Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Turning analogue!

These days sitting down at a table and playing a game is
far more my preferred activity.
Maybe it's my age, but airsoft and computer games just don't seem to hold the interest for me they once did. What's really been holding my attention over the past couple of years has been good old fashioned 'analogue' hobbies.

It could be a retro thing or a case of nostalgia for my boyhood, but in any case I have been decreasingly interested in new fangled leisure pursuits and getting 'back to my roots' with plastic model making and playing traditional board games.

From a Milgeek point of view I don't really cover my model-making hobby all that much here - except for maybe the occasional finished model - as I have a blog specifically for that. But I'm starting to think that I should cover my board game hobby on this blog as it seems to me that there has been something of a general resurgence in the popularity of getting together with friends and family and rolling dice...It' not half as 'nerdy' a pursuit as it once was.

Game-wise I do tend to like the horror/sci-fi end of the game market and that's fine as I have always made room for Zombie related articles on Milgeek. It just means that I will expanding that theme a little more to include other monsters!

Zombiecide! A terrific co-operative survival game which is
reminiscent of the computer game 'Left4Dead' (a favourite of mine).

Interestingly there are actually a couple of clubs in my hometown who play tabletop games, one specifically a war-game club (which dabbles in the occasional fantasy/RPG game) and the other a fantasy/RPG club (that dabbles with the occasional war game)! But before you think that I am in danger of donning a cloak and funny hat and developing an interest in D&D, I should say that being involved in clubs like these are a great way to soften the sometimes steep learning curve associated with some of the more advanced tabletop games.

I hate reading 'how to play' instructions - I usually turn to YouTube if the game looks complex - but sometimes you really do need someone with experience to sit down and run through the basic play with you. So I may end up popping in to the local clubs on game nights that include games I am interested in learning.

On the wish-list is 'King of Tokyo' - which is defiantly not one of the more complex
table top games, as demonstrated by Will Wheaton & friends on 'Tabletop'.

So, there you go. Milgeek is going more analogue. But - to be honest - I have found that looking at the plethora of novel themes and ideas that tabletop game developers embrace they are apt to be a lot more innovative and take a lot more risks on what might be fun than their digital counterpart (who, like Hollywood, only seem to want to re-hash the same old ideas).

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Tanks for the memory

Here we are again...Another great game drought. My game playing friends and I have been through these so many times. Battlefield 4 has lost it's shine - remarkably quickly compared to how long we played Battlefield 2 or even Bad Company 2 - and nobody seems to be coming up with novel squad based first person shooters. Developers seem to be paralysed - creatively - and relying too much on tried and tested formats.

By sheer value of the fact I keep returning to this tank - and haven't sold it - the
M36 Jackson is my favourite AFV in World of Tanks. To me it really encompasses
everything I like best in the game, it's mid-tier (VI) so makes a reasonable amount of
silver, it has a gun (90mm) that punches above it's weight, it's reasonable mobile
and, importantly, for a tank destroyer it has a revolving turret. I also liked the Hellcat,
which is similar but sacrifices armour for mobility, but ended up selling the Hellcat.

Luckily, while we were occupied with BF4 our old favourite, World of Tanks, got some much needed tuning and improvements. We had a few games over the past week and absence certainly does seem to make the heart grow fonder as we were impressed with some of the new graphical additions.

It's not all good news, WoT is still basically the same game with the same maps (there are a few new ones but not many) and also while we were away it seems the game developers decided to nerf some of my favourite higher tier tank destroyers (camo seems to be less effective).

Still, World of Tanks is an easy to live with game in the same sort of way that Counter Strike is. People find it's accessibility and simplicity comfortable and everyone seems to have a favourite map that they don't mind playing over and over again. Furthermore, as a teammate of mine pointed out, it's the sort of game you can play while having a few drinks!

Second favourite tank in WoT is the good old StuG. Again this is capable of punching
above it's weight due to an excellent 75mm gun. I do find, though, that I feel un-
comfortable playing a German tank so I pretend it's a Finnish StuG (which helps
my conscience a little bit)!

I actually agree with this, it's a nice social game that isn't so demanding on your concentration as some of the 'twitcher' games - like BF4 or CoD - but, there again, maybe that's why my WoT track record is so patchy! Anyway, the BIG lads are back playing World of Tanks. It's hard to see at the moment what the alternative might be.

Relatively recently the game developers introduced the Soviet SU-85i. As
you can see, if you compare this with the StuG, this is modified version of
captured German Panzer IIIs (the same chassis as the StuG III), but the Red
Army added their own 85mm gun. So, it's sort of a guilt free StuG!
In comparison it's swings and roundabout - the StuG has
the better gun, but the SU-85i is a Premium tank so tends
to be a consistently good earner. I find the StuGs is less
mobile than the SU-85i but has the better armour. So, as
with the M36 Jackson versus the M18 Hellcat, which you
prefer comes down to whether you prefer armour or mobility.

[I do have games I am looking forward to but they are all in the development phase. Sony's multiplayer zombie survival game 'H1Z1' looks promising as does the similar crowd funded 'Survive the Nights'. My military squad tactical FPS hopes are on 'Ground Branch', but the development of this game seem to be mired and I cannot see it emerging in a playable format until late 2015 or possibly even 2016!]

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Little update - summer games

Summer is - barring the occasional British shower - here. While the winter has been all about my modelling hobby (and the occasional games) the sunny weather now has me thinking about other pastimes. That very fine gentleman airsofter 'Spider' took some footage of his latest outing at NTAC, 20th July 2014 and as usual it has me wondering is I can still run with the young guys...

This kind of site interests me and seems to suit my geriatric fitness level - it's flat, little to trip over or fall down and it's not too big. --- When are airsoft site 'designers' going to take their lead from FPS game maps? I'll love to play an airsoft site based on Counter Strike's Aztec of Dust maps. ---

Be nice to get at least a game in this season.

Other gaming diversions are my growing interest in board games. We are starting to have regular family game nights and you'd be amazed (or not) just how many zombie themed tabletop games there are out there. Last weekend we had a go at - of all things - Walking Dead Monopoly!

Really, it was just Monopoly. I don't know what I was expecting, but I thought
there would have been more special zombie-themed rules. Still, it was fun.

And keeping within the undead theme I'm excited about a Kickstarter crowd funding project called 'Survive the Nights'. It a computer game in the style of DayZ - so a crafting and survival sandbox - and has you assembling the materials and supplies you need to 'survive the night'. It looks very promising and I have pledged some funds towards it. Here's the official teaser...

And here's an interesting commentary by FrankieonPCin1080p, who has had a lot of experience playing various survival sandbox games...

I keep hoping that 'the' ultimate zombie/survival PC game is just on the horizon, each new game that promises much does hint at greatness but just doesn't quite fit the bill. Sony's forthcoming H1Z1 is also on my wish list so sometime someone must get the game-recipe right, surely?

Friday, 27 June 2014

Insert pun about fans here!

Undoubtedly the least expensive computer gaming accessory I have bought in a while is a little USB powered fan I found in a local discount store.

It's getting warmer in my attic man-cave. But my large oscillating fan is a little too noisy and a little to strong so I end up turning it on, then off, then on again and so on. This little fan provides a gentle flow of air which I can aim directly at me without it being too much. It's also very quiet and runs on power from the computer's USB port.

It's Chinese made and unbranded and only cost a few pounds. Bargain!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

STEAM's 'In-house streaming' system - first thoughts

Sometimes I just want to sit in front of the TV for some casual gaming. Now, my laptop is a MacBook Pro (because I am a designer and because they are one of the best laptops out there) and while things have improved markedly by way of Mac gaming there is no questioning the fact that the PC games market is huge by comparison. 

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to run my favorite PC games on my Mac?

For this reason my PC is my main gaming rig and I already own a fairly large library of games which are exclusive to that platform. So...Wouldn't it be nice to play some of these games on my laptop without buying a PC laptop instead of my Mac?

Well, actually there are already ways to do that, Apple's Bootcamp or third-party software like Winebottler or Parallel Desktop take advantage of Apple's Intel processors to run a separate Windows partition on your Mac hard drive. The disadvantage of this is that how well this works for games relies on the power of your Mac, and high-end games - which rely of very powerful GPUs - simply won't run on a Mac system which is primarily intended for design and productivity work.

World of Tanks on a Mac! In the past I have used software like Parallel Desktops
to run PC games on my Mac. But performance is an issue and high-end games
rarely run smoothly this way, if at all.

In the past he work around has been simple - though hardly ideal, Mac professionals like myself simply buy a separate gaming PC.

Well, recently online game retailers and 'digital distributor and game library' STEAM has introduced a very interesting 'In-Home streaming system' that allows you to access your main gaming machine remotely and then play your games on a client machine elsewhere in your house. Very clever.

This circumvents - in theory - the necessity of you client machine having to be a powerful one or even it having to run the same OS!

[I should point out that this idea is not new - you can (again in theory) perform this workaround using software like Microsoft's Remote Desktop. But STEAM's system is far more elegantly designed and is specifically intended and optimised for gaming.]

I've been trying out STEAM's 'In-Home Streaming', starting with some
older classic PC titles and working my way up to see the 'breaking point'
where power-hungry PC games just won't work. You can't get more
classic than the original Unreal Tournament!

I've just been trying this system out by working through some of my PC games from my STEAM library to see what does and does not work. At length I will report on the relative success of this trial - but in the meantime I am pleased that I've had some successes (and a few notable failures).

By the way, I think it's safe to say that a good solid home network is pretty necessary here. My initial attempts were done using a Wif_fi connection to connect and stream between my PC (host) and MacBook (client) machines and I did get a lot of network drops. Interestingly these were on some of the older games from my collection (which I had thought would be less 'needy' as far as networking goes).

Ghost Recon Classic: Ironically - like Unreal Tournament - GR Classic was
available as a native Mac game. However, that was before the advent of
Apple adopting the Intel processor. Now Mac OS X users like myself find
it very hard to get these games working. Is STEAM's system a solution?

I'll post up my results after I have acquired a long Ethernet cable to directly connect my MacBook to my router (see if that makes things better). Oh, and of course games that are not in your STEAM library will not work!

One of the success stories so far has been Rebellion's 'Sniper Elite2: Zombie
. This ran surprisingly well using the streaming system.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Bit of a rant - computer game player sheep

[I've had to go and get a drink before I started writing this post...It's one of those!]

Remember those good old days of computer gaming? You know, when you would sit around with a  group of mates and discuss how 'wouldn't be a cool game if...' and then come up with seemingly the most stupid idea for a game in the world ever. AND YET, many was the time, a couple of months later you would read a preview of a game in ST Format or Amiga Magazine just like the one you you thought up!

This was even truer in the days of the Commodore 64, BBC Micro and Sinclair Spectrum. The craziest ideas would make it to 'tape' (and later 'floppy') because the whole gaming community was really a community and chances are one of those mates (or even you) could actually code the 'stupid idea' to some sort of completion.

OK, I admit, the downside of this were that there were literally hundreds of really (really) crap games out there but the marketplace for game ideas was directly driven by the wants of the actual game players! And chances are someone somewhere would even like - what you thought were - the crap games! (How else can anyone explain 'Llamatron'!)

Anyway, to my main point.

This morning I sat and watched a review of EA's latest instalment in the Battlefield franchise by the well respected YouTube gamer FRANKIEonPCin1080p called 'WORTH BUYING?! - Battlefield Hardline Beta'...

Now Frankie was quite pragmatic in his laboured neutrality over the game and his opinion about this BETA (and I reiterate that it is just a BETA) which really boiled down to a simple restatement of the old Roman adage Caveat Emptor ('let the buyer beware'). Perhaps the controversy over his role in the promotion of Battlefield 4 where he was alleged to have taken payment from EA not to make overly negative comments about the game and it's blatantly obvious faults prior to general release has somewhat tempered his willingness to seem unaware of any failings in this one - so best to say as little as possible, other than note some personal preferences and put the onus for buying another lemon on the poor consumer! ...Phew, long sentence...Sorry!

However, the one thing he said that was majorly critical about the development side of things was that he noted how game play features that were present in an earlier episode of the franchise - BF3 - were not now in this latest edition. Why would EA take away good features in a game that is supposed to be the most evolved version of the series?

And here's my point (at last you say)...

The whole sorry tale of the Battlefield series (and I guess Call of Duty and Ghost Recon, et al) is - obviously - that game design is no longer directly driven by the needs of the gamer but rather some vague marketing 'concept' the goal of which is trying to juggle various statistics and demographics in order to come up with the most sales.

...And in stating this I know you - dear reader - will be saying to yourself 'and you've only just figured that out'?

The but the final nail - and what is the main cause of this rant - was when Frankie announced the intended price for Battlefield Hardline. This game is likely to cost you and I £50. FIFTY POUNDS!

Particularly maddening as despite having had our fingers burnt many, many times you and I just know that thousands and thousands of gamers will pay out this money knowing that they will soon after start moaning about it's faults and glitches while EA laugh all the way to the bank!

FIFTY POUNDS! Think about it...If all those people took their £50 or Dollars or whatever and gave it - just this once - to a Kickstarter project like 'Ground Branch'* (a game inspired directly by the long term wishes of a body of gamers) we would have games that WE actually WANT for a change AND at the same time inject some much needed creativity and variety into a very, very stale gaming market.

Don't give EA your £50 on the month of release - PLEASE! Give it to a creative work that really needs it, and then if you really must then buy Hardline the next month (when the price will have dropped due to poor sales).

...Of course this won't happen because we are all sheep. :(

* Pick you own Kickerstarter gaming project.

Above: 'Ground Branch' development prototype. This Kickstarter FAILED to
meet it's funding goal while BF4 racked in millions for EA. It was designed
specifically to fulfil the long-held wishes of the Classic Ghost Recon player
fan-base. There are lots of these niche projects out there but we still insist on
investing our hard earned cash on games which we know will be, at best,
half-complete on release.


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Book review - Sven Hassel revisited

The Danish author Sven Hassel is something of a divisive figure. Some love him and his books, some hate them. There are many reasons for this - I won't document all the controversies and conspiracy theories about him here, Google them if you're interested - but at the core there is the unsettling concept - for a non-German - of reading a series of books that tell the story of World War 2 German soldiers.

Why would anyone want to read about the experiences of Nazi soldiers? Well, from a strictly historical viewpoint hearing the 'other side of the story' is a very important and valid academic pursuit and it may even gives some interesting context to the casual readers understanding of the events and why the allies went to war. But a semi-fiction action adventure series? That's not very moral is it?

One can get very snooty about Sven Hassel's books, I remember reading them as a teenager and deriving a sort of immature frisson of pleasure at reading something I felt was a little 'forbidden', as the idea of Nazi soldiers being the 'heroes' of a story was quite contrary to the British mindset and it's conventional cultural programming of how 'we' should see 'the war'.

The books - at this level - were gritty and brutal and somewhat 'comic' (as in comic book) and were - for me - an evolution of my early teenage love of war comics like the Victor and the Commando series. Strangely Hassel's books came to my attention because they were sitting on my father's bookshelf, though I didn't stop to consider the ramifications of this at the time. They attracted my interest by means of the comic-book cover art and - to my detriment - the fact that the author's title was typeset with the double-S of 'HaSSel' in the infamous Nazi lightning runes of the 'SS' (thus further making the reading of this book seem something that was rebellious, which is a like a flame to a moth when one is an awkward teenager).

[Note: In Hassel's defence this typographic liberty was not his idea - 'his unit' was not an 'SS' unit and this sensationalist piece of graphics has - thankfully - been removed in subsequent reprints of his works in the UK. The picture above shows the newer cover design.]

It is only now - nearly forty years later - that I was tempted to revisit the Hassel books - as I am currently modelling some WW2 German items and wanted some 'scene setting' information - and ask the obvious nagging question - why were these books on my father's bookshelf?

Reading 'Legion of the Damned' as a rational and informed adult - as I hardly think male teenagers can be considered 'rational' - is an altogether different experience from that which I thought I remembered. The books are still, I think, a bit silly and 'pulp' but I was surprised to read large and well written tirads by the author against the Nazi war machine and war itself! I can only imagine that as a youth I skimmed over these bit to get to the 'action' thus these passages made no lasting impression on me.

The real Sven Hassel as a willing and enthusiastic recruit in the regular
German army. Or is it? There is some debate, not only about who he really
was but what his role was in the war and how much of his books are fiction.

Surprisingly some of the sections in this - the first book in the series - are at times intelligently put together, touching, heart-rendering, anti-war and do - despite oneself - illicit a feeling of sympathy for the characters in 'Sven's troop'. Indeed, even if one tries hard to be dispassionate and subjective, as I was during this reread, one can a hardly help but to become fond of the larger than life comrades of the main character and begin to invest emotionally in their plight.

My father was an avid and intelligent reader and - I know - was greatly affected in his views about war by Erich Maria Remarque's masterpiece 'All Quiet on the Western Front'. Many of his generation, it seems, held Hassel's works as being of this anti-war genre and Hassel was extremely popular in the UK in the late 1950s and 1960s.

But they were Nazis!?
And here's the rub, the inescapable catch to the whole experience of reading Sven Hassel is that you are reading about Nazi soldiers. They may not have been 'SS' - the military wing of the Nazi Party - but they were soldiers of the Nazi State, trying to separate the two as if two Germanys existed between 1933 to 1945 is in my opinion ridiculous and more than a little ingenuous.

Well, that said, Hassel does attempt to deflects the moral outrage one might harbour by setting his story in the Penal Battalion of the German Army and also goes to great pains to convince his reader that these men were just as much victims of the Nazi system as 'political prisoners' or those others who were unjustly punished by the Nazi Party for perceived infractions to their stilted justice system.

Above: Two scenes from the 1987 movie based on Hassel's books. Ironically the
movie - which is terrible by the way - is full of just as many technical inaccuracies
as his books! Here a Soviet SU-100 stands in for a German tank destroyer!

In fact this proposition along with the elements of antiwar sentiment in the books is the reason that Sven Hassel's books (or at least this first book) have raised the reputation of his writing - by some - to the point where he is considered to be one of the great anti-war authors of his time. I have even read reviews which seek to elevate his book to the same level as that other great German anti-war classic 'All Quiet on the Western Front'.

...Now to that catch I mentioned. It all just doesn't wash with me.

We, in the West - at least of my generation and of my father's generation - are quite familiar with the post-war notion that 'all Germans were not Nazis' and that, in fact, many of the victims of Nazi tyranny were actually German citizens themselves. Large numbers of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were German, as were political dissidents, gypsies, homosexuals, (certain) intellectuals, (certain) artists, the mentally and physically infirm, the 'promiscuous' and so on and so on. And yet...

I am afraid that I cannot find it in my heart to accept the proposal that the majority of Germans were somehow duped into following the Nazis, after all - and again people forget this - the Nazi party and all of it's well documented and stated policies were democratically elected into power - and Sven (or his alter-ego in the book) admits that he was initially a volunteer in the regular German army and not conscripted or press-ganged, he actually went to great lengths to become a German soldier, even changing his Danish sounding name (Pedersen) to the more German sounding 'Hassel'.

I also do not believe the widely accepted myth that all the atrocities committed by the German military in World War 2 was the work of the 'SS' and nothing to do with the regular 'Heer' (German Army). There is now a large body of evidence that dispels this notion and I have myself evidence - by way of photos my father 'liberated' from a German POW - that clearly burst this bubble of delusion.

Above: I have in my possession some photos of the German Army that my
 dad 'liberated' in North Africa. We had always presumed that they we a
series of photos of the German's Blitzkreig across Poland but on the rear of
one of them was this penciled title 'Stryj' (or Stryi).

Sadly - I discovered that this series of pictures seems to show the operations
conducted by the Nazis against the Jewish population:

"The Germans occupied Stryy on July 2, 1941, and hundreds of Jews were
immediately killed. In November 1941, 1,200 Jews were shot in the Holobotow
forest. Several deportations to extermination camps took place beginning in
September, 1942. Between June and August of 1943 the Stryy ghetto and labor
camps near the town were liquidated. When the Soviet army occupied Stryy in
August, 1944 there were only a few Jewish survivors. No Jewish
community was re-established."

[Reference source: www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org/stryy/]

As can be clearly seen in several of the photographs the German soldiers
carrying out this operation wear the helmet insignia of the
regular army - 'Heer' - and not the 'SS'.
So when Sven Hassel tries so hard to delineate the activities of the 27th Panzer Division Penal Battalion as not being aligned with the Nazi war machine I simply cannot accept this I'm afraid.

I do not usually believe in 'collective guilt' but the phenomenon of Nazism was so abhorrent and so ideologically and morally corrupting that I feel one must metaphorically 'cut off the leg to save the life' of democracy and human rights and consign that generation of German people en masse to a shared sentence of 'guilty' as a statement of what sort of behaviour democratic people do not find acceptable. And in this I, regretfully, accept that there are those who will have been 'punished' unjustly. There were good Germans but the concept of a Nazi state must never again be a conceivable proposition.

So, to conclude, I cannot allow myself to enjoy Sven Hassel's books nor to recommend them. Not even for 'academic' purposes, for in truth - and this is a whole other issue - these fictionalised tales as so full of technical and chronological inaccuracies that there is little historical worth in them (there are large numbers of historical accounts and biographies which give the German view far more accurately and subjectively).

(Allegedly.) The real Porta (right) and Tiny, two of Hassel's comrades as
depicted in his series of books. Lovable rogues of a type found in almost
any army, but their 'roguishness' is tainted by the uniforms they wear.
'Legion of the Damned' is about a lovable and roguish group of human beings - the larger than life character of Porta is particularly hilarious at times - but I would far rather read about similar characters who were experiencing similarly unpalatable and heart-wrenching wartime careers but on the right side! In this I can wholeheartedly recommend Spike Milligan's war memoirs which show the complete gamut of emotional and moral implications of war.

In this, World War Two has the eminent luxury of it being on equitably clear which side was the right side.

Postscript: If you really must read a semi-fictional account of German soldiers during WW2 - and in particular their experiences on the Soviet Front - then you might look for Willi Heinrich's 'The Willing Flesh' (1950). This was the book on which Sam Peckinpah's excellent film 'Cross of Iron' (1977) was based.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Wasssup! PC gaming roundup

Good god! It's almost like I don't game anymore! In actuality I do, I just haven't been doing anything blog-worthy enough for me to actually do any damn typing...

Battlefield 4 on the PC is starting to get a bit wearisome (predictably) and I have been searching around for something different. The most likely candidates are some of the host of zombie-slash-survival games that are the vogue at the moment - such as; DayZ, Rust, Seven Days to Live, etc.

I have been watching FRANKIEonPCin1080p on YouTube as he has regularly posted his in-game experiences with RUST and DayZ and they make very entertaining viewing. However, having done some asking around various gaming clans I still think a lot needs to be done to these games to make them more playable.

So, at the moment my hopes rest on Sony's H1Z1 which promises to be everything DayZ is but better (and by better they mean actually be a proper game rather than a BETA sandbox).

I am also, of course, very excited about the recent release of Wolfenstein, but as this is really (mainly) a single player experience I am happy to wait until next month to buy this as the price should have fallen a bit. World of Tanks has received a few nice updates since I last played it, but I have really gotten that bug out my system (literally, I uninstalled it)! :)

The biggest news - well, most exciting anyway - is that off the back of Battlefield 4 EA will be releasing one of the new 'related' titles for the franchise that it hinted at. Called Battlefield Hardline this heist based game promised to be a sort of cross between GTA and BF! Watch the trailer to get a better idea of what this would mean...

This would most certainly get my BIG Clan friends and I excited about FPS again and it's supposed to be coming out in October of this year. Best news though is that it is being developed by someone other than DICE and will include all the lessons that EA has learned from BF4's deplorable Netcode issues (fingers crossed eh)!

And finally, dabbled with Rebellion's Sniper Elite 2: Zombie Army and thought it rather fun (in a short-term faddy sort of way). But was sufficiently impressed as to want to give the new Sniper Elite 3 a look when it's released soon...

Again, I can't see the BIG Clan guys playing this but I would like it loaded on my rig in time for September's MAGLAN14 II - The Revenge! However, as the above video shows there is actually a fairly interesting looking multiplayer mode so you never know, if the guys can be bothered to fork out the cash we may all have a go.

Well, that's it - other than to announce that I have finally managed to run to a bit of an extension to my mid-life upgrade to my gaming rig. This time I am adding two much needed power-up that will impact my Battlefield 4 play - a new graphics card and a SSD.

The card is a MSI Radeon 3GB R9 280X and really should give me the much needed ooomph that has been missing with my current ATI Radeon HD 5850.

Additionally I am - at long last - adding a SDD to my system, I have been putting this off until I have been completely convinced that they are stable and reliable (I am a bit of a ludite at times). My gaming friends have been using them quite happily for a few years now and it's has started to irk me that they are always in game before me as a consequence so I splashed out on a Crucial MX100 2.5 256GB SATA III SSD.

I'll report back after Friday night's game night as to how I feel these have improved things.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Operation Küss mein Arsch - game report

A bit of a departure from my current board game craze, but actually it's not that far removed. Warlord's Bolt Action rules - in particular - make it easy to step up from the traditional board game to this sort of wargame. I mean, if I could understand (sort of) the basics of this game, anyone can!

OK - this is a bit simplistic, but this is my brother and my very first attempt at a war game. Taking the advice of some of the Society of Gentlemen Wargamers forum members we agreed to make our Bolt Action skirmish an infantry only affair (with no indirect fire weapons and no armour)...

THE SET-UP - My brother made an excellent little 'Normandy' village for us to scrap over (we kept it tight as we were just concentrating on learning the rules)...

Our small forces - 2 rifle squads (1 NCO, 7 riflemen), a MMG team and a sniper team each - started at either side of the ville with the objective of capturing and holding the cross-roads at the center of the table. I know this isn't perhaps the most imaginative mission, but we tried not to be too clever.

THE OPENING MOVES: Saw some blatant 'Runs' to get to best position over-looking the main objective with both of us matching move for move fairly equally. My brother included lots of interesting cover so we could try out Bolt Action's 'Line of Sight' mechanics...

MY FIRST TACTICAL MISTAKE: In the rush to get into a position overlooking the middle ground I got rather too cocky and exposed my most useful unit! My MG42 MMG fire team found themselves caught out in the open by my brother's lead GI's. It was a disaster for me - a chancy move trying to steal the initiative. First blood to the Yanks!

BLOCKING FORCE: Losing my MMG left a big hole in my center where the Americans could potentially pour through. Luckily for me my Order Dice came out the bag next and so I was able to move one of my infantry squads up my left flank to try and block any enemy rush...

HALF TIME: Things are looking bad for my Germans. The Americans have already reached the crossroads and are pushing through aggressively to stop me getting anywhere near the objective. But my brother's attempt to steam-roll my Germans seems to have stalled mainly due to a fantastic bit of pinning fire from my sniper in the cemetery (to the south)! Still, at halftime the initiative seems to be firmly with the Americans.

TOO QUICK AND TOO FAR: The Americans seem to have overextended themselves. In moving up to silence my sniper team they have moved close to one of my infantry squads and as the Order Dice favour me for a change I spring an ambush!

THE TIDE TURNS: It's amazing how quickly things can change due to the Order Dice system that Bolt Action uses...I pulled a couple of turns in a row and that was enough for me to spring a flanking move on my right flank which knocks out the US sniper team and whittles away one of the American infantry squads, leaving it scuttling for cover...

CLOSE QUARTER FIGHTING: In an attempt to extricate his lead American infantry squad from my ambush the Yanks hastily move up their MMG, but with some lucky dice throws I dispatch this and then turn my attention back to the US infantry which are now counter-attacking my Germans from their rear. But my superior numbers tell in the end and I have wiped out two American squads in short order!

From having a numerical advantage of four American squads to three German I managed - by a lot of good luck - to turn that around to two German squads to one US squad! ...The poor Americans have little choice but to disengage - or be caught in a pincer movement - and retreat speedily to the hardcover of the cemetery!

It was just a matter of time now and slowly the Yanks succomed to my fire! The graveyard did indeed become the final resting place for my brother's Americans...


Conclusion: The big surprise was that all this took FOUR HOURS! We were shocked - though a lot of this time was down to us flicking back and forth through the Bolt Action rule book! We cannot claim that we interpreted the rules correctly and there were some dodgy moves, but we did our best to be fair.

...But we made a lot of notes about things we didn't quite understand and we intend to clarify these issues over the coming weeks.

Cutting out the armour and the light mortar squads we were originally going to employ did make things a lot more straight forward, plus we decided to ignore the additional close quarters (Assault) rules and stick to simple movement and shooting rules.

All in all we had a brilliant time - it was terrific fun. Pulling out lucky dice throws was a continued source of hilarity...I still put down my turn of fortunes to one lucky sniper shot (and a roll of 6)!

It was really surprising to us how Bolt Action's Order Dice turn based system could change the whole flow of the game in the blink of an eye. My brother suffered because of the importance of Pinning, while he had numerical superiority for a large part of the game he failed to pin my units effectively. So, I guess, while I had fewer units they were more mobile and able in the end to perform a very effective pincer movement while his units were hampered by being pinned.

 ...A very satisfying nights gaming. War gaming is a very cruel pastime!

A very big thank you to my brother, Ian, for hosting our game and putting so much effort into building such an excellent first game table. Cheers bro!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Ready for Bolt Action game!

My brother and I have frantically assembled a small force each for Friday night's game of Bolt Action. I guess if I had to describe this game to someone who hadn't played it's sort of a 'war game lite'. Perhaps a bit unfair but maybe a better way to describe it is a 'bridge game', which spans the gap between board games and full blown wargames.

The rules are fairly simple to pick up - even for me - and the play is about smaller unit tactics, so no lumbering armour formations or regiments and divisions of troops!

Anyway, I've managed to put together the minimum German force...

And my brother has his Americans ready...

Additionally, he has been busy building the 'board' - a small tabletop battlefield. He's been beavering away making scenic features and small buildings for us to fight over!

Looking forward to Friday night. Should be very different, though I can't see kids and my wife playing this with me on one of our game nights! :)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Long time no see - Gaming update

I've been immersed in my modelling hobby (kit building - not swim suit) and Battlefield 4 over the past couple of months, so that's why I have had little to report. Having said that I totally neglected to report on this year's MAGLAN - three days of BF4 gaming with the lads from BIG clan up in Scotland.

Our welcoming host for MAGLAN 2014!
...Perhaps even more important than the gaming were
the LAN refreshments!
...So sorry about that. But really I couldn't live post because there was just too much going on (next year we are considering a TWITCH cast of the event).

ANYHOO...What next?

Well, I've kinda got myself sucked into trying out a tabletop war game (something I thought I'd never do) via my interest in models. My brother and I have been looking at BOLT ACTION by Warlord Games.

I know, 'war gaming' sounds a bit nerdy and all tape rules, dice and elves and wizards. But Bolt Action is simply an extension of a board game concept really and actually made sense to me when I saw it played...

So that's what I'm working on at the moment - learning the rules and making a basic and very rudimentary set of figures and vehicles to try this out. Should be fun, we shall see - will report more soon!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

An evening (or two) of Zombies!

As you know, I have been planning my big 'Nazi-Zombie' movie fest (when not playing Battlefield 4) and the good news is the last of the movies I wanted landed on my desk this morning!

Do not be fooled by the cover photo [in fact, an old mate of mine used to be very suspicious if video's box art was 'drawn' as he felt it was a sign of how crap the movie was] as Zombie Lake is a good old fashioned 1980s B-movie gore-fest, with a splash (get it?) of gratuitous nudity!

In fact I came across teh original 1980s movie poster for the film and I think that better describes the content and quality of this flik!

However, it is a French movie, and in good old French film tradition the director - Jean Rollin - something of an 'artiste' (who was doing this just to pay the bills) and apparently there is a 'deeper sub-text'!

...Hmmm, yes. I bet there is!

Anyway, this completes the collection of movies I want for my grand review of the genre and so now I only have to devise a running order and a date when I will watch them.

Obviously with 8 movies I will have to - at the least - split the showing up into a couple of sessions. But it will give me a lot of fun devising which movies to run against each other. In any case here is the list of my Nazi-Zombie movie collection, chronologically:

• Shock Waves - 1977. [IMDB score: 5.7/10]
This horror film concerns a shipwrecked yachting party. Once beached, they meet up with an aging SS Commander (Peter Cushing!) who had been in charge of a crew of zombies. Now they are rising up from the depths to create mayhem among the stranded members of the yachting party.

• Zombie Lake (Le lac des morts vivants) - 1981. [IMDB score: 2.9/10]
In a small village, somewhere in France, German soldiers, killed and thrown into the lake by the Resistance during WW II, come back.

• Nazi Zombies (aka Horrors of War) - 2006. [IMDB score: 3.2/10]
Feeling the pressure from Allied advance, Hitler unleashes his secret weapons giving rise to a type of warfare the world has never seen...Hitler's horde of nightmare weapons!

• Outpost - 2008. [IMDB score: 5.9/10]
A wealthy businessman hires a crack team of seasoned soldiers to accompany him on a perilous journey into no man's land, only to come face to face with an otherworldly enemy more vicious and powerful than any mortal foe.

• Dead Snow - 2009. [IMDB score: 6.4/10]
A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace: Nazi zombies.

Outpost: Black Sun (Outpost II) - 2012. [IMDB score: 5/10]
A NATO task force is hurriedly deployed to Eastern Europe, where a sinister enemy appears to be mercilessly killing everything in its path. But this is no ordinary foe. Only Helena, a gutsy investigator on the trail of the notorious war-criminal Klausener, accepts the reality of that they are facing a battalion of Nazi Storm-Troopers, a veritable zombie army on the march.

• Bloodstorm (Nazis at the Center of the Earth) - 2012. [IMDB score: 3.1/10]
Researchers in Antarctica are abducted by a team of masked storm troopers. They are dragged deep underground to a hidden continent in the center of the earth. Here Nazi survivors, their bodies a horrifying patchwork of decaying and regenerated flesh, are planning for the revival of the Third Reich.

Frankensteins Army - 2013. [IMDB score: 5.3/10]
Nazi scientists have used the legendary Frankenstein's work to assemble an army of super-soldiers stitched together from the body parts of their fallen comrades - a desperate Hitler's last ghastly ploy to escape defeat.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Using a USB foot pedal for VOIP comms!

It doesn't seem to matter just how many keys you have available to you as a PC gamer, there never seems to be enough! At least that's what I thought when it came to the issue of which key to assign as my VOIP key.

Like many online gamers I use a preparatory program to handle my in-game voice comms - BIG clan uses Mumble - and this demands that you set a key to act as your 'talk' button. The problem is trying to find a convenient key that isn't already assigned to another function.

For a while now I have been using a key-stoke mapped to my middle mouse button - so I press my middle mouse button and Mumble turns my mic on. Simples. Well, not so simples really...

Being a person of limited brain to finger cooridination I find it a bit fiddly to fire - left mouse button - and talk - middle mouse button - at the same time. I would assign another key and move the physical key to my Orbweaver keypad but everything is already assigned.

Well, I bought myself a USB foot controllers this week - the type secretaries use to control scolling in Word so they can transcribe stuff - as I reckoned my feet aren't doing anything so seem the ideal appendage to control my VOIP!

Much to my surprise setting up the footpad was very simple and within minutes I had it working with Mubble to control my voice comms. So, the foot-pedal clears the first test - onto using the pedal...

Assigning your preferred VOIP key to the foot pedal is easy as the device comes
with it's own set-up software on a mini-CD (Windows only).
Next I make sure that the shortcut key to my chosen VOIP key is set in my
VOIP software - in my case MUMBLE.

Right, problem number one - it *feels* funny! Using your foot to press a button is something which is quite alien to me. It might sound daft but this may be because I don't drive (maybe), but in any case finding my 'comfort zone' is a major issue.

Normally when gaming I don't even think about where my legs and feet are - they generally are just crossed in a relaxed position and don't move all through my playing session. But now I have to find a good position for my right leg so that my foot rests on the foot pedal without triggering it, but be ready to trigger it when I want to without much bother.

So, it will probably take me quite a while to find the 'sweet spot' for placing the pedal and my leg and foot, so I can't really give you a proper verdict on what I think of using a foot controller yet. It may take me three or four (or more) gaming sessions just to get used to having the pedal and finding it with ease.

...SO, watch this space!

...Oh, nearly forgot - problem number two! I would like to know if my pedal is activating my VOIP, there is a overlay option in Mumble that shows a blinky light when you are talking but unfortunately it does not work with DirectX games! Du-oh!

So I will basically just have to trust that it is working!

UPDATE: Problem 2 solved! In Mumble you can set an 'audio cue', this sounds a 'beep' when you press your VOIP key. So I now know I have definitely pressed my VOIP button!

The USB foot-pedal is made by 'International Invention' (China) and costs about a tenner. It's made of fairly cheap plastic and I am not convinced about how well it will hold up to repeated and furious foot punches! Only time will tell.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Nazi-Zombie film fest

Just landed on my desk, this trio of Nazi-Zombie action!

What sort of mindless violence could be more guilt free than that perpetrated against everyone-one's 'favourite' villainous entity - the Nazi Zombie!

Part of my wonderful Christmas haul this year was the gift of 'Outpost' 1 & 2 from my eldest daughter (they know me so well - as my youngest got me a set of 'Walking Dead' novels). So I had the idea of having a marathon Nazi-Zombie movie weekend. I did a bit of research and found out what the 'best' (worst) movies were in the genre and luckily they can be had for next to nothing on Amazon (which speaks volumes for the quality of some of these flicks).

To be fair, they aren't all 'B' movie 'fails' - though there are some howlers in my list. Dead Snow and the Outpost series are excellent entertainment, but half the fun of being a fan of this niche type of horror movie is getting a kick out of the 'so bad it's good' type of schmaltz!

Anyway, the first of my collection of movies arrive on my desk this morning and these included; 'Bloodstorm', 'Nazi Zombies' and the fantastic 'Dead Snow'.

Above: 'Bloodstorm' was originally titled 'Nazis at the Center of the Earth'!

Above: 'Nazi Zombies' (just couldn't put the effort into a more creative title)!

I still have a couple to come (from the US) which are supposed to be real Nazi-Zombie connoisseur material, but this is a really good start. I just have to plan the running order and when to hold my event (I am tempted to put this off until March as Outpost 3: Rise of the Spetsnaz is released then)!

Link: Outpost 3: Rise of the Spetsnaz Official Facebook page.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Judge - Zombie defense handgun

I've long been interested in the hypothetical discussion of zombie survival techniques and defensive weaponry and I have in the past even listed my favoured carry weapons in the event of the rise of the living dead (presuming I could get my hands on this as this is Britain)!

But say I lived in the good ol' US of A and could legally arm myself with firearms in anticipation of a zombie apocalypse, top of my list for firearms was the Taurus Judge - a handheld shotgun come revolver that is a devastating defensive weapon at close range. This .410 shotgun firing gun - which also has the ability to chamber .45 Colt ammunition - is, in theory, a practical 'panic gun' which can make up for hurried marksmanship by blasting a package of buckshot at your oncoming attacker.

However, as I say, that's in theory and while the publicity material looks good - with mellon sized targets disintegrating and paper targets being shredded - there has been criticism of the effectiveness and lethality of the .410 shotgun ammunition when used for their real purpose - firing at a being.

Well, I have just found a video that I think illustrates the potential lethality and penetration at close range of The Judge. There are specialist defence loads in the .410 format, specially designed to increase lethality, like the Hornaday 'Critical Defence' or the Winchester PDX 410 loads if you still doubt the effectiveness of mere birdshot. In this video, we see an impressive demonstration of the Lehigh Defence 'Maximum Load' versus an 18 pound slab of ballistic gell...

Now, I hinted at the way I would use the gun - I see it as a back-up, last line of defence 'panic gun'. There are other guns I would use as my primary and secondary weapons before it would come down to my relying on the Taurus Judge. I do like the idea that I can destroy a head-sized target with ease with a hurried snap shot, particularly in the event of a few oncoming zombies!

In particular I like the idea of small scale canister, or 'grapeshot', anti-personnel loads - like the Winchester PDX - designed to give a certain point-target accuracy while including an area shower to enhance 'chance effectiveness'. The moral is, if you snap-shot is slightly off-target there is still a chance you can clip your unlucky victim with a cloud of lead shot. Wait and watch 'the meat test' (LOL)...

Finally, it is worth considering just what we mean by 'lethality' when we are talking about encounters with the 'undead'. The idea of 'lethality' is, surely, an oxymoron in this case as your intended victim is, after all, already dead! But if we consider the accepted means of disabling a zombie - completely - as documented in the overwhelming canon of material about these creatures then we are talking about the destruction of their brain matter.

How effective a series of lead pellets might be at destroying the crucial brain activity of these creatures must be a matter of conjecture. I mean how much of their brain must be destroyed? And which part?

If we take the examples depicted in the 'Walking Dead' series then it suggests that a sharp point through the eye cavity into the brain is enough to stop the undead dead! This would seem to suggest that any disruption of even a small area of the frontal lobe is enough to switch off whatever 'life'-giving spark that has reanimated these beings. Therefore several lead pellets should, you would think, have the same effect at a push...

In the end the moral is don't rely on a near miss! A full load dead centre of the head is a far better guarantee of putting the 'walker' down. But, certainly, something like a Judge firing Winchester PDX at anything under 15 feet range will ensure that your nether regions remain un-gnawed! :)

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Ground Branch - the return of Ghost Recon?

Any of my mysterious and anonymous readers (I know you exist, I just don't know who you are) will know after all this time that I am a huge fan of the original Ubisoft Ghost Recon computer game (read about it's history at WIkipedia)...

This game was released in 2001 and what attracted me to it was it was one of the few decent action games available on the Apple Macintosh platform at the time. It allowed you to host multiplayer 'deathmatch', 'team deathmatch' and - importantly 'co-operative' games on your computer which you could advertise to the world using gateway/lobby systems like GameRanger.

This was my first taste of online multiplayer battlefield FPS.

Additionally, Ghost Recon was one of the very few games that was truly cross-platform. You could host a game on your Mac or PC and players from either platform could join the server for LAN games. At the time I was an IT Support assistant at a university and at lunchtime our office would hold Ghost Recon and Unreal Tournament LAN games between the PC and Mac sections! (Incidentally, Unreal Tournament one of the other rare games that featured this cross-platform ability.)

Screenshot I made in April 2009 when I re-installed Classic Ghost Recon (again!)
in order to get some nostalgic 'retro' gaming! It's a mark of this game's success
and popularity that even today there is a hard core of fans who still play it!
I amaze myself at some of the obscure stuff I keep! This is one of my original team
tactical graphics I made based on the Classic Ghost Recon map 'Castle'. It illustrates
the best way to move around the 'course' in order to clear the AI enemy in a team
co-op game! We would compete to do this in the best time and fewest shots!

However, what really got me to be a fan of the original Ghost Recon (and it's two subsequent expansion scenarios) was the very open framework of the game's code which encouraged a thriving bedroom industry of third party modifications and add-on files. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that if you could think of an idea for an expansion then chances are that some clever coder had made or was making a mod to fulfil your fantasies.

One of my favourite Classic GhR mods was 'Udmurtia Spetsnaz'
which, as you can see' added modern Russian Special Forces
uniforms and equipment to the game. It was this kind of fan
lead customisation that made the original game so popular.

Whether it be a range of obscure weapons or uniforms, or a scenario which reflected a particular nation or campaign or war there would be a mod for it. And if there wasn't you could actually go onto one of teh many Ghost Recon fan forums and actually float your idea and see if someone would pick it up and develop a mod for it! In this was a really close-knit community was built up and fans of the game became rather

Anyway, this golden age of fan led gaming came to a calamitous end when Ubisoft decided that all this enthusiastic fan support should be translated into financial gain (for them) and they release the first of a series of very, very disappointing official sequels in the Ghost Recon franchise.

Screenshot from the second official Ubisoft sequel to GhR - entitled 'Ghost Recon
Advanced Warfighter 2'.
To be honest I thought it was an OK game, you can see that
the graphics were pretty good, but it failed to impress die hard 'Classic' fans and in the
end suffered because it was neither one thing or the other, neither appealing to the
existing fan base or to those who, by now, were used to titles like CoD or BF2.

Now I won't fire off a half dozen paragraphs about why fans hated the 'new' Ghost Recon games (actually I didn't think they were too bad), suffice it to say that they moved too far from the formula that had made the first game popular and - importantly - Ubisoft killed off the 'open' nature of mod access and creations.

Ground Branch - the return of Ghost Recon?
Ever since Classic Ghost Recon (CGhR) - as the original game has become known to die hard fans - was effectively replaced by Ubisoft with the 'locked down' official sequels those with fond memories of the game have either tried to keep the original limping along or have prayed to the great cosmic entity for 'something similar' to come along that would be a sort of Classic Ghost Recon but with modern graphics (literally that's what many fans actually - word for word - asked for)!

Hope for the future - Ground Branch?

There have been a couple of false hopes, like when ArmA was originally announced some thought this might be the answer to their prayers. And likewise, when the similar Operation Flashpoint rip-off game was developed to compete with ArmA Classic Ghost Recon nuts got themselves all excited. But, as it turned out, in vain as these games - while embarrassing a rather more serious approach to infantry FPS - turned out to be a little too much sim and not enough fun (and their user interface was a dog's breakfast).

What Classic Ghosters seemed to want was a game that struck the right balance between 'arcade' infantry acton games like Call of Duty and Battlefield and the great plodding 'sim' infantry productions like ArmA and Operation Flashpoint. Well, last year there seemed to be a chink of hope for us when a new game was announced by Blackfoot Studios called Ground Branch.

Ground Break was a Kickstarter development which sought funds from fans in order to get it to the release stage. It was enthusiastically promoted and supported by the largest Ghost Recon community hub - GhostRecon.net - and promised to be the game we all really wanted.

What gave this notion some credence was that some of the development team had actually worked on the original Ghost Recon and were savvy with the philosophy behind the game. Also one of the stated features of this new game was the intension to support 'mods' and a high level of character customisation...

While the original Kickstarter campaign failed to gather the necessary funds to take the development all the way through to release, as hoped, the response from fans was sufficient enough to keep the development team beavering away at the concept. And now it seems this perseverance has born some fruit as they have just announced that they are nearly ready to release "...our own Early Access on this [www.groundbranch.com] until we have a build that can officially go up on Steam Early Access".

Now, this has gotten me - and other Classic Ghosters - very excited as it all looks very promising. Now don't get me wrong, I DO NOT think this is the Hoy Grail of battlefield infantry shooters, it will not blow CoD, Battlefield or ArmA out of the water, BUT it will fill a particular niche between the action shooters and the tactical sims.

In a way it is a return to a BROAD gaming marketplace, rather than the modern narrow marketplace that holds only a very few predictable gaming 'models'. And this is what excites me, that games like these - which are more peculiar to a smaller market of gamer's requirements - are made rather than us constantly being force-fed the regurgitated and formulaic products that the big development companies dictate that we should play.

Even if Ground Branch as a game type does not appeal to you the philosophy of player/fan inspired development should do...Unless you really feel that you want to go on playing Call of Duty for the rest of your life!

Link: Blackfoot Studios official Ground Branch website and forum.