Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

paAzLeJXProfileTempImg

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.

Screenshot_20190621-134138

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.

Advertisements

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.

Fallout 76 (11).png

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.

Fallout 76 (14).png

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.

Fallout 76 (7).png

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.

Fallout 76 (5).png

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.

killachieve

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.

18-11-2018_22-46-44-pw1y3wrp.png

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?

Ingress -Huddersfield Banner Mission

2016-04-09 10.56.24I’ve been playing Ingress for over 3 years now and yet despite this, I have not really written about my experiences playing it.

Ingress is a GPS based game, a sort of MMO where you play yourself in augmented reality.

With elements of capture the flag, tower defence and even (to a small degree) role-playing, Ingress has captured the imaginations of millions of players worldwide.

I am genuinely surprised that it has taken me this long to write about it.  I play Ingress daily, it is a part of my daily routine – a part of my life… and yet, I would only class myself as a casual player.

I have travelled to other cities and even met friends that I would not have met if I did not play the game.

After 3+ years I am still only level 14, with a current level cap of 16.  I have seen friends start the game and achieve the maximum level in around a year.

The game has evolved massively since I started playing both in terms of game-play and coverage.

In the early days, agents (the term used in game for players of the game) could submit “portals” – places of interest that can be captured, held and even linked to other portals to gain points within the game.

Portal submissions are no longer accepted (there are rumours this is a feature that may well return) but I did manage to rack up 118 successful submissions while they were.

The only way agents can improve or add to the game currently is by the creation of missions.

Missions (created from the Mission Authoring Tool) are a further incentive to play the game – if you didn’t find the game addictive enough to start with.

missions1I have created 39 missions, including 3 single line “banner” missions, I’m awaiting acceptance of these missions by Niantec (the organisation that created/runs Ingress).

Banner missions are by far the most interesting, rewarding and challenging form of mission.

2016-04-09 12.47.34A mission is a collection of 6 or more portals (or way-points from Google Field trip – but that’s another story) with actions that must be performed on them.

Actions can be sequential or performed in any order and range from a simple “hack” to capturing, upgrading or “modding” a portal.

Agents may even be requested to enter a pass-phrase related to the portal or area they are near.

The only reward an agent receives for a mission is a badge; badges are images created by the mission author and collecting them results in progress to wards the achievement of an in-game medal that aids towards an increase in level.

Banner missions creatively break down larger images into a mosaic of badges that, when collected in sequence, display the larger image in the agent’s in-game profile.

huddsbadgesThe Huddersfield banner mission is the first banner I have attempted and was created by a respected local agent from my team (Enlightened/Green), J0nny.

At 24 missions, this banner is not the largest I have seen (I came across a 60 mission banner in Eastbourne!); 24 missions across Huddersfield was still quite a challenge.

It took me 2.5 hours and led me, meandering, around Huddersfield, hacking my way through portals that have been familiar to me for years.

I tracked my progress using MapMyWalk as Ingress gives a useless estimate of 15 minutes per mission- this map should give you an idea of how long it takes a 40 year old, overweight Yorkshireman.

huddsmission_map

Starting at Huddersfield railway station, the missions lead you North, out of town under the viaduct and up towards Greenhead Park.

A spike up through the park then pulls back into town past the Civic centre and Town Hall then down to the University campus.

You have an opportunity here to drop into the Queensgate indoor market; I took the opportunity to pick up a couple of books from the excellent (and Ingress friendly) Kapow Comics.

A circuit of the campus (challenging at the moment due to the construction work in progress there) eventually brings you back into town and around St. Peter’s park before heading back to the railway station.

There is limited parking available at the station itself, so you may want to consider coming in by train.

If you are planning on attempting a banner like this, it is important to make sure that you are going to start at mission 1 and that you are starting a brand new line of mission badges, otherwise the overall banner will be askew when complete.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re not an Ingress player, well done.

If you fancy taking up the game then consider trying it out; it certainly gets you out more.

Also, choose Enlightened (Green/Frogs) over Resistance (Blue/Smurfs)… help us immanentize the eschaton… Hail Tsathoggua…

The Rabbit & his Shadow

RAHS1Just over forty years ago, I was brought into this world at Huddersfield’s Princess Royal hospital.

Like all newborns I’d like to think I entered the world full of innocence and without fear.

I don’t remember much of those early years in the mid-1970s but I do remember my first exposure to absolute soul-numbing horror.

As a toddler my Mother would often take me to visit her parents who would then read to me.

I love reading, I always have but in those days I would beg my Granny to read me a specific book; a book that both terrified and enthralled me.

After a recent conversation regarding the book, my Mother has kindly sourced a copy – all the way from the states – and so I present to you, the book that stands as a prologue to my love of supernatural horror.

The Rabbit & his Shadow.

TRAHS2

This tale of paranoiac horror was my first exposure to the concept of malign “other” that was a springboard to a world of imaginary darkness so terrifying that even now, as a grown adult, I haunted by the story’s theme.

From the age of 3 or 4 right up to the age of 7 (when I was reading the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) I would ask my Granny for the book – so strong was the hold this tale had over me.

The story is a simple one (surprisingly enough for a children’s book).  It follows the woes of an innocent, yet nameless, rabbit who is being stalked by a dark and sinister shadow rabbit.

rahs3

Published as “A Happiness Story Book”, my adult eyes notice that the intention of the book is to show a transition in the rabbit from its initial unhappiness through to the joy of new found friendship at the end of the tale.

This is far from the case through the eyes of young Armaitus.

As we follow our tormented protagonist through the tale, we see it driven to despair as it tries to rid itself from the ever present pursuit of his shadow.

So desperate is the rabbit that it even tries to kill the shadow creature to gain some freedom from the beast.

rahs4

As a child, each step in the rabbit’s descent to despair carried me along with it.  Already open to the paranormal world about me, this tale taught me that I was not alone, even in the darkness, and that was somehow comforting in its discomfiture.

If I could gain this feeling from a book then it would suppress my own night terrors maybe… again, this was far from the case.

The tale ends with the rabbit risking its life to seek advice from a wise owl, an owl that chooses to offer advice rather than rend the tiny mammal in its razor sharp claws.

rahs6The rabbit attempts and succeeds in reconciliation with its nemesis, who displays an unnerving ability to both talk and move independently of its host.

Reading this tale again I realise that, subconsciously, I learnt an important lesson from this book.

It is better to embrace your demons and learn from them than flee and fight them in futility.

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.