Sunday, December 23, 2012

So you think you are an individual do you?

These days it seems that every time I find something slightly unique and special half the world is already talking about it on Youtube, Facebook or Reddit. I wouldn't call myself a trendy person so I doubt that I am particularly sensitive to the zeitgeist but I am beginning to wonder if it is actually possible to hold a individual opinion about something any more.

Some years ago my wife and I took a bit of time to come up with a special name for our first child. We picked a name that was beautiful and had some family significance. It was also an unusual and uncommon name. Or so we thought. It was only later that we realised that this long forgotten name had somehow caught the public imagination and had bubbled up to be one of the top ten names of that year.

This year I found my gaming tastes swaying towards more challenging titles. I talk about that in this blog post  in which I surmise that "My age and gaming history allow me to overlook fancy graphics and current fashion trends in order to enjoy games both old and new that provide me that challenge". That's just me right? Well yes just me and most of the rest of the gaming population if the various top ten lists of games of the year are to be believed.

I had another example last night when I spotted something during an episode of Board-walk Empire that caught my eye. It was an obscure reference to a German Sniper mask that was quite incidental to the story but I had never heard of one before. It stuck in my mind so this morning I searched Google to find out more about it. It turns out to be a real thing that is quite prized by collectors of WWI memorabilia but what immediately struck me was how many of the people inquiring about it had also seen it on Boardwalk Empire.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Unintended Consequences: Contracts of Indefinite Duration

Warning: This post is nothing to do with games but it is an issue that agitates me greatly. It concerns a matter of European and Irish law which is intended to protect the rights of workers but which has the unintended consequence of causing great injustice to those folks it is actually intended to help.

It is a directive of European law (European Council Directive 1999/70/EC) that "Contracts of an indefinite duration are, and will continue to be, the general form of employment relationship between employers and workers".  Permanent employees and those on contracts of indefinite duration enjoy many legal protections. They cannot be fired without reason for example. I guess the purpose of the directive to is ensure that employers aren't trying to get around these protections by hiring folks on a series of short term contracts.

In Ireland the consequences of this directive are that an employer can only hire someone on fixed term contracts for a maximum of four years and that any longer period becomes a "contract of indefinite  duration". In effect after four years you become a permanent employee.

Unfortunately these well meaning pieces of legislation are so out of kilter with the realities of the modern workplace that the law itself is now the source of many grave injustices. The rapidly changing nature of the modern business environment means that temporary contracts make far more sense than hiring permanent employees. In these recessionary times many many people are delighted to take up an offer of short term contract work. If you know anything about the working environment you will know that the easiest way to get a job is to be in a job and very often one short term contract leads to another.

However the direct consequence of the legislation which is designed to protect workers is that anyone who has been lucky enough to accrue three or four years worth of contracts with an employer is automatically fired  and will not be hired by that employer again.

This issue actually makes it hard for me to do my own job because it is the nature of our work that we need to hire people on short term contracts. Worse than that though it is a terrible injustice to those it is intended to help. I know several people who have suffered directly because of this. These are folks who's services were still required and who would gladly have extended their contracts but who were told no. No more work for you.


How to compete with the Steam Christmas Sale: Get your retaliation in first

Like many gamers I am looking forward to Steam's post Christmas sale. It is a great opportunity to pad out ones gaming library with some bargains. Valve generally adds a bit of showmanship with holiday achievements and such so it is always a fun event event though I never seem to have quite as much free time for gaming over the holiday period anticipated.

What then for the also rans of digital game distribution? Surely the overwhelming dominance of Steam must send them into pits of despair as they consider that what should be their best selling period of the year is so completely overshadowed by the looming behemoth that is the Steam Sale.

Well this year I am pleased to note that the GoGs, Gamestop's,  Game Flys and other distributors are not sitting back and waiting for Steam to roll over their Yuletide hopes and dreams. In a masterful display of competitive strategy they are getting their retaliation in first by holding substantial sales before Christmas.

In my case at least this strategy is proving effective. I haven't spend a penny on Steam in over a month but I have nevertheless gradually been picking up titles off my most wanted list. "XCOM", "Far Cry 3" and "The Secret World" are among my most recent purchases all bought for substantial discounts and none of them bought from Steam.

I doubt this will put much of a dent in Valve's post Christmas extravaganza. Indeed I know several gamers who prefer to get all their games from one source but I am happier to spread my cash around. Fond and all though I have become of Steam I do think a little bit of healthy competition is good for them.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Too many games too little time.

Despite the relative lack of activity on this blog I am still playing. For the record here are the games that have been stealing my time:

Dark Souls: Extraordinary Game, despite the barely adequate PC port this has won itself a place on my list of greatest games of all time. I eventually had to force myself to stop playing after three weeks of total immersion.

XCom Enemy Unknown: Playing and enjoying this. I seem to have got a handle on the tactical side of things and I can hold my own in battles (playing on normal) but the overall strategy side still confuses me. Everything seems to cost more that I can afford and take longer than I have to wait. Three countries have already given up on me and I haven't even got to the alien base yet.

Hard Reset: Old school shooter with modern graphics from some of people who made painkiller. This is pretty entertaining although unforgiving checkpoint placement makes it more difficult than it should be. The abandoned city backdrops became very monotonous but I have just finished the  rather short original campaign and I am now tackling the extended section which I hope will get me out in the sunlight.  One of the oddest things about the game is that it has a comic book storyline which is lovingly drawn but completely incomprehensible. I don't know if something has been lost in translation or if bits have been left out.

The Secret World: Haven't played this yet but I got it on sale from Amazon. I don't really think I am ready to go back to a mmorpg but the new pay once model means I can treat this like a single player game and play at my own pace so I intend to have a look at it sometime over the Christmas.

Other games I hope to get around to looking at over the Christmas period:
Far Cry 3
Planetside 2 (maybe)
Darksiders 2
Dishonoured
Chivalry
Borderlands 2
May Payne 3
Torchlight 2
Kingdoms of Amalur

Who am I kidding. I am never going to get around to playing all of those. Too many games too little time.