Wednesday, 19 September 2018

GROUND BRANCH The Oil Tanker

I've gotten comfortable with Ground Branch's 'unique' player controls and my play is starting to get a lot smoother and instinctive - though I'll still probably mess around with certain keys.

My next bit of training has been on the rather large Oil Tanker map and I thought it might be quite good to start doing some pre-planning regarding my solo strategy. Obviously, it's nothing complicated as I can't exactly do anything too cunning on my own! :)

Once again, I am using the HK416 with a magnified ACOG scope with a small Holographic sight piggy-backed on top.

A Norwegian soldier in Afghanistan, armed with the HK416N (Wikipedia).
This mid-sized AR variant in 5.56mm seem to me to be a nice balance between range and power and compactness. That said, I have opted to extend the length by opting for a suppressor. This weapon should allow me to do some crafty sniping on the large main deck of the ship, while still being reasonably manoeuvrable once I enter the tanker's interior corridors.



The Debrief
My overall thought is that I'm still being a little too careful and need to be a little bit more aggressive. Even before my unexpected and meandering game of hide and seek - with that last, frustratingly evasive, terrorist - this game was going on a bit. There again, it is a big ship with a lot of rooms!

The reason that I am concerned about my pace is that I eventually hope to take part in multiplayer co-op Ground Branch and in that situation I will not be able to dictate the speed of play...I will have to keep up with my teammates. So, my next goal is to speed things up a *a bit*, while at that same time staying methodical and careful.

Note: On the issue of the 'missing' terrorist. I did think at the time that maybe there was something of a glitch at work as my laborious search of the ship was pretty extensive. Sure enough, one of the viewers of my video responded informing me that: "On that last tango, we've had a few instances where the AI get spawned in between rooms (the hollow cavities). You can never see them, but if you move over their position, they can nail you through the walls (invisible for them). Hopefully a glitch that will be resolved in time." Thank you, PapaReach for that info.

The other thing I will tinker with is my weapon choice. While many special forces are moving away from the legendary MP5 smg to weapons equivalent to the AR M4 carbine platform, I still think the compactness and rate of fire of a pure smg still might be the right tool for close-in engagements. We shall see. That will mean I will have to drop my reliance on mid-range sniping to thin out the enemy, but is that a bad thing?


Finally, I think I am ready to dial up the difficult so my next outing will see an increase in enemy to make my mission more challenging and exciting.

Next: Ground Branch's Small Town map.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

New Game Controller - Footswitch

You can never have enough buttons for games! Ground Branch - my current tactical shooter - is a particular case in point, it has a *lot* of key bindings.

Having said that, I like to use a compact side gaming keypad - the Orbweaver - instead of my full sized keyboard. I like everything just a fingertip away and don't like to lift my hands from my controllers to activate an obscure key-press. The down-side of this arrangement is that I always seem to be just one key short of what I need!

To remedy this I have just bought a Footswitch controller, which is exactly what you might think it is...


Essentially, it's a one button USB switch which is programable via an associated piece of software. Simple.

The key I am (always) short of is my voice chat button, I have been using my mouse's side buttons to activate the in-game comms or my Teamspeak but I now what to use these buttons for some game actions. So I resorted to a foot switch for comms and it seems to be a excellent choice and I wonder why I haven't tried one before.

As I said, it comes with it's own software so you can map a button or macro to the switch...


You can get two or three switch versions of this foot switch, but I stuck with a single one as I don't want to get my foot confused - jabbing at the right button under my desk! After I have got used to this one I *may* upgrade, we'll see.

One thing to note is the tension of the switch, I did worry I would activate this switch accidentally with my foot resting on the switch, but it is sprung so that you have to exert a certain amount of deliberate pressure to click it. You can actually rest your foot on the switch without clicking the button.

All in all, a simple but very useful addition to my gaming setup!

> Docooler PCsensor USB Single Foot Switch Control One Key Customized Computer Keyboard Action Pedal - £17.99 from Amazon.co.uk

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Ground Branch - First Successful Mission

I can't believe it's been a week since I decided to give Ground Branch a try and yet I only started playing it properly a couple of days ago. Most of my time has been taken up with setting up the game controls along with my Razor Orbweaver controller and sorting out some other PC issues.


Still, I'm basically set up now and I have my audio and video recording sorted too. But, before I get into my first successful solo mission play through I'd like to recommend the following video to anyone who is considering playing Ground Branch, it has some very helpful tips...


Now, onto my first 'mission'...

The solo training - or what GB calls 'offline play' - map I started with is called the 'Power Station'. I didn't pick it for any reason other than it seemed a good open map with exterior and interior areas.


Default setting for the AI 'bots' is 15 in number, though I am not sure if you can adjust 'difficulty' (will have to look into that). They seem to be reasonably good shots at short to medium range, but don't seem to attempt to snipe you at longer ranges. In fact, at longer ranges you seem to be pretty safe, which is a shame.

Their actions - once contact is made - is also pretty limited. They will try and close but don't seem to want to flank widely and definitely do not seem to want to move back to make use of better cover. On occasion they will stand out in the open rather than make use of available cover. However, these are still early days and the Dev are up front about certain things not being 'finished' (and I know from the Dev's Blog that the AI and how they are effected by contact is something they are working on...


Note: Apologies for the constant 'clicking' of my mechanical keyboard!

Conclusion Debriefing

Phew! Well, first off...I really enjoyed that! This really brought back memories of playing the classic Ghost Recon. I love the slower, more methodical tactical format, maybe it's because I'm getting old but I believe there is room enough in the game market for a game of this pace.

Here's a few observations...

Randomisation of Bot Locations?
Now I've attempted the Power Station map a few times I began to notice that the bots seemed to be showing up in the same location or patrolling along the same routes. I mention this in my video but am still unclear as to whether there will eventually be some sort of randomisation of where the bots are likely to appear.


Obviously, if the bots do appear in the same locations, again and again, the replayability of the training (offline) maps is somewhat limited except for time trial runs.

Bullet Penetration and Materials?
One of the things I was unsure about - but then struck me as I rewatched my play-through video - is whether bullets can go through materials.

Ground Brand doesn't include a comprehensive 'destructible' system - like Battlefield does - but does seem to have a few things you can blow up (the game includes a breaching charge for doors). But quite what materials in the maps are penetrable by fire is a mystery as yet. I have seen someone's video that shows them making a kill through a chip wood door, but that's as far as my knowledge goes.

So, when I engaged an enemy through a very tight doorway I did later wonder whether I could have just fired through the intervening plasterboard wall (what Americans call drywall)?


So...On my list of things to practise when I am 'training' is to find out what other materials I can shoot through.

Controls Usability
Er, well I'm still finding the controls a little fiddly at times, but then I haven't built up enough muscle memory for them yet and that's what efficient FPS gaming is all about.

There again, there are a lot of the controls that are just placeholders that have not been implemented properly yet. You cannot go prone and there are a few other things that are frustrating but are temporary frustrations.

Grenades are another source of annoyance as I find the controls for selecting them a little clunky, but then that's compared to the instantaneous system used in Battlefield of CoD. This is another one of those things that Ground Branch does 'more realistically' that may just confuse or frustrate new players.

Realistically, using a grenade is NOT an instantaneous action. A soldier would have to use two hands (none of that Hollywood pulling the pin out with his teeth nonsense) and also have to expend some time taking the 'nade from a pouch on his webbing. This is kinda the sequence in Ground Branch...So if you are a fan of 'nade spamming you are out of luck!

I'll get used to the controls, I'm already happier with the basic movement options and however 'clunky' they may appear at times I do appreciate the reason for this and the immersion factor that they are intended to create.


Bottom Line...
I love this game. It's like it was made for me. It's great to be able to take your time and have other players who are willing to slow down and take their time too. If you watch a few of the GB videos on YouTube you will soon notice that a bunch of players who are taking the whole tactical element of this game very seriously indeed and are trying to recreate tactical techniques and practises (like entry stacking, etc).

Next, I hope to try out some online games.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

I'm Back! Playing Ground Branch.

Funny how the gaming mojo can come back as quickly as it goes!

I've been in a bit of a gaming malaise over the past year or so and a lot of that has to do with the break-up of my old PC gaming clan - BIG. But, recently a game I had had my eye (I backed it on Kickstarter ages ago) has moved into a playable pre-release version and this really piqued my interest.

Anyway, after watching a couple of videos on YouTube showing some of the current gameplay I really got stoked and wanted to try it out (I had to dust my PC off first, mind you). Here's a nice appetiser...



In actual fact, and just to show that interesting PC games are like buses, it so happens there are TWO hardcore tactical games in 'near release' that I'm interested in; Insurgency Sandstorm and Ground Branch. Unlike Ground Brand, Insurgency Sandstorm give a slightly more Counterstrike-esque game format to the whole hardcore tactical game.

Sandstorm is amore immediate, adrenaline fuelled 'rush', while Ground Branch is a more methodical and tense ordeal. (But both have a lot going for them.)

Sandstorm has a little more graphical pizzaz and polish, but Ground Branch
is more about getting the immersive gameplay right.
Anyway, as a GB backer I thought it was about time I rolled up my sleeves and had a go. I must admit, the generally positive feedback from players who have tried the 'pre access release' (is that a Beta or pre-Beta) had me pretty excited. So I cranked up my much neglected PC and installed the game from STEAM (non-backers can buy the game for £15.49)...



My initial thoughts were - it turns out - completely inline with many other players, and the word 'clunky' to describe the controls seems to come up *a lot*. But, I persevered and there is a point to the  pernickety nature of the game's controls, more than any other game Blackfoot Studios is trying to create and level of detail in the players actions that simulates real world SpecOps movements and drills.

However, if you give the game a chance you will see that there is method in Blackfoot's apparent 'madness' and everything is done for a reason and you can get to grips with the controls. In fact, after a while things seem to become very immersive and you soon become convinced that this is the right way to do things.

The game isn't perfect, but would you expect it to be at the 'pre early access' phase? There are lots to work on, but the game has a very devoted following and is very community based, with a very active forum giving constructive feedback to the Devs (who do listen).

I'm still learning, but already I feel a certain vibe that I haven't felt since I played Classic Ghost Recon. They game rewards your willingness to take it seriously by a feeling of real tension that is missing from a lot of games these days...

Yes, one well placed bullet loses you the game (when you're dead, you're dead - no respawn) but the swing side of this is the huge feeling of achievement when you successfully complete a mission. Along the way, just accept that there'll be a lot of this...

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Very First (Ever) Game of D&D!

Well, bit of a landmark last night, I am no longer a D&D virgin!


Quite by chance an old friend contacted me, he had read some of my social media  comments about my trying to get into RPG and he invited me to join a local D&D game with him. It was all a bit sooner than I really wanted, I had planned a gentle build up with some solo RPG gaming before I launched myself into full-blown multiplayer D&D - but there you go.

First off, everyone was super nice and I wasn't the only novice player there which took a load off my mind. There were six of us in the little adventuring group, of mixed skills and levels of experience.

Broon the Barbarian
the first thing that struck the new D&D player (if they are like me) is how long it takes to generate your character. Indeed, this took up the first hour of the evening, mainly because I hadn't taken my friends advice to do a bit of homework first and look into what type of character I would be.

In the end, I took (what I thought was) the easy route and chose 'Barbarian' as - in my inexperienced logic - that would be an uncomplicated character and I wouldn't have to grapple with complicated skills or spells...I'd just 'bash things'! :)

In actual fact, I should have watched some of the terrific character generation 'how to' videos on YouTube so that I could make a more informed choice. But, in any case, for a Barbarian these videos are quite helpful primers...





The final quandary was 'what do I call my character'? It's really harder than it sounds and not just a case of 'uh, ya just make up a cool fantasy sounding name'.

Thing is, if you haven't played a role playing game before getting into the right spirit is a little hard. I mean, when was the last time you 'played' at being something?

Getting 'into it' takes the longest part, but by the end of the evening you will be uttering clich├ęd sword & sorcery oaths with the best of them (and maybe even trying out a funny voice, but that's optional)!

This next video is quite possibly the very best D&D primer for new players ever made...



In the end I chose the name 'Broon' (as in The Broons) as my character's name. And I even came up with a shallow backstory for him...

'Broon was born of peasant parents in a mountain hamlet in the far North. He did not want to raise sheep like his father and ran off to seek his fortune as a 'great warrior' when he was young. Joining the militia of a northern Baron, Broon found himself guarding the battlements of his lord's castle while the army went off to fight the great war and he never saw any real fighting. 
On his lord's return, the war over, Broon was dismissed from service and not having won any plunder or gained a reputation for himself he soon became a penniless wandering vagabond. Eventually, he found menial employment cleaning tables and acting as a part-time ostiaries [doorman] in a run-down tavern. 
It was here that he overheard a group of adventurers who were on the look out for some 'cheap muscle' and he introduced himself as a 'former soldier'...'

Broon's motivation: He desperately needs to prove himself and become the 'great warrior' that he always dreamed he would be. To this end, he often embellishes his military service in an attempt to ingratiate himself into some of the hardened gangs and groups of adventurers that frequented the tavern where he worked. His goal is fame and wealth.

Unfortunately, I didn't take any picture or make notes about my first adventure (but will do in future), but - basically - our small group helped a shopkeeper rid himself of some nasty visitors who were destroying his stock. These turned out to be 'Grey Ooze'...

'Gray oozes, like most oozes, are underground dwelling, mindless scavengers who drag themselves around caves and sewers and absorb and digest whatever they find. Unlike some other oozes, it cannot move on ceilings or walls, and hence is left to slide its way along floors. The gray ooze attacks by striking like a snake until prey is either dead or unconscious, and it then moves on top of them to digest them from within.
It is immune to cold and fire. The gray ooze's acidic secretions corrode metal at an alarming rate, and in addition to giving the creature a method of destroying opponent's weapons and armor, blacksmiths also sometimes use jarred gray oozes to meld ore into the right shape. Gray oozes reproduce by breaking small driplets off of themselves after a meal, which later grow into gray oozes themselves.' Source: Wikipedia



I got lucky and managed to help destroy a couple of these nasty little creatures and survive my first adventure. The downside was that I discovered that simply bashing a pile of grey goo (in true low-brow barbarian fashion) is perhaps not the best strategy as it resulted in the melting of my trusty great axe!

However, as simplistic as 'bashing stuff' seem a strategy for my character (and as logical it seems in some situations) I tried not to over-think my character and do some stuff that seemed illogical because I think that's what my character would instinctively do. Never mind what 'I' would do.

For this I managed to not only live to fight another day, but also won 100 XP and 10 gold!

Not a bad evening's adventuring for a novice! :)

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Battlefield 5 (or BFV if you like), thoughts.

I've laid off making any comment about the new (forthcoming) Battlefield V as the announcement 'trailer' was little more than a mishmash of scripted scenes to wet our appetite and there was little that really too us how the game would actually play.

Well, that's changing as we are starting to see some brief examples of actual (presumably test) game play. Here's a glimpse from the game blogger 'Jackfrags'...



My Thoughts...
OK, I admit I had some reservations about certain aspects of the game when I saw EA's original announcement trailer, but let's not start with the criticisms, let's start wth the positives...

This game looks amazing (note 'looks')! Building on Battlefield 1 and Battlefront EA have really developed a beautiful looking game world in which to play. The BFV featured in the above video ('Narvik') looks spectacular and highly detailed and immensely immersive. Likewise, the audio sounds terrific and will certainly give the appropriate accompanying cacophony of war.

The V-1 'call-in' feature is quite spectacular, and loud! Source: Jackfrags
Spectacular action in Norway. A British Bren gunner advances while over-
head a RAF Blenheim bomber drops a load on German positions. Wow!
Source: Jackfrags.
Lovely touch here, a dusk view in Norway showing the Northern Lights!
Source: Jackfrags
The character movement and weapons like very polished (but should be) AND I love the new game mode of the 'Grand Campaign', gaming clans will appreciate having something as in-depth as this new mode - taking place over several 'days' - as it would make a really cooly league-table event.

A snap of the view entering 'Narvik' in day-time. Source: Jackfrags


Very cinematic views and events! Here a Blenheim bomber crashes in very
spectacular fashion. Source: Jackfrags

But...(There is always a 'but')...
Unfortunately, this preview of gameplay reinforced some of my initial worries about the nature of 'historical accuracy' in the game.

British 'paratroopers' ready to jump into action! Into Narvik? Wearing Brodie
helmets? ...WTF is going on? Source: Jackfrags

For me, alarm bells started ringing when I saw the wild mix of weapons and vehicles that were included in the trailer video. Items ranged from the entirety of the six years of WW2, from early war British Valentine tanks to 1943 era the German Tiger tank. 'Technically' EA is skating on thin ice, as while these particular tanks could have appeared together in a battlefield, it seems more like EA have 'cherry-picked' weapons from the whole of WW2 to suit their ideas for weapon classes.

A British soldier takes out a Tiger tank with a Panzerfaust in Norway. If that
doesn't blow your mind... Source: Jackfrags
...And from the same map, a British Valantine (Mk. 9). Technically, this
shouldn't appear along side a Tiger 1 (online *very* rare circumstances
would this have actually happened, but NOT in Norway). Source: Jackfrags

This 'casual' approach to historical accuracy was further illustrated in the gameplay preview video, with the odd juxtaposition of the map of a famous 1940 battle (Narvik) featuring weapons - like the famous German StG 44 assault rifle - from the later half of the war. Again, EA seems to be acknowledging and maintaining it's strategy of giving players exciting and 'useful' weapons to play with no matter whether they are strictly accurate from a historical point of view.

In BF1 EA eventually just seemed to give up (of give in) and added some really exotic weapons to improve 'run and gun' gameplay that were either extremely rare or even prototypes and never featured  in mainstream use (or at all) in the way EA implies in the game. According to EA's history boo, every soldier had a submachine gun or assault rifle in WW1!

This compromise over 'fun' and excitement over accuracy seems to be equally evident in BFV, unlike games like 'Day of Infamy' who take a much more realistic approach to how they arm player characters. Sadly, EA also seem to have opted for a 'symmetrical' weapons issue system as you can clearly see British characters using StG 44s in the video (unless they are allowing players to pick up enemy weapons).

British paras using German StG 44s? Source: Jackfrags

All, in all I found this Pre-Alpha gameplay (and I must emphasis it IS pre-Alpha, so things will probably change)  an unsettling mixed bag of WW2 'flavours'...Like a smorgasbord of a menu of places, characters and objects from across six years of war compressed into a few minutes ('Oh there's Dunkirk (blink), oh, now it's D-Day!').

I understand it makes for exciting and varied gameplay, but I would have much rather they had, instead, gone for a full-blown 'alternative reality' and based the game in the popular '1946' genre, that way they could have included as many fanciful weapons as they liked and nobody could complain about the accuracy of their inclusion.

Hopefully, things will settle down and become more clear as we get further examples of gameplay.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Sunday Solo RPG Session

Sunday morning seems the ideal time to try out a game of Random Solo Adventure Fantasy Dungeon. It's nice and quiet and there's not a lot of jobs to be done, I can relax and concentrate on the rules and work out my first solo RPG uninterrupted...


As I mentioned in my previous post, RSA is a small step up from the classic Fighting Fantasy books as it allows a modicum of the traditional dice and character generation characteristic of more advances RPG games, like D&D. But it's all geared for simplicity and the absence of a 'dungeon master' controlling the narrative.

In effect, the book is a 'dumb DM' which outlines the story, while giving a set number of choices in order to resolve events, these choices are resolved by the familiar FF 'If choice 'A', then go to page 'X' formula.

Still, the addition of character attributes and dice rolling to resolve combat give you a slight sense of full-blown RPG.

The Journey Begins...
My journey begins at the 'Two Headed Werewolf' guest house (ominous start)...

"In the early morning you are woken up by some commotion downstairs. As you reach the lower floors, you see the in-keeper [spelling!] and his wife caring for a wounded man on the floor."

And so as the story unfolds we come to our first set of 'decisions' about what to do next (determined by a dice roll)...



Well, let's see how I progress with my very first role playing adventure. No, it's not D&D, the depth of the system just isn't up to that standard, but it's a nice introduction for a RPG-noob like myself!

To be continued...

Monday, 21 May 2018

I'm Back, Solo RPG Games

Another role of the dice!
Yes, it's been a long while, but it's been a funny year. Basically, I have drifted in and out of ill health and been variously enthused for hobby stuff for a short spurt before dropping back into the doldrums. There have been periods when I have done little more than watch TV and my man cave (come games room) has fallen into disuse.

Maybe it's the sunny weather but recently I've started getting a bit more energetic and motivated and have started returning to some of my old hobbies.


So...What have I been up to game wise recently?
I've always been 'D&D-curious', but my sheepishness has always stopped me jumping onboard. I did try recently to join a local D&D group, but found the experience hugely intimidating. It's not that the group weren't friendly to newcomers, it's just that you could tell they had been gaming together for a long time (with very developed characters) and so it was a very scary prospect to try and break into this.

Dungeons & Dragons (minus the group of nerds playing it), right away it's
apparent complexity scares the bejeezus out of newcomers?

What to do then? Well, I decided to look about at what solo options there were for RPGing, thinking that this might get my foot in the door and build up my confidence. Surprisingly, my problem with breaking into group D&D seems to affect quite a lot of would be RPGers as there is quite a lot written on the subject a many YouTube videos giving numerous gaming options for lone players.

Starting Out n My Adventure...
Where to begin when you are a beginner, that's the question! Well, I watched several YouTube videos about where to start with solo RPG adventures and I eventually decided to start at the beginning. Yes, that is as obvious as it sounds, but there's absolutely no use trying to start with some of the solo modifications of regular RPGs (for example, there are ways to fudge normal D&D so you can play it solo) as these actually - on occasion - actually make the games more complicated to play!

The beginning, as it happens, is probably already familiar to us but we just didn't think of it...Fighting Fantasy books. Remember those from school? You started reading the adventure at the beginning of the book then you chose different outcomes or actions for your character by opting to 'go to page x' to resolve the consequences of your chosen action.

This is perhaps the most simple and most restricting and linear form of RPGing. The books had minimal 'replay factor' and were very linear and scripted (naturally) and this doesn't interest me now as I want something as simple to get into but which introduces me to some of the features of more advanced RPG games.

After a bit of an online search I think I found what I was looking for in Random Solo Adventures. Again, these are book based but add some basic mechanics like character creation, character stats and attributes, weapon attributes and dice rolling. I found these on DrivethruRPG.com.



There are several' 'books' (which are available cheaply as downloadable PDF documents) covering various fantasy and sci-fi sub-genres, so I started out with a classic dungeon quest and also a more Milgeek-like post-apocalyptic narrative...

Some of the Random Solo Adventure titles.

The Random Solo Adventure can be downloaded in PDF format and played
from your computer screen or printed out to make a 'book'.
I'm having a go at these this week with a plan to slowly introduce myself to more complex solo adventuring systems eventually. One thing I have my eye on is a relatively new system especially designed for solo play called 'Journey to the Overland'. This is more of your traditional heroic-fantasy dungeon quest type of RPG, but has a game mechanic more akin to things like D&D than the simple books that I am starting with...


So, there we go. I'm dipping my toe into the water with RPG (that's not computer based). This should be interesting and I hope that I will start posting regularly again here and that I will start with a review of the Random Solo Adventures that I'll be playing. :)