Just One More Go

wpid-wp-1441220252426.jpegI don’t know. Have any of you ever had that experience of trying to play a game and just running out of time because the real world has other ideas? I’ve got one of those situations at the moment in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Most of the time when I play open world games like this, I’m able to just dip in and out – and I often get so distracted by the sheer wealth of options that I never end up actually finishing anything. With this game I’ve been actively pushing through the story instead. Admittedly, this is because I’ve completed pretty much every side quest and found every collectible item so there’s admittedly not much else to do on the map. More pressingly it’s also because I have Fallout 4 and FarCry Primal sitting next to my console, glinting prettily and waving to my jackdaw instincts.

acsyndThis week’s irritation has been trying to complete the finale of a series of missions that bring you to Buckingham Palace during a grand ball – having run through a series of challenges to obtain disguises, a carriage, invitations and the location of building plans. Normally I’ve been able to rampage through missions within ten to twenty minutes or so, depending on the complexity of the victory conditions and how interested in all the pretty graphics I’m feeling. The missions typically require you to play one or the other of the twin protagonists, but this one that vexes me is telling the story of a joint mission where each sibling is doing alternating parts of the sequence.

So, it’s already more complicated in structure – but it’s also proving to take longer than expected – and life keeps intruding. If it’s not meal cooking times, it’s people phoning halfway through. If it’s not guests arriving, it’s the need to head out to work. I know, I know – first world problems. Compared to the crises and problems we’ve been dealing with this year though, it’s moderately luxurious to be only worrying about completing a section of a game.

Oh well. I’ll have another crack at it tomorrow. At least I know how to crack the early parts of the mission with maximum style and minimum surprise now…

Disney Infinity 3.0

I splashed out a bit on Lady M’s Christmas presents this year, and bought her the new version of Disney Infinity. I’d resisted the previous versions despite the sleek appearance of the toys, but having seen her eyes lingering over the new Star Wars-themed sets that came out late last year I thought it was as good a time as any. Besides, the adverts have looked fun and some other friends who are Disney geeks have been quietly raving about them in positive terms.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the game, it allows you to use a range of classic Disney characters, along with Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar characters to play a variety of professionally and community-created scenarios. The tools to create and share your own content are included within the hub software, and a particularly bright feature is that the game allows split-screen play so that you can sit on the couch side by side. Characters can be mixed and matched between franchises smoothly and easily – but here’s what for me was the catch:

To get new playable characters, you have to buy a corresponding model. There’s an element of collectable mania that you risk if you want to get your hands on a good selection.

The relatively good news is that the statues are not particularly expensive at around the £10 mark each, depending on where you look – and they do look good. We already collect Funko Pops and other statuettes related to our various geeky interests, so the prospect of having more character figures around the place – let alone ones that also have another game-related function – is not a particularly daunting one.

A lot of the usual Disney attention to detail is in evidence here – the account each of us was prompted to make to use the online features picked up that we already had Disney accounts from our recent holidays and tied into those rather than creating duplicates. Background graphics and features refer to various famous Disney landmarks park and film features, and the likenesses of a huge number of characters appear. The immersion in the huge portfolio of Disney worlds is both impressive and, if you are a fan, kind of reassuring. Your mileage, of course, may vary…

So – is it fun? Absolutely – the game is aimed at a young audience, but is a delight full of Disney trivia. The games are typically platform-based and adopt a stylised 3D style that reminds me of the more recent Star Wars cartoon series. Even though I bought the game for Lady M, we’ve both been enjoying playing and learning about the system together and we’re losing a lot of time to it. It’s just as well neither of us are working this week!


Halo 5 First Impressions

Oh, Halo 5, you’re very pretty, I’ve almost forgiven you the rank stupidity of being a digital download only. Almost, even if it did take nearly four days to install you. You’d have thought that buying the Limited Collector’s Edition might possibly have given you physical media from which to install. I wouldn’t have minded multiple discs, or even a USB stick – because downloading roughly 60Gb to install a game when you don’t have blistering fibre connections (thank you BT) is a fecking pain in the proverbial.

But you’re working now, and all those tricks they’ve engineered to keep things running at 60 frames per second are so far making this a glorious experience. Now, I haven’t touched the multiplayer side of things yet as I’m an old fashioned soul who prefers to play the single player campaign through first. I’d love to co-op play it with Lady M, but the lack of split-screen still rankles. Previous incarnations of the XBox, and Halo in particular, won my loyalty for enabling side by side couch gameplay with friends and family. It’s departure is keenly noticed and still irritates the hell out of me.

So, I’m in the third mission now (hey, I do have to work too, even if I was playing it this morning before going to open up the library), and I’m happy to report that so far it does actually feel and play like Halo, even with the new features. What is very interesting is how the UI differences give the impression of the age difference between Spartan Locke’s system and Master Chief’s system. They actually play pretty much the same, but Locke feels like the newer production model compared to The Chief.

The game seems so far to be full of little signifiers like this. The newer Spartans seem more mobile and speedier in how they engage the enemy, compared to the more solid and deliberate movements of the older ‘classic’ Spartans. There’s some good dialogue and banter between characters too in the cut-scenes, building on the foundations laid in the Spartan Missions from Halo 4 as well as the rest of the main game series.

Is it a deep and diverting game? No, it’s Halo, not Tolstoy, but it’s so far hitting all the right notes. Now, if the multiplayer side delivers when I get to it – and the Beta suggests it will – then I’m going to continue to be a happy bunny. Just sort out that split screen 343!

Busy Week

There are times I open the nearest journal (I have three on the go), look at the blank page, and just let dialogue fall out. Sometimes it will be a continuation of a scene that I’ve been working on, and sometimes it is a complete non sequitor that blossoms into something wild and weird and absolutely demanding to be used.

The secret, for me, is to throw nothing away that I’ve written. Even if it just lives on a page between shopping lists, project objectives and surreal doodles, I now realise that at some point I will find a use for that orphan text. If I don’t use it as it currently sits, I will find it inspiring a short story or a sequence in the novel that is currently struggling through it’s second act to race ahead to the finale.

And then I get weeks like this one, where the writing has been a slog, largely concerned with making separate strands gel together or with inserting space for beats to stay distinct. I have quite a lot of writing from this week that I now need to type up, and that ill-defined feeling that the week has gone too quickly again.

Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t allow that other things have got in the way. Work at the library has been busy due to staff shortages, I had a thankfully short-lived stomach upset, my voice has continued to fluctuate, and I’ve also been playing a bit of Watchdogs.

The dual non-game, almost nostalgic reasons, for me, for exploring the vast virtual Chicago of that game have come from trying to trace locations from Jim Butcher’s Dresden novels and from tying in locations from GMing Vampire: The Masquerade many moons ago. It’s been quiet fun. While the game has a few flaws, in much the same way that the original Assassin’s Creed was flawed before being polished in later iterations, the many side missions have suited my mood to occasionally just dip in casually, rather than fully immerse myself in the rather uneven tone of the main story.

Still, the week has sped by, with more library work tomorrow while the sun bakes our little corner of the world and keeps our impromptu balcony vegetable patch flourishing. We may even get to some rollercoasters on Sunday. I think this is called having a work-life balance, even if the writing instinct keeps beating me up for not keeping my nose to the grindstone..!

Xbox One and TwitchTV

This week, I decided to have a go at broadcasting games on my XBox One through Twitch TV. If you’ve not encountered this site before, it basically allows people on a variety of platforms to stream their video game output alongside webcam footage and a chat client so that people can talk to you while you game and vice versa. It’s free to sign up to the basic level of access, and there are a couple of free software clients that they point people to if they haven’t invested in hardware solutions.

I’d been moderately fascinated by this practice, and I’m also a great fan of the Achievement Hunter Let’s Play series and the many, many videos produced by the EVE community. Halo 3 introduced me to the joys of sharing video clips with other players, and I think Bungie generally transformed people’s attitude towards sharing clips by basically making it easy and not reliant on expensive setups.With that in mind, one of the features of the new generation of consoles that caught my eye was their integration of game clip creation with social media. Xbox’s Upload software occasionally takes clips of notable moments and achievements in various games, but a Twitch client was also available at launch.This weekend I decided to go for it and see how easy it was to set up. The answer was: surprisingly simple. Launching the app presented me with a code and instructions to go to a section of the twitch.tv website.

This authorised a connection between the site and my console, and I took the time to also connect my account through social media accounts – as much to see what options that gave me as anything else. Back on the console, all I needed to do was launch the game – in this case Titanfall – and then launch the Twitch app, which sits in a sidebar on the right hand side of the screen. Tabbing between the game and the app is handled by double-tapping the glowing Xbox logo in the controller – and this allows you to set a broadcast name and a few options. In this case I chose to not use the Kinect camera and microphone. I may do some at some point if I feel the need to blather at the screen but its not my highest priority right now.

It pretty much does what it says on the tin. I got Lottie to check on the website while I was streaming, and the site renders and presents the video after a short delay. I’ve not sat down to count the seconds, but I think it’s in the area of thirty seconds or so. Stopping the broadcast was just a matter of clicking a button in the app, and there we were.

Saving the video streams requires a bit of messing around in the Twitch.tv website, but essentially, once you’ve validated your email account, you can choose to highlight a stream that you have completed, and the website renders this so that it can be viewed offline by visitors to my profile. So – it’s all new enough to be a bit of a new toy, not entirely sure what I’ll do with it – possibly review new games as I get them – but I’m sure this isn’t the last you’ll hear me talking about Twitch.Tv on the XBox One.

Watch live video from Ludd72 on TwitchTV

Some useful resources for setting up Roll20 games

I’m still doing preparation work for the new D&D campaign, but that’s more because I’m doing it in a rather piecemeal fashion than from it being particularly difficult. I’ve got a lot of sourcebooks and rulebook on various shelves in the flat that I’ve accumulated over the years. If anything, the challenge has been to choose how to limit the material available to me, having decided to use the Eberron campaign setting.

This is partly down to my having gone on a bit of a mad spree for various reasons when the 3rd Edition came out in an Open format known as D20. Suddenly there were rulebooks for shows and settings to make everything compatible, should I desire to use them. I’ve actually stopped myself from seriously considering using D20 versions of Call of Cthulhu and Judge Dredd in this current campaign – something that will no doubt be a relief for my players to read here.

Adding to the challenge of running a 3/3.5(ish) campaign for the first time, it’s also the first time I’ll be running a game using Roll20. Unlike a traditional tabletop environment, I don’t have quite the luxury of winging things so much, especially when it comes to maps for encounters. In days of yore I would grab a scrap of paper or lengths of printed card, dice, books and anything else of approximate size to denote features of an encountered area – especially if the party had gone off on a tangent and I needed to distract them with a fight while I worked out the best way to steer them back on course.

With Roll20, this can seem like a bit more complicated, given that you have to assemble maps from tiles, and populate various layers with tokens for objects, characters and opponents, along with the GM layer of information, let alone setting up dynamic lighting and line of sight markers. The Roll20 site helps by performing searches for tokens and maps that have already been submitted, or that are hosted on sites like http://www.dundjinni.com/ or www.cartographersguild.com/ which can help immensely when you are first starting out, and offer software to help you along the way.

By way of an alternative though, I’ve just discovered Pyromancers.com, which has a free online floorplan creator that will, crucially, allow you to export your floorplans as a .jpg to your desktop so that you can upload them to Roll20 as a mapping layer. Any additional tokens or markers I want to add can then be slotted into place.It’s proving quick, simple and reliable – and did I mention free? – just what I need.

So far I’ve been focusing on creating the set piece maps – so when they’re done I’ll start assembling some template designs to allow me to rapidly piece together the more random encounters along the way. As my ultimate fall-back position, I’ll also be looking at how effective simply drawing on a blank template with my graphics tablet is if I need to do something rough and ready in real-time.

So, I’m getting there, as they say. In the meantime I’m using the forum features on the site to encourage the players to create their characters and do a bit of roleplay to introduce themselves. If nothing else I’m hoping it’ll give me a heads-up on their interactions and common themes before I dive straight in, and that’ll inspire some more encounters and plot twists.

A Patchy Weekend

I’m normally pretty prompt about installing software patches so it was a bit of a surprise to find myself having a patching spree this morning. First came an HP driver patch; then a Windows update that demanded a reboot; closely followed by a Steam client update, an Adobe Flash patch and then a long delayed update of the Last.FM scrobbler client. I’d only opened my laptop this morning to email my brothers about a family get-together in a couple of months time.

Then I remembered that I’d seen an email recently about an update for Scrivener – the software I compose most of my writing on. Cue another deep sigh and more key tapping to sort that out. I must confess the curmudgeonly sigh on this point is purely for effect. The upgrade went without a hitch. Its nice when that happens without needing to reboot, set restore points or cross your fingers against the possibility of losing all your data.

Other than that it has been a good weekend so far. T’other half came home on Thursday with the good news that she’s passed the probation period at her new job, so we decided to head to a local pub for a Friday night out.

A quiet pint and a crossword
A quiet pint and a crossword

This is the first pub night we’ve had in a good three or four years. As a result I may be raving about this far more than I normally would. With finances having been so shaky the last few years, due to all the personal and working changes that we’ve both had to contend with, we’ve had to adopt a generally hermit-like existence.

This news therefore, confirming regular wages for the forseeable future, has meant that we’ve been able to consider living in a somewhat less hand to mouth manner – which includes not feeling guilty about going out every now and then. Hence the excitement about getting out of the house and having a Friday night down the pub.

We’d scouted out The Magpie the previous weekend while out for a walk, so we knew it was a good twenty minute walk there – just right to unwind after a days’ work. Plenty of soft chairs, good service in the restaurant section and very reasonable prices all made for a nicely relaxed evening that I hope to share with friends at some point. We even stayed until last orders – how odd to be celebrating this as something fresh and remarkable?

Other than the software patches this morning, we’ve been very boring today – mostly ironing shirts, hoovering carpets and toddling along in our own little worlds, enjoying some mundanity in a sensation of safety. Again, all very unusual – and we’re not used to this at all.

Tomorrow – well who knows. We’re thinking of heading out to see some art – Tate Britain perhaps, or the National Portrait Gallery. Maybe we’ll go the British Library – though there is a part of me that thinks that may be a bit of a busman’s holiday…

Blogger Call to Action: Please Help Me Happy-Dance

Blogger Call to Action: Please Help Me Happy-Dance.

I hadn’t realised just how awful the On-Swipe app makes WordPress blogs look – follow the link above for instructions on how to disable the special iPad theme and control how your mobile site looks with more granularity (if you didn’t already know)

Its Friday, time for my daughter

Well, the week has spun past – with some productive bits, and some not-so-productive bits… and still no sign of the form I need to get my periodic diabetes blood test sorted, so I guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet and ask for a new one on Monday. I hate the thought of being stuck with needles, but in this instance it should also give the doctor a push to respond to the DVLA to confirm that I’m still safe to drive. Ho hum

This week has also seen my getting more involved with the back-room work at SDAC, with getting involved in the move to update and upgrade the website. We’ll be moving to a MODx-driven content management system and general redesign/rebranding effort shortly; so this was the first meeting to define the project deliverables and agree functionality of the new site. I’ve already been putting together content and transcribing existing documentation to more web-friendly layouts and formatting – the next couple of days should hopefully see the pages on alcohol being ready to pass to the developer.

So here I am at the end of the week, just waiting for my daughter to respond to me on Skype so I know she’s ready for pickup – its her weekend here and hopefully the weather will continue brightening so we can have a good relax. If we’re particularly lucky my brother and her cousin will be available – would be good to see them again.

Sunday sees my shift on the SDAC rota, and then on Monday t’other half’s sister is coming to stay for ten days or so – so we’re collectively looking forward to that too.

So, all good.