26 November 2014

Archived Podcasts - Right Up The 90s And Other More Sombre Affairs

Episode 68 - Plagiarism

Although reasons vary for Leo's absence this week the fact remains that Ian and Justin are bereft of their verbose chum and must make do without him. Initially they were both excited by this prospect feeling a quick ten minutes worth of chattering was well with their ability ... then it was pointed out they would also have to fill in all the gaps where Leo would normally have spoken and a serious silence descended over both of them as to how they would fill this hour.

Lacking an original idea they have stolen one and decided a discussion on the subject of "Plagiarism" was a worthwhile idea. It is of course the age old trade of taking someone else successful work or formula and hoping you pass it off as your own for fun and profit. From film to TV, from comics to novels the cheap knock off is a common place thing but Justin opens up instead on the subject of animation where it's not uncommon for ideas to get stolen BEFORE they even hit the cinema.

So sit back and enjoy this cheap shoddy replica of an 80s Kids Podcast, this week very much lacking that official Leo hologram sticker.

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/068Plagiarism/068%20-%20Plagiarism.mp3

Episode 69 - 1998 - Two Death Space Rocks and a Big Lizard

You know, I do try and think of something original to say in these blurbs other than ... "Oh look another 90s year and it's a mixed bag offal" but I find myself doing just that yet again. And we had high hopes for 1998 with gems like "The Truman Show" about but then you see the dross and boy does '98 have plenty of that!

A Woeful selection, from disjointed "Lost In Space" movie to the not even trying "Star Trek Insurrection", from missing the point "Godzilla" to the pointless "X Files Movie'. Seriously this decade can't be over with soon enough. At least some fun was had by Leo with "The Avengers" (not those ones), and Justin bizarrely loved "Meet Joe Black."... I'm not sure what Ian gets out of this year... oh that's right ... NOTHING!!

You know what. I'm just over it. I really am... It's blurb time and I can't be bothered. Who reads this anyway? Can our bleak nihilistic journey through the 90s get any worse? Oh... and we get to talk about a Robin Williams movie where people who commit suicide get sent to dark hideous hell where they're emotionally tortured by their twisted inner demons forever in a haze of madness without any hope of escape or relief EVER. Humm .... yeah ... our "What Dreams May Come" discussion feels kind of awkward now.

Well I guess that puts all my 90s moaning into perspective. Incidental Music by Incompetech.com

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/0691998TwoDeathSpaceRocksAndABigLizard/069%20-%201998%20-%20Two%20Death%20Space%20Rocks%20and%20a%20Big%20Lizard.mp3

Episode 70 - 1999 - The Phantom Baytrix

And so at last the 80s Kids face this last final servings of the 90s years and boy are they going to party like it's 1999. The calendar period once dubbed "The Year That Changed Cinema" comes for closer examination this week, and while it does gloriously have "The Matrix" ready and waiting to drag us into the new millennium it's not without it's normal convoy of 90s clown car flicks.

From the muddled Schwarzenegger apocalypse action thriller "End of Days" which features the dullest Satan yet conceived in fiction, to the 'nothing happens' shoddy student home movie "Blair Witch Project" whose camcorder yawn-scares still plague films to this day.

Also there was another Pierce Brosnan Bond movie ... we're just not sure which one, they kind of all blur together. And of course, sitting like some kind of 90s end of level boss is the "Phantom Menace". And yet there is good here.

"The Matrix" of course, twisty endy "Fight Club", and 'totally saw it coming' twisty endy "Sixth Sense" (yes we actually liked it), "South Park" turns it's offensiveness up to 11 and "The Mummy" ... yes ... "The Mummy". It was a solidly fun adventure film, so there.

And here we are in the twilight of the 90s ... this week we send that wretched decade down one of Lucas's bottomless shafts with a swirl of our light saber... then all walk slowly away Hollywood style as the 90s explodes behind us.

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/070PhantomTheBaytrix/070%20-%20Phantom%20the%20Baytrix.mp3

Episode 71 - Robin Williams

The news of Williams's tragic death shocked the world. He was beloved by millions as both a great comic and serious actor. The people who knew him spoke of a generous warm human being who took much time to be concerned with the welfare of others.

Perhaps that is why the grim knowledge of his depressive last hours seem to cut so deeply. If only he had known that the world was ready to pour out it's affection, love and support for him. And in many ways it's that fact that looms largest in our minds this week as we cast an eye over his vast career.

No one disputes he was a great 'funny man' and yes he could effortlessly draw the audience to sympathize with him in his more sentimental roles but when you take a moment to really stand back and appreciate his body of work, his abilities and the values he strove for it's hard not to feel ashamed of not noticing all this before his death.

Williams was a gifted comic genius and an acclaimed actor who starred in a number of classic films and by all accounts a very decent human being too. It's hard to call his life tragic if that is what he left behind for us. Incidental Music by Incompetech.com

Direct Link: https://archive.org/download/071RobinWilliams/071%20-%20Robin%20Williams.mp3

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.)