Gotta Catch ’em All

level41Earlier this Spring I came out (kind of), I announced to the blog-o-sphere that I am Ingress player.

I’ve always been a Gamer, in one form or another.

From that first glimpse of Pong and my Grandfather’s Atari 2600 (which he sold to Soggy… for those in the know).

We had various arcade games on a machine in the family’s fish & chip shop and family games on our ZX Spectrum in the Eighties.

Right through Baldur’s Gate and Diablo in the Nineties; and onto the console wars of the 21st century; I can’t think of a time when my life has not, in some way, been influenced by Gaming.

I LARP, I’ve participated in and run LARP events, tabletop roleplaying sessions.  I’ve played MMOs (finally), single player campaigns and even designed campaigns and systems that nobody will ever play (seriously, I wouldn’t be a genuine roleplayer if I hadn’t! <insert wide grin here for those roleplayers that haven’t delved this deeply into the obsession>)

I’ve written previously about more contemporary games but Ingress was the first to break the mold and invade reality.

That statement probably comes across as somewhat louche from those who know me as a LARPer.

The thing is, LARP is a game which relies on the suspension of disbelief – its very medium is a corruption, ignorance or corruption of reality… some (but not all) particpants cite escapism as their reason for playing.

IngressProfileIngress augments reality.

I’d say a good 90% of my work colleagues are oblivious to the fact that our place or work serves as an anchor to a great many XM fields that ensure the populace of Brighouse are under an alien influence that encourages Art, Love and Creativity.

Unless you’ve been living in a media-proof bubble, you’re already familiar with the company that developed Ingress – Niantic.

Niantic are the brainweasels behind Pokémon GO.

For the past 4 years, Niantic have run Ingress as a successful, GPS based augmented-reality game.

They have encouraged gamers like me to go out into the world, register places of interest that we come across as “XM Portals” and then compete with people in our local areas to control those portals, in a game that has proven both engaging and infuriating over the 3+ years I have played it.

And yet, since shortly after BREXIT, I have neglected Ingress in favour of Niantic’s latest game-child.

I simply have to be the very best.  I have to catch them all!

pogo1Pokémon GO has taken the GPS entities registered by myself and fellow Ingressers (118 places of interest photographed, geographed and registered to date personally) and converted them to either Pokémon Gyms or Pokéstops.

But why?

Why has this fad hooked me in?

Ingress was, by and large, ignored by the mainstream and adopted by Techies (and a few Corporates like me).

In 3 years of playing Ingress I hae become aware of 11 players in the town I work in.

Only 6 of those are what you would class as serious, hardcore, daily players (shout out to agents DMH10, Doodified, Ikibau and Pepian and yah-boo-sucks-to-you to Astral Ranger and DeckardB26354).

Towards the end of last week I took a stroll out on my 30 minutes lunch break (as I usually do) and encountered 15 people playing Pokémon GO.

Fiff-fucking-teen! In a 30 minute (OK, I’ve overshot to 41 recently) period.

15 people playing Niantic’s latest offering, oblivious to the Shaper invasion of Ingress.

My reality wasn’t just augmented… it was skewed!

pogo215! Wow!  Whilst playing Ingress I’d bump into a fellow player – by accident – once in a blue moon.  Most Ingress meet-ups are by design and I shun most of those due to the high number of cheating fuckmonkeys on my team locally.

15 in one day is amazing but why the sudden interest?

Allegedly, Pokémon GO is the most downloaded mobile game ever – EVER!!!1!one!

I never paid much attention to Pokémon in my – erm – late twenties.

Whilst Pokémon was encouraging kids to be the very best, I was building a career as a senior software developer, playing Diablo 2 and dressing up as a Low Elf and fighting the “Dark Alliance” with rubber and latex weaponry.

(OK – by “fighting the Dark Alliance” I mean, being humiliatingly butchered by them – but that’s not the point!)

To date, I’ve shunned Pokémon as irrelevant to my needs.

botpMy own youth was influenced by Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and Mosschops.

What should I care for random cutesy anime creatures that only seem to speak their own name when I had Thundercats, Transformers and the Masters of the Universe?

Shit son! What constitutedanime” to me in my teens is now classed as “hentai“!

No, the early 21st century’s cartoon pocket monster shenanigans was obviously just a way to part breeders from their money – so that junior could have the latest faecachoo – just like Hasbro did to my parents with transformers when I was a kid.

But now I see what I was missing out on.

You see, Pokémon GO appeals to the Gamer in me.

pogo3Here I am, just under 3 weeks away from my 41st birthday and I’m addicted to a Pokémon game.

You see, it offers everything I need to feed my gaming gland.

Those intelligent bastards at Niantic and Nintendo have hooked me in faster than any schoolyard skag-dealer.

Pokémon GO has 3 whole areas of progression/leveling and if there’s one thing gamers love, it’s leveling.

There is a genuine psychological dependency on character progression.  It’s more addictive than nicotine (which in turn is more addictive than heroin – I can only attest for the veracity of the former statement however).

On top of that, players are encouraged to “catch ’em all”.  I’ve already caught 73 of a possible 150 creatures.

Even better, I can name my Pokémon whatever I like, no profanity filter, just a character limit.

pogo4Like Star Trek: the Next Generation, the mental health benefits of Pokémon GO have been recognised already.

The game gets people out into a pocket-monster-augmented world and interacting with people they never would have thought to interact with previously.

I’m used to that from Ingress – seriously, my local fellow PoGoers seem terrified as I approach them with a toothy grin and demand:

Hi! Are you guys playing Pokémon or Ingress?

This is a genuine phenomenon.

Everywhere I go, I see people playing the game.

And not just the Ingress-paranoia of “Ooh, look, do you think they’re playing Ingress?”.  No this is groups of people, of all demographics, capturing monsters and battling gyms.

pogo5It must be 2 weeks now; 2 weeks of buggy software, overloaded servers and an almost constant Launch App – Attempt Capture/Gym Battle – Force Stop – Launch App cycle… and yet I’m still hooked.

I hit level 20 today, I believe the level cap to be level 50. Now that the server issues seem to have stabilised the game is a real pleasure.

It’s taken me 3 and a half years to get to where I am in Ingress (3 months from level 15 – the cap is 16, I’m 18 months from level 16).

And yet I’m 2/5ths of the way there after 2 weeks!

So there you have it.  I’m a 40-something Pokémon trainer and Gym Leader (until the local Instinct/Valour cock-knockers take out my Vaporeon) and I’m proud… Bring on the wearable!

Elite: Lave – Revolution – A Blast from the Past

Lave: RevoloutionLike many gamers from my generation, I remember spending hours in front of my Father‘s BBC Micro, racking up credits and saving up for a Docking Computer or a better set of lasers on my Cobra Mk III in the vector space trading game Elite.

A lifetime later and Allen Stroud takes us back to those halcyon days with this cracking piece of science fiction.

I know Allen through LRP; he played a formative part in my understanding of much of the early game world of the Lorien Trust‘s system here in the UK.

He is also, in my opinion, a thoroughly nice chap.

Set in the systems neighbouring Lave, Elite: Lave Revolution (Elite: Dangerous) tells of the cosmo-political transition that Lave takes. From the Lave of my childhood to the Lave of the forthcoming (and long awaited) reboot of the Elite game. Elite – Dangerous.

Far form being “just another game tie-in”, Lave: Revolution is as gripping as it is cunning. The tale follows a number of characters through a maze of galactic conspiracy, deception and ultimately – planetary revolution.

The story is decorated with historical transcripts and technical factoids that add to the world in which Allen is weaving the tale but this only serves to add icing to what is already a well garnished tale.

After reading this in one sitting I am left thirsty for more – I’ll have to make do with the Elite – Dangerous beta and wait for Allen to write more.

Skyrim Dragonborn DLC – First Look

Dragonborn DLCI am hoping this note will be an impartial view of the new DLC for Skyrim, released yesterday for the arm-and-a-leg of 1600 msp.

To justify any perceived impartiality that seeps through:

I have racked up hundreds of hours of playtime in Skyrim on the XBOX 360, the majority of such time being spent on a level 81 (Everything but restoration at 100 and balanced Health/Magicka/Stamina ratios) Altmer.

I’m also somewhat jaded when it comes to the previous DLC… I only played the SIMS expansion, Hearthfire, for the achievements and had more engagement in curing myself of vampirism after Dawnguard than with any of the Dawnguard plot.

Sure I enjoyed floating around as a Vampire Lord but I took a massive hit on stats in vampire form AND now have an achievement I will likely never gain… who in their right mind would want to be an elder scrolls werewolf?

Lycanthropy in Skyrim is like wandering around with a “Kick my, I’m stupid” sticker on your back and nerfs your stats even more than the Vampire Lord.

Fighting enemies that are levelled to a level 81 murder elf without armour, enchantments, weapons, spells or shouts isn’t a challenge it’s insanity.

Anyway, the aim is to detail my first experiences with Dragonborn without geting over-enthusiastic for the game I love and without getting too down over the previous DLC.

Like previous DLCs I didn’t get an “in” until I’d slept and wandered into Whiterun, where I was quest-spammed by cultists and an Ebony Knight – all at once.

This wasn’t a problem for the head of the Dark Brotherhood (Companions, Thieves Guild, Mage College – delete as applicable) and left me with a couple of choices:

  • Travel to Solstheim? (Really Bethesda? 20 gamerscore for getting on a boat)
  • Deal with a new quest closer to home? (And 0 gamerscore for dealing with that)

Now I’ve been burnt by Fallout 3 & New Vegas DLC that has forced me into areas of no return, with no equipment and no base of operation; so I opted for the quest closer to home (having already emptied my inventory except for essentials prior to downloading the new DLC).

 In dealing with that new quest I encountered the toughest fight in Skyrim since facing the dragon priest Krosis, whilst level 10, at Shearpoint.  I had to return at level 17 with a Storm Atronach to beat Krosis.  No such level up option for me now.

Several attempts later, I’ve beaten the bad guy and I’m feeling a lot better about the new DLC – as slow to start as it seemed.

The DLC feels levelled to my abilities, even fighting Netches and Ash Spawn in Solstheim, I feel challenged and almost at risk.  Granted, I haven’t used any of the healing potions that I spent a good 30 minutes brewing before setting off (the first quest taught me that I needed to be less cocky and carry more healing potions).

Solstheim also seems somewhat bigger than previous expansions; larger than the weird shadow realm of Dawnguard.

It’s a completely different map, accessed by boat from Windhelm – the boat is even consistent insofar as the dead stray dog I left on it months ago in Windhelm is still on it in Solstheim.

I’ve only given it a few hours so far, I’ve wandered the coast, completed a couple of quests and fought lots of Ash Spawn but there does seem quite a lot to explore with the promise of ruins, wrecks and forts on the horizon.

With new crafting options, alchemy reagents, ores, creatures and – allegedly – shouts, this certainly feels like a true “Expansion”.  I’m not sure I hold stock in many of the tales of “rumoured new features” that have been bandying around.  I’m yet to fly a dragon and I am still unable to cast spells or shout shouts from horseback.

I can well believe the rumoured 30 hours play time however!

In summary, I’d recommend it but a part of me wishes I’d waited until there was a “Gold members deal” that let me buy it for 1200 msp instead of 1600.

Now if only I could stop Skyrim from crashing at random like Morrowind started to do to me… it’s been doing that for months now.

Enforcing “Decency” in Gaming

Bullies

Bullying is Wrong!

Now it’s not something that troubles me deeply but thanks to ShortyMonster for bringing the interesting topic of immature misogyny and bullying in gaming, to my attention.

The article is certainly worth reading before bothering with my views on the matter anyway.

Don’t worry, my views will still be here when you’re done.

Continue reading

NationStates – Skeleton Invasion

My Flag

As I’ve mentioned before one of the only web based I involve myself in is NationStates.

Play is all about the long game in NationStates but the region I’m in, Wysteria, does allow for as much or as little role-play as you’re comfortable with.

Normally I skulk in the background, scouring through the forums once in a blue moon and hardly ever posting.

Recently the region was “invaded” (in a nice way when compared to some of the griefing you see happen in other regions) by a Skeleton Army who seem hell bent on enforcing some form of femur-based surrender and barbecues.

Now, as I say, I don’t normally chip in so much with the roleplay side of life in Wysteria but this invasion has my interest piqued. So as a break from an evening at the codeface, I’ve tried to depict the invasion from the point of view of The Cthonian Wasteland.

 The Skeleton Queen and Her Army

Here we have the Skeleton Queen Ramazakal and a few minions from her army.

The Secret Six (Minus One)

And here we have Om-Mani-Padme-Pope Armaitus Syn and four other members of the “Secret Six” occultist heroes of the Cthonian Wasteland.

From left to right:

  • Adamine Lan, Knight Templar of the Ordo Architeuthis.
  • Lord Mundi of Old Imboca, Grand Master of the self same knightly order (Not to be confused with Baron Mundi).
  • Armaitus Syn, Beloved O.M.P. Pope (on a rope); the Wasteland’s president for the past decade.
  • And finally the alleged demigods, Poseidon Jr. and the Dagon Kid, with one of their trusty Octosteeds.

 Erm… maybe I’ve been reading too much Alan Moore lately… back to the codeface then…

The Witcher 2 – Reviewed by Roleplayers

Geralt of RiviaI recently read this excellent review of The Witcher 2 by fellow Huddersfield based roleplayer, Shorty.

From his recent experience of playing The Witcher 2 to the size of his pile of books yet to read, I hadn’t realised we had so much in common.

Said pile is in fact an entire book case full of stuff, but it’s on there nonetheless.

You can read Shorty’s review here, it’s written from the point of view of a tabletop roleplayer; a point of view that demonstrates quite aptly the flaws in the Witcher 2.

I commented at length as to one particular memory the game dredged up, wherein the games GM railroaded players so incessantly and with such ferocity that the game was ruined and closed early.

Prior to my own comment there is reference to the unoriginality in character naming within the game, although I’ve not read Eddings, so I can’t comment.

Piles of Books(What? I told you I had a massive pile of books to read!)

It is well worth visiting Shorty’s blog, he’s only just started posting his thoughts recently but what he’s posted so far is well worth a read.

I am going to seek out the books that Shorty mentions. When my friend, Morelenmir, recommended the original to me years ago, it was the world and environment that he sold me on.

The stories are written by Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski. It looks like The Last Wish might be a good place to start.

As for my own opinion of the Witcher 2 (and the game it followed) I just couldn’t get into them.

The earlier game threw me on gameplay alone, years of console gaming have atrophied my PC gaming skills, I vowed to take up the sequel when it came out on XBOX 360.

This most recent edition is far too linear though. The game is riddled with RSI inducing spamhit “A” then “Y” then “B” type nonsense and some wonderfully crafted but incredibly drawn out cut scenes and dialogue.

I also found the “adult” scenes childishly cloying – a stulted inference that roleplayers get off on that kind of pixelated frotting.

OK, Geralt of Rivia enjoys sexual intercourse – I get it (and so does he) – but I don’t need it rubbed in my face (although I’m guessing he does) when I’m trying to play a game.

I play PC/console roleplaying games for immersion, leveling and story. If I want erotica there are plenty of (probably illegal) hentai games out there (and a whole interweb of sauciness out there).

Maybe there’s a whole other blog post there. I could air my views on Geralt’s rutting and Duke Nukem‘s troilistic fellatio.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy the Witcher games BUT I can see how some people would. They just aren’t my cup of tea.

What does excite me about the Witcher is things like this:

A fan film (that term does not do them justice) made by my awesome friends (and fellow roleplayers) at It’s A Trap.

Skyrim

SkyrimI received The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from Amazon, last Friday, the day of release.

I’d love to write about Skyrim but sadly, my spare time has been taken, this weekend, due to slogging through several quests other commitments.

If I had the time, I’d probably waffle on about how the game appears to have met the hype head-on.

I’d probably go onto mention how pleasing the graphics are, especially the models for many of the diverse peoples and creatures of Skyrim; I’d tie this eloquently into some reference or other to the smooth gameplay.

In fact, if I weren’t so busy elsewhere, I’d mention how many of my XBOX Live friends had managed to achieve a whole 36 hours progress by the time I started the game on Friday evening; possibly going on to mention how different their own individual experiences have been to my own and that Skyrim seems to reward players in very different ways, depending upon their gaming style.

I’d lament the inability to craft my own spells but applaud the improvements to the Alchemy and Smithing system – balancing both with comments on Enchanting.

It is most likley that I wouldn’t bother writing about the one and only crash whilst reloading for the umpteenth time after having my behind repeatedly handed to me by some sort of Gloomsayer.

I think I’d wrap up with some anecdote about LRP/Skyrim crossover dreams, and my inability to disarm anybody with a Shout at Lorien Trust LRP events due to the prevalence of the Immune to Fumble occupational skill.

Unfortunately, there’s some crazy dragon-speaker’s horn that I have to pick up and I think the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold may need my help… I’ll find time for writing again soon, I promise… just one more quest… one more and I might get my Sneak to 70…