Thursday, 4 June 2020

'Man Cave' Update, June 2020

After nearly three years of neglect I have actually started making a little progress in removing the accumulated junk and household detritus from my attic 'man cave'!

Broken electrical appliances, Christmas decorations, the wife's spare shoe collection and her archived school work, old clothes and general crap had slowly piled up to the point where I could not get to my computer desk easily and my crafting desk not at all!

Anyways, this morning I finally made some real progress and managed to clear a path all the way to the back of the attic and to my modelling desk! (This hasn't seen the light of day for three years!)

I tunnelled through the crap in my attic... It went further than I thought!
Obviously, the desk is completely covered in crap! (That goes without saying. LOL.) But, the fact I can now actually get to the desk mean I could clear this and get down to some real modelling AND carry out a plan I had to set up a top-down video rig!

Now, I had already done some video tests in order to help me plan how I might Vlog my model builds...

Now, although the above contraption worked as a proof of concept there is no way I could set up something similar above my hobby desk because that is up against the back wall of my man-cave. So, I spent some time looking for alternative ways to rig a frame of sort over my desk and eventually I managed to find a custom solution for over-head videoing...

Unfortunately, and predictably, the specialist overhead video platform system is rather expensive and would have to be shipped from the USA (estimated total cost £230). All in all this was way out of my budget so that's where I had to leave things three years ago as priorities suddenly changed.

>>FF>> to 2020... Re-discovering my hobby desk reminded me of my fancy plans and I wondered if I could find a cheaper alternative that might have come along during the intervening years. Ten minutes of Googling proved very productive and I found a bit of kit that would do the job at a fraction of the cost...

Duronic DM453 80cm Monitor Desk Mount Pole
What I found was a monitor desk mount pole (£23) which can clamp firmly to my desktop. Additionally I found a studio double 'C' clamp for joining two intersecting poles...

With these two pieced of equipment, plus an additional pole, I can put together an inverted 'L' frame off which I can attach my camera and lighting. This clamp was £8 and I bought a short (solid) pole for another £10, so far then this setup has cost £41. A bit better than £230!

All the parts are extremely well built and very strong and so, despite not being a full two legged frame like the overhead platform, they will easily support the weight of my Fuji XT-2 (1 pound 3 ounces) camera and also some LED lighting or a microphone or both!

Now the good thing about this setup - aside from the price - is that it can be added to to make a full overhead frame simply by adding a second monitor mounting pole and another double 'C' clamp. This would turn my £41 'L' frame into a £72 'H' frame like the overhead platform...

So, this setup is quite modular and I can add bits as I can afford them. But, in the meantime, the 'L' frame will suffice me to begin with and will allow me to do some video tests to see how best to setup my camera and my lighting.

Hopefully I can get some short video clips out soon of my doing some model making.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Classic Insurgency - Again!

Insurgency is like a good wine or cheese... Wait, that's a crap analogy, in actuality the 2014 game INSURGENCY is more like pizza - it's comfort food that you never get tired of.

I've been playing quite a bit over the current lock-down, mainly because it's a very undemanding game that neither taxes my laptop or my WiFi! (Internet contention has been an issue of late as everyone is at home bingeing on Netflix!) ๐Ÿ˜‘

A good reason to be playing older online multiplayer games at the moment. My broadband speed has crashed since the pandemic lock-down came into being and I'm only getting about half my original speed. Of course, the fact that my wife is 'working from home' at the moment has an impact as she video conferences while watching 'True Blood' re-runs on our streaming service! ๐Ÿ˜ฃ

So, for the foreseeable future, I'm avoiding any newer Triple-A titles.

...Let's have another slice of pizza!

Friday, 29 May 2020

Joint Operations Nostalgia!

A wee bit of gaming nostalgia this morning as I came across a bit of footage on YouTube that show some Joint Operations play from seven years ago (or more).

I've been looking for a video of JO for ages but it's been a bit harder to find than, say, Battlefield 2. Maybe it's because the whole posting of game footage wasn't so easy or such a big thing back in 2003, but there isn't much about.

You might ask what the big deal was or you may have never heard of Joint Ops. Well, it's actually quite an important game as it was the one of the first big online multiplayer 'battlefield' games that gave you the chance to experience joint warfare  (land, air and sea) all together in one first person team shooter.

In many ways, it was the template for Battlefield 2. But it's still amazing to think that while BF2 is the big name everyone remembers and waxes lyrically about, Joint Operation was hosting huge 150 player server matches which put BF2's 64 player games to shame.

JO was my introduction to squad based online battlefield play alongside The University of Hull's BIG clan boys. Until then I had been playing Ghost Recon online, but with the addition of vehicles, ginormous maps and 150 player battles Joint Ops really blew my mind. The graphics look a little hockey now, but that doesn't matter, I remember this game very fondly...

Sadly, after the release of the follow up - Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising (which added motorcycles!!!) word started circulating about a new Battlefield game that EA/DICE was working on and, ominously, it seemed to have some of JO's issues resolved (like the horrendous spawning mechanics). Once BF2 released a large portion of JO's player base - including BIG clan and me - jumped ship and Novalogic - inexplicably - never fought back with an improved JO.

I - and many others - could never understand just why Novalogic didn't make a Joint Ops 2. There were issues that they could have solved relatively easily that would have made it a BF killer. But it was never to be and it remains one of FPS gaming's biggest mysteries and missed opportunities.

Ask anyone who played Joint Operations back in the day and they will tell you what an amazing game it was.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Planning the BIG game - Part 1

With Gale Force 9's 'TANKS!' tabletop game I finally discovered a war game that even my thick head could understand! It really is a game that you could pick up after fifteen minutes flicking though the very thin 'manual'. OK, so you might not understand every nuance of the game's mechanic, but fundamentals are very straight forward.

Between a rock and a hard place for this Sherman! One of the solo games
of 'TANKS!' I enjoyed back in 2017. Simple to run with an emphasis on
excitement over technical accuracy, I loved this game!

Back in 2017 it was very much THE game to play and it looked like it had a very bright future. Everyone seemed to be playing it and it looked like it was going to be a big hit with clubs as a tournament game. Sadly, things never quite worked out and fast-forward to 2020 and 'TANKS!' is more or less a 'dead' game. ๐Ÿ˜ข

This was all very sad news for me as I'm just getting back into the miniatures hobby again. Doubly so as just before I put my modelling and miniatures hobby on hold I had come up with the idea of putting together a BIG game of 'TANKS!' based on the historic WW2 Battle of Kursk.

The idea was an exciting one and one that I was looking forward to carrying on now I have came back to the hobby. So, boy, was I surprised to find that 'TANKS!' had floundered and is now no longer supported by Gale Force 9.

...But that isn't going to stop me completing my grand idea of war-gaming what is known as the 'biggest tank battle ever fought'!* --- (*I know this is a bit of a contentious statement now as historians - as usual - are divided about this description. See link to article at foot of page.)

Planning a Game - The Diary...
Because official support of the game has evaporated and many of those in the game's community have moved on, planning an ambitious game that pushes the envelope of what 'TANKS!' was initially intended to be is going to be a little tricky. [There is still a vestigial community of players with some social media forums, and they seem determined to continue playing the game. But without official backing and marketing it's hard to see how new players will be brought into the hobby.]

A sad sight! in 2020! The GF9 'TANKS!' store is now vacant.

This is why I will be documenting my game planning as there are several things that I may just have to 'make up' as I go along or I will have to rely on fan created 'home-brew' rules. There will be a reasonable amount of detective work and research into solving game mechanics that may not have - and now may never be - resolved.

Which Tanks To Include?
I guess the first place to start - at least by my logic - is deciding just what tanks I would be fielding in a game based on The Battle of Kursk. And after a wee bit of research I have whittled down a long list of possible tank candidates to the following list...

Believe me when I say this was not an easy list to make, particularly when my original idea from two years ago was far more ambitious in scale and scope. I had originally imagined a multi-part campaign with dozens of tank models taking part and with special custom rules to replicate historical aspects relevant to that particular battle, such as the heavy use of Soviet ant-tank artillery and the reliability problems that the German Panthers suffered from, etc.

I've now rationalised my cumbersome ideas and settled for a single game table with a limited number of tanks - though still more than a typical 'TANKS!' game - which would be perhaps representative or a compressed version of the real battle.

'Let's recreate the Battle of Kursk!'....Er, maybe not all of it, eh?'
Map credit: From the very interesting online article...
'The Battle that Wasn’t Necessary: Kursk 1943' by Padre Steve.

'Kursk Lite'!
Tanks that I have omitted are a number of less capable or obsolete types from both sides, like - for example - the German's Panzer IIIs or the Soviet's Lend-Lease Churchill IVs. Yes, I know, it would have been cool to have had some Churchills on the table and I also regret not being able to stick on a StuG or two but there were just so many different types involved in the battle that I just had to draw the line somewhere.

Lend-Lease M3 Lee tanks on thier way to the Kursk Front. Both sides threw
everything, including the kitchen sink, into this mighty battle but there was a
lot of 'filler' with obsolete tanks filling the 'cracks'.
In deciding which tank types to include in my game I'll also try to take into consideration the historic stratagems employed by the protagonists (albeit simplified). The Soviet's more defensive stance will mean a greater dependence on assault guns of 'tank destroyers' firing from prepared positions. Whilst the German force will be a more mobile and aggressive one which relies on the 'shock and awe' of their cutting edge 'Big Cats'.

I've nearly collected all the models I require for my game already, I'm just adding a couple of Soviet KV-1S heavies and I need to get some later model Panzer IV G or H models. I'll probably buy the PSC 1/100 scale models as they can make up into the later model IVs with the added armour (Schรผrzen spaced armour sheets) BUT without the Zimmerit coating that became a feature of German armour from the start of 1944. Sadly, the Zvesda 1/100 Panzer IV H comes with Zimmerit texture, a pity as I really prefer Zvezda over PSC models.47

Box artwork for the 1/100 Zvesda Panzer IV Ausf H model. The right quality
and price for my needs but, unfortunately, it's the '1944' Zimmerit variant.
The PSC Panzer IV 'Reinforcement' Sprue, this can be made up into any
Panzer IV variant from A to H. It has the advantage of having no Zimmerit
texture coating, so is ideal for my Kursk project.

And with those models that should conclude my model collection for this project aside from any scenic models or battlefield 'scatter' (I'd like to model some knocked out tanks and vehicles to add some atmosphere and additional cover on the table).

Next: Designing the game table and scenery.

Another intriguing article that is worth a read if the Battle of Kursk interests you is 'Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright: Why Kursk is the Most Overhyped Battle in History'.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Currently Reading: 'Regular Army O!'

I have two levels of comprehension about any subject: 'A little knowledge' where it's something I'm interested enough in to actually 'research' the topic* and 'what I saw in a movie once'! ๐Ÿ˜‰

* (by 'research'  mean that I turn to Google or Wikipedia.) 

One subject where what I know is totally based on movies is American soldiers of the Old West. From John Wayne in 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' (1941) to 2017's 'Hostiles' with Christian Bale I have a very stilted and narrow view of what life in the US cavalry was like and neither impression is probably close to what life in the US cavalry in the late 18th century was actually like.

Part of how people 'see' the US cavalry (presuming they have an opinion) is probably due to their  cultural and political stance. If your perspective is a 'popular culture' one then you probably have a romantic view of the US cavalry and I can almost guarantee this image sums it up...

If, on the other hand, you 'have a book and an agenda' you may have a very negative view of the US Army and it's exploits in the West... My father had the book 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' by Dee Brown and it was my first insight into the plight of the First Nation peoples. Until then, like many white kids of my generation, my prevailing ideal of what a 'Red Indian' would be like was Tonto from The Lone Ranger.

One of my 'peg soldier' models which illustrates a perhaps more
romantic view of the Western horse soldier I still have from my
younger days.

What an eye-opener Dee Brown's book was, and to help form my opinions about the US Army of the late 1800s my favourite movie of the 1970's was 'Little Big Man' with Dustin Hofman. Both Dee Brown's book and 'Little Big Man' were accused by some of being thinly veiled left-wing commentaries on America's involvement in the Vietnam War and indictments of the US Army's war crimes committed during that war. But I digress...

What I'm trying to say is that I did not have an informed view.

SO... In order to redress the balance a bit I just downloaded the audiobook 'Regular Army O!: Soldiering on the Western Frontier, 1865 - 1891' by Douglas C. McChristian. I much prefer audiobooks these days as my eyes tire or reading so quickly and it means I can listen to something other than music when I am on a shift where I am allowed to have an earphone in.

McChristian's book seems a very well researched and reference heavy history of the subject and even though I have just gotten through the first few chapters I have started to develop a little more empathy - I still won't go as far as saying sympathy - for the lowly Bluecoat. Perhaps that may change as I progress through the 26 hours (!) of listening. (Maybe?)

The main theme of the early stages is recruitment and immediately you get a sense of the type and 'quality' of men that made up the horse soldiery during this period. What is fascinating is the range of reasons given for joining the US Army and just how many immigrants - more or less - just got off a boat from Europe and ended up donning the uniform of their new home nation. One ironic example of this was the case of a young German who fled his country to avoid being drafted for service during the Franco-Prussian war only to find himself having to sign-up for the US Army due to him having no money or prospects on arriving in 'the land of opportunity'!

That said, the blatancy of the theft of the lands of the indigenous tribes somewhat tempers any feeling of understanding for the soldiers' conduct in that time of imperial expansion (for that's what it was). We tend not to consider the United States as having imperial or colonial aspirations in the same way as we take for-granted those of Britain, France or Spain. But this maybe simply because - for some strange reason - that we accept that America was conducting military operation to form America! An illogical point of view, I know.

Well, it's early days and - as I said - I hope that this book will allow me a greater understanding of the United States and it's perverse war to create itself. We shall see and I will definitely writing a follow-up post on this book and my conclusions once I have finished listening... Once I have done this, I should really try and get a book which covers the view-point of the First Nation peoples.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Fascinating Weapon Renovation - Winchester 1879

I mentioned in a post that one of my favourite weapon Vlogs is Mark Novak's 'Anvil' gunsmithing channel as I love seeing the intricacies of the working of vintage weapons. And this got me looking at other gun renovation videos on YouTube, like this one...

I find stuff like this fascinating - others might think this is a little like watching paint dry, I don't know. But, I also find it very relaxing and a therapeutic - I'm a bit strange like that! ๐Ÿ˜

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Dad & Daughter Game Night - A Dark Carnival Indeed!

Last night Stacey (my daughter) and I took on Chapter Three of Left 4 Dead 2 - The Dark Carnival in a friends only co-op. This meant we were lumbered with two AI teammates which has a tendency to make outcomes somewhat more tricky to predict.

Both Stacey and I are certain that the level of difficulty of the missions in this sequel to Left 4 Dead are greater. Despite having the game set to just 'normal' hardness I am really struggling and it has taken us a couple of attempts to complete the chapters.

The following little excerpts from our play will give you a pretty good idea just how we fared... It was a difficult night!

We did make it through to the chapter finale, but had to stop there. Hopefully we complete this last stage on our next game night.