18 November 2014

Pivots Please - An ACIII Post-game Exploration

Hmm... there seem to be quite a lot of them. Hope the devs
properly supported my predator-esque bouncings.
So back in June I was mulling over a puff piece that was generating hype for ACIII and looking at the gap between what the devs promised and what actually turned up. One of the promises I couldn't be sure about was the opportunity to emulate everyone's favourite killer of both humans and xenomorphs, the predator; but in an Assassin-y kind of a way.

I must admit that I had never tried this approach to guards on the frontier, opting instead, as Robocop would have put it to "stay out of trouble". This is due, in part, to the fact that I like to role play AC games a little, I go for what the character might have done in the situation, not for what might, possibly be the most amount of fun.

This is probably because I am invested in AC's ridiculous historical pot-boiler plots, I love them, a lot; to the extent that I am writing an AC fan fiction for Nano. So in-game I find it incongruous to run everywhere, upsetting citizens and getting in regular scrapes with the guards. I like to slink through the cities, admiring the view.

But now the story of ACIII is over, the game temporarily recasts you as a hacker running Connor's environments as a sandbox for something called "counter hacking" and trying to pick up little vector unicorns called pivots in order to open up Animus Hacks.

This is a part of the game that many people don't see, and of those who do see it many more just find it confusing. It's a triangulation game, essentially, where you plant the pivots you already have to find the pivots you haven't. Pivots create lines on the map and the location of the pivot you've discovered exists, but have not located, are filled in green.

Sacre Bleu! The only screenshot I could find was in French!
Still you get the idea.

As exploring games go, it's a winner. To the extent that when I had found the 12 pivots in the game I was unconscionably sad that the game was over and wished it would begin all over again. Not least because whilst you are tromping over the map to place your next pivot where you think it should go you are bound to run into opportunities for mischief and mayhem and, well, why the hell not? So as I counter-hacked around the frontier I got a big opportunity to see if I could totally predator up the wandering guards, with mixed results.

At first, strangely, I just couldn't find a damn patrol anywhere. Lame in the extreme. I did nobble a couple of guys who'd decided to go out for a stroll, but this hardly told me anything about the AI. I picked off the one at the back first and then ran up behind his companion and hidden bladed him in the back. It was fun but the second guy didn't even know I was there. What I wanted to see was how they reacted if they knew I was about, but couldn't see me.

So I went pivot hunting and eventually I did find a group. Twice on the bounce another predatory animal, once an elk, once a bobcat, did for one of the guards on patrol setting off the "fallen comrade" AI. This basically makes the guards stand around looking a bit thick, in a circle with their weapons drawn, looking outwards, classic predator.

Guess who's coming down your chimney... that's right
Assassanta Claus is coming to town and you've all been very naughty! 

Then the shortcomings of the environment started to come into play. Not having an invisibility cloak the assassin has to use the environment to stealth about. There aren't enough trees connected, or enough stalking zones to make "pop-up, kill, disappear" a viable tactic. Usually I would pick off one or two, then run into the centre of the rest, hurl down a smoke bomb, kill some more and then fight the one or two that were left. Which was fine, but not exactly as advertised.

The best experiment, which, honestly I could stand to do again with more practice, was when I decided to plant a trap in the form of a well placed trip mine. Unfortunately I chose to plant two of the available three where rabbits occasionally zipped across the path, so I got some badly charred rabbit meat for my troubles, but not much else.

Still I did manage to plant one and it remained as the guards approached, scaring off the rabbits, and I hid in a well placed thicket and said tee-hee. I also knew that the guard patrol in question would check the thicket on their way past, as I had observed them come that way once from a tree. Sure enough an officer came out with a sword to poke at the tree but... none of the others stood in the trigger zone of the mine! Bastards!
There were no good screenshots of trip mines, so here's a rabbit instead.

I popped out and killed the officer in time honoured tradition and the rest, obviously went nuts trying to kill me. I ran around a tree in a big circle trying to make the mine the shortest distance between me and them. It took a couple of tries but then, bingo. They charged me and killed four of them in one immensely satisfying explosion. After that I smoke bombed, to kill the remaining three... just in time for a second guard patrol to approach from the west.

Out of trip mines I dived for the thicket and hid just in time for the new patrol to send a couple of scouts. One checked the bodies whilst the other came for the thicket. Disappeared inside and never came back again, muahahaha. This triggered a second set of investigators, and I got one of those too. This went for one more cycle before the rest decided to give it up as a bad job and leave their fallen behind. I wasn't having that. I charged the remaining five. Smoke bomb, stabby stabby, quick duel. All done.

That was fun. But it wasn't predator. So, the official verdict on that particular ambition is, nice try, but cigar-less. Also, when I was hopping about on rooftops looking for the New York pivot I saw nothing that resembled an upstairs chase breaker, so I still think that was a basic fail.

My final thought, however, remains that ACIII is unfairly maligned. The story's over complicated, Connor is a the most goonish of protagonists, sure. But I had a good deal of fun with the bits I did post story and I still have some privateer, delivery and assassination missions left to do. The game's main problems (now that the apparently awful launch glitches have mostly been patched away) are about balance and the gap between intention and result. The hero is too stoic and humourless, the intentions too poorly served, the ambitions too diluted. Even so, it's not impossible to have fun in there, just takes a little effort and imagination, oh, and pivots, lots and lots more pivots please.

14 November 2014

Plastic Bags, Extension Reels, Tarot and Levercastle

At last! The wristband to meet all of my wristbanding needs!
And Lo! There was networking just to the side of the M4 and people looking for new pals did come and the world of the small business saw that it was good.

Starting out at the ungodly time of 6 AM for a 6:45 start (networking breakfast for the win!) I approached Cardiff's Village Hotel before the sun had risen in order to join a cohort of other slightly bleary but otherwise enthusiastic but lovely people for a morning of getting to know yous.

I literally found out about the event two days ago when David of Books & Pontyclun messaged me to ask if we were "still on for Friday", My response: "were we doing something on Friday?" This may signal my level of preparedness at this early rising start of business but not my engagement with the process.

After spending a jolly time learning who was present and then enjoying a quick discussion of regional accents and paying for plastic carrier bags with the lads from DevelopMy I moved on to the main business of the day the Sterling Integrity business show, I had come along primarily to video David's talk in which we will discover why this image

Just another day at the bookshop!

has proven central to David's Facebook marketing in recent days. More, obviously, to follow on that in a short while.

When I actually looked at the venue  where I was to film the talk I noted that I would need that cable extension reel I totally forgot to buy yesterday. So, off to the supermarket I went, good job the weather was glorious for November, really.

Once I returned to the venue I worked out the other thing I'd failed to have adequately prepared for, the mandatory gaffering down of trailing camera wires. Not wanting to be sued I begged for an assist from the kind gentlemen from LNP Sound and they sorted me right out for which I must offer heartfelt thanks as must all the people who failed to break their neck tripping over my cables.

After David's talk I talked to a couple more people, not the least the delightfully enthusiastic Mary Collin, with whom I managed to get into a conversation about Levercastle and Tarot, one of the most interesting conversations of the day! After this I had to leave as time was wearing on and, well, I really wanted to get home and put that order in for a big reel of white gaffer of my very own.

12 November 2014

Assassin's Creed Prediction Machine (official!)

A few scant months ago I posted this the point of which was that if everyone was so jazzed for AC:III and ended up being so bitterly disappointed surely that all the hype around the new next-gen AC could do with coming down a notch or two; in the minds of fans if nowhere else.

Take the plunge! The assassining is fine! Or not.

Well, the reviews are in and it would seem my hesitation to get all in a lather may have some basis in reality. In actual fact many people appear to superficially like the game but Stephen Totilo's review has left me feeling less than enthused for a couple of reasons.

The general gripes are a worry, of course. It sounds as if Unity is very much back to basics for the series which isn't a massive surprise as it's new development on an entirely new platform using new dev tools. I guess going ultra-conservative isn't a terrible decision from that point of view. I'm hoping that when I finally get my PS4 and Unity that I will be able to live with the new controls and stuff. I tend to find the history play of AC suitably entertaining so I should be fine.

Of more concern is the fact that the modern day story line has been all but abandoned. Thing is, I think Ubi throw stuff like this at people occasionally to see what they think. For years the internet has been rife with whingeing about the modern day angle of the AC series but happy fans don't whine as we have learned. So now it's time for me to start whining.

The modern day part of AC is like the stupid flavoured frosting on a bonkers alternate history cake. Cake with no frosting is still cake but it's sadder, less impressive cake. Also people have been saying for a while that they wished there was a bit more to the modern day stuff, it never feels quite substantial enough.

For random internet moaners a confection of history, sci-fi and Fortean conspiracy goo may be too sweet for their precious troll teeth. For hundreds of thousands of core fans, happy fans, silent fans, this is what an AC game is. Take away one part and the rest of it seems, lesser, surely.

I am hoping that Rogue fills in for the gaps in Unity's experience this year, and I'm also hoping that future iterations of next-gen AC and, for that matter, Watch_Dogs live up to all the work Ubi have done laying a foundation for the next wave of development.

10 November 2014

Liminal Spacetime Events (LSEs) AKA Midnights

An excerpt from my Lamentably Not Brief Guide To The Levercastle Universe that I quite like. I hope you enjoy it too.

The Liminus weaves like a web throughout the realms, and is anchored by the Undone. The web is made of a thing called Liminal Spacetime (alchemists named it, don't blame me). More poetic souls have called these places the Endless Midnight, which is nice, but not as accurate, this is often the way in the war between alchemy and poetry. A good inbetween is just to refer to liminal places or times as Midnights.

Midnight is, in fact, an excellent example of a Liminal Spacetime event. People often argue about when Midnight actually is, after all at any given moment it's midnight somewhere in the universe, right?

Well, maybe if you're the type who gets their kicks being insufferable and smug, yes, I suppose. This doesn't mean that this evaluation of matters holds any actual weight.

You will know when midnight comes where you are, you will be standing in the middle of it. Not all midnights are the same.

It has to be said, however, that there is a certain common sort of midnight, we all know them, they come at midnight, as one day folds into the next.

A standard midnight has the effect of wiping away all loosely thrown enchantments of the previous day. Almost all enchantments get reset at this time. The effects of a transient enchantment, however do not; bad news if your house got crushed by a magic rock. Sorry.

Anything weaker than a standard midnight, e.g. crossing the threshold of a house, is only enough to achieve some minor effects low-grade changes in fortune, warding off of certain subsets of magical creature etc.

Low-grade Midnights may be combined or have their power boosted by events e.g. a house's threshold has more of an effect on New Year's Day.

The Midnight at New Year is an example of a magnified, more powerful Midnight. This will break stronger enchantments and confer widespread gifts of renewal over all caught within the area of effect of the New Year midnight.

Event anniversaries, such as birthdays, or the day one year after when a powerful enchantment was cast, are much stronger than a standard Midnight but not as strong as a New Year Midnight.

Some Midnights, such as those on Solstices or Equinoxes are stronger for certain people than others. Belief is a factor.

Thus it is true that Midnights can be manufactured, great arches can make super thresholds, stone circles can capture midnight within a space. Midnight energy loves to live in circles, doesn't mind triangles, will have some fun in squares, likes pentagrams for a change and will inhabit any other geometry by prior agreement (alchemists like nine-sided things, enneagrams, for no particular reason than just to show off).

Midnight energy, dispels, cleanses and can confer some minor gift or curse such as a change in fortune, health, romance or wealth. All races, even mortals, can get something from a midnight with obvious limitations.

The energy is ambient, it is something that anyone can use, like air or water. For this reason, although it affects magic and enchantment it is not really regarded as such. Really getting a big bang out of Midnight energy is something best left to alchemists and other magic users, the liminus has a short temper when it comes to being taken for granted, or abused.

5 November 2014

Apparently My Lance Is Free

Well, sort of.

It has to be said that I have not been busier than I have been in the last couple of weeks for a long while. The up side of this is that I am feeling really positive about the work that I am doing. The down side is that no one is, as yet, paying me for my work. But then it has only been about a week that I've engaged in such activity so early days yet.

I guess this does leave me with something of a quandary. I will need some income eventually, after all. The thing is I am finding that I have more energy and do more useful work when I'm not actually, you know, going to work.

I'm finding the removal of the salary safety net has had, paradoxically, the opposite effect than one would expect on my mood and outlook. I just hope that someone would like to retain my services before I have to return to the haven of being someone else's employee.

The other thing that's been really good is that I have met lots of other self-employed people who do a staggering number of different things and meeting these people is far more interesting than going into a work place and meeting people who are employed by the same employer as you. People, on the whole, are usually interesting for one reason or another, but people who are pulling their own weight and going their own way in life are just more interesting in and of themselves, or maybe it's just novelty.

Before I go I should draw your attention to the new link on the top right to my new freelance services page. I hope to expand this with case studies and examples shortly but it is there and available, that is the main thing.

(By the way, hope everyone is getting along with the new look. Let me know.)

16 October 2014

Mega Podcast Archive Action!

Episode 64 - Late 90s TV: Buffy the Story Arc Advancer

And then 'Buffy' happened and somehow TV was just so much more interesting. But why? This week the 80s Trio tackle this and other questions as we delve into what was on the goggle box in the late 90's. Turns out Buffy and 'Angel' aren't in fact all that ground breaking when you take it apart and look at the pieces but the whole hung very well together and it is the show that finally convinced the world that Story arcs could work.

Not that everyone was convinced, with shows like 'Mutant X', 'Voyager' and 'Sliders' still very much clinging to Roddenberry's great end credits reset button, but these are it's dying days. Like a building storyline ending in a climax a wave of new shows came thundering in ready to embrace story progress like 'Charmed' or the sleazy and surreal 'Lexx' ... or for that matter the decade stomping 'Stargate'.

The UK also shone brightly as vampire lethal sunlight for the briefest of moments with the dearly missed and almost forgotten 'Ultraviolet', and the same channel that gave us that also gifted as the nerd joy that was Simon Pegg's 'Spaced.' Oh for sure, the late 90's had it's awful piles of crap like 'Andromeda' and the truly turgid 'Millennium' but over all the decade rounds off in interesting shape.

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/064Late90sTV/064%20-%20Late%2090s%20TV.mp3

Episode 65 - The Lost Poorly Distributed Universe Conspiracy

And on goes the tin foil hat and out comes the large cork board with lots of coloured string connecting the tangled web of dots. Yes, it's conspiracy time on the 80s Kids. This week Leo kicks off with a jolly good moan about the unattainable chunks of culture that currently exists. Films and series for which there was no Video or DVD to track down on ebay and upon which much hand wringing can be done at their absence.

It's not that these thing won't make money it's just they won't make as much money as pumping out new or current releases of popular films or television. Then it's on to whine and gnash our teeth about the state of pricey downloads and fickle streaming services which further compound things with their uneven distribution. If one wanted to feel conspiratorial about these things you might conclude the powers that be have no interest in building an audience by allowing them to become au fait with long running cultural media, instead opting for the immediacy of what's hot now and tossing it away like an old toy it when it's no longer fresh.

This seems strangely at odds with Ian's choice of worry topic, that being the impending rush of 'Cinematic Universes' eager to copy Marvel's success. These pretenders being DC comics, Star Wars and Universal Monsters ... and these are just the ones we know are coming. Others are sure to follow. Then again aren't these properties just mining the past to recreate it in a wave of big, brightly colored but ultimately disposable media? It's time to wake up sheeple! The 80's Kids see the truth!!

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/065TheLostPoorlyDistributedUniverseConspiracy/065%20-%20The%20Lost%20Poorly%20Distributed%20Universe%20Conspiracy.mp3

Episode 66 - 1997: A Year To Remember

As with all 90s years this one had it'd share of awful films which for some reason we had to endure. Topping most worst films ever lists is the unloved Batman and Robin, is it REALLY as terrible as people remember? The answer is YES!

But lets not waste time here moaning about bad films again. Face Off, Fifth Element, Contact, Starship Troopers, Austin Powers and the Game were on hand to cheer us up. Also this year was a romantic historical set on a doomed boat. Unfortunately as this films falls beyond our remit of Action, Horror, Sci Fi and Fantasy we don't belabor our coverage of it. Oh no. Definitely not.

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/0661997-a-year-to-remember/066%20-%201997.mp3

Episode 67 - 100% Luc Besson

"In a show shockingly, not to say "schlockingly", ripped straight from the headlines the 80s kids draw back the veil on a world of explosive action, magnificent martial artistry and death defying parkour when they open up the CV of euro-trash producer par excellence Luc Besson.

The kids are Transported into the murky world of District 13 where the Kiss of the Dragon could be Unleashed. Will they send back a coded message through the Lockdown barrier From Paris With Love regarding The Fifth Element or will they be Taken too soon?

But if you thought that guns, car chases and ridiculous plot twists was all Mssr Besson had to offer then you might be in for a surprise. Gasp along with the Kids when they discover exactly how busy the head of Europa Corp was in 2005, and marvel as he takes the directorial reins whenever he suspects that another director might just stuff up another one of his trademark strong and empowered female characters.

Indeed the 80s kids have a particular set of skills, those being to poke around in the career higlights of one of the hardest working figures of modern cinema. You'll need 100% of your brain capacity to contend with the broad ranging versatility and artistic agenda placed front and center. So grab hold of your multipass and let's hail an insane Taxi ride into a cinematic universe of glorious continental B-Movie madness."

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/067LucBesson/067%20-%20Luc%20Besson.mp3

7 October 2014

Archived Podcasts 1996 Hype

Episode 62 - 1996 - It's not me ... it's you

And so the gang arrive at 1996 where the power of 90's mediocrity seems at it's height with slew of below par action movies. Like a failing marriage people seem to be putting in the effort and saying all the right things but the magic just isn't there. 'Eraser', 'Independence Day', 'Broken Arrow', 'Dragon Heart' and the like just don't seem to have any real self life.

In an effort not to get lost in another hour of moaning the 80's Kids try to remember some of the gems up front like 'Dust till Dawn', "Star Trek First Contact', 'The Fighteners' and 'The Craft ... but even here favor isn't universal. Perhaps it's a year to enjoy smaller scale films like 'Trainspotting' or 'Fargo' as these seem to be the more iconic survivors. Oh well. Press on we must! And we take what pleasure we can pointing out the rising sun on the horizon.

It's not that we hate 1996 ... we just upon reflection we feel indifferent about it. Apologies for the variable sound quality of Ian this week, this is due to technical issues with the recording and wasn't obvious when the show was being taped.

Incidental music by Kevin Macleod of incompetech.com

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/0621996-Itsnotmeitsyou/062%20-%201996.mp3

Episode 63 - 'hype'

This week Leo and Ian embark on an exciting and interesting discussion on the nature of 'Hype' and indeed 'Anti Hype'. Well ... I say Interesting, we found it so ... or at least we found our conversation flowed okay. Not too sure about exciting now either, maybe it's best to manage expectations and just say this podcast is about 'Hype' and let everyone form their own opinions.

We of course take aim at our perennial archvillains of Lucas and Bay, both definitely guilty of having really wretchedly awful films that were over sold in the marketing department. Or that's like our opinion anyway. We also give much hand ringing about the ineffectiveness of the vitriol and hate Lucas and Bay garnish on the internet in any way effecting their box office takings.

Really hype is us, all of us, and with our clickbate, ranty review videos and modest podcasts we are just as much a part of this fan propelled wheel as anyone. Still at least Video games are worse when it comes to hype ... or at least that's the message we're trying to sell you. So please, if you must, come join us on our tiny podcast, it won't change your life ... but it's free what did you expect?

Incidental music by Kevin Macleod of incompetech.com

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/063Hype/063%20-%20Hype.mp3