Tag Archive: Xbone


Once again folks, there’s been another blog gap. I’ve not had much impetus to complete an entry – there have been several false starts but after getting to a second or third paragraph, I realise that my scribings are utter drivel and just cannot bring myself to inflict them on the public. But today, I wanted to catch up re E3, GTA Online’s latest update and of course to whine about the summer. 

So in that order – E3. IMHO, Nintendo were the winners although the new Super Mario is basically a rip-off of the Amiga game Putty. Or Kirby. Still, they got people excited and talking by just announcing stuff without actually committing to anything. For yours truly, what I’m looking forward to most has to be Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. I watched the trailer and have to say, I bought that recording of “Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton so every time I hear it, I can mentally picture BJ running through the USA blasting apart Nazis.

As for the new Xbone, looks good, upscaling might be a very nice feature to have but the biggest drawback as far as I could see, is that the console only comes in a 1TB HD model. Surely a 4K game is going to be bigger than a regular HD one and the internal HD won’t cope. However, my concerns aside, I think the better news has to be the fact that backwards compatibility is going to extend to the original Xbox console. With any luck, that’ll mean Battlefront 2 (as in the original game) will be re-released! I mean, I enjoy the occasional killing spree on my laptop but I seldom switch it on these days, not least as the dining table is horrible to sit at.

GTA Online – last Tuesday saw the release of the latest addition to the online world: gun running. It starts off by using your in-game funds to acquire a bunker where Agent 14 (aka the contact from the Prison Break and Humane Labs heist) inducts you into the world of weapons development. You can also acquire a truck to act as a mobile operations centre (which clearly underscores somebody’s affinity with Knight Rider – first KITT, now the FLAG Mobile Unit) as well as a much welcome anti-aircraft gun to swat Hydras from the sky.

The point of the base is that you can either manufacture weapons, develop new weapons (not available at Ammu-nation) or do both. All the bases are located in Sandy Shores, Paleto bay or other isolated spots in the north of the map thus further addressing one of my long-held bugbears, that players tended to spend huge amounts of time driving around LS itself whilst neglecting Blaine County. And you can access your base whilst being a CEO or heading up your local MC so both options are available to the player.

I’ve not really immersed myself into the game too much – other things going on. That said, I did manage to rack up a few hours. My in-game bank balance of $5M has crashed to $1M by just buying the base and the add-ons which _were_ optional but still… Still don’t have enough for the truck, not without buying in-game currency or grinding horribly. That said, my car warehouse is full of vehicles that are begging to be sold. Anyway, I’ve taken care of a few resupply missions and they’re actually pretty challenging on the main map and a great deal of fun as armoured vehicles are de rigeur. Driving halfway across the map to drop off a tank whilst blasting apart army jeeps – great fun.

My last post was about a month ago so I haven’t really commented on the election. One of my abortive posts which I still have the draft of read:

“Speaking of the election, in Vauxhall the Liberal Democrats are really going all out to see Kate Hoey (current Labour MP) dumped, principally on her pro-EU exit stance. I’ve had correspondence and flyers every day this week, stickers are appearing all over the borough – on lamp posts, on telephone exchanges and the like. Given as Lambeth recorded the highest pro-Remain vote (Gibraltar aside), it’s not looking too good for the incumbent.”

Alas, that didn’t become manifest. I did see the candidate on polling day, with child strapped to his chest in one of those baby carrier things but no sign of Labour’s electoral machine. Ah well, I think that she’ll be dumped ahead of the next election. Correction – I hope that she’ll be dumped ahead of the next election.

Oh, and I wanted to post the following about the Griffin:

The refurbished Vauxhall Griffin has opened under new management. The new landlords have gone for an idiosyncratic look, kinda like the old place but there’s a smash-up of two very different styles (possibly three) which I have a hard time seeing it blending together. I don’t know if they’ve deliberately gone for eclectic (or post-modern) deliberately – it’s just…odd. The two feature walls: one is red brick, the other is recovered (and painted wood). The bar area is white ceramic, the furniture is contemporary, the light fittings are quite nice (hi-tec lanterns), the toilets are a vast improvement but the upstairs function room hasn’t been touched other than a clear out of the art (so far). It’s definitely lost something but I’m at a genuine loss as to say whether anything has been gained. The landlords seem nice enough. So all things considered, I don’t hate the place – I don’t ‘like’ it – I guess cautiously neutral for now. If nothing else, at least I still have Zeitgeist (although I still object to the sneaking in of Adnams behind the bar for the real-ale twats).

S’all for now.

 

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38

Nope, not the flat number, nor my lucky number.  But the number of successful orbits of the sun whilst maintaining my status as a passenger on planet Earf.

Like most people, I’ve taken the opportunity to bunk off work (read: taken  a couple of days off) to mark the event.  And  it’s been a quiet old day so far, noise from the street excepted.  The last two days were spent in Dublin with work.  I had a quiet, pleasant stay although the rain felt quite incessant at times.  There was allegedly some snow on Tuesday morning but it had melted by the time I emerged from my hotel room.

So what’s been new, hip and happening?  Answer: not much.  More of the same, really.  Am I in a rut?  Perhaps, though I’m not rushing out to embrace the new.  Is there anything that’s truly new?  Apart from picking up a new mobile last weekend, no.  Letting February slide by as quickly as possible, I guess.

Continuing to enjoy Star Trek Timelines and the recent events have given my inventory a chance to rest and rebuild following a succession of missions which have drained them dry of all the really useful stuff.   And finally have a couple of friends playing it although they are not quite as into it as I.  Still, good times.

On the Xbone,  I downloaded the free copy of The Force Unleashed and replayed that, forgetting how much fun it was to throw Felucians into Rancors.  And to fry that bitch  Shaak Ti.  GTA continues to be my most played game although I’ve been trying to get into Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts again.  It’s just hard to like it.

Board games: lots of 7 Wonders, finally got around to breaking in “Under the Pyramids” expansion for Eldritch Horror and whilst in Dublin, I treated myself to “The Dreamlands” as it was cheaper there thanks to the collapse in GBP. I was particularly proud of this game with Joey and Scott:

 

Finally folks, I was doing a YouTube crawl and stumbled across this parody music video.  I almost wet myself cackling as I think I’ve experienced every one of these deaths:

So that’s your lot, just a quick update before my second coffee of the day and hopefully, a decision about what to do with the rest of my time today.  And if anyone else is celebrating a birthday today (Ron Howard, Harry Belafonte,  Dirk Benedict, George Eads, Doris Hare and of course, Frederich Chopin), PISCEANS ROOL!

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?

Banoi Redux

Leave has finished and it’s back to the office. Commitments have to be picked up and resumed once again and that includes tending to my WordPress site.

Although it was only two weeks, my leave was quite satisfying and seemed to go at a measured, even pace. As usual, I faced a barrage of questions “where are you going, what are you doing” before it started. And almost everyone had the same incredulous look on their faces when I said “I’m going nowhere as I’m not paying the school tax just to go away in August and I’m doing whatever the hell I feel like.” To be honest, it’s the same every damn year. For posterity’s sake, I don’t “do” summer holidays in the conventional sense. My summer holiday involves me clearing my calendar completely, ducking out of ongoing responsibilities where possible and doing what I like, when I like. That to me is a vacation; no responsibility and all indulgence. You can tell I don’t have dependents.

Anyway, this year was no exception to the rule. It began with the arrival of my new phone post-theft on the Saturday although EE in its infinite wisdom did bungle the restoration of the service which took three hours of phone calls to get everything harmonised again. I think that the staff and customers of the Costa Coffee in Finchley were highly amused by my woes. Why Finchley? Well, I went to Games Quest once again and bought not one but two games: Star Trek Five Year Mission and Ticket to Ride card game. I haven’t been able to make time to play either so no reviews yet.

Finished my latest Alien Isolation play-through and returned to GTA online to try the latest addition to the game, the stunt races. I’m kinda feeling mixed about them: I’m not the greatest racer so my win:loss ratio is embarrassing (invariably another driver smashes into my car/bike sending it into a spin and I never recover). Some of the courses are good fun (if a tad long) but it’s almost impossible to catch up to the leaders if you make any sort of mistake which can really drain a lot of the entertainment. During the races, you’ll see plenty of drivers dropping out mid race or refusing to race any more because they are _that_ penalising. I’m not saying you have to have a blue-shell or a bullet bill added so that anyone can win but I would like Rockstar to have a think about balance. I almost won one of the stunt races on the motorcycles until some other driver rammed me off the course right at the end; and I’d done pretty well the duration of that race too. Alas, not many other racers like “no-contact” events. Also am saving up for an office in the online world: need something like $6 million for the top of the line office and I’ve $4.5 million banked. Soon…

As I had finished one game, I thought I’d finally obtain a copy of Dead Island for the Xbone and try and complete that game. The graphics look pretty good and the framerates refresh a lot more smoothly than what I recall from the 360 version. I can’t see other major differences though all the DLC is immediately unlocked which is a nice treat. I’m mid-way through Act 3 so not too much longer to go (I hope) and then it’ll be Riptide. Or the DLC bonus campaign. I also tried the Retro Revenge for a laugh – it’s like Streets of Rage on acid. I’m sure I’ll go back to that at some point: other games/challenges first. Three good games for £25 (at least currently) is a bargain, particularly if you’ve never tried any of them before now. 

Over to P&D’s last Wednesday for gaming and I have to say, it’s a fantastic flat, I don’t know why they’d want to move. Well, I know _why_, personally I’d endure somehow. Brendan and I taught them Machi Koro and Smash Up; the latter must have made a mark because Darren rushed out and bought expansion packs.

Those are pretty much the highlights of the last fortnight. Other stuff: gonna moan that some of my friends have turned into utter Poke-bores. Their sole subjects of conversation are Pokémon Go and that’s it. Frequently, they’re bitching at the fact they are nowhere near finishing the game – considering how much they paid (nothing) and how many extras they’ve bought (none), their complaints are…ill-founded. I’d be more sympathetic if they’d invested some cash in the game. 

 

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Should have been posted on Monday, not Wednesday…

Four days before the damn Referendum. So we can expect even more media hysteria, lies and rabid coverage: terrific. It’s looking to be such a close vote that both camps will have a semi-legitimate claim to demand a second vote should it not go their way. So more angst is on the horizon. 

Now that E3 is over, just a few passing observations on the Xbone. Slimmed down console doesn’t seem necessary at this point in time – I think that a 2TB model is a smarter idea, particularly now that there are numerous titles on the market and nobody wants a collection of external media. But I think the killer-app is Xbox Play Anywhere which will, in theory, allow you to port titles to other media rather than buying new copies. So if you buy the Xbone version, you’ll be able to play the game on your PC too. Great idea: some games will work better with one medium over the other but you just don’t know until you try. Project S? Will reserve judgement, for now. Design Lab? Again, reserving judgement. Still hoping for an announcement on Red Dead Redemption 2…

The new Xbox Smartglass app, sorry – the Xbox app is looking pretty swish. A mirror of the console’s OS, it’s easier to navigate but with more features, making it easier to find items like achievements, friends etc. I find it difficult to use a tablet simultaneously with the console, particularly in game (the Fallout App is really hard when in the middle of combat though playing the in-game games is a lot simpler).

AdVenture Capitali$t’s June event just finished with a 1980s video game arcade as the theme. Mash the buttons to double the speed of the chosen item (much the same as the St Patrick’s Day event) which is much needed given how slow even the cheapest item is. It was a real slog, this event took absolutely ages to build up a good head of steam and I only just hitting the “sweetspot” where the money started to roll in with a mere 24 hours to go. Star Trek Timelines have had a major update too although I’ve not joined any sort of fleet so will probably miss out on a lot of the new features.

Saturday: spent far too much but as I’ve been a real Ebenezer the last couple of weeks, it hasn’t hit the bank balance too much. Forbidden Planet yet again is responsible for decimating my savings: Bought Star Wars Rebellion board game (which is the table-top equivalent of the old Star Wars Supremacy/Rebellion game on the PC), a Fallout 4 themed hoodie and the usual comics. And then a tepid pint of Estrella on the way home just cos. It was a pleasant enough day though, protests on Whitehall and big concert in Trafalgar Square aside. 

Gaming Day at the Griffin: Only played one new game, stuck to the familiar otherwise trying to get some more mileage out of 7 Wonders, Munchkin etc. Tried Machi Koro for the first time, chiefly as Brendan wanted to play it. A game of more luck than skill as dice rolling is involved, it’s been described (frequently) as a game where Catan and Dominion have a child. Can’t be bothered to type out a review, so lazy. Several new games were brought along and tried but they seemed to take an aeon to play (the fantasy game at the next table dragged on three hours). I couldn’t bring myself to play the Donald Trump game, though we wondered if there was an Ivana figure in the box to take him to the cleaners…

Numbers were a little down compared with previous months but the weather was fairly decent (until late evening when the heavens opened) and it was also Father’s Day which we anticipated would eat into the number of people playing but there was still a full house. It wasn’t heaving with wall-to-wall bodies, probably (definitely) for the best what with elevated temperatures, humidity etc. Food was good as always.

And coming up – a week in flux. Really – I had a schedule on Friday afternoon, totally torn up as things are being massively moved around. I don’t know if the football, the weather, the referendum or precisely what is responsible but many people I know are similarly having their timetables ripped up and put back together in a haphazard manner. Change is as good as a rest, apparently. Quiz Finale is on Tuesday, that’s a bulwark. Probably games on Wednesday though might be mutable and the rest is up for debate. Ho-hum.

Viva Forever

Last week saw some of the most typical British summer weather possible. Temperatures fell to “do I dare turn on the radiator” levels and then rose to “break out the fans”. And there was of course, an entire day of rain which although inconvenient, did at least wash a lot of the tree pollen into the gutter. By the weekend though, the pollen was back and with reinforcements. Had to (reluctantly) break back into my antihistamines in order to keep on top of the hay fever. Still, things will only get worse – sleepless nights, noisy weekends (because of the free parking on Rita Road) and insects galore. But there’ll be irritating, patronising weather reporters gushing forth with all sorts of positive adjectives about the weather for the next three months (Carol Kirkwood is top of the list of annoying). I demand an alternate weather forecast for the cynical, the nihilists and the vampires amongst us.
Tuesday’s quiz: came third (with our 2 point deduction for winning). Guffed up a lot in the second half and I’m deeply ashamed to say that I answered correctly a question on the Spice Girls. Couldn’t touch alcohol though, drank way, way too much on Monday morning and came into work feeling rougher than sandpaper wrapped in barbed wire. So stuck to the lemonade…

Wednesday Games: We finally broke out the Cities expansion pack to 7 Wonders and played three of games (made soft-shell tacos to accompany) with the new packs. I didn’t get a look in at the two new wonders (Petra & Byzantium) personally but Paul got Petra. Brendan won two of the games and I won one by falling back on the “putting all eggs in one science basket” approach. The “black cards” proved very useful in being able to acquire resources for free – in the game I won, I only bothered with three stone and one papyrus total + commerce & black card buildings. Think luck rather than skill had a large hand in it however. We didn’t play with the Leaders expansion so we don’t know how the two would interact but I guess that’s next on the list of things to try. Then Babel.

Thursday and Friday were pretty quiet, uneventful days. The sort where at work, time stops and each minute is played out over an hour. With us being firmly in the Referendum purdah period, there is something of a slow-down all around. Couple that with the local election purdah period and it adds to an extended period of freezing out all announcements in case one side cries foul. Whilst important to the running of a free and fair election process, it’s nonetheless frustrating for those in the centre. Regardless of the result, 24th June to 21st July will be a manic period.

Saturday. The plan was to go out and shop, spending the high street vouchers that have been sat in my rucksack for two months unspent. Nothing special that needed buying, just wanted to see what (if anything) there was that I needed. Maybe. Or just go to HMV and get something there. I also tried a new walk into the west end, walking from home to Chelsea Bridge and then picking up the Sloane Square/Sloane Street route north. It took a surprisingly long time to get to Chelsea Bridge, probably because I was trying to finish the latest DS9 novel (Force & Motion, bit of a slog) and the main route down does not parallel the river, rather it’s off by about 15 degrees which means a substantive course correction at some point. Anyway, the reason for that little bit of pedantry was that I was about an hour into the walk when I realised I’d left the damn vouchers at home. 

But it was all good exercise, I guess. Walked the entire length of Oxford Street, finding absolutely nothing I wanted except the usual comic book pick up from FP. Went home, called in at Waitrose for a few odds and sods, bought a scratchcard, won £100, gloated, went home.

Sunday: given my abject failure the previous day, I tried again but over to E15 this time, returning to the scene of…well, many crimes. It was another largely unsuccessful trip (some days I spend like a drunken sailor, other days I’m more tight-fisted than Scrooge McDuck) but did see the new Loading Bar which had popped up on West Ham Lane having heard about it from Brendan. As they were not allowed to remove completely the former name “Princess of Wales”, they’ve rearranged the lettering to read “Secret Weapon”. Different although I’m sure there’s one or two klutz-types who will blunder past without putting two and two together. Still, begs the question why the name of the pub cannot change? No different to Jolly Gardner’s/Zeitgeist in Vauxhall. Ho-hum.

General Gaming: This weekend saw Star Trek Timelines do another event: the Ferengi Traditionalists have hired Frank Hollinger (from a Fistful of Datas) and Chekov Clayton (whatever the TOS one was with the shootout at the OK Corral) to do some of their schemes but it’s going horribly wrong for them. At time of writing, the event isn’t quite closed but I’m hovering around the 10,000 place mark. (Post Script – published on Wednesday 8th, finished at 11,000-ish) never had a Data character before the event so those missions where the presence of an android was necessary would have been useful.

I started a new game of Fallout – just to play through to see the Brotherhood of Steel ending. Bypassing most of the secondary quests except the really quick ones. And not building up settlements unless absolutely necessary (i.e. Sanctuary Hills). I’m saying no more, except that I might do a Survival Mode play through. Looks way more stress inducing.

End of the (Rail)Road

Fallout 4.  

Ten days of solid game play – that’s 240 hours folks and I’ve finally finished the game, throwing in my lot with the Railroad. I also used the bank holiday weekend to complete the Far Harbor DLC beforehand and I ended up uniting the factions. I don’t think those are spoilers but if they are: tough. Dr Do(o)m asked me what am I going to do next. I replied, after mentioning there’ll be more DLC on its way, that I intended to reclaim my life. But if I play the game again, I will go straight for the main quest, ignore the radiant quests and concentrate entirely on one faction, probably the Brotherhood of Steel as it feels/appears that their way of winning the game is different from all the others who have more linked objectives. 

I have to give full credit to the writers and the voice actors – I’d long made my mind up to side with the Railroad for when the game would diverge into the end-phase but the characters in the Institute were amazingly persuasive. I found myself sympathising with their goals. What tvtropes would call “well-intentioned extremists”, it was only when Father called for the extermination of someone as casually as you would order breakfast that any potential wavering on the issue dissolved into the ether. At least with the way I played through the game, it could be different for other endings/paths.  

On the subject of the Railroad ending – and here be (probable) spoilers – having brought down the other antagonists, they revert to their primary mission of helping and saving synths. With that sort of power and general good-will behind them, it’s very hard to believe that they wouldn’t move into a more political role for the Commonwealth. Granted, the last time it was attempted, it ended badly for all concerned. That said, there is a large, brand-new crater in the ground in what is downtown Boston which could cause…some ill feeling. Especially as it’s probably going to be a great place for Mirelurks to breed. But RPGs seldom do much of a post-game, that’s what sequels (and DLC) are all about.

Interest in the game never waned, except when the game crashed (and of course it’d been ages since the last autosave) or Minutemen radiant quests would keep spawning, despite trying to avoid Bisto Gravy [sic] in Sanctuary Hills. I think this is again kudos to the creative team at Bethesda who kept the Commonwealth a challenging place to inhabit, visually very appealing with a very wide range of activities, characters and quests. With multiple options for success or failure on individual quests, it would encourage players to ultimately revisit the game to try something different in each quest, as well as with the different factions.

Room for improvement? Sure. Of course games are limited by size constraints and the energies of the designers in trying to cram in as much as humanly possible but what I’d principally like to see are improvements over time. The game is played over days, weeks and months (you start in October 2283, I finished in August 2284). But nothing seems to change and I’m not talking about the weather/seasons. Take Sanctuary Hills for example. When you visit this settlement between quests or to help the Minutemen (assuming Bisto Gravy isn’t moved), the prefab houses are still in the same languid state of repair with tiles missing, holes in the roof, debris on the floor etc. What I feel should happen is that as you build resource stockpiles in workshops from either looting or from your Scavenging Stations, settlements with existing structures should be repaired/maintained over time so that they don’t look the same as they did five minutes after the atomic blast. The large hole in the ground at Coastal Cottage should be filled in so that the land can be built on. The roof at Taffington Boathouse should be fixed (and the dead cow buried). Put succinctly, the rough edges of settlements should be smoothed over. 

I also think that if part of the game at least is getting the Commonwealth back on its feet, at least if you play as the Minutemen, then further industries _could_ be developed. Grow razorgrain and then build a (wind)mill to turn it into flour. Use the flour and build a bakery to create food. I know – game limitations but it’d bring the Minutemen back into the game. Securing settlements and storming the Castle is really the only thing they do. As well as handing out unsolicited radiant quests.

And my other change would be at the Ironworks where the Forged keep respawning. Every time you go to the Slog (and the tarberries are worth it if you like making things at the chemistry bench), there’s invariably a caravan that wanders by, starts a battle which all the settlers from the Slog emerge and fight some really tough, nasty enemies. This can occasionally spill over to the Hub City Auto Wreckers which you feel compelled to resolve.

Glad to have finished the game but sad to leave behind – at least for a while – such an engrossing experience. But I do need to reclaim my life, get out more, achieve more etc. Still, it’s been a great two months. Now when’s the holodeck version coming out?

Now’s a good a time as any to talk abaht Fallout 4, not least as the damn game has successfully extracted most of my attention in the last couple of weeks. I completed the quest to recapture the Castle last night which is far enough into the game to prattle on about it. 

Having been wedded almost exclusively to the Nintendo bandwagon for the past twenty years, I have missed out playing – chiefly due to being obdurate – many of the major titles that other gamers have enjoyed. Many games I would never have played, titles like Gran Turismo, Soul Caliber, Tony Hawks, Fifa (though I did play the first on the SNES and hated it). But every once in a while, I stumble across a game, often in a series, that I try out and think “why haven’t I played this before?” Then I consider that on the N64, I didn’t like some of the sequels that came on that console (Duke Nukem, Quake) and it kinda put me off.

So why did I pick up Fallout 4? Dunno really, tough one to explain. I suppose it was the fault of the shopping vouchers (as mentioned in blogs passim) which were begging to be spent. There was nothing I wanted on the clothing or the utensil front so entertainment was the chosen option. I looked at Xbone titles in store and it was quite difficult to choose a game as there weren’t any “must have” titles on the shelves. The only game I’m truly looking forward to in the near or far future is South Park: The Fractured But Whole which is a while off. And backwards compatibility for the Xbone is painfully slow; have they released any other titles after the original flurry? I’d like to replay Red Dead Redemption and some of the other titles I have for the 360 which I hadn’t gotten around to playing just yet.

I vaguely remember the ads for Fallout 4 (but more prominently the Fallout 3 adverts) which is why it registered in my brain as well as what little I’d read up on the series. Other contenders were Evolve, Far Cry 4 & Far Cry Primeval. Had Elite Dangerous been available on hard copy, I’d have snapped it up without a second thought. Again, as mentioned in the last blog entry, I drifted towards blu-rays and the special offers as I think the last film I bought was the remake of Robocop – major let-down. Only picked one title and as I had three minutes before I had to meet the gang for bowling, I snatched the game off of the shelf, paid for it and headed up the escalator to the second floor.

So that’s the why. Typical pedantry, I know but I’ve never had a connection to the series before now and it has just never flagged up on my radar. In fact, I don’t know many other gamers who have played it; many of my friends are into other genres, titles etc. 

I assume many of you readers know the premise: starts in an alternate Earth, 2077. The zeitgeist of the 1950s never went away and influences technology and design for almost 120 years. Eventually a cold war between the USA and China blows hot with a full scale nuclear exchange oblitering global civilization. Some citizens are chosen deliberately for the Vault Programme, to live in underground cities for years, even decades as the fallout settles down. In this title, you fast forward 210 years as your character (and all the residents of the nearby town) have been put in cryo-suspension except you’re the only one to survive – well, you and your son who was thawed out early and stolen which you somehow witnessed despite the slumber. You awake to a very different world from the one you knew, one set in what was Massachusetts and is now referred to as “The Commonwealth”.

Fallout 4 is a hybrid RPG/1st Person or 3rd Person (depending on perspective) shooter which has developed its own attribute system called S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (as opposed to the more traditional GURPS. Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck are the seven categories and obtaining points in the main categories will unlock options in sub-categories. This already gives your character a very broad range of skills to learn and diversify depending on your gameplay preferences. I think that quite wisely, not too many gameplay options are directly tied into S.P.E.C.I.A.L. so you’re not restricted too much if you don’t put points in one skill over another. The Local Leader perk/sub-category is pretty essential to settlement management so shout-out to that one and Strength is crucial to carrying stuff if you’re a pack-rat or a walking arsenal. 

 Also, the game has a touch of the Sims about it in terms of Settlements. Your character is going to help rebuild civilization to some extent – to help the downtrodden masses, to provide areas of sanctuary when exploring the map, strongholds where you can sleep securely and the ability to harvest and craft goods and items for use later. Each settlement is set over a particular parcel of land – some are huge (like the Castle), some are tiny (like Hangman’s Alley). You can construct buildings to live/work in, defences, plant crops, generate electricity from crude nuclear powered generators for more advanced items and even set up shops to sell items. Also, you can customise/pimp your buildings and settlements with furniture, decorations and the like which is where “the Sims” comes into it.

Like any RPG, your character roams the land encountering people who’ll give him/her quests which vary in difficulty. It’s no spoiler to say that you start in the north-west corner of the Commonwealth and slowly spread out in terms of exploration and influence. The north of the Commonwealth is dangerous but manageable. The south which includes (what was) Boston is far more challenging with all sorts of post-atomic horrors (giant animals, mutants) and hostile survivors attacking you and generally making your life difficult. Quests are typical RPG fare: find/recover items/people, escort missions, clear out enclaves of hostiles, make something special for someone, pay someone off either cash or large quantities of raw materials/manufactured items. Not that I mind this but it would have been nice to have seen something a little different.

Also in the mix – the ability to travel with a companion who will work with you, fight with you and more importantly, carry stuff for you! There are no bottomless inventories in Fallout 4 folks, your ability to carry (and wear) items is quite compromise. Whilst S.P.E.C.I.A.L. will increase this a little, your companion will be essential as you pick through the ruins. My carrying capacity is approximately 400 at the moment, half of which is allocated to clothing and items (weapons, food/healing) so it’s hard to pick clean a location without being compromised in speed which is the penalty for overloading. 

Finally the Pip-Boy. A handheld device which allows you to manage your inventory, quest log and map and is also a short-range torch, ideal for looting the great indoors where the lights are all off. You can connect your mobile phone or tablet to the game if you download the app and run the pip-boy off of that device (battery guzzler though, plug in first) so you can play and have your inventory up simultaneously (handy with the maps and seeing when you’re almost full in inventory). A detailed menu system but occasionally you muck up controls and flip between menu categories rather than the sub-categories as you might otherwise want.

Graphics – nice. Wonderful detail on the environment and the characters and enemies are wonderfully detailed. I also like the retro look of the computers & pip-boy you interface with. Everything has a ragged look on it and makes you feel that it’s survived the apocalypse albeit quite scathed. The various weather types (sunny, foggy, light rain, heavy rain, radiation storm) are rendered very nicely and you sometimes have to suppress a shiver when it’s really chucking it down. It breaks from reality where even in the middle of December, you get 12 hours of daylight but it’s an acceptable break otherwise the game would be quite unplayable as it starts in October 2287 which is past the equinox. I haven’t seen any snow as yet…dunno if it’s yet to come or the world of Fallout 4 has done away with it altogether.

Sounds – very nice. The title theme is haunting and appropriate so full marks there. When you’re roaming the landscape, there’s nothing but silence…until you stumble into a nest of Mirelurks and then the combat music starts up in earnest. Exploring locations, buildings and settlements will also start up the soundtrack again which is often a single melody with a secondary instrument providing ambience. It’s very reflective of the solitariness of your character (and companion) as they roam the Commonwealth either trying to heal the land or just being a schmuck, killing everything and everyone in sight. There’s also two in-game permanent radio stations at the start of the game which you can listen to on the Pip Boy, one playing 1950’s type music, the other playing classical. You can build radios and jukeboxes in settlements to provide your settlers with something to listen to. There’s not all that much talking in the game, you can’t have endless chats with NPCs and they seldom interact so there’s little opportunity to eavesdrop funny conversations. That said, I’m glad more of the game is devoted to gameplay rather than speech. 

 I’ve logged almost 72 hours of gameplay time and I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game. Whilst I pretty much own the northern third of the map with my settlements, I’ve only just made my first forays into downtown Boston with an outpost in Hangman’s Alley and a couple in and around the sea (now including the aforementioned Castle). In RPGs, I’m the sort of person who will pick up every single item possible, craft all the weapons and armour, upgrade all the weapons and armour etc. so a lot of my play time has been spent looting every single building I come across, picking clean each corpse I’ve cut down and then bringing it all back to base to store. Once settlements are linked, they can all access each other’s materials (craftable items and craftable foodstuffs) but NOT stored weapons & ammo, armour and crafted food. So I’ve had to designate a single settlement a hub for weapons and armour (so I can keep track of it) whilst dispersing surplus food and ammo to various settlements. Each of my settlements is mostly self-sufficient in terms of food and water though you can, once supply routes are open, keep under producing settlements supplied with surplus.

Also, building up the settlements is quite enjoyable and a relaxing break from running gun battles that occur. The building menus are easy to use and there’s a wide range of options which you can use to give each settlement a bespoke flavour. Whilst most settlements consist of at least one central structure (not erasable), some have two, three or even more which you can build in and around. Sanctuary Hills is typically your second settlement (the Red Rocket Station is the first but is rather small) which is effectively the small town where you lived before the Great War and there are several houses still standing which you can clean out and refurnish as well as several wrecked houses where you can start again. Note to the novice player here: PLACE FLOORBOARDS/FOUNDATIONS FIRST, even on a pre-rendered foundation otherwise you won’t be able to build properly. Final note on settlements: each one is constrained by “size”. This isn’t how big the settlement can get, it’s how many objects the site can support – structures, furniture, shops, food items etc. So don’t build a shack and make an incredibly detailed home filled with consumer durables, large dormitories will suffice just as well with a few creature comforts. Your people will be happy if they are fed, watered, protected and have a few items tossed their way to make them happy. Shops and bars are far more effective at keeping folk content than radios, TVs and paintings.

I’m hooked. But I think that’s clear from the above. The exploring appeals to me together with collecting, crafting and building up the settlements. It’s been a slow but methodical process, sometimes getting a bit too distracted from the game’s main quests into secondary and tertiary objectives. Thing is…in most of the locations, items (and enemies) respawn so you can keep getting distracted, especially when a settlement (like the Slog) is surrounded by enemy strongholds full of goodies. Or rather, I keep getting distracted by it all. It’s also an ethereally beautiful land in which to free roam (and slay the occasional mutant) and stumble across surprises. Suspended disbelief: not much has been picked over in 200 years, nor rotted away – clearly this USA built stuff to last.

Negatives: The bloody dog. Don’t get me wrong, Dogmeat is a useful companion but sometimes he just gets in the way and won’t move. Or stand still long enough to obey orders. I haven’t tried any of the other companions as yet in fairness… Settlers nicking your Power Armor is also a nuisance though I did see on the wiki that if you just remove the power cores, they can’t get the damn thing to move which might be a plan. And falling off boats in Power Armour is a nuisance too – seeing underwater is a right doozy.

Salut, 

I’m fighting off a cold at the moment so not feeling 100%. It’s one of those colds which has no sneezing or coughing but there’s the wooziness, elevated temperature and cracked voice. It came on midway through gaming at the Griffin on Sunday afternoon around 5pm and got worse throughout the course of the evening. However, two early nights, lots of honey-infused tea, a little ibuprofen and general rest might well have knocked it on the head. Or rather immune system has done what it should have with a little help from the conscious part of the brain.

Once again, the last blog post was written but not published for a week, I am the King of Procrastination lately. Hence why there’ll be two today. And no, I wasn’t looking to capitalise on what happened in Brussels today (22nd March) by posting about Brussels in the last post, given how often I’m there…yeah.

Anyway, I’m going to stick to a predominantly gaming-themed post today. Starting with Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment as it’s a freebie from Games With Gold and the first title I’ve downloaded since Assassin’s Creed 4. It’s what I’d theme as something of an interactive story, kinda like CSI Investigations or even a modern version of Monkey Island where you take the role of the titular character and attempt to solve a series of mysteries set in late Victorian London. I’ve only played the first case so far (whilst ill, laying on the couch) but it’s enough to form an opinion or three. First of all, it’s not all that open ended, fairly linear but there hasn’t been – thus far – too much going back and forth between locations for single clues. Of course the old method of “investigate everything” remains sound advice and the hints from characters are a bit too on the nose. But perhaps the better feature is that the cases can have multiple possible endings, some of which are more “true” than the others.

Graphics – nowt special. 3D environments that don’t move much apart from the characters. No, there’s more to the sound as it’s crucial to hear the voice acting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s stereotypical Sherlock fare, as Jeremy Butler were in the role with all the other supporting characters playing their classic roles. That’s no bad thing, easy brand recognition but I personally wouldn’t have minded if they took liberties with a few of the characters. You can dress Holmes up, give him disguises to wear to make him look a little different. Also with the sound – it’s bloody loud. I normally have my TV at 12 when I play video games, had to turn it right down to 6 for this one.

Other bits – there’s the “Sherlock Scan” where you can survey a crime scene and detect other clues which you wouldn’t be able to interact with otherwise. It’s not the greatest bit as all the problem solving is done for you. Perhaps if you were able to form your own conclusions… And then there are the minigames – man are some of them frustrating. In the first case alone, the pig carcass, the arm wrestling and the lock picking can make you want to lob the controller at the wall. Though admittedly, I solved the lock picking by random chance so wasn’t too irked by that.

All in all – I might play the second case and go through the game, I might not. Kinda…indifferent to the game. I had hoped for a more engrossing experience rather than the product we have which it a bit too…leading. Fortunately, it’s only 12GB so doesn’t take that much HD space. And it’s something different to my other game. Plus, it’s free. Overall, it’s worth a look but don’t get your hopes up. The fact that it’s free from Games with Gold is a major point in its favour.

Also downloaded, Ticket to Ride Europe (for my Xbox 360 version of the game), chiefly so I could practice but also as I’ve played well over fifty games on the US map. There isn’t much I can say, it’s a faithful reproduction of the board game, some new background music to fit the map, otherwise no other bells and whistles. I’m happy with my purchase.

Still slowly grinding my way through Star Trek Timelines. On Mission 5 now but need to seriously upgrade my characters before I can even tackle the first level (Picard is my best character but even he is about 50 points short in the diplomacy stat at level 39). If there were more space battles, I’d kick ass because I’ve got some seriously decent hardware in my arsenal. Ferengi Marauder, Romulan Warbird, Kirk’s Enterprise (which is more powerful than the Galaxy Class starship, randomly), 3* upgraded Constitution class starship, Maquis Raider…

GTA Online update – I made my $2.8 million for the Valkyrie Helicopter. Then I looked it up just to check and so many people trash it, I decided to go with the Savage helicopter instead. Great fun. Still have over a million left though I’m not sure what to buy with it. I’ve a Banshee in the garage that needs pimping at Benny’s as well as a hankering for a Buzzard. At level 173. 

Ovver Bits: Fiber Optic Broadband is now connected at home. I have to say, I’m not noticing a massive difference in speed but both Dr Do(o)m and I can stream TV and play online games without and SNAFU which I think is the biggest win. And there is no random dropping of the signal (a perennial source of vexation on GTA). There’s only one downside to the Fiber Optic stuff, I’m in an eighteen month contract (there was no option for anything less) and it’s likely we’ll only be in the flat another eleven months. There’s no guarantee of anything longer post February 2017. But let’s worry about that next year. I know, home moves but still, it’s a loose end and I loathe loose ends. It gives the writers plenty of material for stories.

This week’s iBooks purchase – Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl. Many of you will know that this was the source of the stories for the first season of Tales of the Unexpected. Rather than continuing the buy-back of my book collection, I wanted something different to read and the short story format is great as I can read one at lunch in its entirety whilst chowing down on whatever salad offerings are in the staff restaurant. What strikes me most about the book is the…socially cultural values of the book and how different they are from today. You might call them sexist, I call them dated. That said, it’s sometimes quite difficult to actually read the stories without empathising too much for the put-upon characters because in typical Dahl fashion, there’s a fair amount of abuse going on in each of the books. I’ve watched most of the first season of Tales so I can’t help but picture the characters as they were on the small screen.

Stupid Leap Year

It’s not right you know – just because this planet has a wobbily orbit around the sun, we have to suffer for its imperfections by adding a calendar day every four years to balance everything out.  Most of you don’t mind but for the 0.03% of us born between 0:00 and 23:59 on 1st March, the effects are more marked as we are forced to prolong birthdays by a whole twenty-four hours.  And what’s worse is that this leap year is on a Monday so I was paid the wrong side of the weekend.

*harrumph* (said in a growly, Odo-type voice).

Hell Fortnight is not quite half way through and I want to chuck in the towel – what do I mean by that?  Well, it has been a while since I last cracked open the laptop so I’ll rewind a little:

So ages ago, I agreed to do a meeting in Swansea for colleagues in DVLA, giving a presentation on my least favourite but most topical subject, Cross Border Enforcement.  I figured it’d be a nice, simple affair, overnight in a decent hotel, catch up with people and done.  But then after I agreed, I re-read the date that I’d need to travel as 28th February.  The same 28th February that I’d earmarked for birthday shenanigans (see last blog entry for further whining/gluttony for punishment).  Not so bad in the grand scheme of things I guess – there’d be other opportunities.  Then up comes Nottingham for a workshop which I’m kind of in the lead on (folly of taking on responsibility folks, be warned!).  Although that was a one day thing, I foolishly elected to try and do the family thing that trip.

It was…heartbreaking.  I won’t say why, I need to protect the identities of those involved but sufficed to say, it was the lowest I’ve felt for quite some time.  At least I can report that the Park Plaza in Nottingham (thank-you booking.com)  is a very nice place to stay with great rooms and great breakfasts.

As part of my ongoing learning and development, I’ve been allowed to apply for (and was subsequently accepted on) a 2 day training course in Berlin on 7/8 March to learn how to work with Germany – what makes ’em tick politically, how to negotiate, understanding the differing points of view etc.  Get in – not quite March 1st as I’d have liked but a very close second.  Until after I accepted and I saw who my fellow course attendees were.  Tubster is one of them (two days with that voice alone might drive me to random or deliberate acts of self harm) and there are a couple of other people who make me gag (minds out the gutter people).  So that definitely took the sheen/lustre off of things.

But with Mr Beer’s birthday plans on 5th March which we’d negotiated and I’d committed to, going out early wasn’t feasible, not without an earful.  So I wanted to take a couple of days out for myself after the training event.  Uh – no.  Y’see, despite my best squirming and buck passing, I now have to go to frigging Brussels the evening of 8th March for A ONE HOUR MEETING WHICH IS UTTERLY POINTLESS TO ATTEND.  Naturally after I begrudgingly booked the tickets, I thought of a thousand ways to get out of it (from simply refusing and taking my chances with repercussions to an elaborate scheme worthy of Baldrick).  Point is – no fun for me, two days with gargoyles, one day competely wasting my time and I’m fully expecting the migrants to storm the channel tunnel that day or something equally homicide-inducing.

#firstworldproblems?  Probably but damn it, I’m too old for this ess-aitch-wun-tee.  As Mary Archer might have said.  Or not.

So yeah.  Rage.

In other news, I downloaded Star Trek Timelines to my iPad t’other day.  Good game, much better than Star Trek Trexels as it feels a much better experience, a little truer to the original show.  And with the voice of John de Lancie as Q to boot!  Premise: random temporal anomaly pops up, shatters dimensions and time so that all Trek characters can come together in a series of missions.  Some want to re-write history, others want to solve the mystery behind what has happened.  Suffice to say, there’s a series of missions to solve, some real time, some “put your group on a quest and see what happens later”.  And of course, there’s the opportunity to buy your way to victory faster by putchasing in-game currency for quicker access to the better items and characters.  A wonderfully diverting game which only has one flaw – the need for an interweb connection to play it.  Cannot be played off line.

Whilst in Nottingham, I found a copy of Zombi (aka Zombi U, one of the Wii U launch titles) for the Xbone.  Played it once (my character died after two hours) so far.  Doesn’t seem that bad although the story seems a little contrived.  The gameplay is ok although as a Londoner, I wish they were a bit more accurate with how things have been depicted.  I personally would have loved to stumble past my flat (if GTA can model a city…) fighting the hordes of the undead.  Also purchased in Nottingham was – A NEW DENIM SHIRT THAT FITS.  Yeah, it had to be an XXL sized shirt, of course which is a blow to morale but it fits properly and that’s all that matters.  And they said they could patch my (increasingly threadbare) old shirt if I took it in which I might just do.  It seems a bit facile to get excited but I am a relic of the 80s remember, it was cool to have anything denim back then.

I also restarted the single player campaign on GTA, just to follow a different path (where there were game choices, I want to see how the other options pan out).  I found a download code for some in-game money in the box which I hadn’t claimed – supposedly 500K for the single player and 500K for the online game but I haven’t been credited for the single player.  Might whine at Rockstar and say WTF guys?

Board game news – Bought 7 Wonders + Leaders Expansion (very popular), Shadows Over Camelot The Card Game & another Munchkin mini-expansion.  I’m calling them all birthday treats and quietly ignoring the cost.

Oscar Boycott – didn’t really work, five seconds of net-rage and then the world gets on with the rest of its existence.  There are better ways of working within the system to change it, not to pout and flounce-delete.  But what the hell, who am I to tell these actors how to and how not to behave?  I’m sure they’ve got savvy behind their decision-making, after all, none of them have ever been associated with projects that were right-stinkers…