Friday, 29 May 2020

Joint Operations Nostalgia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 25 May 2020

Planning the BIG game - Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Designing the game table and scenery.

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

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Currently Reading: 'Regular Army O!'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Fascinating Weapon Renovation - Winchester 1879

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

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

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Dad & Daughter Game Night - A Dark Carnival Indeed!

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 May 2020

Dad & Daughter Game Night - Left 4 Dead 2

My daughter Stacey and I have started up a 'Dad & Daughter Game Night', meeting up online for some family fun amidst the current lock-down 'social distancing'. Our first choice for a co-operative title is another 'oldie' - Left 4 Dead 2 (2009).

L4D2 - Dad & Daughter Game: The Passing

Again, this venerable title defies it age with some great game-play and yet, because of it's less demanding graphics it makes for a wonderfully smooth internet multiplayer shooter*. Though, both Stacey and I remarked how surprisingly fresh the graphics were for a ten year old title. Some old games are jarring in their graphical obsolescence, but not L4D2 (in our opinion).

* Edit: I should add that - with everyone being at home during the lock-down and binge-watching everything on Netflix - 'contention' (the density of internet usage in your immediate area) is a real issue at the moment. My internet speed has dropped drastically and so these older, less graphically demanding, games are seeing something of a revival.

Anyway...Sunday nights seem to have become our principal 'game night' and we've been working our way through the game's episodic missions. Last night we took on chapter 2 - The Passing.

L4D2 - Dad & Daughter Game: The Passing
Above: Sorry you can't see much - but this dark and dark level was completely brilliant! At times it was just the sound that gave away the presence of zombies.

This was a beautifully dark and semi-subterranean campaign which ends in a paper-chase finales where you have to collect 16 fuel cans to start a generator which powers your means of escape from the chapter! I particularly enjoyed this conclusion to the campaign, it involves some pretty frantic running about and forces you to play as a team, otherwise you have no chance of completion. Though... Playing as we did with two AI teammates put an additional burden on Stacey and I and at times our robotic comrades seemed like they were our own worst enemies!!!

L4D2 - Dad & Daughter Game: The Passing
Above: An unfortunate zombie get's caught in a Team Beaty sandwich - with extra jam! Watching each other's back is intrinsic to success in this game.

Still, in the end, we (just) managed to complete the mission (by the skin of our teeth) on the third attempt and it was hugely satisfying. Along the way we had freights and a lot of laughs - I managed to set Stacey on fire once and she took far too much pleasure in some 'accidental' friendly fire incidents. πŸ˜†

Here's a very short clip of the moments when we completed the mission quest and made good our escape...

...For one horrible moment I thought Stacey was gonna drive off without me!

L4D2 - Dad & Daughter Game: The Passing

Sunday, 10 May 2020

A Man's Inner Milgeek!

So...What is a Milgeek? Well, it's nothing sinister, I'm not a survivalist or a gun nut (in the hillbilly sense, I support the UK's gun laws) and funnily enough I don't actually like the idea of war!

Essentially, I'm a bloke who likes war-games, I'm also intrigued by the technology and history of weapons  and - most of all - a bit of a history buff. Like many fellas of my age I also like to 'tinker', I've numerous hobbies, including model making and crafting. If we had a garden big enough for a shed I guess I would be 'one of *those* guys'! 😏

In fact - here's a visual representation of what happens when Milgeekery is taken to it's fullest extreme...

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Dust off! Heliborne (PCP

I can't be the only PC gamer who - due to the pandemic lock-down - is rummaging through their STEAM library for old games with some replay-ability!

As it happens I came across a little gem I had totally forgotten about - Heliborne. It's a entertaining helicopter shooter in 3rd person view with aspects of War Thunder, except it has a stronger single player campaign mode to the game.

Keliborne - Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw

I sorta remember a friend trying to get me interested in playing this when it first came out (2017), but it didn't quite gel with me, plus we were heavily into Call of Duty: WWII (and I was playing a lot of Sniper Elite 4) so didn't have time for any new games. But now we do! Thanks Rona! πŸ˜‰

Anyhoo... As I'm playing War Thunder with the lads I thought to myself 'helicopters, hmmmm, that's different' and installed it (because I mistakenly thought that War Thunder didn't have choppers, but I was wrong)...

Much to my surprise, Heliborne is an entertaining - if not complected - game. The main goal is to keep up with the ever evolving operational situation with enemy action popping up around the map at an ever increasing rate. It literally becomes a frantic fire fight with you flying your helicopter from one flare-up to another with a limited amount of time to stamp out the attacks.

Best of all, the first set of US missions take place during the Vietnam (da da-da-da dahhh-da, da da-da-da dahhh-da!) conflict with some classic helicopters...

(Alternatively, you have the choice of Soviet missions for some Warsaw Pact era action.)


This time round I've taken to this game and have actually made it through the first mission - which I never did the first time around!

As I said, it's a great little offline, single player alternative to War Thunder, but it does have an online co-op and team match PvP element as well. Though, I struggling enough just trying to fly my helicopter and dealing with the AI adversaries never mind having to cope with people that would undoubtedly be much better pilots than I am! πŸ˜†

By the Way, On an Slightly Related Note...
The whole experience - particularly the Vietnam setting of the early game - got me thinking about a game from all the way back when I had a Sinclair Spectrum!

Gunboat was a 1990 game made for DOS, Amiga and Spectrum, it simulated operations by the 'Brown Water Navy' patrol boats which - like Heliborne's Vietnam missions - put you in mind of the movie 'Apocalypse Now'...

I really wish a developer would remake Gunboat, there's nothing like it at the moment and I really think that the idea of a patrol boat sim would be really exciting. I am put in mind of Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam and how much fun that was...

Boy! BFBC2: Vietnam was a great game!πŸ‘Œ

Thursday, 7 May 2020

War Thunder... Slowly Improving!

Friday night seems to be the Raptor Clan's designated War Thunder night, so in order that I don't hold them back too much I have been trying to get some practise in and upgrade my aircraft.

I seem to be getting a little better but needed some ground attack experience as - so far - I had practically none. Here's the upshot of a session dedicated to some low level straffing...

I've also managed to get my aircraft tier up to level 2 - albeit non-upgraded- and have progressed onto 1940s vintage monoplane fighters. Though, I have to say, I still really enjoy the late-1930s era bi-planes.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

More Insurgency! ...But, On a Laptop!

Following on from yesterday's post about the merits of playing an older game like 2014's 'Insurgency', I thought I'd try a little experiment as a 'proof of concept'.

Now I don't usually play First Person Shooters on my laptop - it's better equipped to play more pedestrian casual and strategy games - but, just to see if my thoughts about older games demanding less horsepower bore out I gave it a go on my ASUS TUF FX505DY laptop...And it sorta worked!

Now, a few caveats here - this was played online on a German server (co-op with real players) over my crappy WiFi and without the game being optimised to get the best frame rates. I ran it 'out the box' as the game chose the level of graphics.

Overall it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience with one little fly in the ointment. Playing shooters on a compact laptop highlights just how cramped the keyboard layout is - especial for someone like me who has chubby sausage fingers! πŸ˜‚

Still, point proven, I think!

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Insurgency, An Oldie But A Goodie

One side-effect of the current pandemic lock-down is it's making anyone with a STEAM account dig though their library for any old games that might be worth revisiting! In my case I dusted off Insurgency by New World Interactive, in fact I have both the original version of the game and the latest title - Insurgency: Sandstorm.

Screenshot of a original Insurgency co-op session.

Insurgency is kinda like a more tactical and 'realistic' Counter Strike and has become very popular as a 'quick fix' tactical team (tacteam) competitive game.

It's full-on hardcore - unforgiving - action in a quick round format for the tactical junky who is too 'tweak' for long drawn-out games like Arma or Squad.

Anyway, here's a short movie I did comparing the looks of the original game (2014) to those of the latest 2018 incarnation...

As you can see the graphics have been improved markedly BUT the original Insurgency is still very playable and enjoyable thanks to the core game design being so good in the first place.

In fact, the older version has some distinct advantages over it's offspring. First of all, being an older game it doesn't demand a great deal of horse-power to run it and thus FPS count is high, this also mean that the game does not put too much of a burden on your broadband.

Additionally, the first game supported Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, which the newer game doesn't. This is great for me because it means my Mac using friends can join in games with we Windows gamers!

As to the quality of graphics, well they are passable. What is more important in these sort of online multiplayer games is quality and smoothness or performance and this is where the less complex nature of a six year old game bears fruit (and why Counter Strike still popular after all these years).

Yep....It's definitely an oldie but goodie!

Sunday, 3 May 2020

War Thunder Clan Session

Wow, it's been a long while since I participated in a proper clan session. Recently I've had my interest in online team gaming rekindled and have been playing some immensely fun games with my daughter in Left4Dead co-op. But last night I joined the Gentlemen Raptors for some aerial high-jinks in a War Thunder session.

Here's a quick taster video which demonstrates one of the co-op PvAI modes, we found this quite entertaining as it poses a story driven scenario rather than the usual PvP arena free-for-all...

I'm quite enjoyining the arcade version of War Thunder as it is nearly identical to World of Warplanes which I have played on and off over the past few years. The arcade controls are very simplified and geared towards mouse and keyboard players and you can see how this effects the flight of you aircraft in my videos - flight is quite jerky and precise at times, but usable.

Gaijin, the developers, were also responsible for 'Wings of Prey' which I played a lot last year and you can see the relationship between the two flight sims. I'm a bit disappointed that they never followed up WofP with a sequel - maybe set in the Pacific theatre - but, alas, it was never to be when they twigged to the money to me made by making a 'free' game.

A screenshot from 'Wings of Prey', Gaijin's single-player air combat sim which
I thoroughly enjoyed... War Thunder is it's offspring.

Still, as long as you don't get sucked in by the 'play to win' model which lurks behind such games - my World of Tanks experience still leaves me a little bitter - and are content to stick with the aircraft WT allows you without shelling out for premium items then it's a fine game. Even if you do get occasionally sick of the flaky matchmaking which leaves you at the mercy of the 'play to win' whores! (As I say, I'm not bitter much!)

Luckily the set of gents that I've teamed up with at the moment are far from the serious competitive types and are willing to overlook my amateurish aerial shenanigans!πŸ˜„