On Tanks, Tanks and Tanks

PanzerClaus-21

So Christmas has passed. With this being so close to my 21st Birthday, a lot of my presents are counting for both as I asked for some quite expensive stuff. My main present (which I’ll cover in another post) has me really excited for airsoft this year – it should also get me to finally learn how to edit video rather than the flailing around I’ve done so far.

However, most of my holiday break has been dominated by those adorable armoured boxes design to murder other humans, tanks. I’ve been playing as them, watching them and today have started to build and later play with tiny ones.

Playing as tanks – World of Tanks

Up until this holiday, I have had a love – hate relationship with World of Tanks. On the one hand, its a game for people who loves themselves some accurately modelled tanks to a degree I have not seen before. On the other, its a game designed to sap either your money or your time from you which seems down right nasty. As such, I played it on and off, jumping in for a few rounds before stopping for months on end.

shot_001

However, Wargaming.Net have made a few changes recently with the introduction of the British tanks and a physics system. The first relates to my own knowledge of history – thanks to knowing how British tanks work, I know how to play them better than the experimental US tanks or the early war Russian tanks I have never heard of. I know that a Cruiser Mk IV with go super fast but have no armour while the sturdy Matilda will take rounds from most tanks without breaking a sweat but is slow as a sloth and its gun may as well be a marshmallow shooter.

The physics just make the game more of a game. Now when my Churchill busts through a wall and rams a Stuart right in the flank, it doesn’t just gently nudge it. Instead it flips it over, wreaking everyone’s tracks and knocking the poor little Stuart out of the game. It also lets tank drivers have fun with slopes, letting light tanks jump through the air when they get their speeds up. Games are more exciting with more crazy things happening.

384705_mir-tankov_xrebet_1920x1200

It also looks really good. A favourite map of mine is Dragon Ridge, a map whose sole point seems to be showing just how crap tanks are in the terrain of the Pacific Front. Large hills, perilous drops and some small villages make the map feel like Vietnam and lets tanks fail horribly by either falling (more often pushed) off cliffs or being surprised by a tank barrelling its way through a small town.

I can see myself playing a lot more World of Tanks over the next few months. I want to work all the way through the British tree before starting on the Yanks properly

Watching Tanks – Girls Und Panzer

I hate 90% of the world’s anime. Apart from a few exceptions such as Red Line or Gurran Lagan, anime is medium that I hate with a burning passion. Part of this is due to my dislike of anime tropes – Uppotte an anime all about guns which held promise makes me feel dirty watching thanks to its sexualisation of the female characters which are all school children. I felt wrong.

Girls-und-Panzer-St.-Gloriana-vs.-Oarai-Preparation

I’d seen mention of Girls Und Panzer all over the Flames of War forum and the /tg board and so was intrigued by it although not expecting great things from it. Instead, after watching an episode I found a series that avoided the usual Anime tone, instead focusing on well researched tank action combined with some half decent writing. Its still obviously Japan-anime but it doesn’t give me the need to go bleach my eyes after watching

The story is based around Tankery, a sport played between schools by their female students. The sport consists of battles between World War Two tanks from all the nations and it is considered to be a quintessential female skill along such things a flower arranging. There is a main plotline about the main school requiring themselves to win in order to stay open and there are the usual character plot lines but to be honest, this is just side stuff to some cool tank battles and in depth history of tanks. Seriously, they love themselves some tanks. Little touches such as references in the characters show just the level of detail they went to. I do also like the characters – there is some nice variety to them although the best is the STUG crew who all come from the History Club yet are terrible at it.

Overall, its actually one of the few anime I would recommend. Its very watchable with plenty of cool action and genuinely funny scenes.

Playing With Tanks – Flames of War

FWBX03

For quite a while I’ve been wanting to go back to table top wargaming. I’ve wanted to make some more models, enjoying the delight of gluing plastic together and then painting up them to look perfect. I had been looking for a while to pick up some Games Workshop figures (especially a Valkyrie) but was put off by the sheer price of each model.

As mentioned before, I’ve been slowly becoming more and more interested in World War 2 wargaming after a friend showed me Flames of War. After an intro game (Panzer IVs vs Stugs) I was hooked. It plays similarly to Warhammer 40k but at a much faster pace, with none of the focus on the slogging match that close combat becomes. Instead shooting combat is fast paced and deadly, with machine guns pinning troops while Shermans try to outflank the German heavies.

Open-Fire-02

I’d asked for the Open Fire set (the latest Flames of War intro box) for Christmas and thanks to my Sister and her Husband I’ve been given it. Inside is a ton of models, including a  US Airborne platoon (to be painted up as 82nd Airborne) and the core of a British Armoured Squadron including Shermans and Fireflys. The Germans get some Stugs, some Pak 40s and a platoon of German Grenadiers. On top of that, there is some nice rulebooks, a bucket load of tokens and some cardboard scenery to get you started.

As mentioned in my last post, I’ll be swapping the German stuff for more tanks and infantry to bring myself up to almost a 1500 point force, although missing some important stuff. I’m planning to pick up some M10 Achilles tank destroyers to act as a high speed flanking force and a 25pdr gun troop to lay smoke and blat my opponents infantry into the ground.

Pulling out the models I have gave me an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia back to the Airfix kits I used to make. Using the same tools as last time, I’ve been cutting off flash and preparing them for assembly and enjoying the tactile feel of assembling them. I’m actually looking forward to painting them up and trying to improve my skills at it. Its something else to do in the evening apart from programming.

And that is it on tanks and stuff for now. I’ll be putting some photos of my assembled models up online once I’ve made them and I’ll keep you up to date on everything. I’ll also be posting up something in the next few days about my big Christmas present. Keep your eyes peeled!

On History and Influences

So I am now at home from uni for three weeks (Already a week down). I have a mountain of work to do (primarily my Games Device Programming and FYP projects), got all the Christmas things to do and will be spending some of it tidying through my room which despite having moved out of for most of two years is still full of all my stuff. I had a great flush of emotions when looking around, remembering things from the old game boxes to the Warhammer figures scattered everywhere. I’m tempted to put a few of these up on a self-indulging “This Is Where I Came From” thing.

Part of this links to something I was thinking about whilst my Aunt and Uncle visited last weekend as a sort of Christmas celebration/youngest cousin’s birthday. My Uncle Mike actually introduced me to computer gaming way back in mid to late ’90’s. Visiting him would always be a treat – driving down south to go see him and my aunt, having a nice home cooked meal, often Italian styled in their lovely house. But the highlight was jumping on his computer to play the latest and greatest games that had just been released. I’ve written in great detail about him and his effect on my life elsewhere.

No, the game I’ve been thinking about more and more over the past few weeks has been Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far, released in 1997. For those of you who don’t know, this is a WW2 strategy game focused on the battles that raged during Operation Market Garden, an operation that aimed to win the war by Christmas 1944. The plan was an ambitious one – drop Airborne troops from both the US and Great Britain onto three strategic bridges across the Rhine in Holland. These units would then be relieved by XXX Corps, a British formation that would steam up the main roads in order to open a route across the Rhine and into Germany. Unfortunately, it was a catastrophe. From bad weather to the plans falling into the German’s hands to a string of bad luck, everything seemed to go wrong. The plan itself was also a tad ambitious due to it requiring the British to push down one thin highway within four days covering a huge distance through territory perfect for tank ambush. The game itself modelled everything letting me dip into single battles, whole operations or even attempt the Grand Campaign – the capture of all three major bridges from Eindhoven to Arnhem. Sadly, it would take me up until last year before I finally managed to beat history and link up with the British Paras.

Market Garden is really a perfect example of history filled with what-ifs and maybes. It has a bucket load of personal stories from those of the British 1st Airborne surrounded and fighting to the last round in the ruins around their objective at Arnhem or to the Germans who had, up until a few weeks before, been falling back to Germany after the collapse of their defence in France following the Falsie pocket. There are great stories of triumph yet under pinning it all is a great tragedy – the failure of this plan really hammered home the fact that the war wasn’t going to be over by Christmas.

It really inspired me and grabbed my interest in both the military and history in general. Without this game I probably wouldn’t have spent the vast amount of time I have on History, doing it at both A Level and GCSE. The only reason I didn’t do it at university was because I wanted it as my hobby – something that I can go back to and enjoy looking through outside of my studies. My interest in history has taken me places – WW2 Airsoft is mostly about the airsoft but also a little bit about living some history. Many of the game ideas I want to develop for have some basis in history or the military as it’s something I enjoy researching.

Anyway, all this talk of Market Garden has inspired me to take up Flames of War as a hobby that will take me away from staring at a screen all day. Thanks to some chatting with my friend I can now confirm we will be doing a swap of stuff from the Open Fire box leaving my starting British Armoured Company with a total of 12 Shermans, 4 Fireflies and two US Airborne platoons. All I need now is a set of Achilles 17pdr tank destroyers and a 25pdr battery box set and I’ll have a completed army list. This is something that will take a while to happen thanks to both its cost and the sheer amount of painting I’ll need to do. But I’m looking forward to it – I’m not a natural painter but I find it nice and relaxing. Now where did I leave my paint brushes from back in the Warhammer days…

I’m going to try and do a few more posts before the year is out, as well as updating my work diary and showing off some of my programming. Until then, have a great Christmas everyone!

On University Work, Video Games and Airsoft

First up I need to apologise if things are a little different around here – I’m switching my blog writer from Windows Live Writer to Word and I’m having a look at the theme I’m currently using. Due to this, things may look a little off or be flat out broken so I’m sorry for that.

Well, December has started and that means we are getting pretty close to my Christmas break. Thanks to Uni deciding to give us a “workshop week” which all the tutors are apparently ignoring, I get to come home for Christmas on the 15th. However, my Christmas break is going to be full of work for various subjects. One part I’ve managed to hand in already (a hardware investigation in the Caanoo) but I also have a few more things to do. Having handed in a full prototype of my AGD project we are now carrying on and preparing to finalise the first handin – my role at this point is primarily to change Kismet prototyping into actual Unrealscript. I’m really excited about this project still even though UnrealScript is not a language I am a great fan of.

One of the major things I am working is my final year project – after a few setbacks, I’ve finally got my project specification approved. I’m going to be doing a focused hardware investigation into the Google Nexus 7, looking at just what it can do in terms of both hardware and software. The aim is to produce a handy guide to developers, effectively a cheat sheet into just what the Nexus 7 can offer. At the end of this, I’ll also be coding two separate versions of the same game – one in Java as a standard app and the other using Unity (all depending on if I can get a Unity Android license). I’m really looking forward to continuing on this project. I’ve done a little bit of Android development before this but this will be a good chance to improve my skill set. That’s partly why I’m doing one of the games in Unity, having already covered UDK in my Advanced games development work. I’ve started work on my game’s design already – the aim is to make it simple, so I have plenty of time to work on both versions.

Despite being hard at work most of the time I’ve had a chance to play a few games recently.

The biggest one has to be that I managed to play Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (picture above is the TSU guys at the Black Ops 2 launch). As I’ve said before, I quite enjoy the singleplayer on Call of Duty despite how scripted it may be. Black Ops 2 doesn’t disappoint – it is the usual full blast explosive summer action blockbuster you’d expect. It’s certainly more exciting than last year’s lacklustre Modern Warfare 3. The combination of ’80’s conflicts and the events of 2025 (one affecting the other) is a nice idea, giving two different styles of missions in quick succession. There are a few cracking missions in there – one of the earlier ones has you climbing along a cliff thanks to Mission Impossible style climbing gloves which is simultaneously stupid and amazing. I also like the pre-mission loadout menu – there are quite a few weapons (such as sniper rifles) I never use in Call of Duty games and its nice to not be forced into them at the start of each mission. Obviously there are occasions when they are given to you for a reason but an assault rifle with a scope does the job fine 75% of the time. In fact the weapons are some of the standout parts of Call of Duty once again – even with the all the future stuff all the guns sound, looks and are animated fantastically. I’m a big fan of the Target Finder which is a red dot scope that highlights targets within the scopes sight range making it handy for the ever present cloud of muck that is thrown up in every mission.

The problem I have is the story – it’s a little bit fragmentary thanks to the multiple choices. It also feels just like the Dark Knight Rises – replace Raoul with Bane and you have the blockbuster film of the summer. It also rapidly loses pace as the game comes to an end despite the fact the game starts to ramp up for the finale. It’s also obvious it’s from the team who filled the Reichstag with hand grenades – enemies like covering you with RPGs and semtex on nearly every single level. This makes some of the levels REALLY annoying. Overall though, the singleplayer is pretty fund and the little I’ve played of Zombies/Multiplayer it’s competent and well built. And that’s the problem – Call of Duty is just competent now rather than the heights it reached with Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2.

I’ve also had a quick play of Hotline Miami. If you haven’t heard anything about it, it’s an indie game that feels like a Drive: The Top Down Shooter. It’s stylish as anything, with a ’80’s retro colour palette and a sweet soundtrack yet at the same time it is brutally difficult. Make a single mistake and BAM you’re down. Nearly every weapon is single shot kill and you’re enemies are fast and brutal. I’ve only played a little bit but I’m really enjoying it

As always, I’ve got something airsoft related to mention. I had the pleasure of going down to a WW2 battle weekend game near London which was one of the best airsoft weekends I’ve played in. Unfortunately, camping in November is one thing I will not be doing again in a hurry – things are going bad when you realise the inside of the tent is coated with ice. In terms of the play, I had a blast of the weekend rolling around on top of an armoured jeep blasting away with the .30cal. It was a very different weekend to Greenback but was nice to have WW2 weekend which all about pitched battles rather than roleplay. Was also good to chill out with some of the Dog Co guys again – they are a really good group of guys to hang around with and share a beer with.

I’m going to try and post a little more (I’ve realised I’ve only done posts once a month) and I’ll most certainly be doing something over Christmas to do with a recap of the year. But in the meantime, enjoy.