Saturday, February 26, 2011

A gamer's unrequited yearning for a hobby

The train simulator Railworks 2 is often criticised for clogging up the pages of Steam with its many pieces of downloadable content. Those who don't understand add up the cost of all the add ons and complain that it would cost hundreds of Euro to own the full "game". I think I get it though. Rail works is not a game. It is a hobby. Collecting all those engines and rolling stock are part of the richness of that hobby. Don't take my word for it. Just check out fan sites to see how engrossed enthusiasts of this hobby can get.

I watch this with some envy. I would love to immerse myself in such a hobby and spend  countless hours in blissful contemplation of boiler pressures and signal configurations.

I suppose you could say that PC gaming is my hobby. I certainly spend a substantial amount of my time playing, reading about and writing about games. Unfortunately gaming is a mad cap, ill defined ever changing pursuit. There is no tranquillity in gaming. I have long since abandoned even trying to keep up with the latest games. These days I merely trawl the bargain pages of on-line game sellers looking for  whatever titles are cheap that can provide me with a few more hours of digital entertainment.

Perhaps I could re-invent myself and become a contented train buff. I doubt it though. I know myself and I know that I have a short attention span. A few short sessions with a railway simulator would sate my curiosity and send me back to the bargain pages. Even so, I can't help noticing that Railworks 2 is only €17 on Get Games ....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Note to Solbright

Hi Solbright I get an email notification of your comments even though they aren't appearing on the blog. I wonder if it is something to do with anonymous posting. I did check my settings and I have anonymous posting turned on however. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Darkfall to repent its evil ways: This has to be a wind up

Tasos Flambouras front man for the hard core pvp game Darkfall announces an upcoming change where rather than reward you for killing other players you will be required to go to church and repent instead.

Massively fell for it and reported it but my money is on practical joke.

Quote: "Enough with killing other players" 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What do you say to a Minecraft Griefer?

As a new recruit to Twitter I still have only a small number of followers and I check out each one personally. Some are just spammy link lists but others are interesting feeds that I am happy to subscribe to in return.

Today I was somewhat taken aback to see that one of my latest followers was  a dedicated MineCraft griefer with their own Youtube channel advertising their destructive exploits. The whole concept of Minecraft griefing upsets and annoys me but mostly it just baffles me. Minecraft is a glorious game of creativity and greifing does nothing but hurt people by destroying their creations. Minecraft griefing is the computer equivalent of kicking over a child's sandcastle and I really don't understand how anyone with a modicum of intelligence could enjoy doing it.

Anyway how to respond to this persons joining my Twitter feed? Should I:

a) Give in to my immediate urge to give them a piece of my mind on both  Twitter and Youtube.
b) Try to talk directly to them to try and convince them of the error of their ways.
c) Just ignore them and block them on Twitter.

Option "a" appealed to my baser instincts but on mature reflection I decided against it. I am not very good at abuse and I would probably only make a fool of myself.  I was even tempted by option "b" for a while. A certain naive innocence within me still clings to the notion that all those people you meet on the internet must be nice decent individuals deep down if you really get to know them. Ultimately though my parenting experience asserted itself. Antisocial habits in children are often just attention seeking behaviour and giving the child attention because of those habits is simply perpetuating the behaviour.

Tweeter blocked.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A flirtation with twitter

I have actually had a Twitter account for several years but up until recently it had all of one tweet on it. I have decided to give it another go however so I started a new account under the tag: liambp (Life Is A MindBending Puzzle, geddit?).

My thinking goes like this: I love blogging but blogging can be slow. Even short posts can sometimes take an hour or more to write and re-write. Often I have thoughts I want to record but the effort involved in crafting a full blog post dissuades me. Twitter is going to be my instant blog. A place for unedited ideas dumped straight onto the interwebs.

I don't know if this is how other people see or use Twitter but I am keen to experiment with it and see how it goes. There should be a link to my Twitter feed in the side panel. Feel free to join, add, invite or whatever it is twititererers do and I will be delighted to reciprocate. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hillarious Fan Made Magicka Sketch

Check out this YouTube video made by talented Magicka fan PulpitPower:

It is probably funnier if you have actually played the game but even if you haven't (Why Not?) all you need to know is that new magicians in the game are more likely to kill themselves and their team mates than the enemy.

Each man kills the thing he loves, The coward does it with a Kindle.

Yesterday I dropped into a bookshop on my way home from work and it was wonderful. The shelves, the covers, the readers, the smell of paper, the tactile pleasure of picking up a book and riffling through the pages, all of these things seduced me once again.

I have been in love with bookshops almost as long as I have been in love with reading. In my youthful poverty I spent days trawling the streets of Dublin looking for little known second hand bookshops. Regular book shops seduce with the magic of pristine new writings while second hand books shops lure with the promise of forgotten legends and ancient magics.

My recent bookshop visit was wonderful but it was also traitorously bitter sweet. There on the shelf I found the next volume of the trilogy I am currently reading. It was new, it was beautiful, it beckoned. With head hung in shame I placed the tantalising volume back on the shelf and slunk out of the bookshop. I will buy the e-book later for my smartphone.

Its not a matter of price. It is a matter of convenience. I love books and I love book shops but I need to read. For years I found ways to carry a book with me at all times tucked into a coat pocket or the corner of a bag. It was awkward and sometimes it restricted my choice of reading but I managed it. Now I don't have to anymore. I have a small portable device that goes where ever I go and I can read books on it.

Don't get me wrong, the weight of convenience is still quite finely balanced. The device itself is not as pleasant to use as a solid paperback. The on-line store interfaces are slow and awful (at least on my android device). Publisher agreements restrict certain titles to certain formats in each country meaning that you need to struggle with multiple book readers to cover all the titles you want. Some formats must be downloaded on a PC first and then copied to the phone by a tortuous route. I am quite technically competent and I am prepared to struggle with all of this. I imagine many are not. The balance of convenience has already reached the tipping point for me and for many many others but not for everybody. Yet technology continues on its inexorable march. It is getting easier.

The bookshop I visited yesterday is the largest bookshop in Dublin (and probably in Ireland). It has enticed and enthralled bookworms since the middle of the 18th century. Yesterday it was once more doing a brisk trade with the city's readers.  The second largest bookshop in Dublin used to be across the street. It closed down forever one week ago.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

King Arthur - A Fresh Start

I am a sucker for atmosphere in games and King Arthur the Role playing wargame has tonnes of it so I am determined to overcome my initial setbacks and make some progress in the game.  In my first attempt I went bull headed for the main storyline quests and soon found myself with my only army in tatters and with no money to recruit a new one.

Second time around I played a lot more slowly and cautiously. Before I tackled the challenging Lady of the Lake battle I did all the side quests I could find, recruiting heroes along the way. I managed to pick up a few giants of my own in one encounter without even fighting. Many encounters in King Arthur can it seems be solved through diplomacy rather than battle.  The main difficulty in this early part of the game is that you have only one opportunity to recruit new troops until you overcome the "Lady of the Lake encounter" this leaves you with the dilemma of whether to recruit early to help you in the pre Lady encounters or to recruit late in order to make up the losses accrued during those encounters. I chose the latter which forced me to play carefully during the early encounters with the aim of minimising losses. Although the battles in this game play out very differently to those in Total War games some basic military tactics do carry over and figuring out the right counters to use against the different types of enemy unit proved useful. I am also finally getting the hang of some powerful magical spells and abilities. Single spells can devastate entire enemy units or boost your own troops effectiveness by 20% or 30%.  The Knights who cast these spells are severely mana constrained so the most powerful spells can only be cast once per battle. Knowing exactly when and where to use them is key. 

With a strong army now containing four Knights I overcame the giants and wargs of the Lady encounter with relatively light losses. Now I am tasked with establishing a stronghold either in Christian London or Pagan Viriconium. I am aiming for a rightful old faith alignment so it is Virconium for me. Before I take that step however I intend to spend time building up my resources. The country seems fairly peaceful at the moment with no one interested in attacking me. I have five provinces under my wing and I am getting a modest income each year with which to recruit troops. I have half a notion of trying to subjugate most of the Christian provinces of South East England before heading Northwards to Virconium (modern day Shrewsbury).  It would be nice to have the whole of the South under my thumb before exposing myself to the higher level threats that advancing the storyline quest will surely bring and killing a bunch of Christians will hopefully advance my old faith alignment.  The only difficulty with this plan is that the only troops I can recruit at the moment are fairly low grade footsoldiers and just about everybody seems to have better quality troops than I have. I have come across references to research in the game but I don't seem to be able to do it yet. I guess that I need a stronghold to research better quality units.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

King Arthur the Role Playing Wargame: Its not like Total War at all

Steams Sale last weekend got me "King Arthur the Role Playing Wargame" for a pittance. A quick google at the reviews led me to expect something like a Total war game but with added fantasy. Some reviewers also mentioned balance problems.

I am still only in the tutorial stages of the campaign but I can give a very early first impression. First off the game is beautiful. The music and the graphics are very evocative of a mythical Arthurian period when magic and Christianity vied for the hearts of the people. Second off - while it does look a bit like a total war game I am not sure the comparison is valid. Yes it has a campaign game played on a map and it has a battle game played out in real time 3D but the rules of both the campaign game and the battle game are totally different giving the whole thing a very different flavour.

The campaign game seems to be very storyline driven with "morality choices" hard coded in. Sometimes this is done through dialogue tree choices and sometimes it is a matter of choosing who to attack: "Do you side with Christian King Willy and attack Pagan Warlord Harry or vice versa?".

The battle game is quite different than Total War and uses a victory point system. Each battle map has a number of victory points. Holding more victory points than your opponent causes their morale bar to start ticking down and when one side's morale bar reaches zero the battle is lost.  Killing opponents will also eventually reduce the morale bar but in my experience holding victory points is an easier way to win. The victory point system means that set piece battles which are so much a feature of Total War games are not as big a feature of this game. It is far more important to send fleet footed units scurrying around the map to hold as many victory points as possible. Perhaps as a consequence of this the classic Total War tactics of holding a line and flanking don't seem to work as well in this game, although this could be down to my unfamiliarity with the game controls. Another big difference is that you have hero units: the knights of the round table. Apart from having massive hit points knights come with magical powers that can greatly influence a battle.

The biggest surprise for me so far is the difficulty of resource management in the game. Armies cost a lot of gold and food to recruit and maintain and the resources trickle in very slowly at the start of the game when you have very few provinces. You get some resources for winning battles but to date my loses are much higher than my earnings.

I have just completed the "Lady in the Lake" quest which puts you into battle against a mysterious "Northern Army". I expected Vikings but it turned out to a fantasy mix of giants, wargs and tough tough soldiers.  The first couple of times I was soundly trounced but the third time I rounded up the biggest army I could muster (bankrupting myself in the process) and eventually managed to win at the cost of most of my army. That victory opens up the next phase of the game and now I have multiple quests demanding attention but I have no troops left and no resources to recruit more. Resources only seem to come in once per year (every four turns) so  I am just going to have to wait multiple turns until I can afford to recruit again. I can only hope that no-one decides to attack me in the mean time.

Given that I am still effectively in the tutorial and I am playing on normal difficulty I didn't expect to get into this much trouble early on.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Magicka spoilers


If you are starting Magicka I strongly advise you not to read this post and also to avoid google and try to figure stuff out for yourself. Figuring out new spell combinations really is a very enjoyable part of the game.

With that out of the way I do want to share some of my discoveries before I dive into google myself and realise that everything I have used is pants.

Most useful spell: Probably have to say the Rock Shield (D+E cast on self) . This absorbs a whole lot of damage, can be cast very quickly and can be recast endlessly. It is a real life saver. The one disadvantage is that casting any spell or magick will break the shield but you can very quickly drop a new one on yourself after you cast. So you can drop a rock shield on yourself, set up a powerful beam or aoe spell, unleash it and then drop a new shield. Rinse and repeat until all mobs are dead.

Favourite Beam Spell:
Any combination of Steam (Fire+Water), Lightning and Arcane gives a deadly beam but the following two worked particularly well for me:
Arcane, Steam (Fire +Water), Lightning, Arcane: This produces a very high damage beam with an explosive area of effect.
Arcane, Steam, Lightning, Lightning, Lightning: Similar to above but seems to do even more damage against certain mobs - makes quick work of the dreaded Ice Trolls for example.

Favourite Projectile Spell:
Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock: Very simple but very effective. Charged up to the maximum this can take out any normal mob in the game in one or two hits and it even makes short work of some bosses. Hide behind a rock shield while charging it up.

Favourite AOE spell:
Arcane, Steam, lightning, Arcane: The same combination that makes a deadly beam also makes a killer aoe. Hide behind a rock shield, cast this and then drop a new shield to quickly take down swarms of mobs. Unlike the beam spells adding more lightning doesn't seem to make it stronger.

Favourite Magick:
I actually didn't  use the more powerful magicks (like meteor storm) at all because I found that I generally did more damage to myself than to the enemy. However Invisibility (Got in the lower right hand corner of the map with the ice trolls) makes the last few levels of the game a lot easier.  You can use it to set up the perfect position for nuking unsuspecting mobs or you can even bypass whole groups of mobs.  You can get invisibility earlier in the game from a staff in the goblin caves but it has a longer cool down and is not as good. The summon Magicks (summon undead, summon elemental) also provide useful crowd control. I never figured out the use of summon Death though because all he ever did was kill me.

Favourite Weapon:
Um.. I hardly ever used weapons because magick is much more powerful. The M60 is probably the best of them but doesn't really do anything you can't do with a beam spell.

Favourite Staff: No real favourite and I tended to chop and change but the following seemed useful:
Gnarled Staff - The summon Tree creature spell is very useful for dealing with crowds of mobs in the earlier levels.
Staff of war: Double HP combined with extra physical resistance is not to be sneezed at but the arcane blast active ability is more useful than it appears due to a cheap trick (see later)
Staff of Invisibility: Very handy until you pick up the invisibility Magick

Least Favourite Staff: Vlad's Gauntlet - converts your self heal into self damage wtf. Do not pick this up.

Easy mode cheap trick:  Casting any spell normally breaks the rock shield so you will be exposed while you are making a new shield. However some staves (eg staff of war) have an active damage ability which does not break the shield. So you can hide behind your invulnerable shield and kill all round you without risk of taking damage. It isn't very powerful and may not be able to overcome a self healing mob but it can be used in a lot of places.

Magicka - I Finished !!!

I finished Magicka's single player campaign last night. What a great great game. It is innovative and funny and challenging and chaotic. Most of all it is tremendous fun.

The game really does need a mid level save facility though. The single player game is very challenging particularly when you start out. Having just finished I also really wish I could select a chapter to replay without having to start again from the very beginning.

Happily I didn't encounter any serious bugs in the single player adventure but I did have two serious crashes in only an hour of multilayer.

Apart from the crashes my brief foray into multiplayer was enjoyable. Pressing the instant game button, I joined a random group for two of the middle chapters. Even with an uncoordinated group of strangers the multiplayer game is a good bit easier than single player as long as every one remembers to use the spammable resurrect skill regularly. You can just nuke everything and rezz everyone after the inevitable friendly fire deaths. Indeed the lesser challenge of multiplayer means that I actually enjoyed the single player game more. That might change if I was playing with friends of course.

Criticisms aside though let me firmly state that this game is a a masterpiece. A flawed masterpiece certainly but a masterppiece nonetheless. 

You know you are a PC gamer when ...

 I am currently playing FTL:Multiverse. This is a massive overhaul mod of the 2012 kickstarter hit FTL. The mod is enormous. It massively ex...