Category: Musing


Abandonware

Capcom are having a sale on the Xbone – they could be having a sale elsewhere but I’m too lazy to investigate. Anyway, the headline titles in the sale are games in the Resident Evil series with other titles getting second billing. I saw Duck Tales Remastered for the knock-down price of £2.49 so rushed to snap it up. I was 14 when I received a copy for my birthday on the original Gameboy. I was given the choice of Duck Tales or… you know, I cannot remember the other choice. It was pretty amazing to have been given both games but Duck Tales was the one I recall playing again and again. It could have been Parasol Stars, could have been Gremlins 2, really cannot recall. 

And we never did find out what happened to the Gameboy games in the end: I lent the (family) GB game library to a friend at school, the friend claimed he put them somewhere for me to pick up and they were never seen again. And the school’s attitude to the loss/probable theft can be considered utterly lackadaisical. And this is one of the (many) reasons I do not have fond memories of Stalag Woodhouse. It wasn’t the first massive theft of my stuff there, nor was it the last. Still waiting for my GCSE certificates, 21 years later…

On the theme of the Gameboy, it’s my fervent hope that now Nintendo have stuck their foot into the burgeoning mobile gaming market, they might consider/consent to releasing some of their older titles on phones. It wouldn’t take too much to create an emulator so that the games can be ported across. Preferably starting with the titles that seldom see any sort of re-release rather than Super Mario Land (re-release #97). 

Copyright law in relation to video gaming is horribly out of date and really could do with reform: unlike other media, computer software has, it can be argued, built in obsolescence. For one, physical media, particularly in its early formats, it not as enduring as other forms of media. And for two, once a computer or console is superseded by a newer model, the software compatible with the older machine quickly falls into disuse. Now many of these titles quickly fall into what is termed “Abandonware” – software no longer maintained, distributed or supported by the original developers/copyright holders and programmes considered abandonware are often shared (illegally) for various reasons.

Some developers grant (retroactive) permissions to use and share older works; it’s just not worth the effort or resource to attempt prosecution for copyright infringement. But some of the bigger players steadfastly refuse to allow any sharing of older materials. It’s here that the problem gets exasperating. Unlike a book which can be picked up and read multiple times or a film that can be watched repeatedly off of a DVD, some companies who hold the copyright for their games will not consent to sharing their licences with those who have an interest in preserving/updating the older materials, whether as an artistic endeavour (to see if it can be done) or to just keep the past alive for gamers old and young.

In the EU at least, it can be argued abandonware can fall into scope of the Orphan Works Directive: if the copyright holder cannot be found for a piece of work, then the work in question can be considered public domain. However, to the best of my knowledge, there are no test cases specifically on the subject though this is a relatively new Directive (only coming into force at the arse-end of 2014). The USA has more stringent laws in this regard – DMCA.

The solution, or rather the ideal solution would be a much shorter copyright period for video games; unless developers actively maintain games and software, rights should either become completely public domain after five/ten/fifteen years or become freeware (at the developer/copyright holder’s discretion). But certainly not the current set of regulations governing copyright for this media. Now, where’s my copy of Smash TV?

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Micro-transactions. Freemium. Pay-to-Play. A very polarising and controversial topic in video gaming. Are they the tools of Satan as some would have you believe or a more accessible way of video games? 

Just to record for posterity or for complete novices to the subject area: some games (or indeed general software) forego an up-front cost but instead charge people money to either unlock parts of the game, to gain access to more powerful in-game tools, to raise/remove limits on characters or to remove/reduce time-limits or “cool-down periods” between games. Some software carries advertising and owners are offered the choice to turn off the advertising in exchange for some form of payment. This particular method of ownership has been around for a couple of decades (one can argue that Expansion Packs to games are Freemium-lite) but it’s only really since mobile gaming became common that this model has become more commonplace. 

So using one Freemium game I play a lot lately as a more illustrative example – Star Trek Timelines (STT) – this is a hybrid combat sim, RPG and resource management game. Undertaking missions costs in-game credits called chronitons which recharge at the rate of one per five minute and the harder (and more rewarding) the mission, the more chronitons are needed. The combat arena where players ships engage in PvP combat gives you ten free combats every 24 hours. There are also opportunities to earn Federation Credits in missions which allow the player to use the “time portal” to acquire inventory items or crew for your missions. Finally, the game also has a unit of currency called Dilithium which can only be purchased with real-world money. Dilithium may be used to purchase pretty much anything in-game and by spending Dilithium, the player can get access to better characters, more chronitons, more Federation Credits etc. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t anything in this particular game that is purchasable only with Dilithium.

There’s a lot in STT that you can do without exchanging any cash for Dilithium but progress will be slower, crew capacity limits will be reached faster and being stuck with the same characters & ships will make for a much more frustrating experience thus lowering the players overall willingness to continue playing. The game does have an “entry-level” package whereby for a smaller sum of money, you can gain a little Dilithium every day for a month. If the player were to purchase the equivalent package of Dilithium in the shop, it would cost them ten-times the amount so patience would ‘appear’ to be a virtue without running up a massive bill.

The drawbacks. Most people zero-in on the relative ease of buying in-game currency as to conclude the transaction simply requires a tap or a swipeyou’re your account is billed. It’s relatively easy to potentially incur massive charges without keeping tabs on the total cost(s). Children make up a significant percentage of gamers which means there is an ethical angle to consider. Many games are deliberately designed with children being the target audience and there are many recorded instances where the parents suddenly receive massive bills for costs their offspring have unwittingly racked up. Hell, even South Park highlighted this phenomenon in Season 18’s “Freemium Isn’t Free”.

A secondary criticism is that over weeks and months of playing freemium games, one could spend way more than you would if there were only an initial up-front cost. And as mobile games seldom cost more than £5/€5/$5, the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t balance. Freemium games are only supported as long as they’re financially viable and often end up totally unplayable if support is withdrawn and the servers disconnected (Age of Empires Online was one of the biggest casualties, ditto Star Wars Galaxies and led to a lot of very angry fans).

Some games have been criticised as being “pay-to-win” which means that (ultimate) victory is only possible if the player buys certain characters/items within the game or in PvP combat games, those with paid-for items trounce those who are restricted to the basics having not purchased anything. In fairness, some companies offer more of an in-game balance, either by limiting who one player can compete against or nullifying most/all additional abilities. Then again, there many instances of better rewards being available to the better players who invariably, are those who have spent more cash.

The quality of in-game purchases can also be a source of frustration, particularly when items on offer are “more of the same” or do not incur any genuine advantage despite a great deal of (misleading) information over the nature of the product. Give a freemium weapon a catchy name, triple its size in comparison to other game weapons and a dazzling effect and it’ll immediately grab the player’s attention. But then give it inferior damage, painfully slow reloading/firing rates or the lion’s share of the inventory capacity and you suddenly realise that you’ve been suckered.

Related to this can be those times where the player uses their cash to buy a seemingly random number/amount of items and a large number of those random items turn out to be duff purchases or those which the player has no use for. This can be made worse when there is no possibility of trading away these items which just sit in inventories utterly useless. Some games again try to mitigate this by “guaranteeing” at least a single useful prize. Sometimes it feels like the equivalent of someone with a nut allergy winning first, second and third prize in a tombola – a packet of cashews, a packet of pistachios and a tour of the KP factory.

So in support of freemium, the first argument to be made is that freemium games can make gaming more accessible. Rather than having a demo which tends to be played a couple of times before being junked, players have more time to be able to get used to a game before deciding whether or not they wish to buy into the additional features on offer. Freemium games also stop players from spending large amounts of money on what might end up to be a huge disappointment (think ET for the Atari or even the wonderful but financial failure that was Beyond Good and Evil).

On a similar vein, it’s arguable that freemium titles have increased the number of games available to players, particularly on hand-held and mobile devices. Although consoles like the 3DS and the PS Vita continue to perform well, it’s harder to encourage someone to pay a large amount of cash for titles on phones/tablets, not least as one is having to trust a complete lack of physical media. But by making titles free to play but with in-game or in-app purchases available, the dissemination of software is prevalent, supply and demand are in a healthy balance and users have the ability to try before they buy.

In-game purchases can cut down the amount of grinding needed in order to have a better item dropped (though one can argue why so much grinding is needed at all). It’s an established fact that in genres such as RPG and JRPG, each combat with certain types of enemy have a percentage chance of dropping a particular item and those probabilities can be quite or even ridiculously low. Reasons for this are myriad and legion but people on a really, really unlucky streak can find the odds just work against them and sometimes it’ll save yourself the hassle, particularly if that one item is needed to complete the game. Not everyone can dedicate hours or days to finish a title.

In-game purchases can also deliver unexpected results. Grand Theft Auto V is the first title that springs to mind – the original version of the software was definitely the single player experience with the multiplayer…not tacked on but definitely not as developed as the main game. That said, the multiplayer quickly developed a solid following and with a large catalogue of firearms, vehicles, clothing and general upgrades available for purchase in-game, many players rushed to buy in-game currency. The development of GTA Online was prioritised at the expense of the development of any single-player expansion packs which led to the quiet decision to cancel any further adventures of Michael, Trevor or Franklin. News reports have put GTA V making $2.3 billion (to January 2016) from sales of the game and purchases of in-game currency (not certain what the ratio of software to in-game currency is). Similarly, Candy Crush made almost $2 billion exclusively from in-game items and tournament play so it’s a lucrative market.

It’s hard to offer a conclusion as the arguments for and against have a great deal of weight and more importantly, credence. It’s understandable why people can get agitated about additional purchases for software, particularly video games. Are developers cynically treating their markets as cash-cows, releasing inferior products that require people to part with more cash in order to up overall satisfaction? Or is this another continuation of modern-day capitalism albeit in a more obvious format? You might buy the leather jacket but nobody forces you to buy the pin badge that you wear on it. Or the arm patch you bought on a whim at a gig. Or the stencilling on the back. And similarly, you might have read the book at the library but nobody forced you to buy the cinema ticket for the film of the book, nor its sequel.

Conventional models of software purchasing are no longer stable with the establishment of the internet and its increasing dominance over the lives of global citizens. We simply don’t have the resources to buy every recommended game, every recommended tool to make our lives easier. Paying up front is simply not a sustainable model for software as it’s not a human need like food, like clothing etc. There has to be some versatility in the market; the fastest growing and most prevalent alternative is freemium. Like it or loathe it, it’s here to stay.

And don’t forget DLC Quest for the best send up on the subject. 

First the news, then the muse. This update was started two weeks ago and it’s been bumped down the priority list. 

Griffin Quiz: Not even a top 3 finish. Nasty, nasty questions asked. I was the only one eating and my teammates were eyeing up my chips avariciously. I was ready with fork in hand, just in case I needed to wield it like a trident.

Some of the gang and I were playtesting a board game version of the Plague Inc game (see blogs passim for my slow progress through the iPad version). It was being overseen by the developer/founder of Ndemic, James Vaughan. Although we were allowed to take pictures etc, I didn’t. So no teasers today. Like the video game, the board game sees you as a bacteria attempting to take down the world although global annihilation isn’t quite your goal this time. No, you’re competing against up to three other viruses to see who can score the most DNA points through mutations, wiping out countries etc.

It’s a work in progress but visually, it looks good with nice, 3D pieces, extra detail on cards and a quality map. Players of the video game will notice immediately the similarities in the board game, references etc. That said, I didn’t entirely enjoy it as much as the others. I felt the gameplay needed a bit of work as it seemed there was only one strategy you needed to pursue to victory and everything else was happenstance (i.e. the right combination of trait and event cards). Granted, I felt utterly hosed as we played as I had a lousy starting position and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to mitigate it. Also, that strategy (I won’t spoil it) gave the same reward as focussing your efforts in one particular area which meant that you didn’t really have to do much to be able to win.

I gave the game the weakest score out of the four players – whilst the game has a lot of potential, I feel it has a few more bugs to work out before publication. Would I buy it? Depends on what the game looks like after the extensive playtesting, I guess. Can’t decide just yet but there’ll be a few months to decide.

Rest of last week was fairly unremarkable though the weather saw definitely improvement. It was shorts-inside weather but not quite enough outside to want to switch to t-shirts from long-sleeves. Though there is still a tendency for the occasional chilly wind to blow in from the north. Weekend was spent on my second game/profile of Fallout 4, trying to catch up. Rather than the slow, gradual process, I made straight for downtown Boston, getting in my quicklinks with places such as Diamond City, Goodneighbor et al. I’ve probably logged 1/3 the same gametime now, own half the settlements that I did in the other game but conversely, there are several elements of progress made that I didn’t achieve in the other because I was more amateurish. And I think I’ve come across the perfect formula for building additional houses in my settlements so unhappiness should be a thing of the past. Much enjoy.

The muse bit: a two parter muse – linked by the grasshopper mind, leaping from once concept to another. 

I was thinking about a blog post on dating apps where you swipe left to disapprove/reject and right to approve; not just Tinder. But it got me thinking on an age old mental problem about an accident from the French Revolution which might have inadvertently shaped modern democracy – that of left and right wing politics.

That one first. Why are radical, reformists (with a socialist bent) called left-wingers and traditional, conservative types called right-wingers? Hopefully, you know the answer stems from the French Revolution. When the Estates General met in 1789, supporters of the King sat on the right of the speaker/president whilst the supporters of the Revolution sat on the left. It was quickly noted that those on both wings had a lot of common ground with each other and could readily identify with one another. These grouping was reported on in the media and the names stuck.

But for an accident of seating, could things be different today?

What do I mean by this? Well, it comes down to semantics really and the words “left” and “right”. Does human society and democracy naturally favour “right” over “left”? Certainly there is some evidence for this – in English, “right” can mean correct, accurate, even truthful. “Left” can have connotations of omitting or rejection – left behind, left back, left out, left on the shelf. Even the sound of the words has significance. The e in “left” is sort of flat sounding whilst the i and the gh in “right” give the word a slightly more uplifting note. It’s not in English that we can see a dichotomy; Latin gives us “sinister” and “dexter”, the former having more negative connotations, the latter more positive. French has “gauche” and “droit”, both of which have equivalents in English (though it’s adroit rather than droit). Even German has “links” and “reichts”, again with similar connotations. Perhaps this is down to the fact that 90% of the human species is right-hand dominant and this has spilled out into linguistics via religion, at least in the European family of languages.

What I’m saying is that there is a very heavy bias towards right over left and the biggest beneficiaries might well be political parties. Often the phrase “right-wing” is used as something of a negative adjective/noun when used by a left-leaning person but when used by a fellow right-winger, isn’t is possible that it’s employed knowing full well that right also means “correct”?

So imagine if you will, a world where the seating in the Estates General was reversed and that the revolutionaries sat to the right of the speaker. Would this translate into greater political dominance for the progressives over time? I think it would. Oh I grant you, taken on its own there’d be little noticeable difference but 230 years of political reporting using precisely the same terminology I feel, surely would have resonance with the public. The negative connotations of the left would now echo with and stick to the small c conservatives. This might cause a small dip in support over time or at least prove more of a challenge to persuade people of the argument.

What this means is…that I have too much time alone with my thoughts. And I’m sure someone with a degree or three has written extensively on the subject.

Anyway, back to the original premise of today’s article: swiping left and swiping right. It occurs to be that my left to right ratio is probably 15:1 and I was wondering am I being far, far too picky, finicky or just subconsciously destroying any chance of general happiness (what sort is left to your own imaginations, folks). I guess I’m kinda Sith, I do deal in absolutes. I’d give the full list of gripes but I realise how pretentious/anal that’ll make me sound. I’d like to think (or delude) that much of it is benign, for example: if someone states that they’re a huge music fan always going to gigs and concerts then it’d be a swipe-left situation, regardless of other, lesser criteria. Ditto sport.

Thing is, these types of apps are tailor made for today’s consumer society. Like the look of someone? Swipe right. Don’t like the look of someone? Swipe left. End of consideration. Which I guess is my point, there doesn’t appear to be much consideration or I don’t think there’s much evidence to support that hypothesis. Thing is, there’s no neat and tidy answer.

It must have been a heavy week last week because I slept for eleven hours Friday night/Saturday morning. It’s been a while since that last happened.

I restarted Alien Isolation on the Xbone – I think there’s some bile I’ve yet to spray over the flat. And just to add to the overall perversity and vicissitudes of fate, I cranked up the difficulty level to boot. That said, I’ve learned more than enough tactics to successfully navigate my way around the game, particularly compared to the first play through. Most of the deaths I’ve had have been by random chance rather than incompetence. Currently in the final stages of the game and after I’m finished, I might just start on GTA V (although there’s still the GTA IV expansion packs to wade through).

The conclusion of the recent DC Convergence storyline is effectively another potential reboot of the DC universe. I say potential as this would all depend on your point of view. Whilst the “Multiverse” is back in being, the slate has once again been wiped clean for…well let’s face it, for lazy, talentless editors to quietly concede that they are all out of ideas and so mess around with the gullibility of their readers. As my beleaguered housemate has heard me rant many times, it’s precisely this sort of garbage that puts me right off contemporary comic books, instead seeking refuge my older stuff. 

Speaking of which, it looks like the Munchkin run of comics is about to come to an end. Whilst they’re more British in style (shorter, independent stories rather than ongoing treatments), they’ve been quite quirky and highly readable. And the free Munchkin comic themed card that comes with each issue was a great bonus. Of course, I have nothing to base this on other than the fact there’s one more blank slot for the Munchkin cards. However, given the number of trading card and deck-building games out there, why do comic books not print up more freebies as a way to drum up more interest in the monthly titles rather than TPBs? 

Can’t believe it’s been twenty years since I left Stalag Woodhouse, twenty years since I sat my GCSEs (well, all of them bar Maths as I sat that early). I still haven’t had my final results from that damn school despite leaving them an SAE to post the certificates. And if I want the results…I have to pay huge amounts of money to the examination boards (I bet you I could DPA the information for free).

On average August days like today, I’m reminded of being a teenager, holed up in my bedroom playing whatever console or computer we had at the time with the curtains shut and a perpetually full glass of water by the table and weird sandwiches pilfered from the kitchen with whatever was lying around. For some reason, many of the earlier video games (8 and 16 bit) tended to have summer releases, presumably as a reward for hard work at school. I recall 1992 in particular – having a summer job doing…something but I recall what I did with the cash. WH Smiths, Sloane Square, downstairs to the little section that sold Commodore 64 games and buying one each week with my cash. I remember getting a copy of Emlyn Hughes International Soccer, the Dizzy games collection, one of Codemasters’ infamous Quattro sets – the one that included Little Puff. And then taking them home and playing them endlessly. Growing up in Chelsea Barracks and not knowing any of the kids in Broome or Butler House, it was all there was going on. 

That was something of a false economy – three days before I was due to go back to school, the male parent stepped on the C64 datasette breaking it in the process. Never bought a replacement and the C64 sat unused in my cupboard for almost eight years before I found another one at a car boot sale. Sadly, many of the tapes had degraded and the games were simply unplayable. The cartridges still worked (I only had three – International Soccer, Navy SEALS and Star Ranger) which was better than nowt. Unfortunately for him, my school blazer was left in the flat and we were in Nottingham so he had to drive down and pick it up…ha ha ha!

Remakes for the C64

Five C64 Games that ought to have a 21st century remake/update:

Spy vs Spy: The ultimate duel/puzzle game for the 8-bit era which was pathetically facile in single player mode but still caused a whole bunch of laughs in two-player and its two sequels. Mad Magazine’s spies would hunt around for their objective before trying to escape, simultaneously sabotaging each other’s efforts with a variety of traps.
This game would be best remade on the Wii U – one spy playing on the tv, the other spy playing on the control pad so that you cannot see what the other spy is doing. And with the potential for more elaborate traps, inventories and objectives, hours of multiplayer fun could be had. 

Raid Over Moscow: Cold War gone hot… Raid Over Moscow was an excellent title back in the day, a hybrid game (which was all the rage back then) of flight sim/flight action and ground action. Rushing to destroy nuclear missile launch sites before they destroyed US cities before taking the fight to the Kremlin made for a challenging game.

The biggest drawback was that all the missile sites were identical, presumably as to code different sites would have taken too much memory but this wouldn’t be a problem for today’s hardware. Furthermore, the attack on the Kremlin and the nuclear reactor stage were single screen efforts, again there’s potential to update these sections with a desperate fight to the heart of the enemy’s war machine – even stealth sections would be a good fit.

This could be ported as a mid-range title, exclusive to Xbox Live or Playstation Store as a suggested format.

Quake Minus One: Hard to describe the format of this game, definitely a real time strategy but not in the tried and tested isometric format that most RTS games are in these days. The premise is interesting; a geothermal power plant on the mid-Atlantic ridge crewed exclusively by robots has been hijacked by a pro-robot rights group threatening to use the plant to trigger an earthquake threatening half the planet through tidal waves. Control over one of the five computers governing the plant has been re-established and the player has to use its robots to re-establish control over the rest of the facility before time expires.

The game had a great deal of potential which was marred by a clunky control system and inefficient maneuvering. But today, it would play great on anything with a touchscreen or with mouse control. Also, it feels like more puzzle sections would be good, even reminiscent of Paradroid rather than basic combat. Icons could be made more user friendly so you know what you’re doing.

Gribbly’s Day Out: Cutsey pseudo-platformer which has elements of Pikmin or Lemmings but with way more action. This would really benefit from being put into 3D, kinda like Buck Bumble on the N64 but rescuing Gribblets from the beasts of the land would be a fun little budget game filled with all sorts of fiendish traps, powerups and the like. 

The Last Ninja: One of the best games produced on the C64, the Last Ninja is an action/puzzle game which is just begging for a remake. Usual premise, villain has something the ninja wants, ninja travels across the country to get it wiping out half the people and beasts in the land just to get it. It really did push the limits of the C64, boasting a fully isometric adventure compared with most of the 2D side scrolling games of the time. The game’s music is also fondly remembered by aficionados of the era.

Last Ninja could be remade as an Action or Adventure RPG, a stealth game or even as a MMORPG with enough imagination behind it. Has enough potential to be a top seller so could be a AAA title if that was the way one wanted to go, not entirely unlike Assassin’s Creed but with more fantastic elements to the game.

I’d also add Dizzy as number 6 on the list.

Appointment with F.E.A.R. – still cannot finish the video game successfully. As I recall, being able to determine the final meeting could be done from a variety of sources, or at least according to the book. The video game adaptation appears to be fairly linear so if you miss one vital clue, there’s no chance you can succeed. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to work out where the vital clues are yet even though I know how to beat the book.

Dead Island – have decided to return to this zombie hack and slash game, chiefly as I haven’t finished it yet but also having dithered for the first time playing through, missing a lot and otherwise not getting the point, I’d like to try it more aware of what I need to do in the game. It’s still a decent enough game which causes no end of amusement when you consider all the funny ways zombies can end up as fish bait. Or as tvtropes might say, the fridge horror when you realise how many innocent people you’ve killed just to save your sorry self.

 Have I shared my latest madcap idea with the blogosphere? Probably not.

 Am giving very strong deliberation to putting in an application for redundancy if/when they get offered at work again owing to impending cuts. Having enjoyed the sights and sounds of Draughts and Loading, I would like to join those two venues and open up my own place, preferably south of the river. I know a wee bit about games, I know what people like/don’t like and respond to/don’t respond to. I’ve a few ideas of my own which I think could make any venture I ran stand out as different rather than being a clone and London certainly is large enough to support a third (fourth if you count the Sports Bar) similar venue, particularly if there are enough differences in the set-up.

 That’s not to say I’d want to drive the others out of business and be king of games in London – peaceful coexistence is definitely the way to go. But the biggest source of complaint with the other two venues is that they are in an area of London which isn’t the easiest to get to and I think a more central location would work even better, particularly if bigger premises can be secured. Hell, I’ve been teasing myself looking at the odd commercial premises online to see what’s available. Already seen an ideal location.

 Why’d I want to do this? Chance to do something for myself, chance to have a job I can get squarely behind. It won’t be the mental marathons I otherwise run but I don’t think it’d cause the levels of frustration that the current role brings. Although I’m having horrible thoughts I may be lining myself up to make the same mistakes as a certain male relative who shall forever remain nameless. However, I’m not a moron, nor am I a klepto, so there’s a better chance of success.

 Well, it’s a dream at the moment. I have seen the perfect premises in Vauxhall but of course, it’d be gone by the time I were actually in a position to be doing anything. Still, it’s a more realistic dream than a lottery win or tripping an unclaimed brick made of platinum in the street.

 

Modest Meals, Modest Reflections

Peter Preston’s 51st State – average book but with one line that has always stuck in my head and thats’ the one that’s the title of the post.  When reporting on the eve of a US Presidential Election, the press ask what the Vice-President and his wife have for dinner.  The response is “Beans on Toast” as it’s a time for modest meals and modest reflections.  I’m not certain why that particular phrase remains active in my thoughts but it’s somewhat poigniant.  But today, 31st December 2014, yeah I’m kinda in that genuflecting mood.  And like last year, capsule review of the year gone by.

Travelling, that’s been this year to a tee.  Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Belfast.  Between 2002 & 2008 I didn’t leave the country once and now I’ve departed this island…so many times for both work and pleasure.  Yeah, I’m a latecomer to this travel malarkey but I’m glad it’s taken although no roughing it in hostels – five years at boarding school has throughly purged any longing for dormitory accommodation.  And of course, I’m off to Berlin on Monday…

New start in Vauxhall, ten months in and the memories of living in Stratford and Camden are relegated to a box labelled “dim and distant”.  Cannot imagine not being here but as thoughts slowly turn towards home ownership…yeah, will have to up sticks in all likelihood (though Elephant & Castle is a distinct possibility).  The flat was a great find, well worth the extra expenditure.

Personal life – kinda slid after my month off in October.  It’s been a decent year though I do kinda go into social hibernation whenever I have extended holidays.  It’s like I don’t just take a vacation from work but almost all facets of existence.  But things are improving (Xmas notwithstanding as everyone is pretty much off) slowly and January is starting to fill up with events.  I’m getting the Risk Legacy groups (note plural) going again, will have a Griffin Games afternoon soon – yeah…

Nasty habits – eating is back under some sort of control, drinking is tough to manage.  Give me a glass and I’ll quickly down the bottle.  If it’s there, I’ll have it.  Banging down those two bottles of Retsina over dinner in Brussels earlier this month was a particular feat which I am both proud and ashamed of (prouhamed?).  That said, I was out with Xian on Monday and I capped off at four drinks (three ciders and a beer) which isn’t that bad as it’s probably the only liquor I’m going to have this week.

Love life – pathetic.  Dr Richard said I’m borderline autistic.  I understand where he’s coming from when he makes a comment like that, my behaviour doesn’t necessarily attune to what is considered convention.  But to say I don’t understand emotion is false.  Nor am I borderline psychotic – I do empathise, sometimes a great deal.  I keep it all on a short leash as that’s my modus operandi.  Also, after 35 years of hearing the same sorts of stories time and again, it’s hard to feign interest in how someone got drunk and fell over or watch as they fall into the same basic traps over and over again and then bitch the fact when two minutes scrutiny would have tipped them off.  Point is, I apply impossibly high criteria so the bed is going to remain empty for a while yet.  That’s not a bad thing per se, I’m still working things out regarding what I want.  Better to have a proper notion of that first.

Work – going downhill again but not for the usual reasons.  There’s a particular layer of management (which I’m trying to break into) in our team which for personal and some professional reasons, I just do not like.  There’s been a lot of turnover in 2014 and the newer faces are…well, just not connecting.  It’s not me either, others have reported the same.  Of course with May 2015 coming up, who can say for sure what’s going to happen?  I swore I’d stay out of office politics but I keep getting sucked back in.

Avoided being ill for the most part this year too – minor ailments aside like that foot thing (split skin, most painful) and a recurrence of athlete’s foot which I’ve had to deal with.  Other people, not quite so fortunate.  Cancer has been quite prevalant this year amongst people I know.  Treatments all round have been good though.  No new HIV diagnoses this year which is something.

Gaming – lots of new games both board and video.  Massively took advantage of Steam Sales for new games though Civ V remains a firm favourite.  Think I’ve logged 300 hours this year….

As I write this, I’m finishing off my lunch.  What was my modest meal?  Well, given the fact that I’m heading to Berlin, I’ve been trying to use up the perishables slowly but surely.  Today it was a Frankenstein meal, composed of random fridge items: some brie, beetroot salad, green olives, the remainder of my low fat houmous, half a cucumber and a bread roll.  Tonight it’ll either be left over lasagne or find a way to use up the carrot and courgette in the fridge, possibly chopped up and cooked with pesto and those sauerkraut dumplings.  I dunno, I’m feeling experimental.

18th May 1994

I was rummaging around my room earlier this evening trying to find my wrist wallet as I keep most of my spare Euros in there. It had disappeared during the move and I wanted to lay my hands on it, to unite the change from my most recent trip with the rest of the stash I brought back from Berlin in April. Whilst turning several items upside-down and inside out, I came across one of my old diaries – not my first: the Dahl Diary from 1992 but the one when I stole a bunch of Chemistry exercise books from Mr Shorey’s class and began to keep notes.

I thought it’d be an exercise in humility/humiliation if I were to type up the first couple of entries as written down in my infantile scrawl; I’d like to think I’ve evolved just a little bit.

Wednesday 18th May

‘Why not start a diary today’ I thought to myself. I have already tried but forgot about my other one so here goes nothing. I’m sitting in German where Mr Jarvis is away. Mr Wood, the English teacher is taking the lesson. Just had double chemistry. I learnt [sic] one thing from it. Never use Ammonium Hydroxide with a cut finger. It hurts. I am still hobbling round after pulling both my calve [sic] muscles on Monday. At the moment, Harry is reading a book, Ruth M, Harriet D and Helen M are having a conversation about half term and Denham P is at the front laughing about something. We are going to go to see ‘Macbeth’ tonight.

When I saw we, I mean A set English, B set English and a few others. I have got a vague idea of what I will wear but no definite clue as yet. Wycombe Wanderers, my favourite football team, are playing the second leg of their play off. They are 2-0 up on away goals.

Well, that’s a brief intro:- Now to a joke:

What’s black, crispy and comes on a stick?
Joan of Arc.

That’s yer lot.

Thursday 19th May

Today has had its ups and downs. The ups is that hardly no teacher felt like doing work. In fact, it was only in French that we worked. The downers are that I got banned from dorm for being ‘cheeky’ although I was being sarcastic. Same hardly applies. Played Premier Manager II last night. Did pretty well.

Friday 20th May

Naked Gun 33 1/3 opens across all cinemas today. It is a must see. Doc Wilson talks briefly about Miss Shoesmith’s assembly. Being a good samaritan has been interrupting all my thoughts today. Just caught Wraggy having a read of this. Denham is in a good/bad mood today. Wilko hasn’t been bollocking him today but rumours have been going around about him at the bus stop with Emily. He doesn’t catch a bus!!!!!!!!

Monday 23rd May

Half term begins on Friday – can hardly wait. Smelly Elly and Jarvis boy off to Germany tomorrow and will be rid o them for the rest of the week. German today was a laugh. Denham tried to talk to the German assistant about himself but Shubby made him crack up all the time and he failed miserably. Eventually the whole class was laughing and couldn’t keep control. Since I was the best speaker, I was picked on, primarilly [sic] because I st next to him and I used the best words (Even the ones I made up were genuine).

Made £1 out of the first formers on hiring of the Amiga. Ollie N almost blew it for me until I told him to shut up. ANC the gay music teacher is sitting at the front of the classroom as I write, supervising prep. He keeps looking in a gay way at people. I advise chastity belts all round. Is it me or are most teachers mentally retarded? For weeks I have not been doing my French homework but does the teacher tell me off? No. I expected her to rip my head off and crap down my throat but she never. I’ll bet she’ll give me a bad comment thought.

Over the weekend I did nothing which explains the gap in the diary.

So there you go – that’s me almost twenty years ago. I’d like to think I’ve grown since then; others may disagree.

Fare the well, twenty-twelve

As vaguely promised, threatened and otherwise alluded to, here’s my look back at the past year and comment on the things that have impacted, good and bad.

All bad writing begins with a cliché and this’ll be no exception – it was a mixed bag of emotions stirred up by the last twelve months.  There were far more positives compared with negatives, especially considering how shitty 2011 was…all round quite frankly.  The real highlights were Paris, Berlin and Brussels – aside from a very brief sojourn to Sangatte in 2002 which was strictly work, I managed to get out of the country not once, not twice but thrice!  Oh I grant you, once was work and the other was due to the Griffin Quiz though I have no intention of looking those particular gift horses in the mush.  But it was exciting, getting out of the UK and just doing something new.  For some time, I used to say that I preferred to travel through imagination, through virtual landscapes and that’s not untrue, I did prefer the safety of introspection and new ideas.  Now, I’m 33¾ and I’m ready to see more of…well, at least Europe.  I’m proud and happy to consider myself a European as well as a Brit – there’s much we can take in from our continental neighbours and friends.

A second key piece of 2012 was my birthday – I’d not organised and put something together on that scale which was (in effect) a “pub night”.  It was good to gather up so many people in one place and put on a show.  Plus, it gave people something to look forward to for the first couple of months of the year where the weather is just lousy – though I think if we have another dry winter, the ground can take it thanks to all the rain in 2012.

Paying off the last of my loan in 2012 was an immense relief as I’d been saddled with that bloody debt for over a decade and the ability to enjoy a full wage packet means I don’t have to think too carefully on what I’m buying whereas before I was practically micromanaging finances.  It means in an average month where I think I’ve spent too much money, I haven’t and there’s some to tuck away in savings.

Having my month off in August was fantastic, although the Olympics and then the Paralympics was not.  I didn’t do a great deal of strenuous activity and it took over two weeks to reacclimatise myself to the world of work.  Having my iPad (another plus) during that period enabled me to do stuff on the move, like read, write, navigate etc.  My day out in Brighton was nice although the weather was a little grim.

I would also say starting up the Risk Legacy sessions with Jad, Robyn, Rob & Joey were great as well as the continuing board game afternoons.  And Age of Mythology with various people, especially Darren and Paul.  Winning the Griffin Quiz again as well as second place earlier in the year was pretty cool.

In the wider world, the overall outlook remains somewhat pessimistic, not least because Israel seems to threaten war with Iran and suck the rest of the world in (Serbia/Austria-Hungary 1914 anyone?), the British economy splutters, the wider European economy staggers and China keeps lying to the rest of the planet about the true nature of their finances.  Racking my brain, I struggle to find many longer-term personal negatives (although that fungal infection was irritating to say the least).

Video Games – can’t finish off the blog entry without a quick mention.  A very disappointing year as far as I was concerned – not many “must get at all costs” titles on the shelves.  The 3DS XL was a welcome addition to the ranks, as were the pathetic sales of the PS Vita (SONY – have you gotten it yet?  You’re not wanted in the handheld market.  GET LOST).  Still haven’t seen/tried a Wii U as yet so I can’t pass comment on that machine.  Age of Empires Online has been a great addition to my collection and Gods & Kings too.  Did I actually buy Super Mario Galaxy 2 and still haven’t managed to take it out of the box?  Man I need help.

Could go back through this year’s diary entries to see other good/bad stuff but what’s the point?  If I haven’t learned lessons by now, chances are I never will.

Also, honourable mentions go to Stephen R, Stephen S, Andy S, John G, Rachel W, Jackie S, Aqeel and Lee B for making 2012 particularly special – they may or may not know how or why but thank y’all.

One of the many mad thoughts coursing through my skull yesterday was probably the title of an unwritten essay – “Civilization and Myers-Briggs: a study in partnership”.  Nope, this isn’t about _human_ civilisation but rather the Sid Meier’s game series; the non fans of video games may wish to switch off now. 

I first came across Myers-Briggs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator – can’t insert proper links on this crude version of IE…) back in 2007 through a work awayday where my profile came out as an INTP.  The facilitator explained what this meant to us and whilst pleased by the outcome and what it meant, I wanted to be more ENTP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENTP) so I worked on how I interact in social situations and training myself not to clam up but to open up more.  Finally I could truthfully complete a personality questionnaire and have it come out as a definitive ENTP. 

The middle two letters in the four-letter combo, often referred to as the “Function pairs” are the most critical as they indicate how a person thinks and subsequently acts on those ideas.  As there are four combinations (NT, NF, ST, SF) to work with, they broadly correlate with how people would approach a game of Civilization (or frankly any other strategy game).   

The ST (Senser/Thinker) is someone who focuses very much on the bottom line, seeks to be efficient where possible and will work within a defined set of procedures.  When playing a game, they will adhere to a set of rules, probably those of the game rather than any personal rules.  I would go so far as to say they will look after their economies, making sure that they are well resourced and can support sustainable growth. 

The SF (Senser/Feeler) looks to take more of a supportive role for the benefit of a group.  They will be practical to a point but will maintain cohesion and will be more likely to compromise to maintain the status quo.  In gaming, they make valuable allies but easy opponents because they generally get to a point where they give too much away and a determined, focussed opponent will just roll over them.  Look for them to go for team/diplomatic victories. 

The NF (iNtuitive/Feeler) looks to be a leader and enjoys working with others, taking the role of a teacher or mentor.  They will look to maintaining a sense of balance but in a very broad context which allows people to be themselves.  Instinctively, they will want to be number one but won’t put down anyone for being numbers two, three or four.  An NF likes to help everyone reach their potential so again they can be good diplomats or scientists. 

And lastly, the NT (iNtuitive/Thinker) type are the big-picture, scheming bastards who enjoy unconventionality and shaking up the system just to try new ideas properly.  They want to find the answers for themselves irrespective of cost but will always consider all sides of a problem and can think three-dimensionally.  Probably the worst sort of opponent to play against because they are harder to predict and are adept at misdirection and guile. 

So what does that all mean?  Look at a game such as Civilization – there are four basic models: the Explorer, the Builder, the Attila or the Hybrid.   

Explorers race to uncover the map and subsequently the tech tree, utilising every advantage in diplomacy and city construction to do so.  They are more defensive than offensive but want to maintain a scientific lead. 

A Builder is more of a turtle who seeks to wring out every advantage from developing their infrastructure.  They are somewhat self-sufficient and often neglect their militaries in favour of another Wonder or city improvement but when war comes, they generally have enough cash in the bank to buy their way out of any trouble – or at least slow it down to blunt an advance costing the attacker far more. 

The Attila is the war-monger who see cities as tools to churn out units and throw them into battle.  They often neglect their overall development and seek to overwhelm their opponents through numbers rather than quality and finesse. 

The Hybrid player is a combination or two or all of the above player types – more adaptive, more resilient and is happy to yield an advantage in one area to have dominance in another.  Of course they are experienced in all trades, masters of none to quote the old saying.   

Based on the above, it’s not hard to see how those sorts of players tee up to Myers-Briggs personality types.  And if you know who or what you’re playing against (at least when playing humans rather than the AI), you can pretty much tailor your strategies to suit them and alter yours so that you’re not too predictable.