Sunday, 3 April 2016

Call of Statham

Steam are/were offering the original Call of Duty and after my visits to the Verdun I thought it only best to dust off my original copy of the game and take a trip down memory lane. 

There were some issues with this, see DRM below. 

However once I got it running I was again sucked into the story and missions. The graphics haven't dated well, the maps are somewhat predictable however the game play is still there. You still rush around frantically attempting to fend the Germans away from the bridge you captured. At these points the scripted game play that makes these single player shooters make sense. Sure PvP makes the experience more varied but it doesn't tell a story. I think Call of Statham (why wasn't he used more on this) was perhaps one of the first games to attempt to immerse the playing in a cinematic story style situation. I think this is why the game-play still stands up today. On the downside it did waste at least 3 hours of my life in both game-play and sorting out the issues with getting it running on Windows 10. Still happy memories.

Microsoft, in an attempt to distance itself from these slightly outdated games wearing the equivalent of a purple tank top and flared trousers, has decided to ignore the DRM (Digital Rights Management) that let you play them. So if you buy this from Steam I would think it's a nicely adjusted version that no longer has the DRM activated. If you buy from GoG then you've bypassed the whole DRM problem, they're sensibly against such things. If you went and actually gave the original publishers your money then you are in a bit of a problem. This problem took me awhile to figure out. This wasn't due to the information not being out there but more because there appears to be a number of issues that stop the game from running. Most posts seemed to cover issues with ATI graphics cards but as I don't have one of these at present this was quickly discounted. Many suggested downloading nHancer which seems to be a tool that lets you play with your nVidia settings. This didn't seem to be the issue either as the game simply wouldn't start, no errors, no event log messages just nothing. It was only when I read some of these articles ( ) that I realized the problem

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Crimes against humanity and other hobbies

For the past month I've been battling across the fields of northern Europe on the first person shooter Verdun by Blackmill games. I say fields however they're mostly mud, craters and hell. 

In terms of game play many of the mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has played a PC first person shooter. It's a squad based shooter where different squad members get different weapons choices. You expend energy when you run and have to wait for it to recover. You can stand, crouch or go prone. In many ways it shares some of the good parts of second world war based DoD (Day of Defeat). DoD herds players down a number of tight well planned routes on a fairly restricted map in order to keep the game play exciting and contact with the enemy to a maximum. Verdun give you a much more open map on a somewhat larger scale. To ensure the action stays focused the main game mode ensure that you are either defending a sector or attacking a sector. This effectively marks a large portion of the total map as no go areas. Indeed if you venture into them for too long you are shot for desertion. It's always good to know that the game deterrent functionality is staying in character. The other departure from the somewhat cheerful run and gun that is DoD is the lack of tight cross hairs, it's all aimed at using iron sights. I'm fairly certain that guns aren't made of iron but we're talking about looking the right way down the barrel of the gun. You do get a cross hair but unless you are looking down the gun it's so wide that you are as likely to hit the sky as the person standing 2 meters away. 

Verdun is a team game as well as a squad game. You need to perform as a team to achieve the goal of taking territory. Once you fail at that you are forced to work as a team to defined your territory. If you want to just show up and murder you way to heroic status on your own then this probably isn't the game for you. Mainly as I will find you and I will kill you, or at least Liam Neeson would. This leads nicely onto one feature I miss from DoD, the ability to shoot team mates. If the game mechanics can court marshal players for wondering off map I should be able to "motivate" them to actually attack during an attacking phase. Often the difference between the winning side and the losing side is the amount of snipers and machine gunners on that side. Where as in most other games a high number of these type of players meant success in Verdun it often means failure. You can get stuck on a side where you are the only person moving forward and there is no mechanic or way of getting them moving. One of the reasons of this lack of forward movement is that the game is pretty punishing to the uninitiated. The first hour of play will be a case of putting your head above the trenches to see the enemy only to watch you character slump to the ground with a bullet to the head. During defense it's often best to wait for your enemy to advance to your position however you will then learn that mortars and mustard gas are a fairly large health hazard. Gas interestingly is something you can inflict on your own team or self if you have the desire. Mortars on the other hand don't seem to effect your team but will send you skywards if you call the shots down on our location.

Gas and chemical agents are not something that have appeared much as a usable form of warfare in many games. It's interesting that people will happily sink the enemy lines in a cloud of noxious yellow without a thought. Anything to gain that advantage and end this terrible war. Except the war doesn't end, you get transported to the next hell hole and made to fight on.

All in all I enjoyed my time in these drab places. The punishing game mechanics do give you a sense of achievement when you manage to actually get some kills. After each game a number of rewards are handed out.

  • Most distance retreated
  • Most time spent crouched
  • Longest shot
  • etc

From this you gain experience and at the moment all that seems to count for is you can unlock other weapons for other characters. There are a few little problems however. Firstly I spent a lot of time getting stuck on random parts of scenery. As displayed below is that happy time when I got caught up in three shovel handles and shot in the head.

Secondly there are a few graphical anomalies. Several maps feature a random set of character parts floating ominously in the sky. Below you can see a floating machine gun.
If you happen to get your gas mask on at the right time you are granted the somewhat strange experience of your head floating off above the battle field at the end of the match.

Finally some of the models are a little wonky. Here is an example of when I was killed by [5x]Jarnac who appeared to be doing some fine Irish dancing on the trench wall. Possibly justified.

Keep calm and carry on, this war can't go on forever!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

5 meetings, 2 test loads and a partridge in a pear tree

A bank holiday weekend is looming and I've managed to survive the many project meetings that have occurred today. Here is what I learnt.

1. If your managing an enterprise project with a lot of different players then it's crucial that they collaborate. Seems crushingly obvious but once them and us culture kicks in then it's a really difficult climb out of that ditch.

2. I'm not going to get time to get my haircut.

3.Everyone needs a clear understanding of scope and goal. If not then it encourages fracturing of the team which leads to a them and us culture.

4. There should be a clear language and comprehension of terms for everyone involved. I'm not in favour of needless documents but if I have to sit in any other meetings where the people talking about testing all have different ideas on the meanings of unit, system, integration, user acceptance, operational acceptance and business readiness testing then I will cry. Especially when half the people think they're all the same thing and the other half are desperately trying not to as why we're doing any of them.

5. I shouldn't eat lunch at my desk but the prospect of rain is enough to dissuade me from leaving the office.

6. Multiple heads may work if your name is Zaphod or you are a Hydra but if you are running a programme of projects and have at least three different decision making committees all looking at subtly different yet overlapping aspects of the project then you are doomed to have the same sort of repetition that Top Gear experiences on Dave.

7. When pressed for time it's attractive to focus on the happy scenario's and ignore the parts that could go wrong. Drill down until you are happy you've covered the lot. Don't cut corners.

8. People, like water, nearly always follow the path of least resistance. Obnoxious processes will either block things like a dam or will cause people to find alternate routes. Obnoxious processes usually hide a deficiency, hunt down the person who created it and understand what the cause is. Resolve the problem rather than legislate around it.

9. It a bank holiday weekend. Get the work done and get out.

10. Lists always seem to need 10 things in  them. Especially if they're on Flipboard.