Tuesday, 28 April 2020

War Thunder Revisited

A few friends have started playing War Thunder and they have asked me to join them. Now I did try out this game some time ago but I was already heavily invested in Wargaming.net's 'World of Tanks' and 'World of Warplanes' and I didn't find that War Thunder had anything uniquely different that could drag me away from the games I was already playing.

Russian I-15 bi-plane fighter
My current War Thunder fighter of choice - the Soviet Polikarpov I-15.

Anyway,  it seems that the general consensus is that War Thunder's flight combat element is superior to that of it's competitor, 'World of Warplanes'. I'd like to see if that's a fair comment and what are the differences between what look like very similar games.

World of Warplanes equivalent aircraft model - an early type I-5.

My first impressions weren't overly positive as right off the bat the War Thunder loading app repeatedly crashed when I attempted to start the game (apparently it's a known issue created by a recent update and hopefully it will be rectified with a patch soon). But, I eventually managed to get the game to run and here's some of my initial air combat training...

I have to familiarise myself with the flight controls and set-up my game-pad key layout but - so far - the mouse and key flight model (you can use a flight stick apparently) is a little jerky and sluggish. But I'll give it a chance and see I can customise it to make it more responsive.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

My Top 5 Military History & Weapon Vlog Channels

Being a military history buff means I spend a lot of time watching documentaries and YouTube videos. These days we are completely spoilt for choice when it comes to programming for milgeeks like myself, but on the swing side there is a whole lotta poor quality, low-res or factually dubious junk out there as well.

So, here's a little run down of five video channels that I find are very good sources of reliable information as well as being very entertaining...

1. Forgotten Weapons

This is essential 'milgeek' fodder! Ian McCollum is widely hailed by his followers as the 'gun Jesus' and every one of his videos is a delightfully informative sermon.

Forgotten Weapons - as the title suggests - features little known but historically influential (or just plain weird) firearms and reveals their origins and technical specifications. I find each episode wonderfully entertaining and insightful and I learn something new every time. Highly recommended.

2. C&Rsenal

This is a bit of a two for one as the C&Rsenal channel has two playlists that are on my daily watchlist. The first is thier flagship production called 'WW1 Primer' and covers about every infantry weapon you can think of - and a good many you've never heard of - that were used during The Great War. I cannot say enough about the high quality and depth of the information this video series provides.

Additionally, their 'Anvil' series of videos allows you a peak behind the scenes and shows you how the weapons featured in their 'WW1 Primer' episodes are brought up to firing condition.

3. Jane's Defence

Feeding my inner milgeek! I'm not just into military history, I also like to keep up with the latest military innovations and news.

Jane's International Defence Review is one of the most influential and trusted publications in the world and has in one form or anther been keeping the world's military abreast of what's going on since 1898! Naturally, they are very active in the digital media arena and their YouTube channel hosts a great many videos which act as a virtual tour of all the principal international military technology shows (such as Farnborough).

4. Mark Felton Productions

Mark's channel is a little like a military history version of the 'X Files'! He is very good at highlighting little known and unusual military operations from history. You'll inevitably find yourself saying 'ohhhhh, I didn't know that'.

5. The Tank Museum Tank Chats

The Tank Museum - Bovington, Dorset, UK - is one of the foremost armoured fighting vehicle museums in the world. But it isn't just a place where historic vehicles go to gather dust, it's also dedicated to the renovation and preservation of unique tank examples and - where possible - it also tries to keep as many of it's tanks in full running order as it can.

Obviously, I could go on and add quite a few more but I reckon there is enough here to get anyone started that hasn't already discovered these channel.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Tank Mechanic Simulator Review

A game I've been tinkering with over the past couple of weeks is DeGenerals 'Tank Mechanic Simulator', a kind of 'pimp your tank' workshop for your computer.

TMS - Panzer III (Late) Renovation
A typical tank hulk - here a Panzer III 'M' - though the state of repair and missing parts vary, but
usually you start with a rust bucket!

Now, right off the bat, I'd have to say that the term 'simulator' - in this case - is used very loosely to describe the level of complexity and realism of the mechanical engineering involved in your tank repairs. In fact, this had been one of the persistent criticisms in player reviews.

TMS is - in my opinion - more of a casual game and you can think of if (at this stage in it's development) as being more of a digital jigsaw puzzle. Having said that, I'll be quick to add that it's a very relaxing and fun puzzle all the same.

It's important to note that - like so many games these days - TMS is an early access build and NOT finalised. By now, as a gamer, you should be fully conversant with the pros & cons of the whole 'early access' phenomena. It does mean you have to deal with a lot of 'missing features' and glitches BUT it does allow you to participate in the development direction of the game as you are to all intent and purposes a 'game tester'. Such is the case with Tank Mechanic Simulator.

Currently (April 2020) we are at Build Version 1.0.20 and there are several intermittent bugs and a quite a few missing or not fully integrated features. Even so this does not completely spoil the game experience so far and you can defiantly see the thinking of the developers and the direction that they might take as they flesh out the game play.

TankMechanicSimulator 04_04_2020 20_52_32
The engine of a Panzer III, compared to later tanks fairly simple (relatively speaking). TMS is also
relatively simple, but - hopefully - as time progresses it will become more detailed.

To back up this claim of TMS being a 'work in progress' there is a very lively player community who are making a lot of suggestions for improvements by way of the STEAM discussion boards AND there is a new patch about to be released that includes many of the asked for feature additions as well as some major bu fixes. So the developers are showing this good intentions and the game has a LOT of promise. Anyway...On with the real review...

(Apologies, that turned out to be sort of a long-winded caveat emptor!)

Tank Mechanic Lego?
The basis of the game is that YOU have inherited a fledgling tank museum with a little side 'business' of tank renovations and repairs. OK, so far so good...

What this mean is that you will be taking on various contracts to take some real junkers and turn them into museum quality display pieces. To do this you will disassemble, clean-up and repaint, replace missing parts and reassemble the vehicles in your workshop.

TMS (PC) - M4A3E8 Sherman 'Easy 8' Track Rebuild
The 'Assembly Mode' highlights components which are required for completion. These can either
be renovated from old parts, bought from the parts dealer or crafted in your workshop.

The crux of this is the level of complexity of this 'simulator'. As I have already mentions - at this point - I see TMS as being more of a casual game, something you can play while also watching Netflix. There isn't a lot of depth to the mechanical engineering of the tank models, everything is reasonably chunky and there aren't hundreds of components for you to work with. Think Lego rather than Meccano and you'll get the idea (if you are old enough to understand this analogy).

The realism of the engineering is a little janky at times but it's enough to be fun with a few frustrations here and there to challenge you a bit. For example, working out the best way to go about renovating your tank is the key to your experience - do you 'fake it' and bodge your way to a completed contract (just doing enough to get by) OR do you strip the tank right down to it's bare shell and work back up repairing or replacing EVERY component in the model? That's up to you.

TMS (PC) - M4A3E8 Sherman 'Easy 8' Hull Primed
The M4 Sherman hull stripped right back, rust removed and primed. Now I begin the process of
reassembly and re-painting...

The Game Process...
I've been playing the game for a couple of weeks now an enjoyed every minute of it. The learning curve is shallow - particularly if you have played other PlayWay games like 'House Flipper' or 'Car Mechanic Simulator' - and you get the gist of the mechanics quite quickly. These are eccentrically dictated by two things; the order in which it is best to disassemble and reassemble things and how to use the handful of tools that are at your disposal.

So, what tools do you have? To begin with, there's the Rust Removable tool, the Sandblaster and the Paint Spray Gun. This expands a little later, but these are your main go-to tools and they reflect the fundamentals of the renovation process, which is:  disassembly, rust removal or replacement, reassembly and paint. The nuance is the order in which you decide to do some of this work.

Here's a sped-up video of my work process making the monstrous KV-2...

I'm a 'strip right back' kinda guy but the format is open to shortcuts BUT 'cheating' (if you can call it that) not only kinda spoils the illustration of 'simulation' but also means you might not get those much desired '100% completion' scores on your summary sheet. And believe me when I say that there's nothing more frustration in this game that thinking you have finished a beautiful tank restoration only to find that you overlooked the repair of one small component and then you have to take apart large sections of your tank again to access the little bugger! :) (I love it!)

Game Areas & The Museum
A major part of the upgrading mechanics of the game is that you are awarded 'reputation' for each job you do. This currency is used to 'buy' new tools, abilities or work-space, you also get to open your museum section where you can display your finished vehicles.

The locations you spend your time in - once unlocked - are; the workshop/garage, the paint room, the crafting room, the museum area, the parking lot, junk yard and the great outdoors!

TMC (PC) - M4A3E8 'Easy Eight' in Junk Yard
A small corner of the workshop's junk yard lies a incomplete M4A3E8 'Sherman' in need of some
love and attention! The park outside your garage has a parking lot and the junk yard proper. Here
you can store hulks until you are ready to work on them or new wrecks turn up randomly.

Yes, aside from your museum and your work-spaces you get the chance every so often to go out and seek buried tank wrecks. At this point in the games development this feature is perhaps the weakest and least engaging part of the game, despite how interesting it sounds. What you might think sounds like a buried treasure hunt is just a chore and there are no 'prizes' that cannot be had via the normal contracts process. Shame!

Tank Mechanic Simulator - The Workshop
View of the main workshop.

The game areas are some of the features of the game that show most promise but miss more than they hit when it comes to gaming satisfaction and actual interactive features.

TMS (PC) - Sd.Kfz. 251 Hanomag Excavation
BINGO! I unearthed a interesting vehicle...Unfortunately, the archaeological excavation aspect
of this game is the most uninspired, though it does have a lot of promise.

So, What Does the Future Hold for TMS?
Longevity is not a strong point of the game at the moment. After two weeks I have built every tank on offer bar one (which I have been saving). There are a total of ten tanks to build in the game just now; four German, three Soviet and three American but both the dev blog and some in-game menus hint at much more, including a British line of tanks to come.

The developers blog also outlines other up and coming improvements to game, such as increased complexity of tank features (for example, more detailed engines), and the update patches have been coming along at a very satisfyingly and encouraging regularity. Mush of what's being dealt with and added seems to relate directly to player feedback, which is also good.

That said, I personally have some niggles which I would like to see addressed. Like the lack of any real economic or commercial system behind your 'business'. As things stand - momentarily - just about everything is INCOME with piratically no OUTGOINGS. Basically your business cannot fail!

TMS (PC) - Tiger I Rebuild Complete
The highlight and conclusion of your renovation - displaying your finished tank. A infamous tank
like this German Tiger I would be a big draw for any real museum so it's a pity that it's rarity is
not reflected in the game by means of some sort of financial bonus system.

I'd like to see the addition of more expenses, like taxes, business expenses (wages perhaps), utility costs (electricity & water) and museum upkeep (insurance & marketing expenses). This would make your quest for profits more of a game challenge.

Obviously, I would like to see the addition of a greater variety of vehicles (including wheeled vehicles) but I'd also like to see a relation between the rarity of vehicles to the cost/profit aspect of running a business. For example, the rarer the vehicle the harder it should be to find, and the more costly to renovate (scarcity of parts) and the more of a draw it would be in your museum, increasing you profits. I also think there should be 'ace vehicles', historic vehicles which would be super-rare and in turn would add even more kudos to your museum (and profit)!

The paint shop area of the game needs a complete overhaul. The paint and decal customisation this facility adds is minimal at the moment with only a handful of camo schemes and a pitiful selection of decals you can add to your tanks. I'd like to see a freehand paint brush tool added so you can design your own camo designs - in this way you can replicate actual historic examples of tanks (again, increasing their drawing power in your museum).

TMS - The Paint Workshop
The Paint Shop - A bit limited and too rigid in it's implementation. Too few options, no 'freehand'
feature for custom paint jobs and, annoyingly, you cannot set decals over certain parts!

And finally, the outdoor excavation feature needs a complete rework as it is nearly useless at the moment. I'd like to see more of a RPG or 'detective' element to it to make it more of a worthy and interesting challenge. For a start the reward for this sort of work should be greater, you should be able to find rare and super-rare vehicles by doing all the work required by excavating a vehicle.

There should be documents accompanying the excavation that make it more of a puzzle to work out where the buried vehicle is, hints to exact location hidden in the documents. There should also be red-herrings - imagine your metal detector (one of the tools you have in the game) locate a promising reading and then discovering after a lengthy dig that all you have found is an old water tank of other piece of metal rubbish! :) Finding good tanks should NOT be so easy!

TMS - Panzer III Renovation
A Panzer III turret dismounted from the hull stands on the special maintenance stand. Here I have
completed most of the work, primed the turret and am spraying on the finishing coat.
TMS - Panzer III Engine Repair
Likewise, the engine is detached from it's hull compartment and sits on a spacial hoist making
all-round access to the engine possible.

Tank Mechanic Simulator is a fun game and I've really enjoyed my time with it, so far! As mentioned, I am now down to rebuilding the last tank - a beautiful Panzer V 'Panther' - and once that is done is kinda 'game over'! So everything now hangs on the developers getting out new features as soon a possible for this game to have any log-term entertainment factor.

Luckily, the future for the game does look quite rosy and, in fact, the next update - which will include some much requested items - will be release within the next two weeks of my writing this review. So I will have to make my Panther renovation a methodical and slow one! LOL

TMS (PC) -Pz. Kpfw. V 'Panther' Wreck
The last tank, but is a great one! This was a lucky random find in the junk yard area, usually
you only find - obviously - junk there, but this was a keeper!

Milgeek Rating: Note: The score is for the current state of the game - 3/5 (could be higher if the additional features materialise)!

Tanks Featured in Tank Mechanic Simulator:

TMS - Range of vehicles

- Developers Site: DeGenerals Tank Mechanic Simulator.
- Tank Mechanic Simulator on the STEAM store.
- Facebook Official Group for Tank Mechanic Simulator.

- Sim UK 'Let's Play' TMS YouTube Play List.

TMS - StuG 40 G Renovation Complete
The first tank I completed - technically an assault gun - was the StuG 40G and therefore was the
first exibit in my tank museum!

TMC (PC) - Hellcat Renovation Complete
A favourite tank of mine - the M10  Wolverine tank destroyer. I was very happy with this one and
I hope the developers eventually add more tank destroyers.

TMS (PC) - M4A3E8 Sherman 'Easy 8' Complete
The Sherman M4A3E8 'East Eight' - a tank featured in the movie 'Fury'.

TMS - T34/85
The T34/85. Boy! There isn't a lot of space inside this one - you might say it was 'cozy'!

TMS - Pzkpfw. III Ausf. J
The Panzer IV - I was pleased with the camo scheme I did on this one.

TMS - SdKfw. 251/1 Ausf. D
The Hanomag is the only (semi) wheeled vehicle in the game, but I'm hoping they add more trucks.

TMS - M26 Pershing
Just making it into the final stages of WW2 - the M26 Pershing was the replacement for the
venerable M4 Sherman. Funnily, though, it's the easiest tank to rebuild in the game!

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Computer Workstation Upgrade Progress

Two Steps Backwards for One Step Forwards!
This desk upgrade project has been a pain in the butt right from the start. What I thought would be a 'simple' revamp to get hide all the peripheral wires has turned into a tedious and unending saga of things going wrong! 😡

Worst of all is that I actually thought I was finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel only to have to reluctantly undo some of the work I have done to accommodate some last minute changes.

Desk Upgrade - Light at the End of the Tunnel!
Frustratingly close to finishing my project - only to decide on a last minute redesign!

Yep, I'm my own worst enemy sometimes. 
What happened was that the original concept was to clear away my dependency on wired peripherals and go 'wireless'. In order to do this I wanted to buy a new wireless gaming keyboard and mouse and had already decided to go for something like the Corsair K57 (or K63 or K70) RGB Wireless Keyboard and the Logitech G903 wireless mouse combo.

Corsair K57 - It wasn't to be! :(
The Corsair K57 - a full-sized wireless gaming keyboard... But mucho dollars!

...Both of these were as good or even better than my current wired controller combo BUT where considerably more expensive (being wireless). In fact, the aforementioned wireless setup would have set me back a knee-trembling £200! 😳

Now, when I was working full-time as a designer I wouldn't have flinched at the expense, but now I'm a part-timer on minimum wage extravagance like this is just not an option. I was deluding myself to even think of splashing out on that kind of kit. So, a (sensible) change of mind...

Back to the Drawing Board
OK, back down to earth with a nasty bump (nobody likes the realities of being skint) and I had to do a rethink. What could I do to clear some more cables but still keep my current wired keyboard and mouse setup?

A: Drill more holes!

Drat! Yes, after making a lovely job of covering my old desk with some really nice wood-effect vinyl I would have to deface the good work by tearing out a few more holes which I could thread my USB cables through. Oh, and fit some more plastic cable grommets to make the job look neat. The result...

Computer Desk Project - Drilling more holes!

Ah, well. Job done now. Believe me when I say I have shortened this story (believe it or not), there were actually a whole catalogue of related cock-ups along the way, but I will spare you!

Anyway, Upward and Onward...
Now, back to roughly where I was - or actually one step behind where I was - I have to re-rewire my desk (again). 😤

And I'll start with a bit of a repair to one of my favourite gaming accessories (and main key controller) and replace the missing non-slip palm rest cover on my Razer Orbweaver.

Razer Orbweaver gaming keypad

A known issue with this device is that the glue that holds down the little rubber palm rest cover is - how shall I put it - crap! After a few months of gaming the palm pad slipped off and like doofuss I 'put it somewhere safe' intending to glue it back on (in other words, I lost it).

So I've had to be creative and find some alternative material to replace the original pad. Here's some pics of the repair...

Orbweaver Repair

I'm quite pleased with the job I've done. The replacement material came from one of those non-slip mats you put on your car's dashboard to keep you mobile phone from falling off. It's actually thicker and has more grip due to the perforated texture. Yeah, not bad if I say so myself. 😁

Up Next: I begin to rewire the desk and put back all my computer bits and pieces.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Friday Relaxation - Tank Mechanic Simulator

End of a week of ups and downs at work so it's nice to get to Friday and the end of my shift so I can sit down with a cup of tea and a nice relaxing session with 'Tank Mechanic Simulator'!

Today I am renovating and rebuilding a wrecked US M4A3E8 Sherman - better known as the 'Easy Eight'! ....You might know this tank from the movie 'Fury'...

TMC (PC) - M4A3E8 'Easy Eight' Renovation

Ill be doing a review of this game very soon.