Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Dark Souls 2 my thoughts

As you are no doubt aware I am a bit of a Dark Souls obsessive. So as I have recently finished Dark Souls 2, I thought I would share my thoughts. I finished the game in about 80 hours, with only small guidance from the internet, playing it on my PC with my now very well worn 360 pad.

First thought is that it looks good. Compared to DS even with the resolution patch on, it looks great. And as with the first DS it has some clever level design, though not as clever as the first DS. In the first game I explored the game world, finding myself weaving in and out of known and unknown areas. I would often be astonished by the design, this hasn't happened in DS2 yet. This maybe down to a designed choice that has been instituted. You have a "main" bonfire where you can level up and it has a merchant and a blacksmith nearby, and you can teleport to every other bonfires you have discovered.

While this does make life easier, it does take a certain joy of discovery out of the game. This would possibly explain why I checked every nook and cranky I could find (I am certain that I probably still missed loads). The urge to explore the hidden dangers hasn't gone away, and there are still rewards for doing so, like the hairy merchant I could have very easily missed. Regardless while all the areas appear to be connected the fact that you can bounce from one bonfire to the next does make the world appear a little less real than DS1's.

From Software have counteracted that ease of travel by the fact that as you die, your maximum health progressively reduces to half. The only way to get passed this is to become human, either by using a effigy (humanity) or helping other people defeat bosses. This system may seem like a pain, but it actively encourages people to drop summon stones, so the online portion of the game seems very active. Which leads me to good news. The game still seems very populated, and the unlike the first game, the online system seems very reliable and quick.

In fact the game seems to be designed to be played co-operatively far more so than the first Dark Souls. Again this is good and bad, in that it encourages online play, but bad that if playing alone you will often find several groups of enemies that are hard to kill one on one, let alone 2 or 3 versus one. To counteract this enemies start to stop spawning after you have killed them a few times, so if you are struggling with a boss, the run to the boss gets easier and easier. And again if you want to grind out a few souls often the easiest option is to be summoned into someone else's game.

All these little, perhaps even seemingly insignificant, changes are both the joy and the problem with Dark Souls 2. The developers have looked  at all the systems of Dark Souls and have analytically decided how to change them to make the game more accessible, if not easier. It is, I believe, widely accepted with Dark Souls that you have suffer through the initial challenge up to defeating the second boss before you truly get it. I don't think DS2 would prompt the same love/hate relationship, not because it is easier, but because it is easier to get on with. This is not to say fair, as I said, some areas throw several enemies at you at the same time. This feels distinctly unfair, which weirdly caused me to get annoyed at the game, even though Dark Souls never annoyed me despite being, on the whole, harder than Dark Souls 2.

So here is the rub. I get why they have made the changes from 1 to 2, and all of the amendments are clever and make sense. The cost of these changes however, it that the world is less engaging, the bosses less satisfying to defeat and your character feels less like it is in constant danger. All this is a massive shame. Because Dark Souls 2 is brilliant. It's a beautiful, engrossing and still very satisfying game. But it isn't a masterpiece, and I don't love it more than any game I have ever played.

And it is entirely likely that had Dark Souls 2 been the follow up to Demon Souls, it would have been heralded as classic of gaming. However it pales in comparison to Dark Souls, and this makes me a little sad.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The home server. (you need one)

A few months ago I set up my home server. This morning, I turned it off for a few hours to clean the dust out of it and do some cable management. While it was off, Even though it was just because I was 'messing' with the hardware I realised just how much I would miss it if it were off-line for any length of time.

My server does some simple enough things for me, things that I appreciate a great dea.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Standing Desk.

Fellow PC gamers and Geeks alike, I have important information for you. It is entirely possible that you, do in fact fact sit down far too much!  - I know, Shocker right?

Personally I work in an office all day, that means that I spend a lot of time sitting down while I make spreadsheets and edit documents and, in my case, stamp things. Then being a pretty dedicated computer geek I often come home and sit my bum down in a chair while I mess with Python code and play video games. Now like many of you fellow geeks I do occasionally get up and make a pot of tea (how very English I am) or decide to sit on the sofa and read or maybe watch a movie. The problem here however is that all of my hobby or entertainment activates involve sitting down. Sure get out most days, maybe go the shops, take a walk with my daughter but every day at some point I'll sit down at my desk (damn you reddit)

There are stacks of websites telling you why you shouldn't sit down all day. Most of them agree that even going the gym regularly will not counteract the damage done by extended time in a chair. One website I found even said that sitting for six hours or more a day was as detrimental to health as smoking a pack a day. I think that's an over estimation myself but it is logical to assume that sitting is not the natural posture of the human. This is when I encountered a solution - The Standing desk.

I know, all desk stand. The standing desk however is a desk that you stand at, rather than sit at. I gave the concept a week or so to roll around my head. Standing as apposed to sitting means that I would naturally move around more, and be more ready for activities when leaving my desk. It would not doubt ensure I will burn more of the often touted calories each day (how much of a difference this is, I think is  actually debatable) and most of all every research document or article that I encountered said that it helps keep a healthy metabolism.

I decided to do it, to stand at my desk from now on. I trekked to my local Ikea store in search of extra long legs for my desk. The little nugget of information I forgot was that I am actually very tall and so, they had nothing suitable. In the end I found some rather heavy duty shelving items at a hardware store (it was B&Q in case your wondering)
I got two large 'Flexi Brackets and two wall mounting 'Flexi' branded upright rails to hang them off. Luckily these brackets run about three quarters the depth of my desktop so support is great. I took the legs off my trusty Ikea desk (I have had this wood surface for a while now and its always been great) after some measuring and rather professional looking drilling I had my desk mounted to the wall (Sounds easy but my wall is not straight so I had to 'adjust' the brackets a lot, also please note that 'Flexi' Brackets are total rubbish, don't buy them if you do this)


My desk is high enough that when I stand at it I can rest my arms on it level (as shown in image below that I found on  Google.) I did try it a little lower but I started leaning forward almost instantly (not good posture) My actual desktop is pretty sparse, two monitors, keyboard and mouse. I also have a bizarrely tiny set of draws on my desk that I keep memory sticks in oh, and a microphone on a stand so I'm not too concerned about the weight on my brackets, also being on stands the monitors put all the weight is at the back of the desk, pretty good from a stability point of view.

You will notice that I have not added any pictures of my desk to this post, well that's because its not tidy enough for /r/battlestations just yet (that was a reddit joke by the way) I have had to put an old table under my standing desk to house my PC and amp/effects panel, as well as a few more little items as I no longer had space for a shelf above my desk. As soon as i get some free cash i am going to get a large cupboard with closing doors to house all this stuff neatly. Once it looks nicer I'll post those pictures.

Well, that's how I built the desk, but what do I think of it? It's day two of standing and now I have the height just right its not at all unpleasant to use. I do find myself moving about far more at my desk. I also find myself moving away from my desk more as I'm not tied to a chair. I'm already standing so it takes no effort at all to pop over to the other side of the room or wonder off to another task. I have a hard floor under a thin carpet so the biggest challenge has been on the bottom of my feet. I think I may invest in a good quality yoga mat to stand on while I work and game (or an epic pair of super soft slippers)

So far, I still think that I made a good decision to get my rear out of a seat for far more time every day. Also, it means that I appreciate my seated time far more, instead of it just being the default posture. Gaming while standing it actually really good too, where as before I would find myself very sleepy after a few hours of gaming the standing desk forces me to stay more alert and also forces me to quit when I'm sleepy for real.

Also, if you think a standing desk is a daft idea that's fine but here are some people who thought differently:
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Leonardo Da Vinci
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • and, lets not forget penguin master himself,  Linus Torvalds

Monday, 21 July 2014

The 5 Game Challenge

Last night my fellow Blogger Mr Hangman Joe and I was playing Dark Souls when we unanimously decided that Dark Souls, although soul crushingly hard and utterly unforgiving was possibly one of the best games ever produced. The discussion evolved and I set out a challenge for us both, the question was simple "What are the 5 games that people should play before they die?" Now, please notice that these are not 'the Best Games' but the 5 that we think people should play if they want any respect as a gamer.

I would think that Mr Hangman Joe and I will have VERY different lists, we haven't discussed this list at all aside from I expect that we will both select Dark Souls.

That's interesting here is that although I do label myself as a 'gamer' I'm not that serious about it, I'm a Sci-fi/Comic Book Nerd primary and my true passion is Computer 'tinkering' (while watching Start trek the Original Series, oh, god, I need to get out more)

So with the scene set allow me to Present the 5 Games that should be played before your untimely demise!  - that it, in my opinion, anyway. (I expect Hangmans list will be far better)


1  - Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is a game I have only come to play very recently but already its had a really profound impact on me. Dark Souls is nut kickingly hard. Its the most unforgiving game I have ever played and for the first few hours I hated it. I hated it so much I wished I could un-play it. I stuck at it because I wanted to find out why my friend loved it so much
I was stuck on the first real Boss in the game. I was stuck there for an embarrassingly long amount of time. For literally hours I would take a go, die, walk back to him and take a go, then redo. But, then, I began to notice small thing, the way the boss leaned back a second before striking, the way his leg arched as he hit. I could use this information to be a second faster, to role away as needed. Then I started memorizing the patterns of attack that the regular enemy's used.

Each death became a fresh chance to make it a perfect 'run' I would get to the boss without even taking a single hit from the many enemy's on route. Then slowly I began to face the boss on even ground. I knew him better than he knew me and eventually I prevailed. I put my pad down, I looked at the screen clear of my enemy and for the first time in years I felt like I had accomplished something in a game. I had worked for my victory and it felt good. In most games where it takes one or two attempts to progress victory is hollow but entertaining. In Dark souls its a slog and a fight in a way that no game I have ever played comes close to.

The reason that Dark Souls is number one on my list isn't just because its hard but its because its smart. Its calculatingly difficult and it knows how you will respond as a gamer. The areas are interlocked in often jarring ways and progression is measured in moments of realization more than kill count or XP gained.It gives you nothing and takes everything. Its wonderful. It's also the first game that I have ever liked that I am aware is working against me at all times. Dark Souls doesn't want me to win. Not until I deserve to.

The advice I was given about the game is the advice that I would give you. "To love Dark Souls you must first play it until you don't hate it any more." I cant thank Hangman enough for forcing me to play it with his endless nagging. He was totally right. Dark souls is amazing and it should be both played and respected.

2 - Half Life 2.
I know, I'm nothing if not predicable. Half life two is now a pretty old game. Its been considered the best first person shooter of all time since the day it came out. The lust for its sequel is at this point legendary. I have put HL2 at second place, I'm also including episodes one and two in this pick. It's really one game and should be treated as such.

If you like FPS games you owe it to yourself to play the game that sets the bar for them. Half Life two balances story, characters game-play, setting, excitement and events in a way that still to this day  no other game even comes close to. Its a true work of perfection in almost every way. I would even go as far as saying that its the first game to take a character and turn her into a real dynamic and believable person. I'm talking of course about Alex Vance, My first Video Game Crush.

Every time you start to get accustomed to something in the game, it changes. Every time you think you know what you have to do or where you have to go, it changes. HL2 never slows down and there is not a single boring moment.

The game starts as dystopian science fiction, transitions into survival horror (the genuinely scary kind) then squad based shooter before finishing up as hi-science physics based shooting extravaganza.
You are not qualified to say that a first person shooter is 'good' or not until you have finished HL2. This game shows you the meaning of the word and only when you have finished it do you actually have a frame of reference.

3 - Portal 2
Yes. Another Valve game. Up until I actually sat down to write this pot I was planning on putting the first Portal game at spot number 3. Then I actually sat and thought about it and I think the second one is actually a more important game.

The first Portal game blew my mind. I was playing a game that worked like a First Person Shooter but Acted like a puzzle game. It made my brain actually hurt at times and I loved every second of it.

The second game however has everything the first game does. If you have never played either then I think that the feeling I had playing the first one will hit you just as hard with this title. With the added bonus of some astonishingly great voice acting  and some characters that really make it memorable. It's also great because there's more to it that 'just' portals. Portal two will challenge your mind, entertain you and leave you wishing all games were as charming.

Portal is long, visually diverse and trains you to play in a way that makes you just a little smarter. It got this spot on my list because its shows that the FPS genre doesn't need to be all about the 'S' when the 'F' and 'P' are just as important.

In many ways Valve brought to portal all the things that made Half Life 2 great and that deserves nothing but praise.

4 - Counter Strike
Another Valve game... I didn't realize just how much they had impacted me as a gamer until now. The reason Counter Strike is on this list is partly because of its history (starting as a Half Life Mod and then spinning out into its own title) and partly because its a pure FPS game, that is to say, If you can play Counter Strike well then you can play anything.

Counter Strike is a pure Player vs Player Experience. There's no mechanics to confuse the matter. You see someone and you shoot them while trying not to get shot. These skills will take you far in any shooter be it COD or Unreal. Once you can use a mouse and keyboard to shoot things everything else is fluff.

Also, personally, I think CS:GO (Global Offensive) is the best Competitive shooter around at the moment, for all the reasons I listed above.

5- World Of Warcraft
The hardest thing about this list has been limiting it to 5 games. In last place it was almost surely going to be DOTA or LoL but in the end I realized that the experience of playing an MMO was something that as a gamer I enjoyed greatly and played far more than any other genre so far. My poison of choice was the first Guild Wars game and then some Lord of the Rings online but WoW is great. It never stuck with me personally but WoW is a rock solid world filled with random encounters and things to do. Every gamer should play an MMO at some point and why not play the one that has the largest world and the most players.
MMO's can be all encompassing experiences. Some people even say they are addictive but still, gamer's should try at least one MMO. The act of wondering about a virtual world while other people run past going about their business,  killing things, fighting and chatting its something that really should be enjoyed at least for a while by everyone.
Finally - MOBA's and classics.

My list of games is selected and I think i chose well but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be some Honourable mentions.

Everyone should spend some time with a good MOBA, like DOTA or LoL. Its a growing e-sport's scene and there are some great experiances to be hand both playing and watching.

Classics - Just because a game is old it doesn't mean its bad. Monkey island, Dune 2, Xcom (the original 2,) Frontier Elite 2, Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 2D and Commander Keen are just some things that string to mind when i think about the classics that inspired generations of gamers and developers.

I kept my list mostly contemporary because I think the classics should be enjoyed as that, little slices of history as many of them simply wont stand up from a graphical or control point of view.

I hope you enjoyed my list.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Chromecast: Streaming media that thinks its better than you?

I had a little more cash than I expected rolling around my bank this month and like any good geek I decided to spend it on some new technology (a toy.) I had been thinking about picking up a Google Chromecast for some time now and this struck me as a great time to give in to temptation and just order it.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Diablo 3 had a patch (The Loot 2.0 Post)

diablo-3-banner-600 (1)
I play a lot of Diablo 3. In fact since Guild Wars 2 lost its shine for me I have played pretty much nothing but Diablo 3. As a maximum level Wizard with a Paragon Rank of 17 I was constantly picking up 'good stuff' you know, the gold item drops and monstrous piles of golden coins.  Recently however something was amiss. I went from seeing gold item drops every few seconds to seeing them every few hours. It has been frustrating to say the least. I thought at first that the problem that was plaguing me was just my worry but my good friend and blog buddy Mr Fish was seeing the same issue. In truth it was not only an irritation but was starting to cost me game gold. The drop rates were turned down but the repair costs were the same. Then came my saviour... A game Patch.
The legendary patch known by the masses as Loot 2.0 has been eagerly awaited since it was rumoured about an hour after the Paragon system was introduced. Well, the patch is here now and the drop rates are all fixed, feeling even and well thought out along with a myriad of game tweaks. There are some additional UI alterations that really have made Diablo a better game.
Upon launching the game (and eventually patching it, as the process has been a little buggy) you will be greeted with the new (out of beta) Blizzard launcher that is a very nice kiosk for your account as a whole showing you all your Blizzard games and patches them all in one place (when it works, but that's another matter) all you have to do now is locate Diablo 3 on the list and launch it, Steam style.
The first thing you will notice logging in is the main menu, its not a very functional design with a heavy focus on group play, Blizzard even went as far as  making it a chore to start a single player game. Once you load into a game veteran players will instantly feel the tightened net-code at work with a smoother experience from start to finish as well as the newly build social panel that is only every a click away making it easy to find a group as well as potentially make friends. the new Guild/Clan system is a brilliant idea, especially if you are a member of a forum or group who want to play together.
Moving on into the meat of the game you will constantly encounter those tweaked drops making it highly likely that you will get something you want with improved regularity. Personally I got an 'orange' weapon that served up over 1.2K damage in my first real play session. I am very impressed with these improvements. I can see now why Blizzard have chosen to wind down the auction house service as the game loot really is a treat with each drop making your loot hound senses tingle.
The monster power and distribution is now much more even with the new difficulty levels that make the game more inviting to new players and more satisfying for veterans.
If I had to search for criticism I would be hard pressed, everything is improved in this patch, from Frame rates to Monster animations, there is very little for the die hard Diablo 3 player to pick fault with.
Linux thoughts: As a Linux user I try to offer my experiences from this angle as well and I can say that in Linux Diablo 3 has always been 'okay' not great but, okay. Since the patch has dropped I have had constant issues with the game crashing into a mess of graphical corruption to the point where is crashed my out second monitor and then stopped Gnome Shell in its tracks. I had to drop to CLI and kill it from there. Once closed however Gnome restarted and a reboot was not required. Still, this may be more to do with the shockingly bad AMD proprietary driver than the game or Wine/PlayOnLinux. I should be able to tell you more when my Nvidia card finally arrives next week some time. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Things what I don't get:Pokemon

I am going to start a series of blogs, of which my GTA one would probably be the first. I am going to call it "Things what I don't get." This one is going to be about Pokemon. With my 3DS being the only Nintendo handheld I have owned, the whole Pokemon game phenomenon has pretty much passed me by. I understand, from the internet and people I know, that Pokemon is a pretty big thing and a nostalgic touchstone for many.

With all this in mind I got a copy of the newest Pokemon (X not Y, though the difference is lost on me). I played a good 6 or 7 hours, waiting for the inevitable love that the internet told me was going to happen. It didn't. I don't think that there is anything wrong with Pokemon X, I just didn't understand why I was playing it. It opens with you playing a kid and you mom telling you that you have picked to do Pokemon and essentially shoved you out the door. No narrative reason why the character was chosen, no story motivation, nothing more than a vague direction to go out into the world and be good at Pokemon fighting, erm because. I get the impression that this is roughly how all Pokemon games starts.