Wednesday, 29 October 2014


November rolls around again, and I am intending to write another batch of short stories. After this, I'm going to bundle up what I've got and ask people to read and comment, find the best set and epublish; see how it does.

Now, that's mostly just fishing. The real money in epublishing (and when I say 'real money' I'm probably talking tens, even twenties of pounds a year) is in novel series, so I am also looking for the short that will expand into that. If I find it early in the month, I may focus on that instead.

Either way, it's going to be a writing intensive month, as always.


A split effect showing the action and grid-hacking modes.
Since I am unlikely to be joining the cool kids in playing Beyond Earth before the summer sales, I picked up super cheap indie game Gunpoint, a fun little platform stealth game overlaid with a rerouting puzzle game.

You play Richard Conway, freelance spy. After a potential client is murdered, you are offered a series of jobs closely related to the murder. Each mission consists of a 2D cutaway elevation of the target building or buildings. The player must navigate Conway through this plan, avoiding or incapacitating guards and bypassing doors to reach and hack (or occasionally steal) the mission objective.

Your tools for doing this are Conway's Bullfrog hypertrousers and Dropshock trenchcoat, which allow him to leap and fall incredible distances, and the Crosslink, a gadget which allow you to view and manipulate the electrical connections within a building, linking doors and other devices to various switches in order to bypass the building's security systems. The guards ranged against you will shoot on sight (although only the suit-wearing Professionals can see in the dark) and kill you with one shot, so stealth is vital to successfully completing the missions. Upgrades can increase your jumping strength and charge up speed, and optional gadgets allow you to silently fall or break through windows, dodge a small percentage of shots, or hack the guards' guns and make them go off. Finally, you can acquire a gun of your own, which allows you to menace guards (but not Professionals) into compliance; or shoot them, but that summons the cops to block your exit.

Gunpoint is a fun and only occasionally frustrating little game. It is quite short, but there are enough optional extras and branching paths to give some replay value, and a level editor if that's your thing. It also has a Steam achievement called 'Acknowledged Ludonarrative Dissonance'

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Gamergate, or how I learned to start worrying and hate the comments

I've written before on sexism in gaming, specifically Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Unity, but I've not mentioned Gamergate. As a casual gaming commentator, this feels remiss; like a home design pundit refusing to at least acknowledge the statement of an indoor pachydermal installation.

I'm not going to go into background detail, as anyone reading this journal almost certainly knows them, but just in brief: Gamergate is a movement within the gaming community dedicated - they say - to the purity of gaming journalism and the elimination of the corruption created by certain female game designers and critics determines to use sex to foist a gynocentric agenda on the holy, phallocentric temple of gaming. In reality, it is a campaign of toxic hatred targeting female critics and designers, ranging from passive-aggressive comments to actual death threats.

I find the whole thing to be upsetting, not just because people like Zoe Quinn (the designer of the indie game Depression Quest) and Anita Sarkeesian (of the Youtube channel Feminist Frequency and, specifically, the critical video essays Tropes vs Women in video games) have been subjected to such a vicious tide of vitriol and hate, but because it reveals a level of toxicity which I would not have thought possible. The sustained death threats are bad enough, or the threats of rape, but what truly shocks me, after a decade and a half of regular internet access, is that there are people on the internet, people who purport to represent a community of which I am a peripheral member, who actually believe that they are right and righteous in threatening children.

Not long ago, Sarkeesian cancelled a speaking engagement at the University of Utah after a graphic threat was made to perpetrate 'the worst school shooting in history' if the engagement went ahead.

What the actual fuck is that?

I'm not going to start on the Utah Police and their refusal to conduct weapon searches of people entering an institute of higher education which had been threatened with a massacre, because I would probably never stop. In the same way, I'm not going to talk about rape threats, because it would end up as a meaningless spew of expressions of horror and disbelief. I will, however, reiterate my utter horror that there is anyone in the world that thinks that this is in any way something that is not just okay, but right, and that there is a substantial body of gamers who support them to one degree or another.

Now, in fairness (because I like to be fair, possibly to the point of fault, although not to the point, you may notice, of actually putting any links to Gamergate sites; I'm fair, but I absolutely have a side in this*,) the incident created some schism in Gamergate itself, because apparently some of them are able to see that there is a degree of evil that isn't legitimate protest against journalistic corruption (although the lower level hate-speech really should have tipped them off, but internet comments are a natural breeding ground for complete idiocy) I am still disappointed that it hasn't ended it completely; that the sane end of the spectrum haven't looked at this, or the other death threats, and said: "Well, fuck; we're part of something pretty damned vile here, aren't we?"

Gamergate, in short, has actively and materially damaged my faith in human nature.

*In Gamergate terms, this makes me a 'white knight' hoping that backing the feminazi agenda will get me laid. If I believed that the world as a whole was as misogynistic as Gamergate, such that merely expressing this opinion made me irresistible catnip to any woman not completely ground down by hate, I would be too mired in depression to ever have sex again.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Warhammer 40,000 - Dawn of War

Wrapping up my retrospective, I find my way back to the original Dawn of War, a base-building RTS that is now ten years old.

I heard somebody say burn, baby burn!
The original Dawn of War was built around a campaign which introduced the Blood Ravens Chapter of the Space Marines. Across a series of missions, the player guided the Blood Ravens against Orks, Eldar and Chaos Marines, ultimately setting off the chain of events which would lead to the climax of DoWII.

The meat of the game, however, lies in the skirmish and multiplayer modes, which allowed single player, co-op or competitive scenarios to be played out, with or without AI opponents. With a good selection of maps and customisation options, DoW provided a lot of replay value outside the main campaign, even before the add ons arrived.

There were four available factions in the base game - Space Marines, Eldar, Orks and Chaos Marines - and a lively spread of abilities between them. The Marines (both types) were hard wearing and hard hitting, while the Orks were numerous as anything and the Eldar had a lot of tech upgrades and special abilities, and vicious weaponry to make up for a fairly low toughness. Multiplayer missions could be annihilation-based or take-and-hold. In either case the correct balance of rapid expansion and base consolidation was critical.

Winter Assault added a new campaign, focused on the new playable faction, the Imperial Guard, whose thing was basically tanks. They had one basic unit, blokes with lasguns, but a lot of armour options.
Like Risk, but for funner!

Dark Crusade changed the tempo of the series with the addition of a turn-based campaign mode, in which the player's faction competes with others for territory by fighting mission battles. In addition, the faction commander could now earn persistent wargear upgrades instead of having upgrade options in-mission. Elite Honour Guard units would begin attack missions at the Commander's side, while Garrison units and buildings could be established to make it harder for enemies to retake territory from you.

Again, the add-on increased the number of available factions by adding the mecha-undead Necrons and the holier-than-thou Tau to the mix.

Soulstorm built on the base of Dark Crusade, with a new campaign map stretching over three planets and a moon, and brought the number of playable factions to nine with the puritanical Sisters of Battle and the decadent Dark Eldar. Each of these factions had a unique resource; in addition to Requisition and Power, the Sisters could gather Faith to power their special abilities, while the Dark Eldar collected souls to the same end.

The strength of the game was the combination of the rich 40K setting and an ending that allowed there to be a massive number of things shooting other things at once while retaining a high level of resolution. In particular a large Ork vs. Imperial Guard battle could run to a couple of hundred models a side without slowing down on the basic recommended system, and the major stronghold missions could begin with upwards of a hundred enemy being tracked.

The single-player campaigns in the original game and Winter Assault were not the greatest, but the skirmish mode made up for that, and the non-linear campaigns in Dark Crusade and Soulstorm had much more replay value, as each of the seven or nine factions called for a different approach. At the top end there is a degree of rush tactics, but the balance of abilities means that you can never just point and run; your strongest mob will be butchered on a base run if you don't box a little clever. On the other hand, it's not overly complicated, never leaving the player wallowing in a sea of options.

These then are the three 40K games I've played (I should get Space Hulk sometime, I really should). Of the three, Dawn of War is probably the most replayable, although for multiplayer the Last Stand mode in DoWII - three heroes stand in an arena and fight off wave after wave of enemies - takes the prize. It's so very simple, and yet I reckon not one person has ever played it without clearly understanding at some stage that there is an easy way to win it and if only those other two idiots got that you would rule the world, damint!