24/08/2011–Work, Camping, Housing and Airsofting…Again

So yeah, I am still alive. I may not have written anything for just under three weeks but I still exist and have had quite busy time since my holiday.

I’m still at Mamas & Papas and working hard although my role has changed slightly. Instead of working on some project stuff with the Support team, I’m instead helping with some infrastructure stuff. Its great, especially as its meant I’ve had to learn some SQL and also get used to Active Directory and Exchange stuff. Its all good stuff and I’m earning some money as well so its all good in the end. I’m looking at getting a Kindle for my textbooks and the core of an i7 system (motherboard, CPU, memory, CPU cooler) to deal with this Autumn’s releases (I’m looking at you Skyrim).


Last weekend, I managed to escape to the Dales with a few of my friends from Leeds for a weekend of camping. Or should I say attempting to camp. To be fair, it was successful and we all came home mostly intact but we were lacking a few items we probably should have brought with us. Such vital things as airbeds, washing up liquid and, for some people, shoes suitable for roaming around the countryside.Oh, thank goodness for the sheer amount of alcohol, snacks and Mountain Dew we took up with us.

The campsite we went to was next to the Green Dragon Inn outside of Hawes (snrk). Its actually a pretty decent site – lots of space, reasonable rates and just down the valley from a huge waterfall. However, to temper this I have to say there one or two issues. The first is that the site is really rocky – we had a few issues finding places to put down the tent pegs. Second was that the site seemed to consist entirely of very angry wasps who enjoyed drinking our beer and generally being annoying. Also on the first night, we were ripped to shreds by midges. Finally, the pub nearby had some pretty inflated prices – as I was driving the next day, I decided to grab a Lime and Soda (average price in Leeds/Middlesbrough/Everywhere else – 70p) which coasted me £2.70. However, the food was quite good and it was a nice traditional pub.

Overall it was a really good weekend especially as we will all be moving on be that going back to uni or other things. Also it proved I can drive successfully with out killing everyone in the car.

I’m back at uni in September and so before I start back on my second year of Games Programming, I had to go and collect my keys for the house up there. After living through a year of living in halls, I’m really excited to be living in a proper house. There are seven of us in the house (dubbed Party House 2011), all from Woodland Hall 6 Ground Floor. Most of us also game and use Steam so we had to grab a Virgin 50mb service in order to make sure we can actually use the internet.

Of course, I also had to sort out my room. When I first arrived, all there was in the room was:

  • 3/4 Bed
  • Desk
  • Chest of Drawers
  • Wardrobe
  • The dodgiest lamp shade you ever did see – complete with glow in the dark stickers
  • Nail holes in the wall
  • Single Glazed windows – on the street side

I’ve already taken up a few more pieces of furniture to add to the room. My old desk is one of them as the desk provided with the room is tiny which isn’t really suitable for working on. So that gone up and I’ve also got an Ikea bookcase in and a bedside table. I’m actually quite impressed with the Ikea stuff – I’m used to it being a pile of junk that doesn’t fit together properly and is a pile of crap (probably from watching The Wire too much) but it was pretty good.

There are a few more things I need to take up, such as a whiteboard (for doing WORK on, no drawing on) and also a futon so I have seats in my room when the guys come up to play CoD while drinking. I’m also looking forward to getting some posters up, but unfortunately the walls are vinyl wallpaper which will get ripped to shreds at the end of the year. Should have some more pictures up after I move in properly.

That doesn’t mean my house is completely unused. A few of my flat mates are already in and I’ll be going up there before the Bank Holiday weekend which is also going to be a crazy weekend of airsofting down in Hampshire at the Ground Zero Weekender.

As I write this, I’ll be going home this evening to get my bags, guns, gear and tent packed up and ready to go. Most of my kit is together, its just the final prep to do. Good thing I’m packing my waterproofs based on the current weather reports.

I’m also sorting out my Airsoft collection. I’m a huge British equipment fan (because the basic clothing is real cheap) and so own a LSW. I’ve got an L85 on the way as a spare I can loan out to people or if I’m at a CQB site but that’s a whole load of annoyance. My other guns (the MP7 and SPAS 12) are really nice bits of kit but I’m not really a fan of them. So I’m selling them off to be replaced with some other things. The MP7 is already gone but the SPAS 12 is still up for sale.

That’s all for now. I’m still working on a few projects but they have all been delayed  while I’m working. But more info on that will be coming soon

Thoughts On… Fate of the World

As part of writing for games, you will always receive shovelware to review. Unfortunately most of them come from the educational or kids lines, where the games don’t receive the money or attention they deserve. Luckily one educational game that has received the time and money to make it a decent game is Fate of the World, the latest game from the team behind BBC 1’s Climate Challenge.

Only you can save the world!
The setup is pretty simple. You play as a multi-national governing body, set to help out the world by offering aid and setting political agendas for local governments. You need to keep their support and funding as the years go by while you also attempt to minimise the environmental changes. Each of the seven different scenarios require different things of you from raising the world’s HDI (human development index) to even playing the opposite role and sending the world to a fiery grave by raising the world temperature to a toast 6 degrees above pre-industrial.

Recruit your agents to help spread your influence.

The mechanics of the future
So how does all this work? Well the game takes place over a series of turns, each representing five years. To make a change in an area, the corporation has to deploy agents, each of which costs money. Each turn, an agent can use a card which represents one of several policy changes that can be enacted to change the world. As you tweak the world’s policies, they can change metrics such as population growth or literacy rate, but they also effect what the world thinks of your organisation. Neglect a region or make the wrong choices and they may cut you off, losing you a big chunk of funding and often causing you to fail a mission. Playing the right card in the right place at the right time is vital.

So is knowing what the heck each card does in a certain situation. The game is designed to be educational, but most of the learning has to be done in encyclopaedia included in-game. Unfortunately the tutorial is a little lacking (it’s the first campaign, focusing on Africa) so I recommend you read up before playing.

A vision of the future
Fate of the World is far from the best looking game on PC but it does have a certain style to it. The artwork is all really good in spite of the technology not being the best, but it presents itself with an easily readable interface that makes playing the game pretty simple. Most of the game’s events are relayed in either static artwork or talking heads, so expect to read quite a bit of text.

Play your cards right and we may not all be burnt to a crisp.

World music
The sound design is minimal to say the least. There is a little background music and that’s about it. It does the job and it doesn’t risk the bad voice acting that normally characterises this genre. However, the background music is really suitable for the game, giving an air of the far-reaching changes you have to make every turn and the various cultures you must preserve as you carry on.

To the future!
Overall, I really enjoyed playing through the challenges in Fate of the World. It makes learning about the possible events of the next few years interesting and actually enjoyable. Being told to save the world is something gamers are always told, this is one time where it’s not just about killing the bad guy. I heartily recommend it.

This review was originally posted on This Is My Joystick

Thoughts on… Dawn of War 2: Retribution

As a huge fan of both Warhammer 40,000’s Imperial Guard and games from Relic, it’s pretty much a given that I would love the latest expansion pack to Dawn of War II. This is an expansion pack which brings those weak, squishy masses of humankind to Relic’s tactical game. However, the game is also perhaps the best entry of the series, bringing all the races from all of the games and finally shedding some of the oddities that flawed the previous iterations.

For those gamers who don’t know, Warhammer 40,000 is a sci-fi universe set in the 41st Millennium, and is ravaged by war. It’s the perfect set-up for games, and Relic’s Dawn of War series has been the prime example in recent years.

For the Emperor… or not….
The latest game is set a few years after the events of the previous game Chaos Rising. Retribution has six campaigns (one for each race) that each tell a similar story but with each race’s slant. In fact, certain missions are exactly the same with only one or two racial differences. The plotline itself revolves around the events of the previous games and their effects throughout the system. Having played the previous games (including the original Dawn of War game from back in 2003) helps make some of the reveals that occur throughout the game really clever. The plot also doesn’t require much knowledge of the whole universe of Warhammer 40k, but fans will find some pretty decent winks and nudges in item names during the campaign, as well as some of the voice acting.

In the Far Future… THERE IS ONLY WAR!
Retribution continues on the gameplay originally laid out in Dawn of War II. In campaign, you control a small number of units and micromanage them in a way not too dissimilar to an RPG. The game relies a lot on the use of cover and suppression, with a heavy weapons team anchoring an assault while the rest of your team works their way towards an objective. Retribution moves away slightly from the small-scale warfare by letting you recruit other standard units mid-mission. You still have your heroes but they act singularly, with their accompanying squads. This is both good and bad; there is less of a gap between single and multiplayer but the increase in the number of units you control can be overwhelming, especially in the case of the Imperial Guard units, which are large and weak to damage. They require an awful lot of micromanagement in order to prevent them being shredded by heavy weapons and close combat specialists.

As well as the mid mission units, this entry in the series also changes some other aspects of gameplay. The main part of this change is the removal of two separate pools for abilities. Ammo is gone so all abilities (be they explosive packs or monstrous powers) use the same pool to limit usage. It ends up being that some ability combos that were so successful in the last game, such as the infiltrate/demo charge way of knocking out buildings, are harder to pull off quite so frequently. Similarly, the Tech Factories, Shrines and Orbital Relays are gone and replaced with simple resources, which when captured, grant you a large sum to spend on units. Instead of being given more heroes, you can instead replace three of the four main guys with honour guard units. These are better versions of base units which can be freely replaced when dead. Vehicle honour guards can only be replenished at the large reinforcement buildings which can limit their effectiveness.

This tank has 12 guns on it. Yes, 12 guns.

In terms of races, Retribution clocks in at a mighty six races, each with their own play style, unit selection and campaign items. The four races from the original game are all here; the balanced Space Marines, the range heavy Eldar, the hordes of Orks and the swarm of Tyranids (think Aliens). The Chaos Space Marines (evil versions of the Space Marines) are also present and they provide a more complex version of the standard Space Marines, with the inclusion of some more close combat inspired units coming to the fore. Finally the new race is the aforementioned Imperial Guard who are all about big blocks of weak ranged units mixed in with tanks. They are slower-paced and methodical than the other races, more suited to players used to the Company of Heroes games than any other race.

There are also a few other features worth mentioning. The first thing is that Retribution requires Steam and any boxed copy is simply an activation code. It also links into your steam account pretty heavily with a decent stats page displaying all the details of every single mode in addition to achievements. Additionally, players of previous versions of Dawn of War II which relied on Games for Windows Live can import their stats into the new game via a built in tool. Finally, it also comes with an Army Painter tool in the game which allows you create a paint scheme for multiplayer modes.

Visions of War
Dawn of War II runs on Relic’s own Essence engine, which is perhaps one of the most beautiful engines ever designed for RTS games. All of the units look just like their tabletop counterparts, and they all move and fight like you’d expect. Units fight with a definite weight to them, especially when jump pack infantry crash down on a target unit and send them flying. Some levels are punctuated with a great set of hand-painted vignettes to continue the story, which look quite striking and fit the gothic air of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The graphics can chug on lower end machines and I have noticed something slightly off with one or two lighting effects but apart from that it’s a damn good-looking game.

Do you hear the voices too?
I’m also a big fan of the sound effects in the game. The voice acting is spot on for each unit, with some great lines of dialogue (including guardsmen spouting “It’s dangerous to go alone, here take this!”). In addition, the combat sounds fantastic, with great explosions and gunfire effects. I’m not a huge fan of the in-game soundtrack though; although it perfectly suits the world, it isn’t memorable and can become pretty repetitive.

RPG or RTS, hmmm?

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer
Another big draw of the Dawn of War series is the multiplayer. It’s actually a very different beast to the single-player. Instead of controlling four teams RPG style, it’s a lot closer to Relic’s last game, Company of Heroes. You construct units and level up your base structure in order to build bigger and better units. There is a huge number of maps available to play and combined with the two modes (victory points and annihilate) means each battle is pretty different from the last. There are one or two issues. The main issue with it is that Company of Heroes does it all even better and is much more enjoyable. Additionally, the AI for multiplayer maps is rubbish as it spends most of its time sat in its base.

Perhaps of greater interest is the Last Stand mode. After selecting your hero (one for each race) you join up with two other players to fight back hordes of enemies ranging from millions of Tyranids to a small group of heroes who are the exact mirror image of your own team. It’s a great mode that also has its own progression. As you play and gain more experience, you unlock even more gear to outfit your hero with. I actually think this is the better mode of multiplayer, as opposed to the standard fare of the main multiplayer game, this is a much more unique mode. Also, the constant RPG progression is greater fun long-term than simply playing battle after battle.


The Final Judgement
Retribution is the best entry in the Dawn of War II series by far. It is an excellent package with a huge number of modes and races to play with. I thoroughly recommend it as despite its shortcomings in the standard multiplayer department, the campaign and Last Stand more than make up for it.

This review was originally posted on This Is My Joystick

05/08/2011 Update–Life, TV and Gaming

So this is a decent sized post. Sorry for not writing something sooner. So last time I wrote I was still waiting for my university results. Well, you’ll be pleased to know I’ve passed my first year at Teesside and I’ll be going back in September for round 2 for another year of coding, airsofting and student life. Aww yeah.

In other news, I’ve almost finished my two weeks off work. It been nice to have two weeks doing bugger all as opposed to the 9 to 5. Had a few drinks with old friends at home, sorted out a bank account for next year’s internet bills and had a good opportunity to sit back and relax.


I’ve got a load of TV and films to talk about. First up, I’ve now finished off watching The Wire all the way through. It’s been sat on my list of things to watch for a while – my parents watched it when shown way back when and absolutely loved it. It is an amazing achievement in TV – a series that lasted 5 seasons, maintaining the same cast throughout the whole time. The characters also feel like real people – no one is perfect yet no one is completely without some sort of charm.

I’m going to write up a proper thoughts on it soon, where I’ll go into detail on stuff rather than making this 4000 words long.


Game of Thrones is pretty damn great after watching it all the way through. It another reason to say that HBO (the makers of The Wire, The Pacific, Band of Brothers and Game of Thrones) are in fact the best network in the ‘States in terms of bang for buck. It an epic, realistic and gritty fantasy, worlds away from the high fantasy normally on TV. The cast is great (although seeing actors from The Wire pop up in similar roles were a little disturbing) with a great pace to the dialogue and action. My only issue with it was the point at it finished – the next series can’t turn up fast enough.


I’ve also just started watching Blue Bloods on the recommendation of my parents. It’s another US series that I’ve managed to get my Nanna to record off of Sky Atlantic. It feels like a half way point between the grittiness of The Wire and the absurdity of the CSI series now. It also has Donnie Wahlberg (Mark’s brother) who played perhaps one of the best character in Band of Brothers, Lipton. I’m looking forward to seeing some more.

Cole Phelps is a smug bastard

I’ve watched a little bit of Mad Men over these past few weeks which kind of links to the game I’ve been playing – L.A. Noire. I missed it out it first time round as I was up to my neck in university hand ins and exam (and possibly Brink) but still wanted to play. Critical reception is rather up and down – Giant Bomb (a site I love and whose viewpoint I normally agree with) really liked it but many others sound a little down, citing issues such as repetitiveness of the cases. However, I am thoroughly enjoying it. It the perfect game just to sit down and play during a long time off, especially with all the DLC cases added. At the moment, I’m just starting Vice (with slimebag Roy Earle) and looking forward to not having to deal with the Black Dahlia murders. Traffic is a great start, with a varied selection of events during the cases and not just a body being found. Homicide though are gripping cases, written together, stringing you along from murder to murder until the final riddle is solved. Its a shame much of the game part (shooting, driving and such) is not too good.

A Thoughts On will be coming before the end of the Summer once I finish all the cases. But remember folks…



So this weekend is Quakecon and as part of it Brink is free to play (get it now! Shoot fools! Parkour!). However, there is also a big old id/Bethesda pack for £50. Its well worth it, featuring both of the current Elder Scrolls games, Brink (if you don’t own it), all the Doom games, all the Quake games and some piles of shit (like Rogue Warrior or The Hunted). There are also a load of TF2 items included, my favourite being the one for the Sniper which is earned from Brink.

I have a big gapping hole in my games collection in terms of landmark games in the form of the Quake and Doom games. Having only now just got round to owning and playing them, I’m quite enjoying them. There are also some other gems such as the Cthulhu game which are tempting to play at some point. But first I have to shoot hell beasts from hell in the face with a shotgun.

And that’s it for now. I’m writing some more articles straight after this that should be up soon, so keep your eyes on this. In terms of what I’m up to, I’ll be camping on the 19th, away for the Ground Zero Weekender from the 25th until the 30th and then finishing off work in early September. I’ll be back in Middlesbrough on the 17th of September, ready and raring for Year 2.