Brief catchups, Steam Sale, and a RPG kickstarter not to miss

There are two main reasons that I have been quiet on the blogging front lately. The first is that I’m feeling quite uninspired about MMOs at the moment – my main games are WoW (in which I’m still raiding with my awesome guildies) and LOTRO (which I’m playing about a session a week with Arb on my runekeeper). They are both oldish games. Maybe I’m just an oldish school MMO player.

The EVE experiment ran to the end of the first month, by which time I was really only logging on to tweak the skill queue. I have no doubt that the game is all about the corps and PvP, but I’ve played sandbox games enough to know that even with all these things in place, it’s still not going to be a game for me during the long slow summer gaming slump. It is in the nature of sandbox games to involve a lot of hanging around and being bored in between flashes of interest. It’s a pretty game though and I miss Elite.

Like many other players, I often fall into a summer gaming slump. This year feels different, because my enthusiasm about upcoming MMOs is so muted. I have played the FF14 beta and it was OK, but I felt bored. I saw nothing to make it stand out from the other themepark MMOs I am playing. I may have missed the aspects that make the game stand out, but I played until I got too bored to log in any more. TESO is likely the next new MMO I will play, and mostly because a friend of a friend told me that the writing was good. We’ll see.

The (not so recent now) news that Blizzard have ditched whatever their old plans were for Titan and are starting from square one didn’t surprise me, I’d already wondered whether they have dropped previous redesigns and had to redo due to changes in the market. But it does mean that WoW is going to be the Blizzard staple for a few more years yet. They’ve done a lot of things right with MoP but by this stage in the expansion, I am still feeling generally unenthused. It will be hard work for them to keep coming out with this level of content output and even if they do, they will be constantly losing players.

And as I have pretty much no interest in shooters, the upcoming shooter type MMOs are largely going to pass me by also.

The second reason for not blogging is that I’ve been busy with new job, which is all quite positive but takes a lot of energy.

I will however try to do more regular updates in future. Even if I am on a downswing in MMO playing (and the genre in general is also) it is still worth documenting. Along with some generic thoughts about MMO tropes that I will not miss. It is the vast virtual worlds to explore that I will however miss. I’m not sure how great a feature those will be for any new entries to the genre, such as it is.

Steam Sale

It’s that time of the year again. Anything big on anyone’s wishlist? I’m not sure I do, this time around. A lot of the games I wanted I have already been able to buy at good discounts. Kerbal Space Program sounds intriguing though, and I’d be up for Sword of the Stars or some kind of 4x strategy game. Any indie games anyone would recommend?

Clearly it is a bad idea to buy new games when there are older ones I have not started yet, but such is the world of extra disposable income.

Kick out for Chuubo

And lastly a shout out for a kickstarter that is ending soon, which is a (pen and paper) RPG by one of the most talented writers in the industry. Jenna (probably best known for Nobilis and some of the better received Exalted books)  is often hailed as either a genius or a quirky cultish author but aside from her evocative writing style, the real smarts are in the way she plays with rules and mechanics to build games that just work differently to the standard D&D wargaming based dungeon crawls.

In Chuubo the goal is to make it interesting and easy to run pastoral games, where character development and exploration is core to the game rather than just killing monsters and looting their corpses. If you want to know how she does this, plonk down $15 for the KS and you can have access to the entire first draft, as well as various other freebies, examples of play and short stories that she’s put up for the KS supporters. And as you might guess from the fact that the first draft is up, the game is already  completed and the KS is funded – further funds will go towards the stretch goals.

She describes the game as:

It’s an RPG that strives, as its first principle, to make it worthwhile to spend your time on both the little things and the big ones — a game that’s meaningful and fun whether your characters are drinking tea with their friends, exploring their new home, doing their daily round of chores, or hunting horrors in the dark. It’s a work that strives, as its second principle, to bend but not break when the same people who were sweeping or arguing over television shows a few minutes before start throwing around godly powers, breaking the world with their poorly-phrased wishes, and heading out into the dark to challenge Death.

I especially recommend this one to game designers. She is honestly a genius with mechanics. Enjoy!

[Misc] EVE advertising, Flexi raids in WoW, E3 and the rush of FPS MMOs

Apologies for this being a bit of a mashup. I should probably post more often rather than waiting till I have a few items together.

eve_ad

This banner was part of a banner ad for EVE Online on rpg.net. This is their advertising slogan. “Be the villain”. And they wonder why their community has a terrible reputation, and only 4% of the player base is female.

Just saying.

I’m still playing through my first month in EVE quietly, deliberately not getting involved in corps or PvP because I just wanted to get a feel for the flow of the game. By far the most compelling part so far is the Facebook-like skill training system. I don’t mean that as a knock to the awesome economic game, beautiful graphics or fairly dull PvE. But the skill training is surprisingly compelling (or perhaps not if you’re used to Farmville). So perhaps it is not surprising that the devs have introduced a new mini game in the recent update – I can’t personally comment on it since I haven’t really figured out probes in any case.

The immensely clever thing about this game is the gamification of boredom. PvE activities like mining are made deliberately dull to encourage player-ships to hang around while players are reading something in another window, making them easy prey for wannabee pirates. ie. the pirates are pretty much guaranteed easy player prey, whilst the miners/ distributers can still make enough credits to shrug off losing the odd ship every now and then.

And as long as everyone roughly gets what they want most of the time, no one will get pissed off enough to leave. It’s actually pretty clever, but still boring. Before anyone comments, I realise that the PvP game is where most of the fun is, just joining a corps is a massive hassle and my goal here was just to get a feel for the game.

One of the  main issues with EVE is always going to be how the devs can balance making the game accessible to newbies while allowing the longer term players to enjoy the advantages of lengthy playing time. For all I’m told that newbies can easily fly with PvP fleets (if in the right role), I still see a  lot of fleets in chat that have far more rigorous requirements.

Are you flexible?

One of the features coming to WoW in the next patch has been dubbed flexible raiding by the devs. In addition to LFR (25 man) and  normal mode (10 or 25 man) for raids, there is now going to be an inbetween version that lets you bring any number of players between 10 and 25 and scales based on how many you bring. The flexi raids also are on a separate lockout from either LFR or normal mode, and drop loot that is also between LFR and normal mode loot.

I’m cautiously hopeful about this new raid mechanic. At the beginning of Cataclysm, like many other people, I commented on how forcing 10 and 25 man raiding to the same lockout would impact on casual raid guilds. Back in the day, we used to run fairly chilled out 25 man raids and the more hardcore raiders could still go off and run their own 10 mans at weekends. After the lockout changed, we compacted into a casual 10 man guild where the more hardcore raiders could still raid with the main group and everyone else could come to alt runs or LFR.

The new flexi raids mean that if people want, we could return to the old Wrath raid pattern. I expect to see a lot more public flexi raids being run also, where raiders and their alts can chill with other raiders from their realm in a non guild exclusive environment. Given that more choice is good, I’m going to welcome the new raid type.

What it means to 10 man normal raid groups, I’m not sure. If like us they raid successfully but at a cost of rarely being able to include less hardcore raiders (I realise I am using hardcore in a different way to heroic groups Smile ) and often having a couple of people on the bench, it will be tempting to just shift to flexi raids and throw in the odd normal mode as an extra if players want.

Blizzard are also releasing more information about the next patch, which looks as though it will be rather more interesting than the current one. The Godmother has a quick summary of some of the new upcoming  features.  I actually applaud them for releasing the current quieter patch over the summer period, because players don’t really want to feel stressed to play MMOs when the weather is nice (I live in hope).

What E3 brought

I’m not really sold yet on either XBone or the PS4 as a next gen console, my PS3 is still looking pretty good and PC gaming has rarely been better*. However, I’m going to bow to Sony’s PR guys this week because their video on how the PS4 lets you share games is a winner; at least it makes them look as though they understand gamers rather better than Microsoft. I wouldn’t write the XBone off though, MSoft have a very clear vision of their customer – someone who loves watching sport, playing ‘core’ video games online with friends, and isn’t that price sensitive. We should just call the console the XBROne and have done with it. Imagine my surprise that the Microsoft E3 presentation a) showed no games with female protagonists and b) involved a scripted rapey joke at the expense of a female presenter. Like I say, they know exactly who their target audience are. And yes I do enjoy watching them get mocked for it in the national press.

* I will probably eventually pick up a PS4 to play whichever version of Final Fantasy we are up to now (15 I think) because old habits are hard to break.

I am also seeing (finally) a rush of FPS MMOs lined up for the next gen consoles. Between Destiny and The Division, along with Planetside 2 and whatever MMOlike features are planned for CoD et al, it will be interesting to see how both the monetisation strategies and gameplay catch on with console players.

And the game that most intrigued me was the Plants vs Zombies shooter. Like Liore, I think this is an interesting way of opening up the genre to a different audience. I kind of want to play a Sunflower that spits sunbeams, even though I’m not big on shooters.

Does the death of Google Reader mean the death of blogging?

The difficulty was that Reader users, while hyperengaged with the product, never snowballed into the tens or hundreds of millions.

- Rob Fishman

So I heard the news last night via twitter that Google Reader is being retired in July. I promptly checked the source and then RTed it with my first reaction (“Nooo! Don’t take away my reader!”), then posted a comment about it on my favourite bboard which noted the news story and asked for suggestions about a replacement. I may also have whined about it on Facebook and signed a petition or two. There is of course also a twitter tag for #savegooglereader.

Only now, finally,  am I mentioning it in a blogpost which could show up in other people’s Google Reader RSS feeds.

Such is the social media landscape in 2013. And frankly, the fact I’m writing this on a wordpress blog and not a tumblr, and that I haven’t pinned the story on pinterest just shows where I’m lagging behind the times. None of this is remotely likely to change the decision, it’s just how we communicate these days.

It is perhaps interesting that many of my favourite MMO bloggers had pretty much the same reaction; my Reader is full of posts about the death of Reader today. I guess we all used Google Reader a lot to keep up with the various press releases, community blogs, online publications, and personal blogs so that we could pull them into a community of sorts, and write about them in our blogs. If you ever liked reading my link posts, for example, thank Google Reader. (There will be many more link posts before July as I try to get through all the marked posts in my backlog!)

You would be excused at this point for thinking that Google Reader was the only RSS reader in the world. Of course there are others, and if we love our RSS habits then we’ll pick one and transfer. But it was a very well loved application by the people who used it, and may take a place in history as one of the things that Google got very right, and then fairly wrong, and then ditched. (The fairly wrong was when they neutered the sharing facilities –- you used to be able to add small comments on stories in your news feed and then share them with your friends.)

Even though G+ does offer some of the same functionality, it’s just not as neat and focussed on sharing websites as Reader used to be. People have not, in general, warmed to it.

Some analysis by other people

Google Reader’s former product manager commented on Quora that Reader had been under threat for years and links the decision to Google+.

Rob Fishman has a comprehensive, lively post on buzzfeed around the what could have beens of Google Reader, the social network that google built without meaning to. He’s included a lot about the history of RSS and Google Reader.

Never rely on the cloud

We all know that relying on free programmes and resources made by third parties is kind of a foolish thing to do – or at least unreliable. What is given can be taken away. Yet we all do it, we assume perhaps that they know what they are doing and if they aren’t asking us for money it’s because they have something else figured out.

We all know, also, that loving the product isn’t enough if there aren’t enough like-minded people out there and the money isn’t either. And yet, I’d have happily paid for Google Reader and I will miss it when it is gone. And you have to wonder what will go next if the userbase isn’t large enough, blogger perhaps?

Bloggers and RSS Readers

So a lot of bloggers adore their favourite RSS reader. It’s not surprising, blogs (weblogs) originally started as online journals where people could share their favourite links that they had discovered from around the web. Finding links to articles that other people have written and then reading and commenting on them has always been the nuts and bolts of blogging.  All the standard blogging platforms offer an RSS feed, it’s probably displayed prominently on your favourite blogs.

Without Google Reader, people can always find alternatives, but such a huge lack of confidence in the medium from a big name company cannot bode well for the ecosystem.

It may be that blogging’s day in the sun is  waning. I don’t entirely know. People do still very much want to share their thoughts, and those thoughts don’t always fit into small messages. Self publishing your own content and being able to create your own curated newsfeed is also the very stuff of Web 2.0, and RSS happens to do it very well. Specialist newsreaders can handle much higher density of usage than a pretty graphical magazine-style front end –  you can skim headlines in a list much faster than wading through 17 pages of headers, paragraphs, and (of course) images.

Anyhow, I am checking out some alternatives. I am quite inclined to pick an open source or paid for service (theoldreader.com, feedly and newsblur are on my list to try), and this is a crowd sourced list of current readers if anyone is curious.

Do you use RSS Readers to support your blog reading/ writing?

[2012] The Everything List of the Year

olympic opening ceremony

Olympic Opening Ceremony (Summer 2012)

So December is upon us and with it the season of holidays, consumer frenzy, rain (if you are in the UK), and most of all … making lists! Arbitrary and I have sat down together to figure out some of the main games,  other media, online and news events this year that most caught our eye. Some of these are a ‘best of’ and some are more ‘wtf were they thinking.’

We hope you enjoy the lists, that they bring back some good memories, and we do not apologise for the UK bias.

2012 in Gaming

It’s been a heck of a year for the computer games industry. We have seen big studios flounder or fall and profit warnings all over the place, yet at the same time game sales have been breaking records. Diablo 3 and CoDBLOPS2 (yeah I just like writing codblops) have led the charge, although neither appear on anyone’s “best of” lists this year. “Expectations” has been a key word – games have met or failed expectations, profits have met or (more often) failed expectations, MMO payment models have met or (oh boy have they ever) failed expectations.

SWTOR announced a switch from a subscription model to F2P within 6 months of release, The Secret World switched to a B2P model in less time than that. Does it mean subscriptions are dead? Well no, EVE recently announced increasing sub numbers and Mists of Pandaria, the 2012 WoW expansion,  by all accounts is doing well. F2P with cash shops is still a very popular model but there have been inklings that all is not well in the world of Turbine, whose vaunted F2P conversions were in the forefront of the industry (with respect to converting MMO monetization, not F2P in general).

The Wii U is the first of the next gen consoles to see release, and we still have no indication of what Microsoft or Sony are planning to do which means that 2013 is likely to see the PS3 and xbox continue into their older years, falling further and further behind PCs technically and way behind mobile devices in convenience.

Lived Up to Expectations

Cat paws at GW2screen

8 out of 10 cats prefer GW2

In a gaming industry increasingly defined by hype, living up to expectations is actually like listing our games of the year.

  • Journey. Does exactly what I expected it to, provided an immersive flow-ful gaming experience with amazing (and award nominated) soundtrack. It’s not a long game, clocking in at about 3 hours for my first play through. But it was a good 3 hours.
  • SWTOR. My expectation was for a Bioware style of storytelling with a lot of MMO influence from WoW, which is pretty much what I got. Arb and I both enjoyed our time with SWTOR. You could argue that our expectations were met because we filtered out a lot of the hype, compared with Journey where everything the devs said about it pre-release was about spot on.
  • Guild Wars 2. It may not be the saviour of MMOs/ the world that was promised, but Arenanet have made good on their gorgeous new B2P MMO with its expansive world, dynamic events, server based WvW PvP and rich world events. We are still enjoying it quite a lot.
  • Torchlight 2. If you were expecting a sequel to Torchlight with open world, multiplayer, more pets, and more classes then you’ll find this one meets your expectations too. We like the multiplayer (and the ferret pet – Arb)
  • Mists of Pandaria. Met expectations (and may have exceeded them) because expectations weren’t all that high. But I’m enjoying WoW more than ever at the moment, so props to Blizzard for delivering a solid and fun new expansion for an aging game.

Didn’t Quite Live Up to Expectations, But Only Just

cat in front of Diablo 3 screen

Stop playing Diablo 3 and look at me, dammit!

  • Diablo 3. Blizzard had terrible issues with this game on release, because of server downtime, the impact of the auction house on the gameplay, bonkers story,  various balance issues and so on. They still haven’t released a PvP arena for the game. But for all that, Arb and I both had fun playing through it. I also love the crafter NPCs and companions (except the sorceress who is annoying). Will buy any expansions, no doubt.

Year of the Zombie

We like zombies. And so do other game designers.

  • The Walking Dead. The surprise winner of many people’s game of the year, Telltale Games TV/comics tie-in RPG/ adventure has won a lot of people’s hearts (and then eaten them.)
  • The Walking Dead TV show also went from strength to strength in its third season, with the introduction of some fan favourite characters and a better pace than season 2. The comics reached and went past issue no. 100 which coincided with Comic Con and the series really has done amazingly well in all mediums.
  • Rakghouls! For our money, the best MMO event this year was the SWTOR Rakghoul invasion. I wrote about this at the time and you can see how thrilled I was with the whole thing. There were quests, collections, dailies, new instances, cosmetics, lore, and the infamous plague parties on the fleet. (PLAGUE PARTIES – my fave bit of emergent play this year – Arb)
  • Zombies, Run. Is it a game? Is it a keep fit app? Is it all about zombies? Yes yes yes.
  • Blood of the Zombies. OK, it’s a fighting fantasy game book and not a computer game, but it’s a long time since Ian Livingstone wrote a FF book and this years’ effort is … zombie themed! There is also a mobile version so it’s almost a computer game.

Storytelling

This has been a theme in some of our favourite games of the year, most notably The Walking Dead but I didn’t want to list that twice in two successive lists.

  • SWTOR. Ah the notorious fourth pillar didn’t really help the Old Republic Star Wars game establish itself in the MMO scene as Bioware had hoped. But for all that, there was some good quality writing and storytelling in the levelling game. We did enjoy our Imperial Agent and Sith Warrior respectively.
  • Knights of the Old Republic 2. Was in the Steam Sale for the first time ever, and I Iove it. Is it flawed? Sure, it’s an older game and awkward in places, but the storytelling is great.
  • Mists of Pandaria. More of a storytelling emphasis than Blizzard had in Cataclysm and it seems to have paid off. I’m certainly enjoying the story and lore at the moment.
  • Mass Effect 3. Well who could forget the mass outcry at the ending to ME3? It was loud enough and strident enough for Bioware to release a free patch with an alternate/updated ending.

Mobile Games

We’re both mostly PC gamers, but occasionally mobile games catch one of our eyes.

  • Angry Birds Star Wars
  • Draw Something
  • Curiosity. More of an experiment than a game, and one with a flaky start. (Got boring extremely quickly – Arb)

Kickstarters

Verily, 2012 has been the year that crowdsourced funding for games went big and several kickstarter gaming projects raised over $1m. And perhaps that trend has already peaked and backers/ prospective players are deciding they prefer to buy games more conventionally. Still, these are some of the names that caught our eyes.

  • Elite. Well, it’s Elite isn’t it, a new version of the feted classic space flightsim/trader/ dogfighter. Except that this version is also going to be more MMO/sandboxy. Oh and the studio recently laid some people off. In any case, this kickstarter has raised about 2/3 of it’s $1.25m goal and finishes on Jan 4th.
  • Star Citizen. Another sandboxy space fightsim/ trading/ MMOish type of prospect, this time a successor to Freelancer. And this one has been rather more successful at the fundraising. Unfortunately it has attracted the attention of the EVE crowd who will probably make other players regret the MMO aspects.
  • Doublefine Adventure. The project that kicked off the gaming kickstarter bandwagon, raising $4m on an initial target of $400k. So there are a lot of people out there who rather like the idea of another adventure game along the lines of the legendary Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, etc which Tim Schafer previously designed. And I’m one of them!
  • Project Eternity. In what may seem like a trend, Obsidian sought backing from kickstarter for a big party based isometric RPG along the lines of Baldurs Gate, Planescape: Torment et al, and of course they have those designers (Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, Josh Sawyer) on board. And kickstarter said “yay, let us give you all our money so that you can make something that might be a bit like Planescape!” and they raised about three and a half times their initial goal of $1.1m.
  • Godus. A successor to god games (sorry, I mean “delightful reinvention of the god game”) such as Black and White and Populous, Peter Molyneux has sought the blessing of kickstarter for his new project. Currently has raised £367k out of a target of £450k with three days to go. So if you want to see this one, give them some money. They have one backing tier just for students where one of the rewards is that Peter will go give a talk at that university, and also they’re offered access to a forum where they can ask about career advice (in the gaming industry I assume)  and get feedback on their own games which I thought was quite interesting.
  • Old School RPG. A kickstarter which was withdrawn (but would have failed to meet targets) from industry vets (Brenda Braithwaite and Tom Hall and incidentally stories seem to switch between her single and married surname a lot so I’ve no idea which she prefers) which just had a badly thought out and not very compelling pitch. An example of why you need to get your ducks in a row before you jump on the bandwagon and other metaphors. Plus there were a lot of things to dislike about old school RPGS which were never going to be as appealing as “a new freelancer”, “a new day of the tentacle” or “a new planescape” which were genuinely beloved by many gamers.

Funding Fiascos

Sometimes the predictions are way out, the finance guys are on interesting drugs, or the management just can’t bring a game in on time and to budget and decided not to tell anyone in advance. It’s terrifically sad for any industry pros caught up in the inevitable wave of redundancies that follow this kind of failure.

  • 38 Studios/ Curt Schilling. What’s to say, they made a game that was quite warmly received and would have been viewed as a success if they hadn’t predicted stupid high sales (and possibly other mismanagement along the way). And then the whole thing turned into a crashing bankruptcy disaster which involved the State of Rhode Island, some pretty dreadful treatment of staff, and we’ve been subjected to occasional videos of their prospective MMO which will never exist, because it’s very easy to talk up the amazingness of the game that no one will ever get to actually play.
  • SWTOR. Most expensive MMO of all time, allegedly. The sales figures might have been viewed as a success if they hadn’t a) spent so much on it in the first place and b) pitched it as being a rival to WoW – I’m not sure what the long term traction would have been (ie. how long the average player sticks with it) but there’s no reason to think it would not have been at least as good as the industry average (which used to be about 6 months, and is probably less now). I really like a lot of things about the game and recommend it as a F2P offering, but … yeah… switching to F2P so soon makes this a financial fiasco. Also likely the reason why the Bioware doctors retired this year.
  • Popcap layoffs. Financial fiasco or just insensitive timing? Popcap (now owned by EA) announced a successor to Plants vs Zombies this year, which would normally have featured in the ‘year of the zombies list’ if they hadn’t laid off a bunch of people the day after the announcement.
  • Zynga. This would be a pure schadenfreude entry if not for the employees who got caught in the fallout. This is quite a good rant about the causes of Zynga’s plummeting stock price. The company also lost a lot of senior staff, who jumped ship. But now they’re getting into online gambling (aka real money gaming) because that’s not sleazy at all.

Best Games Bought in Steam Sales

  • The Walking Dead.
  • Crusader Kings 2. I am still so rubbish at this game, but it is so entertaining even if you just play it as a medieval soap opera and focus on marrying your family members off and seeing what shenanigans they get up to. And that’s even before you try it with the Game of Thrones patch. The game is a marvel.
  • KOTOR 2. Bargain for any RPG fans. I’d only ever heard about how buggy and unfinished this game was. But with the completed content patch, it’s actually fairly amazing in many ways.

Popular Game that isn’t a Shooter, Shock!

  • FIFA 13. In the news this year because it sold 1 million copies /in the UK/ in its first week, a feat which had previously only been achieved by Call of Duty games. I keep hearing good things about it. But it’s also good to know that the sought after AAA audience is there for non FPS. Bit of good news for EA amongst the wreckage.

Not Played Yet

A special category for games that are coming to my house over Xmas. So they caught my eye (or my partner’s) enough to be on the requested gift list. Arb has also convinced me to pick up The Walking Dead if it’s in the Steam Sale again.

Cash Shop Shenanigans

  • LOTRO Hobby Horse. $50 for a mount which looks like a hobby horse in a game based on Middle Earth. You’re taking the piss, right? Well, said hobby horse was withdrawn from the test server shop after being less than well received.
  • GW2 Halloween Holiday Boxes. The plague of ‘boxes with random items inside’ in cash shops is with us to stay, because some people really enjoy buying them in the hope of getting something rare/ cool.  Arenanet made the chances of getting something cool rather too rare in their Halloween Event, so that would be a 0.2% chance per box of getting a fun holiday themed cosmetic armour/weapon skin. Enjoy your $1.50 per box lottery.
  • SWTOR Hotbars. The SWTOR F2P offering has changed somewhat from the initial proposed version, which allowed F2P players to access only 2 hotbars unless they paid to unlock more. They also pioneered paying to be able to hide your hat, which is not the sort of thing usually sold in cash shops. Marks for innovation, I guess. It sounds a lot less painful now.

Games we are looking forwards to

tattoo of ultima symbols

Her love of Ultima knows no bounds

For the first time in many years, there are no MMOs on this list. (Maybe Ultima Forever counts.)

  • Dragon Age 3.
  • Walking Dead Season 2.
  • Fables.
  • Ultima Forever.

Hardware of Note

All tablets, all the time.

  • iPad Mini. Finally, a smaller factor iPad. Would this have happened if Steve Jobs had been alive and does it matter, and should iPad lovers wait for the next version with the inevitable retina screen?
  • Nexus 7. I <3 my Nexus.

Other Media

This is a catch all for some of our favourite films, TV, theatre etc of the year. No books on this list, although at least one (Hilary Mantel’s Bringing Up the Bodies) is expected in my house this Xmas.

  • Favourite Films: Argo, Looper, Skyfall, Avengers. Arb and I both agreed that Argo was the unexpected winner here. I have heard great things about Lincoln and have long been a fan of Daniel Day Lewis but it hasn’t been released in the UK yet so that’s why it’s not on the list. Looper probably engendered the best rants because fun as it was, there are Plot Holes.
  • Prometheus. A mixed bag, this film. There were some great parts and amazing visuals, but at the end of the day, it’s an incoherent mess. It did inspire me to see Laurence of Arabia, which is phenomenal, so there is that.
  • Olympic Opening Ceremony. I was expecting to be either bored or excruciatingly embarrassed but Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was bonkers (in the right way), entertaining, and made us all proud to be British. I don’t think anyone was actually expecting that.
  • The Hollow Crown. A set of three BBC Shakespeare productions which Arb and I both thought were great. And not just because of the monkey in Richard II (and Ben Whishaw – Arb!) or Tom Hiddleston dressed only in a towel in Henry IV Part 2.
  • Hebburn (a personal one for me here, because I live in Hebburn and now there’s a sitcom based here and people have heard of the place I live! Also, it’s quite sweetly entertaining – Arb)
  • The Great British Bakeoff. This will sound weird to non-Brits but this TV show has been a huge hit over here. It’s mild mannered, polite, and features nice people making cakes. And suddenly everyone wants to get baking. Including us.  Arb and I posted up some of our efforts on a tumblr. ( We were trying to bake the same things that the GBBO contestants were baking each week, until they started doing challenges that were either hard or were things we didn’t really want to eat.) Note: even our failures tasted nice.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar. Stadium tour. (Not as good as some of the great productions of JCS, but Tim Minchin as Judas made it worth the trip – Arb)
  • Richard III. I saw this version with Mark Rylance at The Globe but it’s now moved to The Apollo if any Shakespeare fans in London want to catch it. Very good production, with one of the great UK stage actors.
  • English Electric Part 1, by Big Big Train. I asked my partner to nominate his Prog Album of the Year, and this was it. (You can listen to some samples here.)
  • Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, live on stage. A production bringing together all the living members of the original radio shows and getting them to retell the story online, with guests appearing as The Book. It’s happening again next year.

Online Community

Stories, events or other online stuff that caught our eyes this year.

  • Reddit. We’ve seen reddit feature much more strongly this year for gaming communities, either because it has been used to host ‘ask me anything’ live Q&A events, or effectively functioned as a GW2 player forum before Arenanet put up their own official forums. The big reddit event of the year was the Q&A session that Obama did there.
  • Reddit sleaze. The second biggest reddit event of the year was the story about sleazy creepshots mod Violentacrez being ‘outed’ in real life via a Gawker article.
  • GW2 talk about bannings on reddit. A highpoint of the year was the discussion on reddit where GW2 GMs discussed with players why they had been banned. And surprise, the vast majority had been banned due to acting like idiots.
  • #1reasonwhy. Discussions about women and/ or sexism in gaming have been really coming to the forefront this year. The #1reasonwhy twitter hashtag made it into the mainstream media.
  • Anita Sarkeesian. Attracted an online hate campaign for the heinous crime of setting up a kickstarter to fund her making a video about sexism in gaming.
  • Felicia Day. Was called a ‘glorified booth babe’ by Destructoid writer Ryan Perez, among other unprovoked jerkish comments. He got fired in the fallout. It’s pretty darned cheeky (not to mention rude) for an unknown writer to call anyone out for ‘does X provide anything useful to this industry’ unless X is an industry analyst in which case we all wonder that. Also introduced me to the concept of ‘the felicia day moment’ which is when someone from a minority who also has huge geek cred steps into a geek related argument and cuts it dead.
  • Aisha Tyler. Yeah, it’s been a year in which geeky women who also happen to be pretty and/or on TV have been accused of being ‘fake geek girls’ FOR NO REASON. Aisha (who is now one of my heroes, although I hadn’t heard of her before) responded by posting about her geek credentials in a facebook poem/ rant of wonderousness.
  • Girlfriend mode. The Borderlands 2 devs got into hot water when it came out that they had been calling their easy mode companion ‘girlfriend mode’ because everyone knows that women (esp. girlfriends) are rubbish at games and need an easy mode to get them to play. Right? It might not have been a big deal in itself but throwing this into the powderkeg of sexism in gaming that has been going on this year was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It doesn’t seem to have harmed the game’s reception though.
  • Mittani cops a 30 day ban from EVE. In a game that is infamous for how horrible its players can be to each other, The Mittani (leader of one of the biggest corps in the game) got banned for 30 days after he encouraged corps mates to harass another depressed player and said “Incidentally, if you want to make the guy kill himself, his [in-game] name is [REDACTED]”. What a colossal tit.
  • IWillDominate banned from League of Legends. This guy copped a permanent ban from Riot Games for “persistent toxic behaviour.”  This will have had more effect on him than the above, because aside from the ban being permanent, he was also a pro player. Well, that’s his career down the pan. And yay say we all.
  • PInterest. Became the fastest site in history to break the 10 million user mark in January 2012. Opened to everyone without needing an invitation in August. Has become part of the social media landscape.
  • Instagram Policy Change. This is a very recent story, included because it’s going to be big and also is a pretty blatent ‘all your photos belong to us’ grab. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, is changing policy in a way that lets them use your photos for adverts without your permission or any payments.
  • Nate Silver and the US Election. Silver was one of the most successful predictors of the election,  correctly predicting the results of all 50 states. Obama won, in case you’ve been hiding in a cave and didn’t know.
  • Trump vs Sugar on twitter. I like the title mogulgeddon for this twitter spat, it amused both of us at least.

Anarchy in the UK

olympic stadium

  • Omnishambles. Coined to describe the arcane and wildly incompetent workings of our current government, omnishambles is our word of the year.
  • UK Uncut. One of the big mass social media/ activist movements this year has been UK Uncut’s activism about getting large businesses to pay their taxes. One of the reasons that they have been so successful is that they have largely avoided political bias – you don’t need to vote Labour to think that Vodafone should pay tax.
  • Jimmy Savile, child molester. Big story over here, because it touches on aspects of 60s/70s culture, the BBC, child abuse, popular TV children’s presenters and basically involves the story breaking that Savile had molested children on a truly massive scale. He’s dead, so will never be brought to justice. Hopefully his victims can find some peace and institutions that stood by and didn’t protect children in their care can do better in future.
  • Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Yay for an extra bank holiday/ day off work.
  • Olympic Coverage. The BBC did an absolutely stellar job of covering the home Olympics, where viewers in the UK could select from multiple different streams and watch just about any sport that was going on, with commentary that was mostly really great apart from a few slips. The #NBCFail hashtag showed on twitter around complaints about how poor the coverage that American viewers were getting into comparison was. And it is pretty tragic that NBC failed to show any of the Paralympics, which was an incredible, phenomenal success.
  • Jessica Ennis. Gold medal winner in Heptathlon, but mostly in this list because the Daily Mail (aka Daily Fail) had dissed the opening ceremony for its diversity, opining that it would be hard to find a educated middle class family with a black dad and white mum as shown in the dramatics. To which more forward thinking publications, and anyone with a sense of humour, responded with pictures of Jessica Ennis and her parents. Then of course, the Mail had to deal with Mo Farah (a Black Muslim who immigrated from Somalia as a child) becoming a national hero. Sucks to be a hater.
  • Chipgate and the Olympic Brand Police – it came to light that the contract for caterers for the Olympic stadiums weren’t allowed to use chips unless they were a. McDonalds who had the rights to the word, or b. selling fish & chips (a cultural British icon that escaped the McDonalds clause). There was a bit of a stir and outrage about it all, McDonalds relented, even though they may not have asked for the clause in the first place. It was just one the LOCOG (London Olympic organisers) brand police silly stories of the summer, where shops/libraries/etc weren’t allowed to use all sorts of words relating to the games in promotions.
  • Waitrose social media fail. Poor Waitrose (they’re an upmarket supermarket), all they did was try to engage people on twitter with a contest to say “I shop at Waitrose because ….” and didn’t quite expect that people would take the piss. I love this story because one of the twitter users who all the papers was quoting is a friend of mine. Now that’s fame.

Is the Olympics affecting your gaming?

mars

Hellfire Peninsula with new shader models… (OK, OK, it’s Mars.)

Anyone finding that people are busy watching the sports (or, heaven forfend, the Mars Rover) so online games are getting a bit sparse at the moment? I’m not really sure it’s affected any of the games I have been playing.

However, there was one moment this week that reminded me of the outside world whilst in a game. On Euro servers, there is a long tradition of eastern european raid leaders – I don’t know quite why this is, and I have had British and Irish raid leaders as well but a lot of the active raid leaders do seem to come from eastern europe.  It was only last week that I found out precisely where in Eastern Europe my raid leader actually comes from, it just had never come up in conversation. So we’re raiding,  and the he typed afk (that’s ‘away from keyboard’ if you’re not familiar with raid abbreviations). He came back a couple of minutes later and announced on voice chat, “Sorry, that was my friend jumping around and yelling. Poland just won a gold medal Smile Smile” (There was another brief pause when they got a second later that night.)

Now the BBC coverage is pretty good, but even so they tend to focus on the British athletes. So I guess this was a wake up call to me that all around the world, sports fans (and people who aren’t really sports fans but tune into the Olympics every four years) are getting just as excited about their countrymen’s efforts as we do. I’m also reminded that in many ways it’s a privilege to be able to play alongside gamers from all round the world and share in some of these excitements vicariously, while killing internet dragons and giant robots.

So, has the Olympics (or the mars lander) impinged at all on your gaming?

[NBI] Blog advice: Picture manipulation tools, and copyright

In my intro post for the NBI, I mentioned briefly tools that I use for writing up blog posts. What I didn’t mention was anything about prepping graphics for your posts, which for gaming bloggers will mostly involve screenshots.

If you are writing a blog that is very screenshot heavy or you want to do something fancier with graphics, this is likely going to be just a starting point. But for my purposes, the usual sorts of alterations I would make to screenshots involve cropping the screenshot down, and maybe touching up the image a bit if it has come out fairly dark.

A graphics manipulation program will also make it easier for you to lay out several pictures on the page, which you can do by combining them into a single new image that you fiddle around with until you are happy. Using cut and paste on the separate pictures to paste them into a new larger image as layers will let you move them around easily while you are working.  This, I have found by trial and error, is about a zillion times easier than trying to get separate image files laid out neatly in your HTML or word processor.

Once the image is in the blog post, you can use HTML/ formatting tools in your editor to position it. You can also adjust the size of the image in your editor via HTML or formatting tools, although the quality of the image may suffer a bit.

When you save the processed image file, you probably want to avoid using large graphics file types as that will make your page take longer to load. .jpg should be fine. (If you need more information than this about optimising for the web, it’s worth searching around via google as it’s a well trodden path with lots of good advice around.)

What I use

Image3

This is what I use, an old copy of Paintshop Pro (PSP) which we had a licence for in the house. It runs on just about anything (Windows based), and happily copes with anything I might ever want to do to my screenshots. If you feel like spending money on blogging tools, this one will serve you happily. I imagine the latest version does all sorts of fancy extra stuff, but this is good enough for me.

I’m also fond of being able to paste images from the clipboard direct into PSP. The picture above shows PSP with the ‘enhance photo’ menu open which is what I’d normally use to tweak the colour and contrast balance. All of these graphics programs allow you to easily roll back any changes if you don’t like how they look, so you can experiment a bit.

Free graphics manipulation packages

There are some good alternative graphics packages available.  These are three of the options available. GIMP and Paint.net both have large communities where you can ask any questions and find out about addons or tweaks. Picasa has Google behind it.

GIMP

GIMP is an open source program, and the link I have given here is to GIMP for Windows. It’s probably better known as a Linux program, but the Windows one works fine too.

gimp

It’s a very powerful graphics processing package, can be a bit fiddly to use, and if you want to use it I suggest paying close attention to the manual.

Picasa

Picasa is Google’s picture editor which was developed mostly to let people manage their photo albums online, but also lets you tweak and crop pictures for later use in blogs. You can download the client and use it offline to prepare pictures for publication/ upload.  It even has an option to upload your finished picture to Blogger (also a Google product).

picasa

It’s a nice simple tool without too many of the bells and whistles, and if you’re a bit nervous about diving into something like GIMP, this is probably the one I’d recommend you try for starters.

Paint.net

This started off as a student project to provide a freeware version of Microsoft Paint (avoid downloading OpenPDF by mistake from the same page, unless you really wanted it), and now has a fairly extensive following online.

paintnet

I’d place this as a sort of happy medium between GIMP and Picasa in terms of complexity.

And those are just the start

There are also online tools which let you load up your graphic and manipulate it online, specialist tools which provide specific automated manipulations if you want to make your screenshots look like a funky collage or write your own text onto a picture of Einstein (hey don’t ask me, I just find this stuff), etc.

But you’ll likely find that most people use an offline tool to prep their pictures.

Copyright note

I am not a lawyer, but if you don’t own the copyright for an image, you should check with the person who does before you post it on your blog. Games companies typically don’t mind if you use media from their site, especially if you are praising the game (that’s why they make it available from the site in the first place).

If you want to check out libraries of photos, the Creative Commons on Flickr has pictures made available under a variety of licenses if you want to use them. The most basic is the attribution license, under which owners allow you to use their pictures in return for a link and an attribution (which is basic good manners anyway). So that’s one place to start. Different blog writers probably have their own favourite picture repositories, and no I’ve no idea where Rivs gets his hot chick pictures Smile

[DAW] Developers Appreciation Week: Jane Jensen

Scary has been hosting/ encouraging a week of appreciation for the developers, storytellers, artists and coders who create the games and gameworlds into which we players sink so much of our free time.

My game of choice right now is SWTOR, and I give huge props to Bioware for having made a game that I still thoroughly enjoy playing well after the usual 3-month mark. But I’m winging my developer appreciation this week in a different direction.

Gabriel_Knight_2_29_57_Chapter_4_Neuschwanstein

Ah for the heady days of old school adventure games, where the best of the bunch featured solid research, cool characters, and totally hatstand puzzles. Syp, in timely fashion, has been indulging in some nostalgia and describing his experiences playing Gabriel Knight for the first time. The screenshot here is from Gabriel Knight 2, in which our hero goes to Munich, hangs out with werewolves, and searches for mysteries hidden in Wagner’s operas and Schloss Neuschwanstein. I also seem to remember a scene where one of the sinister yet strangely compelling male alpha  werewolves comes on to your (male) main character, or maybe I imagined that part.

Yeah, imagine that in today’s gaming world. A story that hinges on classic opera. And some batshit puzzles – although not quite as crazed as those featuring in Gabriel Knight 3 which Old Man Murray argues convincingly helped to kill the adventure gaming genre. I have fond memories of playing GK2 with my boyfriend, who had just come back from working in Munich, and was impressed at the attention to detail in aspects like the map of the metro system.

The author behind these classics is Jane Jensen, who has continued to work in the field as well as publishing some GK novels. She’s the developer I’m picking to admire this week because she succeeded in telling the sorts of exciting dark fantasy stories in her games that have made it into gaming history, made a name for herself as a female developer in a field which was still mostly male dominated, and is one of the few old school game designers who was particularly known as a  writer who could be easily named by fans.

She also has a kickstarter up at the moment to produce more story based adventure games, so if you like what you see then go support them.