End of the year

So farewell 2014, and hi 2015. We’ve had a bit of a wobbly journey, but overall it’s not been too bad for us on a personal level. Certainly, compared to some of the previous recent years it has been a huge improvement. We’ve had enough to eat, and hardly any angsting over bills, so that’s been good.

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Death Eaters Anonymous

We’ve had some grand adventures, with Disney, Universal and Busch Gardens in Florida doing their best to shake us up. The Kennedy Space Centre is a place that will stay vividly in my mind’s eye for quite some time.  We did the Thorpe Park Fright Night in costume, and then attended Comiccon for the first time, attending as a family of Death Eaters.

All in all, a pretty good year, especially with new friends made and job opportunities coming along for Lady M. I even made enough from the writing to have to pay some tax on my earnings, which feels strangely novel as an achievement.

Lady M’s foot continues to heal, while my depression and PTSD have occasionally flared up enough to have to take notice of them, but grim determination and stubbornness are a great set of tools. So we keep on keeping on.

What does 2015 bring? The new job for Lady M starts on Monday, and there are restructures at the library too, so there may be opportunities there. Otherwise I’m considering applying for some technical author roles and looking into training as a counsellor, so hopefully some of those will bear fruit as I finish the novel. I’m also intending to self publish some short stories this year, so I’d better get cracking on completing those too

So, come on 2015, let’s see what you’re made of!

Christmas 2014

This year is the first Christmas in a while where we’ve not cooked or hosted, so of course my stomach has played up and I’ve ended up being rather more sober than anticipated.

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Its that time of year

This is nothing to do with my brother’s catering. He is an excellent cook, among his other skills, and its been great to settle round and graze with family over the last few days. Instead, I think a slightly dodgy serving of scrambled eggs combined with my odd metabolism to settle a slightly sulphurous layer of indigestion across the day. Between that and Lady M’s back tweaking again, requiring me to drive us around rather than walk as planned, I’ve not been drinking very much. It has only been today that things seem to be starting to return to normal.

Fortunately our Christmas is continuing over several days, so it doesn’t feel diminished in any way. Odd, but not diminished. In many ways it has helped distract me from the black dog which has been nipping at my heels.

Anyway, I hope you and yours have been having a good few days, and are set up to usher in the new year. Have fun!

Chilling out pre-Christmas

I’m in our local Harris and Hoole with the Charleesi, drinks and snacks before us.

Through the window to my left is a packed Tesco carpark. It’s so full that people are driving round on the off-chance that one of the illegally parked cars on the carpark exits might move. To my right, I have a perfect view of the people running around, frantic to do their Christmas grocery shopping.

Okay, there’s a degree of smugness going on because I live within walking distance, and we’re being catered for this this year so I don’t need to grab parsnips or do battle with poultry carcasses for a change.

It’s rather a pleasant way to ease into the Christmas period, and given the meandering moods I have been having, it’s a much more pleasant alternative. Lady M will no doubt join us soon, once she’s finished sneaking one more spreadsheet in, and the distractions can continue in true holiday mood.

One of the quiet joys I’m observing is my daughter’s new photography blog, which she has begun to publicise and use for networking. Every now and then, there’s a little grin as another professional photographer links to her page or offers feedback. She aspires to a career in photojournalism, so every encouragement and affirmation is valuable. I’m enjoying seeing her talent and confidence unfurl. Go have a look if you have a moment.

Halo 5 Multiplayer Beta – The Holidays Have Started

Both Lady M and myself are on leave from our respective workplaces for the next couple of weeks – with a new job on her horizon and general chaos seemingly on mine. So we’re intending to carry on making the best of what life throws at us and grinning in adversity’s face.

Normally, this would be a weekend where the Charleesi would be staying with us, but with it being Christmas week, we’re instead having her arrival delayed a day. We’ll have her with us all week, so this is hardly a disaster. Instead of taking her riding this morning, as would be the normal part of our weekend routine, we had a lie-in (luxury) and while Jo sneaked a little last minute paperwork in, I fired up the Halo5 Multiplayer Beta.

Halo5 Beta LobbyAccess for most people to the Beta is due to start next week, but I’ve joined a sneaky (relative) few by being part of the XBox One Preview testers. As a perk of taking part in testing out new features on the dashboard we’ve been given an extra weekend ahead of everyone else.

My first impressions? It’s a lot of fun. The first game or so felt a little odd in comparison to the more fluid run and gun play of games like Destiny and Titanfall, and I felt initially like I was moving a little more slowly than I would like. Then I stopped and checked the button mapping settings so that I wasn’t trying to double guess what I was doing. Once I’d remapped to the old Halo4 settings, it all felt a lot more natural.

There are four things that are new, and that to my mind are great improvements. Each of them is largely to do with movement:

  • Aiming down the barrel has been introduced, for all weapons, and it doesn’t break the game. I found movement still smooth, and getting hit by anything shifted me back out of it into the more traditional Halo viewpoint
  • Sprinting is available for everyone, as opposed to being an armour loadout as introduced in Halo4. This allows you to move in bursts, and overcomes the initial feeling of moving through molasses that I first noted. When you are sprinting, your shields do not regenerate, so there are real tactical advantages to both modes of movement when under fire.
  • Thrusters – the new suits include thrusters – also introduced as an armour loadout in Halo4 – for all players, to provide short bursts of speed. I could never get the hang of them in the previous game, but in this incarnation they’ve proved useful in both offense and defense. In addition they can be used to provide a brief hover time in a high jump and a Destiny Titan-like ground-pound attack that can be devastating.
  • Mantling – If you don’t quite make a jump and are near an edge, you can tap your jump button again and clamber on to the ledge you were aiming for. Familiar from Titanfall as an essential part of parkour-like vertical movement, I’ve been enjoying having this added to the new game.

It’s been really easy to string these various modes of movement together to perform rapid map traversals, especially on the more human industrial map called Empire. With a series of sprints, jumps, thrusters in mid-jump and mantle at the end, it’s possible to shift rapidly from one side of the map to the other and surprise opponents engaged with other members of your team in another direction.

At the moment there are only two maps available, and not all the classic weapons are in use yet, but everything has felt in balance.

  • The Assault Rifle benefits from the new scope abilities, becoming a short burst weapon when in use, or fully automatic when in normal mode. It’s a good all round weapon and I’m using it more than I thought.
  • The Pistol is more like the Halo2 pistol than the mighty Halo CE tool of destruction, but I’ve got more than a few head shots at range with the scoped mode and it’s a good semi-auto weapon that will keep up with trigger pulls with a minimum of spread.
  • The SMG is a good short range weapon that deals a lot of damage but that tapers off quite rapidly at medium range and above.
  • The Sniper Rifle continues to be an excellent power weapon, and the Empire map contains two of them. If you already like the sniper, you’ve nothing to complain about here.
  • The Battle Rifle is still the weapon of choice for my money – a great balance of fire and precision.
  • The DMR is a great compromise between the Battle Rifle and the Sniper Rifle, but I’ve yet to fall back in love with it. I suspect on bigger maps it will come into its own.
  • The Energy Sword continues to be a lethal tool, but is balanced by just how bright it is – I’ve run the risk of running right past people when I’ve had it equipped because I’ve not seen them through the glare. A better tactic is to run around with your rifle and quickly switch to the Sword when in close quarters.

Competitive Ranking is back – I’ve just qualified as Bronze II, so I’ve a long way to go as I get used to the game. I’m not too worried about that – I’m well aware that I’m an average gamer at best, but I’m competitive enough to want to hone my performance. Matchmaking so far has been pretty good at providing even matches – to the point where even if the final score has looked unbalanced at 50-28, it’s never felt like a walk-over. Every point has felt hard-won.

So – guess what I’ll be carrying on doing in between delivering presents, doing last minute grocery shopping and partaking of the occasional tipple..?

Halo CE on the XBox One

originalI’ve just finished running through the single-player campaign of Halo CE as presented in the recent Master Chief Collection, and I’d forgotten how tough and unforgiving it was. I was only playing on Normal difficulty, and found myself alternating between nostalgic joy at the classic run and gun play and wanting to rage quit as invisible Elites insta-killed me, Sentinels set me on fire, or Flood kept getting back up as fast as I could shotgun them down.

Have I enjoyed it? Oh hell yes, and at the same time I’m glad I’ve got through the campaign. Now I can move on to Halo 2, to see what the remastered graphics look like. I still need to go back and get a couple of the terminals and skulls – and I’ll try to play through levels at higher levels. Maybe I’ll try to speed run and beat the par times and scores too – there’s a lot of challenges buried in this remix that have me hooked enough to keep coming back, even if the multiplayer is only now starting to be reliable.

Right, back to the fight…

Pre-Christmas Round-Up

Decorated Christmas Tree
No Humbug here

We’re in the final run-up to Christmas now, a season that didn’t really feel totally real until last weekend, where one of my younger brothers held his annual get-together. It’s become something of a tradition over the last few years – a gathering of friends and family for food, chatter, occasional music and a walk in the woods at night to the top of Reigate hill to share drinks, admire the view and rain fiery death on those below us in the form of chinese lanterns.

This year we took Lady P along with us, where she unexpectedly found herself in the company of the LARP/Cosplay prop-makers Artyfakes, who she has recently commissioned to make a unique prop for May’s MCM London Expo. As Lady P has been a major proponent of Christmas spirit at work this year, it made for a great confluence of work and home life to kick off the season’s celebrations.

We always try to make an effort for Christmas, especially given how lean the last few years have been. It’s a great time to push the boat out and celebrate, and we love being able to give gifts to people. For me, it’s about the look of surprise and joy on people’s faces when I manage to match something a bit unusual or special to their tastes. We try to pick things up through the year. In part this is to spread the cost out, but it’s also taking advantage of seeing things through the year that might not be available nearer the date itself, especially if it’s something we’ve seen while out and about on our travels. This year, we’ve got more than a few things that we picked up when we were in Florida, so I hope that with the more traditionally sourced things we manage to put a smile on everyone’s faces. If nothing else, we’ve got plenty under the tree to give to people.

So – one more working day this week, and then both Lady M and I are on our holidays, joined next week by the Charleesi before we head off out for the great family gathering for the holiday itself.

Updates on the website this week have included the regular Dungeons and Dragons session write-up, and the start of my putting up extra material from the campaign. These will both see ongoing updates. The adventures continue to be based on a mix of published and original material. This is partly because we’re still learning our way around the rules, and partly making the most of the time available. I’d love to be creating material for the campaign out of whole cloth, but being pragmatic we’re all enjoying ourselves immensely and I’ve had one or two people say they’re also enjoying the write-ups – so I’ll keep doing them.

New Destiny Content Has Landed

The Dark Below just went live on the Destiny servers, so I just had to have a wander on to take a first look. If you had any illusions that you could wander into the missions as, say, a mid-20s level character and solo the new material, then you can forget them now. You may be able to solo them if you are already a 30th level hardass, but you’ll almost certainly be wanting to team up with a couple of people and take some extra ammo.

Missions can be got from Eris, who appears on the laft hand side of the main plaza in the tower. You can’t miss her, she’s on a balcony just before the entrance to the area leading to the Speaker, with a spaceship tethered behind her. Similar to the Queen’s Wrath mission setup, she not only has equipment and consumables for sale, but missions and bounties. The missions also take up bounty slots, so you may need to use up some of those patrol missions taking up space to clear the decks a bit.

The first mission dropped me into the area where you fight the Walker in the Earth Strike mission (being deliberately vague in case people haven’t done that content yet), starting where the Walker was and fighting your way back into the buildings. From there, you’re into the Hive warrens that you may have discovered while doing Cosmodrome patrols – and the big bad in there is… tough.

As befits a beefed up Crota agent, he has a big sword and he knows how to use it (oo-er ma’am). He’s not just a bullet sponge, but he deals out heavy damage too, and sends out a pulse that negates your double-jump/glide abilities, so prepare to adapt to slogging around the scenery to avoid him and the inevitable zerg rush of allies when you’ve really cut into his hitpoints.

I’m going to enjoy this expansion, but I’ve definitely had to stop to get reinforcements…

Coughs, Colds and Booksignings

We have a new nickname for my daughter. She is no longer the mother of horses, but now the mother of germs. We’re all feeling grim and grotty, which is no help for Charleesi as she’s in the middle of her GCSE mock exams, and so we’ve had a quiet weekend with her here.

What we did manage to rouse ourselves to do though was something that I’ve had on my “never done that” list for a while. We noticed the other week that one of my favourite authors – Ben Aaronovitch – was due to do a book signing this weekend at our local Waterstones. We roused ourselves, headed out and managed to stave off the coughing and wheezing long enough to buy his latest book (Foxglove Summer), and a copy of his novelization of his first Dr Who Script (Remembrance of the Daleks), grab first place in the queue and bemuse him with Lady M’s slightly mortified giggly shakiness.

Hopefully in a couple of years time I’ll be on the other side of that signing desk…

Car Repairs, Christmas Shopping, and Everything

Busy day this week, and no sign of the pace really letting up just at the moment. The library continues to be short-staffed and demoralised ahead of a restructure, so I’m just focusing there on keeping busy and helping to decorate for Christmas. I’m mostly managing to be supportive and positive, except where I have to try and bite my tongue. It certainly hasn’t helped that this week had a major disruption with failures in a data centre move that knocked out all the IT systems for two days.

Today has been more about my time however. We’ve needed to get work done on the car for a few weeks and really couldn’t put it off any longer, so I was in Staines first thing to drop it off and head into town to buy some presents. Some of it was final top-ups for people, and some of it was specifically for Lady M, so it was a good excuse to take my time in various shops and to try out a number of places selling coffee. I’ve been reasonably successful on both counts, with the added bonus that the actual cost of repairs to the car came to less than the quote they’d originally given us. Can’t complain really.

I’ve even managed to get this week’s game written up while I’ve been commiserating with Charleesi, who is in the middle of her GCSE mocks while suffering with an epic head cold. She remains cheerful with a side order of slight exasperation.

I’ve even managed to get some time to play on the XBox – with some time on the Master Chief collection playing through the Halo CE campaign, and a side trip to look at two games I bought at the weekend for the 360 – Injustice and Prototype 2. I think I shall be kept reasonably entertained between these games between now and Christmas..!