.
C Shadow Warrior: Quick Look. Want to explore further.
D GTR Evolution: Got it free and had a quick look. Probably won't play again.
D Saira: Got it free. Probably will not play again.
D Really Big Sky: Quick look. May keep on hand for instant gaming gratification but probably won't play again.
B Bioshock: Replay. Finished the main campaign again.
B Bioshock Infinite, Burial at Sea episode 1: Finished.
B Bioshock Infinite. Burial at Sea episode 2: Finished.
D Divine Divinity: Quick Look. Seems OK but I doubt I will ever get around to playing this.
B Bioshock 2, Minerva's Den: Finished

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Splinter Cell Blasklist: Would the real Sam Fisher use non lethal takedowns?

Splinter Cell Blacklist offers three distinct playstyles: Ghost mode where you focus on stealth and non lethal take-downs, Panther mode which combines stealth with lethal take-downs and Assault mode which is guns blazing shoot outs. Different weapons and perks cater to each style and you are more or less encouraged to focus on one style. 

Happily though you are not forced to stick to one style and I don't think that you miss out on any story elements by swapping between styles. This is important to me partly because I like variety but also because I tend to engage in a bit of subtle role playing in a game like this. I won't choose a course of action just to get the next achievement but instead I like to act in manner fitting with the protagonists mind set. When highly trained special agent Sam Fisher encounters a humble security guard just going about his job it makes sense that he would try to sneak past unobserved or at worst put the guard to sleep for a while. On the other hand when he encounters room full of ruthless killers who have just shot up his buddies there is no way he would let them wake up the next morning with nothing more than minor headaches. He is going to shoot as many real bullets into them as he can. 

I find that this almost subconscious role playing greatly enhances immersion and my enjoyment of the game. I remember doing it in Deus Ex HR where my character gradually morphed from non violence into furious vengeance as he became more and more aware of how nasty his opponents were.