February 21, 2021

Comments be gone!

Tags: Meta

Comments are now disabled for this website. I don’t get many comments here (just 29 in 13 years - about half written by me), and the commenting system loaded a lot of javascript and recently started loading trackers too. I felt the risks here were not worth the tiny benefit, so off it goes.

The few comments left before this date have been copied into the text of the relevant posts.


February 2, 2021

A Few More Games

Tags: Games, Video Games

Here are a few more computer games I’ve played over the last 6 months…

Skyrim: 80 hours of my life gone to the famous open-world RPG - I completed the main story, but waaayyy less the half the entire game content. This game is huge, and a player can have a second job wandering around the chilly land murdering dragons, vampires and other assorted fantasy creatures with an array of weapons and magic. Despite heading towards a decade old this game still looks great thanks to constant support. Story is ok, gameplay is ok, open-world is fantastic! Like GTA4 the pleasure in this game is just wandering around and being amazed at the the world and the immense amount of effort required to create it.

Sexy Brutale: Interesting detective game with a cool graphics style. Wander around an evil mansion saving masked party goers from murder. The hook is you only have a few hours of in-game time (about 20min of real time) before the world resets and everything starts again from the beginning. I got about halfway through, stopping once I understood the mechanics.

Hidden Folks: Kind of like an interactive “where’s wally”, this game has the player searching for items in slightly animated line drawings. Charming, but slight, it kept my attention for an hour.

Assassins Creed: Odyssey: I really wanted to like this open world RPG set in classical Greece. Friends loved it, and the graphics are beautiful. However, my review is the same as for Brotherhood - great setting that makes just wandering around a joy, but I found the gameplay annoying and tedious. Wander around the beautiful scenery and fight huge numbers of people - block, slash, block, slash. Not my sort of game, although I am probably in a tiny minority. On the other hand, discovery mode is awesome.

Townsmen - A Kingdom Rebuilt: A medieval city builder in a cartoonish and casual style. Spent a few hours playing, but nothing really grabbed me as particularly interesting.

A Case of Distrust: Noir’ish interactive fiction where you are a private investigator in 1930’s San Francisco solving a murder case. Has an interesting flat colour style and a decent story (although fairly linear). Only takes few hours to finish.

Port Royale 3: Old (and it looks it) trader/pirate sim. Had trouble working out what was happening as the tutorial was poor. Lost interest quickly.

Overland: A procedurally generated, turn-based tactics game on tiny maps where you hunt for resources to survive a cross country journey in a post alien invasion US. This reminded me strongly of Into The Breach and Bad North, but I found those games more fun. This game feels dark, claustrophic and as if the player grinding out towards inevitable failure. Thematic yes, enjoyable no (for me). So it reminds me more of Tharsis in that regard. A well-made game, but not my style.


December 25, 2020

Coral Coast (and Pemberton)

Tags: Travel, Australia

I have just finished a few weeks of camping around West Australia, spread over three trips. Travelling locally since we can’t leave our state easily. First there was a long weekend in the Perth Hills, mainly to test out the equipment. Then there was two weeks going up the Coral Coast. Lastly a few days down in the Karri Forest to escape the Perth heat.

Driving along the middle of the WA coast was the highlight. I hadn’t been through there for over 35 years, so it was mostly new to me. Apart from one or two days (hot!) the weather was perfect - very lucky. We had a competition for who could see the first cloud. It took a couple of days for someone to win. The land is dry and scrubby - not far from semi-desert in many places. So the water is the main focus. The beaches are sandy white, and at many places (Oyster Stacks, Coral Bay) the reef starts just a few metres offshore. The snorkling is incredible. There are numerous boat and dive companies around too if you want to head out a little further. We saw lots of wildlife: kangaroos, emus, turtles, manta rays, sharks and tons of different fish. A good trip. Next time I’ll have to go even further north (we stopped at Exmouth). The main problem is the time required to get around. We drove nearly 4000km in a fortnight, including over 6 hours non-stop just to reach the starting point (Kalbarri). Although the roads are fairly empty, so a good speed can be maintained.

Pemberton is quite the opposite of the Coral Coast. Nestled in forest and only a few hours from Perth. We spent our time hiking through the forest. The Karri trees are not as big as I remember but still very tall. Again we were lucky with the weather. While Perth suffered a heatwave, it was pleasant down south.

Some notes about camping:

  • It is super windy on the Coral Coast. If possible use low height tents.
  • Take gravel tent pegs and a battery-powered hand-drill. The ground can be tough and normal pegs will bend. Also, the taller heavy people can stop the tents becoming kites (remember the wind!) while the smaller people drill in the pegs.
  • Have a tent repair kit! Also headlamps, duct tape and a multi-tool. If you need these (and we did) you will be incredibly thankful they are to hand.
  • Take a dust pan and brush to get rid of sand in your tent. A tarp or mesh footprint extending out in front of the tent can help with this too.
  • Powered camping sites cost about $5 extra per night. This seems relatively expensive (as the camping sites are about $40/night for a couple of tents). However if you bring an 10m+ extension cable and a multi-plug adapter then having a fan or light or electric stove or just charging your electronics can make everything a little more comfortable.
  • Outside Perth the quality of restaurant food drops precipitously. There are still a few good places around, but much rarer. Having eaten at the top ranked places in a few towns and found them lacking, I can also say to beware online reviews. It will usually be better to cook your own food at campsites. They all had decent kitchens with fridges to use.
  • Putting aluminium foil on bbqs or stovetops at camp kitchens makes cleaning up easy!

Some photos from the trip are in a short slideshow available here.


November 23, 2020

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock

Tags: Games, Video Games

I recently bought Battlestar Galactica Deadlock in a Steam sale, and immediately felt a wave of nostalgia upon playing it. Not for the TV series, but for my own game Concealed Intent. It feels so familiar. Both are simultaneous 3D turn-based tactical games of spaceship combat, and there are not many of those I have played. My game came out a little before Deadlock, although knowing the leadtime of games development there must have been zero influence between the games. Just two teams solving similar problems coming up with similar solutions.

Now for my review. Although before I start, I should give away the end. I really like Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, it is a good game and I enjoyed playing. I haven’t finished it (yet?), but playing over 20 hours in one game is unusual for me, and a sign of quality. I would go as far as saying that if you had the money for only one simultaneous 3D turn-based tactical game of spaceship combat (such a niche!), it should be this one. It is better than Concealed Intent. The Deadlock team clearly had a much higher budget (and/or higher skill) and it shows in every aspect of the game.

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock screenshot

Alright, now let’s get picky. While similar to Concealed Intent, there are two main difference. First the introduction of a strategic layer over the tactical game where you chase Cyclons around the map (or vice-versa), improve technology and build up your fleets. This is a great idea (and one I dropped from CI due to lack of time). Progression like this helps replayability as players want to try out their latest builds - it definitely worked on me!

Secondly, each game has a different conception of spaceship combat. In Deadlock space battle is like early 20th century naval dreadnoughts. There is a small concession to something more dynamic with fighters and missiles, but mostly victory comes down to big slow ships lining up and blasting each other. I spent many battles trying to cross the T, to devasting effect when I once succeeded. For reference CI is based on submarine combat, with relatively fragile ships trying to mask their position and using drones to do most of the fighting. Personally I prefer games where maneuver is important. Often Deadlock felt like two heavyweights tearing strips off each other until the larger force eventually won, and that is why I stopped playing only a couple of missions from the end. To be fair, this is the same feeling the TV series espouses, so the game is just being true to its source material.

Both games have a replay facility at the end of a battle, so a player can see what happened in “real-time”. Deadlock definitely does this better. They have a “director” highlighting specific exciting occurrences and choosing camera angles. Mostly this worked really well, the zooming camera reminded me of the TV series, so a big thumbs up. I would absolutely try to copy it if I needed replay functionality again. Also when the game does cinematics it puts a border on the top/bottom of the screen to change the aspect ratio - just like Homeworld (and CI), reminding me of my and (probably) their influences.

Movement controls in a fully 3D world are difficult to get working well. Deadlock comes up with a 2-part system which feels clunky but is easy to understand. Probably a better solution than CI though which is faster, but understanding it was the most complained about part of the game. Most disappointingly, the 3D part of Deadlock feels unimportant. It is somewhat important in the sense that weapon firing arcs and armor take account of vertical height. However, the big ships never swoop, climb or bank, they just seem to float up or down - it doesn’t feel real. Again like big slow ships blasting each other.

I also noted with interest Deadlock’s use of autofire. That is, the player does not choose when to fire their guns, instead the guns fire when they can. Concealed Intent originally started with a similar system, but I could couldn’t get it to work with the stealth mechanics. Here it is implemented nicely with few parameters like offensive/defensive stance and focus fire. It fits the source material and while it removes some agency, it is ok to lose ships in Deadlock so that is not too much of a problem (in CI the player needs to acutely feel each loss).

There is more, better and more consistent art in Deadlock than CI. Same with the music sound effects. The story is ok, but that is still a step up on Concealed Intent. The missions are normally quite straight forward: blast your enemy, defend something, etc. Scripted missions regularly have surprises (like having extra enemies appear later in the mission). This is in CI too, but I would not do it again. I’ve learned to dislike such missions, it means they are easier the second time around solely because the player knows the “trick”. I also found the fleet mechanics annoying as a player - why were fleets restricted in their size and why couldn’t they link up? As a dev I can imagine it was required for game balance (and maybe less likely, performance).

Again, I should emphasize how much I enjoyed this game. I know this review sounds negative at points, but that is only because this is a genre I am intimately involved in. Thus, I have a lot of thoughts and strong opinions on very small and often insignificant aspects of such games. Good game, recommended.


September 15, 2020

Fallas

Tags: Travel, Spain

While I was staying in Valencia the city held its big annual festival, Las Fallas (or Las Falles in Valencian). Valencia was realtively quiet over winter, but as the weather warmed the city became increasingly noisy and busy as the locals prepared for Las Fallas. The festival takes place over a week long public holiday in mid-March, but offical events start from March 1st.

Unoffically, the city began to prepare in mid February. Street stalls started appearing, selling churros and pumpkin buñuelos or alcohol. Fireworks became increasingly popular anytime and anywhere in the high density city. One probably ignited the recycling bin outside my apartment. It was as if the whole city was waking up from a winter slumber and then staying up late. Increasing numbers of people in the gym looked tired with dark patches under their eyes.

After the stalls came the Fallas. Large scupltures made from wood and fireworks (a bit of foreshadowing there). Each barrio built one of these and there was a competition to see whose was best. Near the centre of town, there was a Falla every few hundred meteres. Most were very well made, although in a common style. Some made overtly political points. All were supposed to have some meaning, which I mostly didn’t understand. Walking around town looking at the Fallas was clearly a major local activity, and something I did for a few weekends (while munching churros).

For the last fortnight there were daily Mascletàs in the town square. This is like a fireworks display, but done during the day for the sonic effects rather than the visual. It looked like a load of firecrackers and smoke, but was extremely loud. The closest I could get to one was about 500 meters away, but I could hear them clearly at my apartment at a distance of 5 kilometers. There were also regular bands walking around town starting near daybreak, and kids setting of little firecrackers constantly. An incredible amount of constant noise.

During the festival proper, regular marches in traditional costume occurred shutting down all the major streets in town. Many of those, including the 6 lane road outside the main train station, were turned into multi-day street parties. A pyramid structure built from flowers was constructed near the central cathedral. There were nightly largescale firework shows. Then came the crescendo, known as La Crema. On the final night, all the Fallas and the flower pyramid are burnt in turn throughout the city. It is quite an impressive sight to see these highly flammable structures burn. However, the fire department must have been very busy. At the Falla nearest to me we had a firetruck constantly hosing down nearby buildings.

Some photos from the festival are in a short slideshow available here.