Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

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Mandrake’s one hell of a drug…

Like some kind of bizarre mashup of the worlds of Rick James and J. K. Rowling, “Augmented Reality” game maker, Niantic Labs, release their latest money spinner to the UK today.

Well, actually, I think you’ll find they quietly released “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” into the UK yesterday.

I still haven’t had an alert from their mailing list but I am already a Level 8 Professor in House Ravenclaw (naturally).

The game is available from Google’s play store here and the Apple store here.

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I’ve played Niantic’s previous offering Pokémon Go since it’s release 3 years ago and Ingress since discovering it a month or so after its release in 2012.

Over the last 6 years I’ve contributed to both communities and consider myself responsible for a large number of places of interest in Niantic’s games.

I’ve been looking forward to this latest venture, my Father and Nieces are big Potter fans and I’m not averse to dipping into the Potterverse (although I still haven’t read the books).

In the same breath, I’m concerned that I may become torn between the 3 games.  I already play far less Ingress than I used to and may even drop it when Niantic remove support for the original GUI in September.

I got word of the early availability of Wizards Unite through the local Pokémon Go community; full disclosure, I was in the pub enjoying a post-work pint and natter with the chap that got me into Ingress.

On first impression, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (HP:WU) is far more complex than either of Niantic’s previous games but that complexity lends itself well to the world of Harry Potter.

Screenshot_20190621-154317On the face of it, the regular game-play centres around the discovery of “confoundables“, reagents, seeds, water and port-keys and places of interest (POI) as you walk around playing the game.

Confoundable encounters are similar to the random wild Pokémon encounters in Pokémon Go and trigger a simple single glyph matching game, to free an important item, creature or person from the confoundable.  Glyphs are used to depict the casting of the relevant spell required to defeat the confoundable.

The POI interactions are centred on quick actions that can be accessed from those places familiar to us as Ingress Portals or Pokémon Gyms and Pokéstops.  Niantic have pulled through far more POI from Ingress than they did in Pokémon Go but I’m not sure on why certain POI have been omitted.

I’ll be interested to see if my next Ingress Portal submissions make it through to HP:WU as quickly as they do in Pokémon Go.

POI in HP:WU (oh the acronymity) take the form of Inns, Greenhouses and Fortresses.  There may be other forms but I’ve not found them yet.

Screenshot_20190621-123940Inns can be “hacked”, (to use an Ingress term) by swiping as imple “smile” glyph, to refresh your spell power.  Spell power is used when casting spells in combat or when dealing with confoundables.

Greenhouses can be hacked by knocking a plant-pot over to release reagents that can be used to craft potions.  You can also plant seeds at greenhouses, these then release specific reagents into the area in a manner very similar to “lures” in Pokémon Go.

Potions craft over time and can be very helpful in battles.

Fortresses are the closest kind of POI to Pokémon Gyms.  They are venues for multiplayer battles against various creatures.  Battles are tough to handle solo and could be a good source of team based play.  They increase in difficulty but the rewards are worthwhile.

Finally, there are also “amplifiers” that aren’t based on POI but can have “dark detectors” deployed on them, again like the lures in Pokémon Go.  I think these attract or reveal more confoundables but I’ve not tried that side of the game yet.

Screenshot_20190621-133657Niantic have put some thought to the walking side of the game.  certain items can only be won by accessing secret areas through port-keys (the weird teleport items that wizards use to fast travel around the world).  Port-keys can be found at random throughout the world but need to be walked for certain distances to activate.  This is similar mechanism to hatching Pokémon  eggs.

I’m not sold on the port-key quests when they’re activated.  You have to use your phone to find items in the secret area and that’s not always easy to do when you’re on your daily commute.  I’ll probably use my port-keys at home when I don’t look as daft spinning my phone round.

The levelling process seems pretty well paced.  In around 4 hours of play time I hit level 8 and this has unlocked a variety of cosmetics for my “Ministry ID” as well as lore and information in a variety of quest-lines.

The items, creatures and people you save from confoundables also increase a level in certain areas of the game.  Rescue enough students and your Hogwarts School level increases.

Screenshot_20190621-133608You can also educate yourself in various skills to advance a profession, which actually makes the game feel like a proper role-playing game (RPG).  There are also a number of in game currencies that have to be gathered to slowly progress various elements, which adds to the RPG feel.

Performance wise, HP:WU is definitely a battery suck but the same can be said for Pokémon Go and Ingress.  A 45 minute stroll at lunch took the battery down by 22% and that was only casual play as I was chatting with people on my lunchtime walking club.

One frustration that arose during casual play, is that the screen does not have an option to stay active like Pokémon Go does; like Ingress, you have to constantly keep your screen refreshed.

All in all, I think this is a really good offering and I’m looking forward to playing as the game evolves throughout the year.  For a fresh release, the game feels really polished.

Screenshot_20190621-134159I’m not sure it will hold my attention as much as Pokémon Go did, that depends on how addictive the levelling remains and what new features Niantic throw in later on.

I think the sheer volume of references to Pokémon Go in this blog post speaks volumes to my current devotion to that game.

I’ll still be playing Pokémon  Go but definitely need a new phone to play both games.  My Huawei P20 Lite plays both games but Pokémon Go reloasd every time I switch between – which is something of a chore.

A warning to the curious: not all devices are capable of running HP:WU.  Many of the local Pokémon Go community are unable to install the game, despite being able to run Pokémon Go.

I did find a list of compatible/incompatible phones here and detailed requirements here.

One final concern is that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite appears to be heavily pitched towards making money – as many free to play games are.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve paid money into both Ingress and Pokémon Go over the years, less so with Ingress I grant you.  From the get go, I can see many opportunities for hard earned cash to be thrown at the game: be that to increase storage capacity or just to buy in game currency that can be used to hurry along port-key and potion progress. That’s an observation, not a criticism.

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Fallout 76: The Adventures of Buck Frexit (Days 5 to 7)

Buck’s adventures were put on hold somewhat by an impromptu server update that Bethesda ran to coincide with UK workers returning home after a hard day’s working hard to make more money for the people that employ them.

I took a break from the wasteland of West Virginia to finish the latest Laundry Files offering by Charles Stross.

The weekend, however, saw Buck head off alone, following in the footsteps of Vault 76’s “Overseer” and exploring the wider expanse of the Appalachian wilderness.

Buck finally got into the basement of the Mothman Museum and picked up a Mothman Cultist outfit and so the world was now, very much, Buck’s oyster.

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Eagle eyed readers may notice that my quest list isn’t reducing but that’s because there are timed quests in the game and if I wanted to play racing games I’d install the latest Forza or Daley Thomson’s Decathlon.

Over the weekend, Buck encountered the darker side of PvP, when 4 players chose to goad him into PvP and then returned to his base again and again to murder him, time after time.

Buck also encountered his first “Glitched Quest”, a traditional entry into any Bethesda game.

To start with, the PvP was actually quite unsettling.  I’d setup C.A.M.P. next to Flatwoods and had been dropping unwanted Ammo and Junk for nearby players.  A couple of players came into my shack and decided to hit me a couple of times.

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It was irritating, I was crafting at the time and so took this as being a little unsporting.  Thankfully, JiggyBeastZero had gifted me a Ski Sword a few nights prior and Buck is built for melee combat.  Like the eponymous Butcher Pete, I hacked and whacked and slashed the culprit to pieces and then his friend who tried to avenge him.

What I didn’t know was that there were two more players in that group who decided that the next 10 minutes were a “Let’s kill Buck Frexit in his shack” special event.

Taking a tip from my zombie apocalypse survival lessons, I quickly entered “build” mode and removed the stairs to the upper floor I was hiding on.  I then patched the hole with a floor piece.  The players (soon to be griefers) couldn’t target me or reach me with melee and so I decided to take a moment to re-equip with explosives.

Armed with a missile launcher and plasma grenades, I started to plan a strategy when one of the players found a way up to me.  Two more player kills and I realise one of their party was in power armour and more than twice my level… I was killed in one hit.

The problem didn’t end there though.  They hung around waiting for me to return.  At that point the became “griefers”, spawn camping to troll the player protecting their C.A.M.P.

It left me a little angry to be honest.  Shook up and unwilling to engage again.

Thankfully, the game allows you to block players, which I did.  I then moved to a new server for good measure.

The quest glitch contains spoilers but needless to say, Buck had to kill a baddie to end the quest but only one player per server can kill the baddie.  Cue several restarts of the game to find a server where that baddie hadn’t been killed yet.

Spoilers in the video:

So I now have a new shack, with 3 storeys to make it harder for griefers to get to me.  This one is more portable too, I think maybe next time I’ll write more about the crafting side of the game.

Fallout 76: The Adventures of Buck Frexit (Day 4)

Continuing this week’s foray into the Appalachian wasteland, Buck was joined by another friend to explore the mechanics of team work in Fallout 76.

JiggyBeastZero joined me as I was exploring the Mothman Museum.  We killed some baddies and looted buildings before deciding to try some public events.

We’re both still low level (Buck is level 15 and Jiggy is now level 9) but the areas we’re exploring are quite forgiving on the lower levelled player.

We made some important discoveries however.

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Firstly, you don’t have to stab or shoot another player to become “Wanted”.  I think Jiggy may have attacked a turret at the workshop, which flagged him as an enemy but then I was flagged by picking locks on some of the workshop containers and robbing their contents… I know, baddie for life.

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I think I had to be spotted stealing to be flagged as “Wanted” but I didn’t get chance to check straight away as the workshop owner (a pleasant player named Zombie2Assassin) murdered me whilst I was thinking about it.

On my second visit to the same workshop, Zombie2 decided to “Thumbs Down” emote both Jiggy and I… Jiggy had retained their “Wanted status” and Zombie2 had just murdered them a second time.  Being the consummate diplomat, I attempted to smooth things over with Zombie2 with a quick “Thumbs Up” followed by a “Wave Hello” emote.

I then picked another lock, stole some materials and became “Wanted” again.  Being several levels higher than me (and presumably, a better shot than me) Zombie2 had no issues murdering me again.

When I re-spawned, Jiggy was still “Wanted”, in front of me an not moving.

Then, all of a sudden, Jiggy was naked, “Wanted” and still not moving… Jiggy believed that they were still being attacked by our new nemesis, so I checked the map.  Jiggy was no where near me, according to the map.  They had re-spawned a short distance away and had left a kind of underpants-ghost to taunt me.

I did try to hack the ghost to death but I think that just added to my weapon’s loss of “CND”.

The rest of the evening was spent wandering and looting.  We eventually took our own workshop and farmed some materials.  I found a power armour frame for Jiggy and they found a “Ski Sword” for Buck (Buck loves melee).

And then Zombie2Assassin found us and decided to pay us back for robbing our stuff… and then killed us again for good measure… bless.

With that, we all went our separate ways, Buck contracted parasites and I went to bed.

Fallout 76: The Adventures of Buck Frexit (Day 3)

buckfrexitAfter a successful weekend emerging from Vault 76, I was looking forward to seeing what Monday’s Fallout 76 patch would bring to the game.

I should really take a new ID card photo, Buck is now level 15 and a little less handsome than he was at the start.

Unfortunately, as a console player I’m forced to download the whole game package rather than just the patched elements, meaning a 3.5 hour wait as my WiFi connected Xbone downloads the 48.4gb “update” over my superfast-but-contended-at-peak-times Virgin line.

PC players allegedly benefited from a 15gb file but those on PS4 probably faced the same delay that I did.

The plan had been for 2 or 3 friends to join me so we could see how the game coped with balance across teams with a mixed level.  Unfortunately my potential team mates were still downloading by the time I got into a server.

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So Buck Frexit headed off to the next key plot marker and scavenged his way through the wasteland.  I tried the Mothman Museum, to try scav a cultist outfit (as sported by Throgok in the image above… the door was locked on this server, lockpick skill level 2 to my skill level 1).

I then decided to take control of some workshops and finally got a taste of PvP.

I’d already taken the workshop at Sunshine Meadows, which allowed me to farm some foodstuffs for a while.  This had been left unoccupied and so didn’t raise any PvP flags, so I headed down to the Poseidon Energy Plant and took the one there.

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Someone had already set the plant up to generate Fusion Cores but hadn’t finished the job… so I added a few more generators and set the plant running.  A bit of crafting later and I was happily farming fusion cores, cooking and sleeping. Every now and then I’d defend the plant from ghoul or scorched attack and it was during one of these that I had my first PvP encounter.

A player, 5 levels higher than me and wearing only their y-fronts, had triggered my turrets – presumably as taking a turret out was one of the daily challenges.  This rendered them a target to me so I took my trusty .44 and a Machete to teach them a lesson.

They handed me my ass and continued to take the turret down.

The great thing here was that this rendered the player “Wanted” and a prime target for me.  I respawned, fed them a few frag grenades and then introduced them to my shotgun – close range.

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Boom, one dead (and oddly naked) character and I get my first PvP kill.

I hung around to see if they wanted revenge but after a bit more Fusion Core farming, I logged off and went to bed.

 

Fallout 76: Thoughts from the First Weekend

I thought about naming this review “Fallout 76: The Adventures of Buck Frexit” but settled for a more meaningful title.

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Political spoonerisms aside, I’ve enjoyed my first weekend in the wasteland of West Virginia.  I’ve attempted solo play as well as joining my good buddy “Throgok” for some public events and team based tomfoolery.

Full disclosure though: I can be a rabid fanboy over certain things.  I railed against Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings for example; I am absolutely “that guy” when it comes to “I read the book before the film/series” and hating on things before they are released.

With Fallout 76, I’ve tried my best to avoid the negativity clouding actual experience.  I’m trying to be a better person.  It is my intention to be balanced in this review and I apologise in advance if it comes across as negative or whiny.

Originally, I wasn’t going to bother with Fallout 76.  The negativity had started to get to me and, honestly, I’d have ignored the game if I didn’t have friends playing it.

I first came across Fallout through Fallout 3.  I didn’t really get into the first 2 games as they just weren’t my kind of game back in the day.  Fallout 3, New Vegas and Fallout 4 all appealed to my inner dystopian and I’ve enjoyed the way each new game has built upon the success of the last.

Fallout 76 is a side-step to that.  I’m neophilic enough to recognise the overall good in these changes and deep down I know this isn’t Fallout 5.  This is Bethesda’s way of diversifying to a new market while they potentially undertake the decade long process of creating a new single player behemoth.

Having said that, I do worry that this may be it.  In the same way that Elder Scrolls Online (longer in the tooth, settled and far larger than Fallout 76) could have killed off any hope of The Elder Scrolls 6, it is possible that Fallout 76 is the knell that spells doom for Fallout 5.  I’ve never really forgiven Blizzard for allowing World of Warcraft to kill of Starcraft: Ghost… and those scars twinge when I think about future Bethesda titles.

All that aside, I spent the weekend exploring the newly released Appalachian wasteland.  My only exposure to the beta had been through the experiences of other players, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… and overall, I’m quite satisfied with the experience.

Firstly, the game is beautiful.  Even on my day one edition Xbox One, without any kind of 4k graphics, the environment is stunning.  Yes there is a lot of repetition in the doodads and items making up the scenery but there’s a subtle dynamism at play that help to keep you distracted enough to think “Wow! Check out that sunrise”.

I’m also pleased that Bethesda have put efforts into limiting “griefing” at this early stage.  Each server holds a maximum of 24 players, you see the other 23 as pale dots on the map.

Players who have attempted to murder other players’ characters show up as a red “wanted” dot on the map (as well as targeted enemies when you meet them face to face); you can hunt and kill these player’s characters to receive a bounty.  Furthermore, these “wanted” players cannot see where any other players are on the map.DsT1VK4X4AAtA3Z.jpg

The only problem with this is that you can accidentally pick up “wanted” status by accidentally hitting a team mate mid combat.  This happened to my buddy Throgok as I was shanking feral ghouls.

This accidental blue-on-blue did nothing to detract from the team-play experience.  Eventually, Throgok was sniped by a player twice his level and his “wanted” status was gone when he respawned.

Playing with someone else was a good laugh, pretty much like any other multiplayer game… it’s the company that makes it fun, rather than the game itself.

The solo game had its own enjoyment, mainly in the sense of bleak isolation inherent in the Fallout universe.  There are only ever 23 or less other people on your server and the map is huge.  I have played for hours without meeting another player and at other times have fought side by side with 3 or 4 others as we take down swarms of Protectrons or other baddies.

That isolation is a key part of playing fallout.  The Elder Scrolls Online often felt flooded with people all trying to gather the same 10 resources for some easily-forgotten NPC, Fallout 76 definitely feels like its you (or you and a few of your friends) against the world alone.

This isolation can work against you however, many of the public events and higher level critters definitely need more than you and a few buddies to take them on and win.  With only 24 players per server, it’s very rare to see everyone on one server flocked to the same event and the fact you have to pay to fast travel puts players off jumping across the map on the off chance of diving into a public event.

Outside of the public events, there isn’t a great deal to do except explore, take down baddies and slowly grind through the myriad “challenges” set for you within the game.  Hopefully these will expand as time goes on… there were points during the weekend that I would have described gameplay as “Dull”; thankfully not many.

I’m not sure why Bethesda chose to exclude meaningful NPCs from Fallout 76.  Every quest seems to be triggered by robot, terminal, note or holo-tape.  We do see NPCs in the form of corpses but so far the game has no living person to interact with, other than fellow players.

I think the worst point was when server lag or some other glitch locked us out of a public event for a good 5 minutes or so – not great on a timed event.

Team play did highlight a couple of other issues that I hope are addressed in future patches.  The fact that team mates can attack each other and trigger unwanted PvP attention is made worse by the fact that players can Ninja each other for loot and kills.

Loot in containers is random for everyone.  If I loot a trashcan and find a stimpak, my team mates may find dog food or chems.  But if I pick up a roll of duct tape (precious precious duct tape) from a table, that duct tape is gone… no longer available for anyone else unless I trade it or drop it.

I’m not sure if the game shares XP on kills either.  I found a few times that Throgok or I would accidentally steal kills from each other.  I think this deserves further research however.

One final thing that I’m struggling with are the “survival” mechanisms.  I never played the previous Fallout games on survival mode, it’s just not something I’m interested in.  I think I could get used to it if the hunger, thirst and item degradation rates slowed down but at the moment they feel like a real barrier.

I remember having to eat and drink in the good old Ultima Underworld series of games.  Food would spoil and you could die from hunger or thirst if ignored.  I get it, I really do but Fallout 76 seems to have taken the Atic Atac approach to survival and I seem to spend more time cooking up grills, soups and juices than I do repairing my weaponry and hunting Wasteland creatures.  If any one thing is likely to put me off playing it is this constant reliance on eating and drinking in the game.

The survival element does have a plus side though.  The comedy of contracting “Swamp Itch” or “Dysentery” from a dodgy sleeping bag is only made better by the genius of “Mutations”.

With a high enough radiation level you can mutate to a new you and benefit from some weird side effects.  The “Marsupial” mutation I picked up gave me a boost to my maximum carry weight and maximum jump height but knocked my “Intelligence”  attribute down by -4 points.  It also meant half my health bar was taken up by radiation.

I recorded myself jumping around and then decided to record some more as I spotted some weird luminous track marks on the floor.  I’m not sure if they were meant to be there or not.

All in all, I’m looking forward to dropping back into the Wasteland and carrying on the adventures of Buck Frexit (and friends).

I genuinely believe that Bethesda will make improvements over the coming weeks.  There’s a server patch on the afternoon of Monday 19th (9am EST, which is 2pm GMT I think) and the game is bound to evolve as time goes on.

I’m also hoping that there will be more exciting contents brought to the Atom store.  I’m not really fussed for the cosmetic side of games like this but I’d save Atoms for decent outfits or more LOL-worthy emotes.

Maybe I’ll see some of you in the wasteland?

The End of Free Will? (Reblogged)

This topic seems to have finally hit the public in anger once again.

Cambridge Analytica has finally become a conversation outside of my echo chamber.

Here are some more recent links:

It sort of feels like locking the door after the horse has bolted…

Armaitus on...

winningI suppose I was kidding myself in thinking I could get away without writing about politics this year.

Last year’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union broke me.

I recovered relatively quickly by sticking to my personal philosophy and not dwelling on negativity; a part of doing that has happily led to me distancing myself from an emotional involvement in politics.

I’ve tried to force myself to be ignorant of the broken democracy that the rest of my world appears to be addicted to.

Thankfully this particular post is not loaded with personal politics; this post is more of a warning to the incurious.

TL:DR – There is evidence that big money is using NLP style techniques to control modern-day western politics.  I provide links to relevant stories and so forth.

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The Wrong IoT

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For over a decade now, I have worked in Telecommunications as a kind of Corporate Technomancer.

Like a wizened proto-mentat before the Butlerian Jihad, I exert my will to keep an operational IT infrastructure functional for money.

I remember several years ago seeing the acronym “IoT” pop up in industry articles and the kind of tech spam that IT guys delete on a regular basis.

It piqued my interest initially as the “IoT” was something I looked into back in the Nineties.

This interest bordered on excitement… was the world finally making the promised transition from a Science/Religion based world view to being more accepting of magical thinking?

No. Disappointingly not; the “IoT” in those tech articles was not the oft-maligned occult organisation founded in the eighties by the burgeoning chaos magical current; instead, the “IoT” in those tech articles referred to a crazy collection of sentient fridges and talking toasters!

Okay, I accept I’m over simplifying the concept and I also accept that there are some “smart” devices that are useful: energy meters for example or home security devices. But in all honesty I really don’t see the need to connect everything in your home to the internet.

This incorrect IoT appeared on my radar again today with a security bulletin warning of an “IoT” botnet;  yet another example of the tech news leading me on with a perceived promise of adepts from the Illuminates of Thanateros waging a technomantic war of well focused egregores and servitors, whilst instead delivering some half-baked scaremongering about a collection of smart meters and WiFi enabled light bulbs being used to distribute spam email over the deep web.

From a corporate point of view, I really don’t see the “amazing potential” of the “Internet of Things” but the technomancer inside me really likes the idea of an international occult body using the concept of insecurely networked devices to propagate/perpetuate their magical will.