Ew innards

31 December 2012

2012-12-30 20.12.21

Step two – disassembly

When building something like this, or more accurately converting, I usually strip the piece down to its component parts to better understand how it fits together.

It allows gives me the opportunity to file down particularly hard to reach sharp edges and other general lousiness.

Fortunately for me the batteries in this are in a user-serviceable compartment which should mean that when I’m done I can seal the whole thing up and fill in the ugly screw holes.

Thankfully the translucent parts are clipped in rather than glued and so could be temporarily removed. Irritatingly though wired LEDs are attached to two of the three parts and so it’s probably wiser to just set them aside when it comes to painting.2012-12-31 02.37.45

As you can see from the photo I’ve filed down the serial number (for want of a better description) and done my best not to disrupt the circuitry. I always find that if I try to reconnect things it never works as well as it once did, something I don’t want to have to deal with for this piece.

Fortunately the whole thing is made of black plastic – this will make painting it much easier as I intend on undercoating both pieces in black. Once that’s done I’ll be filing and filling to try to get a nice and uniformed look. Black plastic means I won’t have to repaint every last bit!

It’s been a while since I created steampunk versions of anything and I had a lot of fun doing pistols in the past. This time I’m going for a raygun. Thankfully most of the work has been done for me with this nifty little number: 2012-12-29 21.50.15

It’s going to be all brassy and awesome when I’m done filing and filling it. I’ve not decided if I’m going to add any additional detailing to it, it’s probably not necessary.

What I particularly like about this piece is the weight. It contains three AA batteries to power the lights, sounds, and motor. However, amazingly, it’s not obnoxious. It makes raygun noises that don’t sound utterly ridiculous and more importantly – don’t change every damn time one pulls the trigger!

The motor causes some vibration giving a nice bit of feedback when the trigger is pulled. As a result I’m planning on leaving the electronics inside this whereas with others I might strip it out.

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The thing that amuses me about this project is this – I now have the skills to sculpt all sorts of pretty things on it, yet I have no idea what I’d actually want to detail it with!

Thoughts on objective fun.

28 December 2012

Recently I bought Hotline Miami in a Steam sale having heard some wonderful things about it. I had high hopes as the Metacritic score was sitting at 86, suggesting to me that it was a pretty solid affair.

Now before I continue I’m going to have to clarify something – this game isn’t a bad one, it’s just not for me apparently. This disclaimer is in place following me being harassed for over an hour by someone even more condescending than myself on Twitter.

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The chap in question claimed that because I only played the game for an hour I couldn’t possibly have an opinion of any value. Given that Hotline Miami is only supposed to be about five hours long I feel that an hour should be plenty of time for me to find out if the game is fun or not.

If we were talking about some sort of large RPG then an hour would obviously not be enough, but for something that seemed to be fairly easy to get to grips with. “Should I put points into Small Guns or Swimming?” was not the sort of thing you’d find in this game.

Putting an hour into the first Portal game on the other hand is a lot of fun. I couldn’t put just an hour into FTL on the other hand!

At one point a comparison was made to reading the first three chapters of a book and dismissing it as lousy. Except I didn’t say the game was bad, I said it wasn’t fun.

adjective
amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable:
it was a fun evening

[source]

Riddle me this – is fun objective?

Of course not. I’d be bored out of my mind watching American football while others love nothing more. Some of the things I find fun would upset or frighten others, I’m sure!

To go back to the book analogy though – if I was to read the first three chapters of a book and dislike the style of writing to the point where I put it down then I would still have a valid opinion on it. Perhaps not a useful one, but perfectly justified. The time spent with it was not enjoyable.

Also levelled at me was criticism that I rage quit, frustrated at a lack of progress, and that I was some how slandering the game.

I did not keep track of where I got to in the game – it could have been chapter two, it could have been five. I wasn’t really paying attention to the chapter cards.

Progress for me in games is not all that important, sure I don’t like being stuck, but I like to push forward at my own pace, much like in life. I run FTL with a mod that eliminates the encroaching Rebel Fleet so I can tool around the game at a speed I choose. As a result I enjoy the game significantly more than I did before. It makes the game more fun for me.

For someone else it might remove the challenge and bore them, but that’s okay too.2297696-hotline_miami___gamescom_3

When it came to Hotline Miami I wasn’t frustrated at the lack of progression (every area so far had been basically the same) I was annoyed by the fundamental mechanics of it. Any hit instakills the player. There’s no real punishment for that but it means a section has to be replayed.

Whether it’s my age, lack of training, or straight up nerve damage from surgery, I do not have the reactions to play the game it seems. I can get a few kills in but after that it moves too quickly for my hands.

I didn’t realise this would be the case going in but I also hadn’t expected the game to be so shallow. Given its trippy nature I had expected a killing spree to reward the player with some slow-down, bullet time or similar. Alternatively I thought a combo would temporarily render the player immune from damage (i.e. instadeath).

pe4I had imagined during such things a delightful 8-bit trippy effect would tear up the peripheral areas of the screen in something reminiscent of Kane & Lynch 2’s visual filter or the craziness of Gridrunner++.

I loved the way that contributed to the experience of those games, even if in the case of K&L2 it wasn’t enough to stop the game being dull.

So there I sat in a darkened room, the music turned up, gamepad in hand, waiting for the game to impress me. The soundtrack was wonderful, the visuals quirky in a throw-back way, and the oddness of it all rather pleasantly weird.

979996_20100816_embed002There was no mechanic like that though and as I worked my way though the chapters I just felt bored. Aiming was splashy and I was usually instakilled by enemies far faster than me. Environments were detailed but contained little of any real interest.

After an hour I realised that I could keep playing this section or I could do the dishes. Doing the dishes appealed to me more than the alternative.

The thing that wasn’t fun was the core mechanics, not my progress. I was harangued to admit that I wasn’t enjoying the game because I was bad at it by the user in question but that’s not really the case. Even in the early levels where I got through with relative ease I wasn’t enjoying myself. I suck at Battlefield 3 but I still have fun on most maps, assuming I’m not playing with immortal superbeings as opponents.

Some games one has to be good at to have fun, certainly, but I didn’t expect that to be the case in a short, single-player indy game.

I wouldn’t recommend this game to others, but I also wouldn’t discourage them. I don’t feel I have enough of an opinion to say either way on what others should do with regards to this, but that wasn’t what I was trying to do when I posted that tweet.

I’m followed by a few friends and some other odds and sods. I occasionally shout things into the ether just to have said them aloud.

But thank you, @shinratdr, for showing me why people from the internet have such a bad reputation. I now love Hotline Miami and rescind my opinions about my personal experience with it. No, actually, scratch that, it was no fun whatsoever and I’ve contacted Steam for a refund. I’ve also been left with a bad taste in my mouth with regards to it.

If I’d paid that £3.49 for a pint and got a similar experience I would ask for a refund for that too.

Something that aggravates me a little in a business sense is how much retail properties cost to rent. I don’t want one just yet but from the numbers I’ve seen to get somewhere with even a little foot traffic is intensely costly. Of course then there’s insurance, tax, and any number of other additional costs.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of the predictions of the British Retail Consortium. Their analysis suggests that many high street retailers are going to fail in the coming year. Personally I’m fine with this, I buy things online and prefer it that way.

However what that will mean is a lot of retail space will be freed up. I would be surprised if there was any real shift in rent though, it just doesn’t seem a big enough trend to change anything. New businesses will open, survive a few months and then die when they simply can’t raise enough. Rinse and repeat.

I find myself wondering what it will take before town centres die enough to lower prices and allow for smaller businesses to move in. Speaking of smaller businesses, it seems odd that there aren’t smaller retail spaces available. How many shops really need all that floor space?

I’m a one man operation at the moment and my stock takes up a few shelves. It’d be nice to have a little shop but the amount of money I’d need to bring in to afford that would be colossal, it’s just not feasible.

Perhaps a business venture further down the road would be to start letting retail space in micro-market type of arrangement. It sounds complex to organise but not crazy. I’m going to have to have a think about this one.

I have an extensive collection of video files. Terabytes of the stuff!
The problem at the moment isn't storage but codec. My Raspberry Pi can natively decode H264 and does so delightfully smoothly. Older codecs like Xvid on the other hand have to be handled in software and so the results aren't as spectacular.

So at the moment my issue is this – if I opt to convert my entire collection to a new codec, what kind of file sizes should I be aiming for?

This is one of those questions that doesn't have a simple answer as it really depends on the content of the show. An episode of a live action sitcom can be compressed to a greater extent than something with a lot of action. As such a lower file size would be suitable for some content, not others.
Then there’s animated content, which compresses well but requires a few parameter tweaks. A high definition episode of an animated TV show can be the size of the old SD episodes using newer compression techniques.

So at the moment I'm trying to determine what rough guidelines I should set for myself.
For example I can get the first season of Bob’s Burgers in 720p and each episode is about 500 MB. That’s nuts as they’ll happily go to 200MB without any real loss in quality. In fact the audio becomes the issue then as it’s in surround sound!

So then I find myself trying to decide what to do about the audio – should I downmix it to stereo, for example? I don’t currently have a surround sound setup and honest, I don’t really care about it.
However other people who watch the content may care and I don’t see myself replacing the files with other ones any time soon.

I cannot seem to find anyone that’ll give me a good answer on these things. The simple reason is because it’s a very complex issue if we’re talking about any degree of accuracy. However, to the man in the street it’s not going to matter, really.

So what I need is a rough idea of what kind of file size to aim for. So take Bob’s Burgers. Initially I transcoded them to about 240MB each. However then I found an episode that was 204MB and looked indistinguishable from the larger ones. How low can I go?

Argh!

How much per issue?!

26 December 2012

I’m not particularly familiar with the US publication “Newsweek” it does seem a little interesting to see a fairly large name fold. Printed media has been on the decline for sometime now, certainly, but I don’t think we as consumers of it have really seen it first hand all that much. _64932833_newsweek_small

Whether it’ll ever make a comeback remains to be seen but the loss of it leaves me somewhat conflicted. On the one hand I like the spread of content one receives in a magazine publication, picked and edited to appeal to the reader. On the other hand the content is often outdated compared to what one might find online and rarely as in depth either.

Usually what I find scares me off is the price in relation to what is delivered. I have a subscription to Bizarre magazine and feel it delivers fairly good value for money. It’s not the thickest magazine ever but it’s nice and always has some things I wouldn’t have found without it.

On the other hand I loved the content of PC Gamer but couldn’t justify the ever increasing price on a monthly basis. As it happens it’s quite affordable as a subscription but I honestly hadn’t considered it due to the ridiculous cover price. I remember it costing £6 per issue when I was in school ten years ago and as such I am hesitant to even ask how much it’d cost these days!

Ultimately though when I have a magazine I feel attached to it. I paid for it and am hesitant to dispose of it. When one lives on one place for more than a few months at a time a stack builds up and it becomes unmanageable.

I’m not sure of a good way to solve this problem, at least at the moment, as being able to flick through a magazine is actually rather vital to the experience. An e-reader is great should one wish to read things in a linear order but that’s not really how magazines work.

Perhaps this is just one of those experiences that we’re going to have to learn to live without, at least for now. It seems a rather dull note to end on but many skills and experiences simply do not survive the march of time and I’m wondering if content-rich magazines will be one of them.

Humbug indeed.

25 December 2012

Ah Christmas, that time of year where here in Britain assorted out-dated religious institutions make a vain bid to be relevant in an increasingly secular society.

You know what I did this Christmas? I celebrated twice, well, no, I will be though (as at the time of writing I’ve only celebrated the once). I have a Swedish Christmas wherein I eat assorted relevant things and have a jolly time with friends or family, opening presents. Tomorrow, or more accurately, today, I shall be roasting a bird and having a bit of a traditional British Christmas, followed by an evening with friends.

That’s what Christmas is for me in the modern world. It’s not some out-dated religious guff that was never particularly relevant to this time of year anyway (come on, seriously – it’s just because it’s Saturnalia/Winter Solstice that Christians celebrate now anyway!).

So, let’s see here in the UK the Roman Catholic church has attacked gay marriage (how festive and inclusive), former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey is telling us to not use the internet:

"We are now in danger of the gadgets taking over our lives and we are not in control of them,"

Lovely. I played with two gadgets this evening – my phone (to speak to Jenny, currently in Sweden) and my Raspberry Pi (to watch Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas with a friend). How awful. I must not be in control of my life, being all sociable.

It’s statement like that which really hammer home just how out of touch I feel the clergy, or at least the leadership structure thereof, are with modern Britain. Have we suddenly lost our sense of community and friendship?

No!

We lost that through alienation of neighbours through media scare tactics regarding crime and paedophilia. Well, that and an erosion of local communal meetings points such as church. Aha! I don’t hear you say – religion used to bring people together! Well, yes, there are some positive aspects, but it seems instead of trying to harness those in a way that doesn’t make anyone under fifty cringe it’s become tiresome scare tactics for the most part. There are of course members of the clergy who are not quite so out of touch but sadly their colleagues seem intent on bringing down the average, so to speak.

For me Christmas is about tasty food, a certain ambience, walks on the beach, and the company of family or friends. As my folks are currently enjoying their retirement in New Zealand (or at least a break) it would seem friends it is. I’m fine with this!

Merry Christmas.

Sanity prevails occasionally

24 December 2012

I haven’t been able to find some clear cut details on it but it looks like the laws for UK copyright are finally getting some sane changes. Most of the time I find myself moaning about whatever crazy scheme the government or some lobby group are trying to push but today it’s a positive thing.

In the US parody is protected and so not subject to copyright infringement – the same is not true in the UK. Well, until now.

Additionally copying music to a device (such as from a CD to a hard disk or MP3 player) is now legal. Yes, most thought it was already – not so. In fact by recording songs from my turntable to my PC I was breaking the law!

I wish I could find a nice news source that explains the changes in full as there’s mention of orphan works (and I remember rumblings about those) but I can’t seem to unearth anything useful.

In any case it’s nice to be able to see a government do something right. I find myself increasingly disillusioned by them (not the parties currently in power specifically - all of them) and it seems a constant quest to squash the rights of the individual in favour of corporate lobby groups.

Related to this it’s nice to see that despite the UK Pirate Party being forced by the BPI to take down their TPB proxy other Pirate Parties worldwide have opened their own, along with countless others. Censorship is damage to the infrastructure of the internet. Thankfully the internet was built to withstand damage and route around it.

I am too tired to spend further words on the proxy issue but needless to say the BPI haven’t a leg to stand on as it is not their job to enforce the law. Even if it was, running a proxy for The Pirate Bay, that is in itself not illegal. Or at least not yet.

Given that Christmas is just around the corner I’m sure this issue has been thought about by many – giving gifts of technology.

For many it is simply not worth the trouble, it seems. I’m not trying to suggest they’re wrong, because they’re not. A new Kindle or phone given to most normal people, more so if they’re older, seems to result in the gift giver having to provide tech support for it.2122f1cI’m truly unable to grasp why this has become the accepted state of things. If I gave someone a car would they ask me for maintenance advice?

Would I be expected to teach them to drive?

Let’s go smaller scale – say I bought them a rather fancy shirt – would they ask me how to best care for it?

I provide a bit of tech support to my mother but it’s rarely on things I’ve bought for her and to be honest it’s becoming increasingly unnecessary as I spent a considerable amount of time teaching her how to figure these things out in the way I do. Teach a man to fish, so to speak.

I’m not proposing that as a solution to the problem, I’m just curious as to why we feel it’s socially acceptable to expect help from the person who provided the gift. Going back to the driving example I would expect “teaching someone to drive” to be a gift in and of itself. The same should arguably be true of technology – if I buy someone an iPad why should they expect me to show them how to set it up?

It’s just been bugging me lately and I’m not sure what to think of it.

I see that ICANN are doing the whole “My pet wants a .dog domain” thing again. I’ve lost count of how many ridiculously mundane TLDs now exist. Sure, .xxx is vaguely nifty, but .gb.net? Who actually chooses to use that?

One of the domains to be considered is .cymru. Really?

I just cannot think of a circumstance where that’s going to be used as the primary address for anything.

Here’s some details from the BBC on the whole nonsense

I don’t mind vaguely sensible ones, like .play. I could even see a .film being useful. But loads of these are total hogwash and I’m utterly baffled by why there is any interest in further splintering things.

It’s only a short entry but I am simply too tired to write something lengthy and well-informed today.

Wait, how many units?

21 December 2012

Whilst trying to decide on what to write about today I noticed a little piece on the Raspberry Pi on the BBC news site. This is rather relevant to me as yesterday I received my replacement RPi (the first one seemed to have some issues with its HDMI port).2012-12-21 01.12.09

Columbia_Emporia_Post00It’s now setup in my living room running Raspbmc and sharing content over my network. It’s basically replacing my old media centre entirely and for a fraction of the power requirements.

As many of you will know, my old media centre was called Rapture. This new, lighter weight one has been dubbed “Columbia”.

The support for the little device is excellent and I have no doubt that this wouldn’t have been possible if it had remained a niche device. 10,000 units was the expected number of units for the year – actually there’s now 750,000 out there, apparently.

As it stands though they’re mostly in the hands of enthusiasts like myself rather than school children. The plan is to make a concerted effort to target education more, as per the project’s original intentions.

That said I feel that having an army of enthusiasts out there tinkering with them is brilliant. With so many in use they can really be thoroughly tested and understood allowing for a huge support network and a vast resource of knowledge to be created.

There’s plenty of naysayers, particularly those who point out (correctly) that one can learn to code on anything. I don’t think they really consider how children think or behave in doing so.

When I hold my RPi I find myself marvelling at how that little card can do so much. Sure, it can’t do some of the things my desktop PC can do, but this little thing could run from a few AA batteries and act as a powerful CPU for all sorts of cool projects. It also doesn’t have all the distractions of a full PC – I couldn’t play, say, Spec Ops: The Line, on it even if I wanted to!

A large part of teaching is getting the right attitude from students and a desktop PC just doesn’t seem like the way to go. Teaching them to code something that could run on their phone does, but that’s tricky due to the expense and current fragility of smartphones.

A Raspberry Pi on the other hand costs less than £30 and can be thoroughly tinkered with. If the OS gets buggered just reflash the SD card. Done!

Better still one could have a load of SD cards to do different things, pop them into the device and show children how easily the same hardware can be transformed and adapted.

Well I think that’s godsdamned cool.

Up the river.

20 December 2012

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Everyone seems to be talking about Spec Ops: The Line recently, discussing its portrayal of war and the way it is pushing videogames forward as a medium.

Well that’s lovely but I’ve played it and I’ve got to say I was underwhelmed in many ways.

My criticism is mostly based on the game elements rather than the clever stuff it does. As you may have read or heard the game portions of the experience (rather than the story) are not supposed to be fun – it’s supposed to feel like the game is a pain in the arse, apparently.

For me that wasn’t the case. It felt dull, certainly, annoying to a certain extent (let me remap the godsdamned controls…), but mostly it was just immersion shattering.

A few years ago I played Alpha Protocol and was amazed by many aspects of it – the story was more fun than the game but the gameplay itself wasn’t half bad. I could look past it and it didn’t drag me out of the moment.

Not so with SO:TL – I found myself losing track of what was going on in terms of the minutiae of the story. Who is Gould? Why is he important again? The reason being that I was too busy focusing on the fairly crap third person gameplay.

The Bad Thing That Happens in SO:TL was supposed to make me feel bad. I hear it made others feel awful. Instead I felt absolutely nothing.

Had it occurred in a film where I was immersed I have no doubt I’d react, but instead I found myself thinking “Yes, so what? They’re not real people. Real people have families, lives, homes. These people are digital mannequins put there to get an emotional response from me. I’ll happily slaughter them because they’re not real.”

When I played GTA IV I had a reaction to rescuing Roman when he’s kidnapped. Niko was so angry; that someone would even dare to harm his family. The voice acting, the search, it really got me to feel something. Sure, he was an annoying character, but he’d never done me any harm and time had been taken to establish the dopey git as a real person.

Conversely whilst playing SO:TL I found myself thinking “How many soldiers are there in this damned battalion?!”. The story set it in such a way that I expected there to be a small, tough force, grizzled and weary. To fight wave upon wave of essentially suicidal AI idiots just took me out of it. I don’t mind gunning them down but it tends to bore me and remind me of the basic game mechanics, totally disengaging me from the setting and the story.

On another note much is made of the loading screens later in the game. Despite going back to play through some parts again I don’t think I ever saw one. I had to take a look through screenshots to see if they were real.

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On the plus side the collectibles actually contributed to the setting and the graffiti found throughout the game is delightful (although one bit of daubed paint used a font I’m extremely familiar with…).

I admire what the game tried to do but I feel we’ve got a long way to go before it works. What I would prefer would be objectives in a game that I’m encouraged to follow but finding that I could actually do something else. There’s a couple of times in this game like that, but only a couple.

When the Bad Thing happens in the game I was disengaged from it partly for the reasons I mentioned above and partly because it was required to progress in the game. If I’d done it and found that there had actually been several other things I could have done to avoid it then I’d have done that. As it stands it was a case of “follow the objectives and keep playing the game I paid for” or “Stop playing and have that money go to waste”. I’m not bailing on a paid-for experience for something so clearly designed to tug at my emotions.2012-12-19_00011

When I stepped outside for a moment whilst watching Sunshine in the cinema I did so because the atmosphere was so powerfully crafted as to create this oppressive claustrophobic pressure on my psyche. I didn’t mind, I was actually impressed, but it got a reaction from me.

I should have felt something similar in SO:TL but I didn’t. The artificial, gamey nature of the experience just destroyed my immersion so frequently as to detach me from any sort of emotional engagement.

The only exception to this was when I wasn’t fighting in the run up to meeting the DJ. I went from sunny, arid Dubai, into a cool, dark, neon-lit area. Having been to Dubai myself I know how bizarre the transition from inside to outside can be – the air conditioning they run in most places makes indoors actively chilly.

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The quiet, the artwork, the whole thing made for a deliciously surreal moment. Therefore the game was capable of it, but messing it up by trying to be clever.

I don’t feel bad about my choices if they weren’t my choices.

Adapt or die

19 December 2012

Over on /r/Warhammer there’s a rather aggravating discussion going on regarding FLGSs – friendly local gaming stores.DorkTower1117The guy who posted it seems to mostly be interested in a circle-jerk about how LGSs are dying due to consumer apathy. Whenever someone starts to talk about monetisation strategies and the changing business environment he becomes defensive and critical.

That doesn’t change the fact that the discussion is important.

Sure, it’s not important in the way mass deforestation and our over reliance on fossil fuels are important but in our little personal worlds it can be quite a bit deal.

The crux of the issue is simply that the business environment has changed. It does that, you know?

I’m not sure how long LGSs thought things were going to stay static for but it seems many act like they’ve been blindsided by the internet. It’s nearly 2013, you guys should have seen this coming.

As a result models are available online for significant markdown from retailers who don’t have the overheads the LGSs have. I would rather buy online than from a local store, for example. It’s cheaper and it shows up at my front door. I can also pay using PayPal, which is where much of my spending money is earned.

The argument goes that the markup at an LGS pays for table use for gaming and as a result one should support them.

It sounds simple enough but it’s really not. At the moment table use is free and as such users expect it to cost them nothing. They do want to use the tables and the community space – that has value to them and it’s currently costing them nothing. If they want they can buy models but there’s no obligation.

That model isn’t working. Shocker, I know.

Personally I want to use tables but have more models than I need for the foreseeable future. I do not wish to purchase goods I do not need to support a cause that is increasingly feeling like a bleeding-hearts charity.

I’m not planning on creating a new business plan for these places, that’s not my job or my problem. I run my own wargaming business for which I created a business plan. I keep an eye on the business environment and try to anticipate changes so I can roll with them as and when they appear. My business lives or dies on my ability to do that – the same is true for LGSs.

Some in the discussion thread claim that gamers are not willing to pay for table space. That isn’t true for me, sure, but perhaps it’s true for others, yet the commenters treat it as if it’s a fact of life, etched indelibly in stone. Fucking really? We’re just going to give up?

Attitudes can be changed, it’s what PR and marketing are there for!

So let’s assume at the moment people do not want to pay for tables – how do we change that attitude? What would gamers respond to?

I’m not going to do that bit for them, but it’s something to be thinking about as a business owner. You’ve currently got customers who are taking your product/service and paying you nothing. What a great business model – time to reconsider that value proposition.

Monetisation is a core component of a business model but it seems many wargamers have just decided that it’s their fault LGSs are dying. No, it’s not. In a different societal model it would be but in a capitalist model that is not the case – they went where they perceived the value to be better. That’s supposed to happen.

It’s the job of LGS owners to figure out how to get them back.

As with so many other things – adapt or die.

The curious case of Godus

18 December 2012

Peter Molyneaux’s latest project, Godus, is on Kickstarter and has 3 days to go at the time of writing. It’s an interesting case as it’s still unclear if it’ll hit its goal of £450K. It’s sitting at £355,879 at the moment and climbing slowly but a final jump in the last day or so isn’t unheard of.

That’s not what makes it notable though – it’s a game with a big name behind it, Peter Molyneaux, but it hasn’t been a runaway success. Wasteland 2 and Double Fine’s project didn’t have much trouble, if memory serves, but Godus isn’t getting an easy ride.

Molyneux-Wants-Gamers-to-Believe-Godus-Kickstarter-Promises

Personally I’m hesitant to jump on board as the lowest tier where one actually gets the game is £15. I normally don’t pay that much for any game. I’d buy it in a bundle or a Steam sale and get it for at most about £7.50. If the asking price was $15 I’d probably go for it but pounds? Eh, no.

The other thing holding me back is the project’s lack of impetus so far – had it flown past its goal I’d be more inclined to support the project, but it hasn’t. Instead I’ve seen Mr. Molyneaux wringing his hands and articles on various news sites about it.

Then there’s reputation. Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw once talked of the importance of keeping Peter Molyneaux’s gob shut during development and that’s what worries me about this. Old Pete is the one talking to us in the videos and promising a wonderful game. Unfortunately his reputation precedes him and I have no idea what to actually expect in the final game as a result. Erk.

Lastly there’s the simple fact that it talks about Populous, a game I’ve heard great things about but am frankly not quite old enough to have played. It could be fantastic, really I haven’t a clue. This could have been a good thing – I tried Wasteland and couldn’t get past the interface and severely dated graphics.

wasteland_1

So when the opportunity to fund a new version that I might actually be able to enjoy came along I jumped at the chance.

But I’m just not feeling that with Godus and I fear many others feel the same way.

My parents are in their mid 60s – unusual for someone my age by actually for the most part it’s a blessing. They’ve lived full lives and raised children before me. I got the director’s cut of parenting as it were. Sure it was still imperfect, perfection is unattainable, but it did mean that my parents stayed in contact with the younger generation for much longer than many of their peers.

When their friends’ children were buying their first houses I was building my first gaming PC as a teenager. I was a different generation and as such grew up around a lot more sophisticated technology.

I did my best to teach my mother how to use technology and more importantly how to learn to use new things. I would have done the same for my father but he tended towards earlier adoption and seemed to mostly find his own way. As it transpires he has amusing blind spots when it comes to this sort of thing, but I think I can forgive him that (apart from when he’s deliberately winding me up…).

My mother, like many of her generation used to be of the mindset “I have to be careful or I’ll break the computer!” but over time and with a combination of encouragement and scolding I seem to have got her past this.

I spoke to her earlier today on Skype from New Zealand and she told me someone had been talking to her about storing photos in the cloud. This amused us both as she’s been doing that for about a year now via Dropbox.

We also talked about the Raspberry Pi and while I don’t think she necessarily grasped all the details it does mean that if it comes up in conversation or on the news she has at least a bit of a starting point.

So, I’m rambling around a point, you might expect. You would be right, you always are. Linky.

This bit stood out for me:

According to Ofcom, more than 7.5 million adults have never used the internet. Many of these are older - two-fifths are over 75.

I got thinking about this and what sprang to mind was when people say “I don’t need that” (often in reference to smart phones). Now I don’t dispute the lack of need as really, they’re not necessary.

However used correctly they’re fantastic.

I can think of several people though who say that but seem to have no real concept of what they’re saying they don’t want.

Lacking empathy I cannot imagine what they see such devices as. To me my smartphone handles email, sure, but I also use it for cooking, design, photography, documentation, communication (through IM/SMS/Twitter), and various other things.

The camera aspect alone is something that seems lost on many. With a modern smartphone you always have a camera with you. Sure it’s not going to beat a DSLR, but for normal point-and-shoot stuff it’s fine!

More importantly than that though – it’s always with you!

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked.

I very much doubt we’re doing a good job of explaining what the modern internet offers in any practical way. In the article I linked to the stuff described seems dull as all hell!

Teaching someone how to send attachments? When did any of us internet denizens do that last?

If I want to share a document I’d stick it on Google Docs/Drive. If it was an image I’d pop it on Imgur. Attachments can only be 10 – 20 MB or so anyway so what would I use it to send?

I’d rather encourage older folk to record videos of themselves talking about things, write a blog about their hobbies, lives, and thoughts, get involved with Reddit and its myriad of boards, or, just maybe, play some games!

Or you know, let’s teach them how to use a word processor. Fun. Good if you want to write a stern letter to the council, I suppose, but hardly very invigorating, is it?

No, Helen

15 December 2012

I breathed a sigh of relief today – the UK government is scrapping plans for automatically blocking porn.

When this came up it felt very much like a “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” move.helen-lovejoy

That is to say the organisations supporting the move were so focussed on the idea of implementing such draconian measures that they seemed to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Furthermore very few seemed willing to actually question whether there was another way we could be going about protecting children. All or nothing, as it were.

I despise the concept of filtering on a national level. I experienced it when I was in Dubai and ugh, no thank you.

If we really wanted to protect our children why can’t resources be put towards filtering on a household level using simple, open software, ideally running on the router?

Given how cheaply we can make low power devices (such as the Raspberry Pi) there seems to be no reason we couldn’t create software to run on routers that would be easy for parents to use. That way it wouldn’t matter which device was used the connection would be filtered at its source.

Running nanny software seems like a lot of trouble and as such doing it this way would bypass that and mean that all new devices would work just fine. That is to say a new game console wouldn’t need dedicated software to be kept secure as it’d still be going through the secured connection.

That said the software would need to be well tested and easy to use. But more than that we’d have to establish a culture that accepts and talks about these things. The government’s “Five A Day” programme has become quite accepted from what I can see, even if we don’t all actually abide by it. Similar things happened with the stigmatisation of drinking and driving – it can be done.

So if we make it easier and couple it with a campaign to make it the sensible and acceptable thing to do then I see no reason why we can’t have our cake and eat it. That way those of us without children can be as depraved as we want without fear of having our toys censored away from us!

In closing I’d like to add that during the consultation period for this legislation I did more than just moan – I actively took part in the study to voice my disapproval of such ridiculous blanket measures. The problem isn’t black and white; in protecting children we need to see the world in more complex terms.

Reading some comments from Dr. Narayana Reddy on a BBC news story on attitudes towards BDSM in India really disturbed me.

He singles out BDSM edge play as if that is the only element of the concepts and culture and then claims that if such things are required for arousal then “(he) would term it sexually problematic behaviour.”

Lovely.

I bet he’s enjoying how popular Fifty Shades of Grey is in India.

It annoys me no end to see this sort of thing. Edge play can certainly be scary, but that’s rather the point. Much of BDSM involves nothing of the sort. Lots of it is power exchange and subversion of traditional roles and rules. So for example under normal circumstances it is not socially acceptable to slap another person – in BDSM the dominant can do so whenever they choose to. This assumes of course that the submissive has agreed before hand.

Initially, someone might try it for its novelty, but with time that can run off and it can leave deep scars, both physically and emotionally.
-Dr Narayana Reddy

Really?

I would argue quite the opposite for one fundamental reason.

Communication.

For good BDSM play good communication is vital. Those involved need to talk to each other, outline what they want, what their expectations are, what they’re comfortable with and where their limits are.

Some normal couples may well discuss this but it is not particularly common to have that kind of open, frank dialogue.

Being able to talk about these things really helps build a much better relationship.

Actually, make that two reasons.

Trust.

Without trust a BDSM relationship cannot exist. Partners need to be confident they can trust each other on a very deep level, much more so than many vanilla relationships manage.

But hey, they’re deviant scum, right?

Extra foam please

13 December 2012

When I was taught to shoot my father explained to me that aiming for the head, whilst lethal, was a fool’s bet. The upper abdomen is the prize. Home to lungs, heart, and major blood vessels. Put a shot through that and the animal won’t last long, particularly with hollow point rounds.

Lower in the abdomen will also kill but it’ll take longer. It’s also basically impossible to stop the bleeding without major surgery.

Well today I was reading this article and it looks like we’re finally getting a handle on that little problem. It reads like something out of Broken Angels (a Richard Morgan book) – reasonable with a little bit of development, but from the future. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

I’m often amazed by how little of our technology we seem to actually apply to problems. This seems like a nice example of what happens when we work across disciplines to try new things.

It’s a bit like the emergency foam in Demolition Man, immobilising the person and keeping them safe. The same principal applies here – let’s see you bleed through that! Mwuhaha!"

In my mind I’m imagining some time in the future, watching a war film. A squad are moving through some ruins when they come under fire.

One of the lads is hit and goes down, two of his comrades drag him by the shoulders to cover. The stricken soldier sounds panicked and his friends try to keep him calm in between calling for a medic who shortly arrives.

“It’s pretty bad doc, what do you think?”

Quickly and silently the medic unclips the wounded’s equipment and armour, exposing his fatigues. The wound is bleeding badly and the man is about to go into shock.

“What’s your name, soldier?”

“Franklin…”

“Really? You poor fuck. Anyway Franklin, stop freaking out, you’re going to be fine. This is going to feel pretty weird though…”

He stabs the wound with a foam pack, sealing off the worst of the damage, jabbing him with a disposable syringe of painkillers as it cures.

“You’re going to be fine, buddy.”

It seems the sort of dramatic nonsense we’ll come to expect but it should mean a lot of lives are saved.

No, no, don’t play that.

12 December 2012

I had such high hopes for Dishonored, well, no, but I had hopes at least. I would have had higher hopes if it’d been third person but it seems it fell victim to the same idea as Fallout 3: first person is more immersive.

I can’t say I agree. Instead of getting into the game world I felt I had to constantly be checking my surroundings manually to be sure there weren’t any pesky guards around. At least in third person I can get a broader view that gives me a sense of my surroundings. Playing first person is like wearing a helmet that drastically restricts view, almost like Knightmare…

But perspective aside there was a feeling that it should have been a much better game. Its world certainly appealed, although the idea of powering everything with whale oil just seemed unfeasible to me, given the volume of gizmos and the fact that whales have to be caught individually.

Oh well, there’s always magic. Wait, what now?

Dishonored-Corvo

Yes, in Dishonored there’s magic. I didn’t quite follow who or what “The Outsider” was supposed to be but the game world kept right on going. Obviously there’s some secret religion or something, you’re fine with that, right? It makes sense?

Still not getting it.

Fortunately the plot is irrelevant and uninteresting. Well, no, not fortunately at all, actually it’s tragic. The plot twists in really predictable ways, the textures are low resolution crap wrapped over low poly models, the puzzles have about two solutions and, well, there’s the morality system.

One’s actions in game are perceived as either “low chaos” or “high chaos”. Barely touch anyone and there’s the good ending waiting, actually play the game and use the bits that make it fun and the bad ending is the result. There’s barely any difference throughout the game anyway but I still don’t understand who in their right mind felt this was a sensible design decision.

I would posit that many, if not most, want the good ending. The game has lots of fun mechanics for killing people and wreaking havoc. Using them essentially punishes the player.

Brilliant.

Oh well, it’s still more choices than one gets in Assassin’s Creed 3. Bland action in a dull setting with uninteresting characters. Everyone is a bit of a bastard and the Brits are double bastards (which is now a thing).

The exception to this would be the homestead where everything is so perfect as to have its own perfect flag. I’m not kidding, there’s really a flag.

f25d38861c7df382abfafa84ee36ba0d34559199.jpg__617x346_q85_crop_upscale

For all I know it could be a real flag, I don’t recognise it and perhaps my ignorance is showing. The missions on the homestead unlock various crafting abilities which would be great at the start of the game but are mostly superfluous, more so at the end.

Dishonored’s moral choice system is perfectly reasonable compared to AC3’s crafting system however. The interface is only marginally more user-friendly than British copyright law and it truly beggars belief that nothing better could be built.

As a result I tried crafting some things but ultimately gave up in frustration.

Other comments on the game have centred around the tutorial mechanics, which, to be frank, never go away. Perhaps in the final section of the game? Maybe?

Essentially it felt like the game expected me to not be able to remember how to play it most of the time. Other times though I was faced with bizarre instructions lacking in any real explanation. Huzzah.

What can I say that’s positive about the game… The Desmond parts were fun, I guess? Shaun is still funny?

As Assassin’s Creed games go it’s the worst I’ve ever played. Admittedly I started playing at AC2 so perhaps it’s better than the original but really, ugh, skip it.

Instead play something that’s actually good, like Faster Than Light.

FTL_011

It’s a quirky little game that I’ve been having some fun with. Each game can be quick or can endure for hours, depending on luck, careful choices, and personal attitude.

I tend to fight nearly every enemy I come across and eventually it gets me killed but I have fun while doing it which is rather the point!

I find myself longing for Startopia whilst playing it, probably because I give my ship a silly moniker and tend to give crew names like “Clive”. It’s whimsical, fun, and cheap.

Play that instead. It might not last as long as the other two games but it costs a fraction as much and is actually fun.

Remember fun?

That’s what videogames are primarily for, lest we forget.

Back in the late 90s I owned a copy of Pokémon Blue for the original Gameboy which I played extensively. I favoured Bulbasaur of the starting three and had a great time playing it. Some time later, a year or two maybe, I picked up the game again and started making my way towards 151 Pokémon.

It was long ago and as such I can't recall if I started a new save file or whether this is a false memory. I think it's true and I definitely went back and played it. I also recall trading with a kid in Northumberland for the few I was missing, including Mew.

I cannot recall whether my save got wiped or not though, and if it did, which save? Did my original playthrough get wiped or did I start a new game entirely and then have it wiped by some clot once I was done?

I think I sold the cartridge on eBay some time ago so it's pretty irrelevant either way. I never managed to purchase Gold or Silver as the price back then, £25, was more than I could afford. There were no price cuts and so I never bought it, as much as I would have liked it.

Now it's 2012, I'm soon to be 26, and most people I know seem to have a Nintendo DS hiding somewhere. I'm thinking it'd be fun to get some folks my own age, ish, to start playing Pokémon Black/White 2 when it arrives in October. I'm not looking to power-game it, just casual play. I think it'd be rather fun to have a pint and compare/battle while waiting for other people to get to the pub.

That said I'm not willing to pay a premium to do it. I will probably not be paying for games, shall we say. That may sound childish but as it happens I've found that my piracy habits are dictated by the ecosystem, not by the money available to me. I used to pirate most things on PC with the occasional purchase, these days Steam has provided a platform and a pricing structure (through sales) that makes piracy the more tiresome option.

I do not buy games if they cost more than about £7.50 in most cases. There's the odd exception once in a blue moon but generally speaking I only buy stuff when it's at a price point I'm happy with. Usually I'll wait until it's available, other times I'll pirate it and then buy it when I feel the price is right.

This doesn't seem to be an option on the DS and as such rather than getting some money from me they will receive no money. Just as before if I can't find a way to play without paying, I'll do without. Flashcarts provide a way to play without paying so I'll be going down that route I expect. If the game was on hand for £7.50 or so I'd just buy it and save myself a lot of hassle though, assuming it would download to the device rather than requiring me to lug around a cartridge. The idea of needing physical media for a console, particularly a handheld, feels rather silly to me these days. Flash memory is cheap, let me download them to the device and have them linked to my user account like Steam. If I need the space let me delete them and allow me to retrieve them later for free.

A DS Lite costs about £20 - £30 in Crime Converters (Cash Generator/Cash Converter). So, Pokémon anyone?

Polyglot polemics

02 September 2012

I’ve just seen some folks on Reddit seriously question why one would raise a child to be bilingual/multilingual.

It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would consider being bilingual a bad thing, or question the benefit. The idea that there would need to be tangible benefits boggled my mind. There are certainly job prospect benefits, of course, but it hadn’t crossed my mind that anyone would focus on that primarily.

Some commenters questioned the value of learning Spanish due to the fact that Mexico and South America are “merely” developing nations. The concept of being able to better communicate with other cultures seemed irrelevant to them.

Putting that stuff to the side there’s the simple fact that being multilingual is good for the brain! [Source]

I’m always surprised when someone only speaks a single language, admittedly. Most folks I know speak at least one additional language, although four or five isn’t unheard of.

If you had the opportunity to raise your child to speak additional languages, wouldn’t you?

I’d like my children to be able to speak at least three if not more. I want them to be able to understand the world better than I can. I’m good, but if possible I want them to be better. That seems a normal response to the circumstances, I feel.

The conventional wisdom is that knowing another language is valuable, but I've honestly never seen the benefit, unless you're truly interested in another culture. I learned French in high school, promptly forgot it, and never understood why I was forced to take it in the first place. [source]

Ideally learn useful languages but either way it’s good for the brain.

That’s all, I just was dumbfounded by the comments.

Mmmm stuff.

24 June 2012

I don't recall if I've written about this before but it bears further discussion I feel - tangibility.

Personally I love the amount of stuff that no longer requires a physical presence. It sounds rather exotic, doesn't it?

What I mean is that ten years ago my video game collection was a stack of DVD cases, my music collection was a leather thing full of CDs, and so on.

These days I get annoyed if a PC game comes on a disc. I find myself asking "Why should I hold onto this needless clutter?". My games are stored in Steam. When I'm done with one I delete its files and forget about it. Should the niggling desire to play it arise later (as it so often does) it's just a matter of clicking the install button and the files are pulled down from the 'net.

I have a friend that does not seem to like this concept. He likes physical discs. I'd ask him the logic but I doubt I'd get any and even if he told me something reasonable I still wouldn't understand.

Redditors of a similar mindset suggest that they don't like the idea of not having a physical backup. They feel the disc means they own the game.

As anyone who's ever glanced at an End User License Agreement should know, that's not the case at all. What you bought was a license key for the game. It might as well come on a scratch card. The disc that goes with it is the version of the game files that were available when they went to manufacturing provided to you for your convenience. Chances are that it's horribly out of date and will require numerous updates before it's even playable.

The disc itself is essentially valueless. I know that when I go to install Half Life 2 I will not be reaching for the DVD case on my old games shelf. I've no idea where my Starcraft discs are because I stopped keeping track of them once I registered their serial numbers with BattleNet.

Normally I maintain an internal database of where my possessions are. As in inside my head. It's not perfect but it's pretty damn accurate and with virtually everything I can tell you where and when I got it. There's barely a thing in my possession that has unknown origins. I don't make a point of memorising this stuff, it just sticks. I'm sure I'm quite common in this but I felt it was worth a mention.

Now if I can avoid adding to this data whilst retaining access to the items I'm rather pleased. That isn't to say I'd like to forget things, it's more like if future games can avoid adding to the physical aspect of my life that is a big bonus.

I don't buy CDs, my TV shows are all files on hard disks, my PC games live online, even my old audiobooks no longer need to be on cassettes. Soon I hope I can stop collecting physical books. For now I'm waiting on a bath-proof e-reader, but I'm sure that day is coming!

Certainly if there was a fire I'd lose my computer but as soon as I got another one I could reacquire that lot with minimal effort. The same could not be said of the pile of DVDs, at least not without incurring significant cost.

Also - discs actually die eventually. I have old CDs that no longer work, not to mention the DVDs that are too scratched to use (not my doing, I assure you!). I imagine Steam will probably outlive the usable lifetime of any games I buy physical copies of.

It just comes down to the reason for the existence of physical media. Digital files are digital files - they could be on a pile of CDs, a DVD, a flash disk, or whatever. Instead why not just keep those files backed up online until I need them? There's no reason I should have to be the keeper of those ones and zeroes when there's people who could do a better job than me for no extra cost.

A vinyl album on the other hand does something a CD doesn't - it gives me an experience. Yeah, yeah, it's sounds pretentious as all hell but that's not what I'm getting at. I'm not trying to lecture about warm tones or whatever, no, I mean that I find it a lot of hassle to skip tracks on a record. I find myself compelled to listen to the album as a whole, not track by track. A CD doesn't do that. A cassette would work too but the sound quality is lower and the artwork not as pretty, at least to my ears and eyes.

PC games on disc do not have an upside, at least from my perspective.

*drops the mic*

It would seem the rumours of Steam on Linux are circulating again. Phoronix are once again talking about it and whilst there’s some photos and discussion I’m going to have to say “I’ll believe it when I use it”.

This isn’t to say it’s unthinkable or impossible, but the last time these rumours circulated, about two years ago, I got excited. Nothing came of it.

Perhaps this time we’ll be more fortunate.

What makes me hopeful this time is the rumours that have been circulating of a Steam console. If such a device did exist it might make sense to run Linux on it, or a variant of Android. Either way DirectX wouldn’t be getting a look in and so OpenGL would be the way to go.

If the ground work was in place from porting things to Linux that might make a roll out and support structure much easier to implement. It might not, of course, but it doesn’t seem too big a leap of imagination.

Gabe Newell did mention that he’d been working on Linux stuff in The Seven Day Cool Down (around the 11 minute mark), but once again I’m hesitant.

Hope springs eternal, I suppose.

Creating for Necromunda

18 April 2012

There's something really satisfying about the current Necromunda campaign I'm playing in. Sure, I'm not fielding a gang that has been in the pipeline since shortly after finishing school and yes, we're not using the original first edition rules that I prefer.

However what I am instead doing is playing as a gang that never got fully painted originally. They're partly metal Escher models I bought from GW Nottingham HQ back when one could still order bitz.

I'm not just using those models though - I'm also fielding a few I picked up on eBay for a pittance. The low price really encourages me to do some conversion work on them. As you know, reader, I've been learning to sculpt. I was working on Orks but following recent events the wind was actively sucked from my metaphorical sails.

I need to keep working though so I've started doing some work on humans instead. The shift in scale is considerable but the extra skill I'm learning should be worth it.

This relates as these metal models I'm getting on eBay cannot be easily converted like one can with modern plastics or resins. They're made of white metal and so it's clippers or the saw. They're also human women, not bulky space marines. This means I need to rebuild details and work with relatively delicate features. It's really rewarding, actually.

To push things even further I've scratch built a few models. I needed a heavy bolter for my gang but no such model exists. An ammo belt from Zinge industries later and I was on my way.

The only problem was that the first game I fielded her in she proved very effective and I earned a whole wodge of cash for the gang. Now I need to build a second one!

That's a job for tomorrow though. I also really need to work on sculpting female faces, although my first attempt wasn't horrific, just not quite good enough. She looks female, just a bit too cartoony, or cartoony but not in the right style to match the other models.

Once I'm done with these girls though I look forward to working on the Orks again. Their scale should be a doddle by comparison!

Parasocialising

21 February 2012

You probably have a parasocial relationship in your life. If you've grown up around television or literature it's a safe bet that you'll have encountered this concept, even if you didn't know what it was called.

Essentially it's a one-sided social interaction. Do you miss a TV series you used to watch? That's a parasocial relationship. You were never directly involved in the lives of the characters and they were not aware of you observing them yet you developed an attachment to them.

I feel that about various TV shows and find it somewhat disturbing. I do not tend to sit around the housing watching TV, however I have seen a frankly outrageous amount of content. Every Simpsons episode ever broadcast, for example (~500 at the time of writing). That's a lot of time watching characters and their lives and has affected my brain somewhat. I find watching The Simpsons to have a calming effect on me - the characters are familiar and positive (as in my perceived relationship with them) and it puts me at ease.

Similarly watching old episodes of Scrubs is a little sad, even though the plotlines pretty much resolved themselves. I watched the characters mature and grow over the course of nine series (I did not watch them year by year, but it was over the course of a few years). Now that their adventures are over there's somewhat of a gap in my life left by them. It's a bit odd and I'm not sure whether I am comfortable with the concept.

I suppose it's a similar phenomenon that drives people to be "supporters" of team sports clubs, although there are a great many other elements at play there.

Given the current issues I'm having with a few close friends at the moment it seems both natural and stupid to turn to these parasocial relationships for comfort. I'm doing my best to ensure that I do not turn to them exclusively as I feel that would be extremely unhealthy. It does make me wonder how many people inevitably do though...

I finished playing Psychonauts last night, having recently bought it in a Steam sale for half a pittance. Aside from a couple of frustrating moments (mostly in the final "level") it was a very fun experience.

The writing was excellent, the characters funny (particularly the shadowy G-men inside Boyd's head), and in the gameplay was mostly satisfying.

That's not what I'm writing about though. Whilst playing I noticed that the game, despite being released in 2005 has Steam achievements. I also notice that it had no problem supporting my native resolution (1920x1080). In a modern game that'd be to be expected but back then it was unheard of to have a monitor like that.

From what I've read though the game was distributed by a company for a number of years (I want to say Majesco?) but then the distribution agreement expired and those rights reverted back to Double Fine. So what did they do?

Well they fixed a load of issues, integrated it with Steam, added cloud support, achievements, and modern resolutions (I'm guessing on the last one) and re-released it. There's also a nifty iOS app with some artist/director commentary on some of the game's art assets.

I wonder if we'll see a bit more of this sort of thing given the way modern gaming has become established. I doubt it because I'm feeling cynical but there's certainly the possibility.

My only complaint is the inability to return to the map hub after the suitably named "Point of No Return". I wanted to finish things up and then return to sort stuff out. Alas it was not to be and I'm not willing to go that far back.

However perhaps soon I'll be playing Psychonauts 2. Make it happen, Mr. Schafer!

Taking action in Glasgow

11 February 2012



As I write this, dear reader, I'm sitting on the train on my way back from Glasgow where I was attending a protest against ACTA. I was not alone but the turn out was nowhere near as large as the Facebook event "going" numbers suggested it would be. I'm unsurprised, frankly.


Why would that be, Ben, you cynical misanthrope?


That'd be because I've become accustomed to the sickening apathy of my generation. Nothing poses any real, tangible threat to their ways of life on its own. However over time their liberties are being eroded and yet they are unwilling to even consider speaking out.


I have several theories as to why this might be, although I doubt it is any one thing. Something new flew into my factors today based on something I listened to some time ago.


Mobile phones.


I have no real issue with them, I've had one since I was sixteen, etc. etc.. This isn't a post to rally against them, it's more a spot of finger in the air speculation.


Prior to the ubiquity of mobile phones there were greater social consequences for not attending something. One could not call an hour before and tell someone that one would be unable to meet them. They'd already be on their way there, or at least unreachable. These days one can send a text at short notice and whilst there is still consequence one did still provide some notice, rather than none at all.


Essentially it has become a lot easier to avoid committing to social engagements. One can sit on the fence until the last moment, sometimes beyond.


The other thing I would comment on is the peer pressure social media creates. I don't see many strong opinions posted in my Facebook feed, I see mundane matters. I don't tend to hesitate about being outspoken about issues that get to me yet I find myself cautious about posting things to my Facebook feed. If I find it that difficult who is to say how difficult it must be for those who are less gregarious than myself?


Of my Facebook "friends" only one came to the protest today and he's someone I only know through politics and so would probably have attended regardless of my own actions. None of them even offered an opinion on ACTA, let alone asked to come along (or better yet, told me they'd be there).


I find this extremely disappointing yet it is also the response I expected.


What needs to happen for my generation to actually consider that these things affect them and can be changed?


Why is it that it is almost taboo to take action amongst mainstream culture?

On doing business my way

01 February 2012

It's the middle of the night and I'm fairly tired and yet can't sleep.

Inspired, I know. It's not my worries that are keeping me up, it's something else.

I was supposed to be going to some sort of business workshop in the morning starting at 0945 or so. Not too early for some of you, I'm sure.

However it's a bit too early for me.

I don't mean I can't be up by then, it's more a case of me having issues with other people messing with my schedule. In this case "other people" refers to the various people I'm having to deal with to keep paperwork sorted out.

I tend to get up at some time between 1000 and 1300 and then work throughout the afternoon and evening. I was sculpting until 0030 and that was an early finish by my standards.

I work best at those times for some things and not others. I'm much better at doing accounts during the day but I struggle to sit down and sculpt until the evening.

This week I had two meetings on Monday, a meeting today (well, yesterday now), and a meeting of sorts "today" (Wednesday). You know what I'd really like?

To get some bloody work done.

I've got a kit I've been working on for some time that is starting to really come together. I can only work on it at intervals on account of the curing time required by my materials. You know what interferes with that?

Frequent meetings with people who barely understand what I do for a living. Some are understanding and friendly, such as the very helpful Ann at the Job Centre (where I've had to report on occasion to ensure suitable schemes were traversed successfully).

Others are less helpful, such as the adviser I'm currently dealing with at an institute I will not mention the name of.

She is not actively unhelpful; merely aggravating. An apparent believer in truth by repetition, she reminds me of the fact that this world squeaks along on the backs of millions of barely competent office workers.

When I have someone explaining to me that the figure of 900 pounds comes from the 700 of equipment I just supplied the figures for and the 200 of cash I personally injected into the business as if it's difficult to grasp I sigh. Sometimes inwardly, sometimes audibly.

I'm 25. I have excellent GCSEs, reasonable A-levels, a decent undergraduate degree, and my own business. I can manage 7 + 2 in my head.

What I need help with is how best to process my accounts to comply with current legislation.

I could really do with someone to advise me as to why a growing business is considered "unsustainable". December aside I have made a solid profit in a fairly steep upward direction. At this rate I will be properly off the ground very soon. However the fact that I'm turning a profit at all in my first year during the worst recession in decades is a bloody miracle.

What puts a damper on this is some low level management droid demanding projections from me. It'd be fine if I had deployed most of my stock and had been in business for 6 months but I have not.

What I have done is built up a little following of friendly customers and sold much of my stock. I can project how long until I need to replace stuff, should I be so inclined.

What I can't say is how much I'm going to make from my own unique product range. The profit margins are much higher but I cannot predict demand.

This isn't catering - I can't see how another cafe is doing and how much I'm likely to make because no one knows.

Until recently it was barely possible to do these things. There's been an explosion over the last two or three years. Five years ago I was hard pressed to find anything of this sort outside of Forgeworld. These days I'm having to figure out how many third-party wheel options to offer!

On another note I was told that my profit margins are too low. I'm not going to give you an exact figure, dear reader, but my profit margins are most certainly not too low. What could do with improvement is my unit sales.

Overheads eat into profit margins, of course, that's why I basically don't have any.

My assigned drone does not seem to understand this. Hardly surprising, I suppose, given that she seems dumbfounded that someone might manage basic arithmetic without resorting to a calculator.

It's rather insulting to be this misunderstood by someone who is supposed to be able to offer advice and guidance.

I'm following my father's advice: no premises, no staff, low overheads. There's more to it than that, but the important concepts aren't difficult. Why do I take his advice?

Simple - I've watched him build a small empire on applied knowledge, pragmatic thinking, determination, and ongoing analysis and re-evaluation.

When a system is up and running he'll let it tick over for a while and do other things. Occasionally he'll check up on it, think about things, learn about other things, and then reassess the process to see if it could be done more effectively.

Some of the things I was taught at university as being cutting edge in the business world are things that my father implemented five to ten years ago.

By contrast my adviser bot seems confused and agitated when I explain to her that I'm more concerned about creative freedom and control of my company than I am about whatever monies they may choose to give me.

I am not interested in impressing them. I'm interested in running my own business my way. I'll comply with legislation where it applies but beyond that I get very cagey about organisations that have the audacity to lecture me on how to run my affairs.

It would be different if they could actually help but thus far all I've seen are off the rack things about generic business stuff.

"You should go along! It'll be good for networking!"

No. It won't. Not for this business.

Why?

Another simple one - the people I need to network with aren't there because they're spread across Europe. The people I need to know are in Lancashire, Krakow, and so on. I know this because I pay attention to the 'net and speak to people. I get to know what they're working on to see what I might stock from them. I keep track of their latest developments to see if there's things we might work together on in future. I check their sites and forum topics and talk to them and determine where to compete and where to avoid stealing their thunder.

I do these things because I know my own business and know the sector. Why?

Because it's my bleeding' job!

Sorry to rant but some things need to be said and I'm sick of dealing with incompetent morons who are baffled by the very idea of online business.

E-commerce is not some sort of bizarre curio for business to toy with, it's an actual thing. It's a very, very big actual thing. Even so these organisations act like it's 1999 and they're not sure if this whole internet thing is going to stick around.

Apparently there was a montage which they missed and suddenly the year is 2012 and the world is not the one they grew up in. I grew up in a world that changed drastically around me. These last five years have been fairly uneventful by contrast. I still have a smartphone, I still use the internet, I listen to music on my phone, and buy things online.

I shall put up with the bullshit from these people for a little longer to see if they can be convinced to give me some free money. I don't need it but I would not complain if I can get it.

In the meantime I shall have fun, play tabletop war-games, spend time online, and most shockingly of all, benefit from doing so as part of my business model!

It's almost as if I've carefully assessed which variables matter, which I have to pay for, and which I can exchange goods, services, or time for instead. As if I had a brain and an education or something equally insane.

Now I could really do with my muse back but in the meantime I shall make do with anger and intellect.

Good news, everyone!

11 January 2012

At long last there's been some good news for education in the UK - ICT is going away.

I was fortunate to avoid most of this boredom-inducing nightmare of a subject. However from what I've read, heard, and observed it is comparable with listening to the radio commentary at the national paint drying observance.

As I've said for a long time, repeatedly and at length (loudly too) - teaching people applications is a waste of resources. Learning to use an application by rote would be fine if the world was static, but it isn't - particularly in the field of technology.

Say you learned to use MS Office in the early 2000s. You're now ready to work in an office and can do mail merge stuff, that kind of thing?

Yeah, the user interface got a huge overhaul in 2007. Then there's the shift towards other technologies as well, of course.

Instead of teaching principals, such as how to best use a WYSIWYG environment and developing some sensible intuition in students we've ended up with a curriculum that hinders rather than helps.

Right, that's the recap over; time for some good news!

Computer science is going to be taught instead. I tried to learn to program and recall having a tiny bit of education when I was under 10. It was interesting but a bit beyond me at the time. However that's just me and as we all know, I'm a bit odd.

Putting resources towards giving students a solid grounding in computing as well as programming could well lead to great things within a decade.

If our 14/15 year olds are taught a bit of programming now in five years they could well be working on some seriously interesting stuff. Even if lots of students don't grasp all the concepts, by the numbers things are likely to get better.

Furthermore it'll be interesting to see what happens to the UK's culture. Programming is currently basically magic to most people, same with computer hardware. What will happen to the public's perception of traditionally geeky subjects?

Time will tell, I'm sure.


Sports and the Olympics

03 January 2012

Today's You and Yours discusses sports in the wake of the London 2012 Olympics and I found some interesting points were raised. Time to give my opinion on a matter I rarely discuss.

I'm not much of a sportsman. I went to a sporty school and did a fair bit of exercise but I never really understood sport and most certainly had very little admiration for professional athletes.

The latter is still true - I do not consider them to be of any interest. Good for them, they've made a career out of something they (hopefully) love. That does not mean I consider their opinions to be of inherent merit unless they're talking specifically about their area of expertise.

However, since leaving school I've done very little sport. Sometimes I've done a fair bit of exercise, usually through lugging large amounts of video equipment across the city, but not really much with intent.

The problem for me has been several things:

1. Interest
2. Time
3. Expense
4. Availability of facilities
5. Personal issues

So, first off...

Interest
It's taken a long time but in the last year or so I've started wanting to do some sport again. Between 2005 and 2010 or so I've had no interest in getting involved in such things.

Time
 It's not that I don't have space in my schedule, it's more that mentally trying to fit in the amount of sport one needs to do to gain much benefit is, well, tricky. I do not like having fixed commitments in my routine, preferring guidelines.

Expense
With this recession money is tight. I've got enough to live relatively comfortably but it seems facilities are excessively costly. Perhaps the prices are reasonable if you're earning £40K a year but some of us most certainly are not!

Availability of Facilities
I do not enjoy football (or at least most football players that I'd have to spend time with), rugby is not my thing. I like Squash, volleyball, climbing, snowboarding, and a couple of other things probably.
I just looked up my nearest squash court and it's a fair distance and requires membership. There's a hotel with a couple of squash courts but other than that, there's nothing in central Edinburgh. Fantastic.
Snowboarding facilities exist outside of town but then expense rears its ugly head once again. Frustrating.

Personal Issues
This one is a biggy for lots of people. I'm not concerned with being bad at the game or activity, that's actually not much of a worry. I may be bad, I may not be, but I don't derive my self-esteem from that anyway so what does it matter?

However sport-based environments intimidate me. I find gyms unpleasant as I feel out of place. Not as in "look at the fatty, lol" but as in I don't know how to relate to them; they're an alien place for me that I find it difficult to get a handhold on from which to learn.

I suppose it's an element of some of my issues. In some ways I do not deal with the world in a conventional way. It's something I'm learning to deal with, of course, but it's a learning process.

Conclusion
In closing I just want to say that the Olympics are not inspiring in the least bit and never have been. I find them less entertaining than browsing paint swatches at B&Q. The reason I'm becoming more interested in sport is due to the transition from student to graduate. I run a business from home and do not wish to become horrifically out of shape due to a primarily sedentary lifestyle. It may be a while before I can get a podcast off the ground again and in the meantime I'd prefer to get a bit of definition and to earn the odd kebab!