Wednesday 22 January 2014

Why I should avoid rumour site comments

(I'll catch real shit for this, but screw it... )

So over the last few weeks I have been following along with increasing mirth to rumours that Bretonnia will be phased out of Warhammer because this is the secret reason their metal and finecast kits have been removed from the GW web store. The rumour was recently expanded to include Wood Elves, Beastmen and Tomb Kings and now it's the turn of Dwarfs.

No, seriously, no. I thought this was silly with Bretonnians. I thought it was bafflingly absurd when the list was expanded to include two armies that received updates within the last four years. Now that one of the four principle races of Warhammer is involved... well, you see that image at the top of the post?

The simple fact is that there is a predictable cycle of fan panic attack that surrounds these things and this is how it goes, using recent Dwarf events as a guideline:

Event 1: Rumours of a new release for army X, probably started in part by GW itself to test the waters on the idea. In the case of Dwarfs rumours surfaced in November that they'd be early this year (pegged as January rather than February but these things aren't 100%).

Event 2: Games Workshop's online store removes listings for redundant and outdated models in that army, usually white metal and finecast kits. GW is currently working to phase out finecast and white metal is actively obsolete as they destroyed the casting equipment some time ago. In this case Dwarf Hammerers and Ironbreakers have disappeared, both super-expensive fincast 5-man rank sets. (Not Slayers, which worries me).

Event 3: Opinion is divided straight down the middle with one half of commenters forgetting Event 1 and commencing the wailing and gnashing of teeth that the army is being phased out or “Squatted” in the parlance. The other half, remembering Event 1, advise caution and point out that this happens for just about every release, especially for those armies that have large numbers of kits still in metal and finecast. This second half speculates about what might be in the release and how the army might be added to in new and characterful ways.

Event 4: The first half berate the second half as being “GW apologists”, “hopelessly naive” and bang on about how GW thinks of nothing but “destroying their hobby”. Intemperate language is employed by both sides. The first half claim that X army doesn't make enough money and so “must” be on the way out. The second half point out that under that logic GW would cease production of anything except Space Marines who make up 70% of their revenue. The first half then moves on to how Fantasy will be dropped entirely, how every release in the last two years has been completely botched and how GW will go out of business soon but don't worry their mate has a friend who has a cousin who has a Kickstarter that will totally do things better than GW ever could and be as big within a few years!

Event 5: The army gets a new release. Kits are released to replace the ones taken down from the online store. There is rejoicing in the streets, livestock is slaughtered in celebration and in a comment section somewhere the heart of a doomsayer breaks a little more.


Tuesday 21 January 2014

UKIP weather reports on Twitter

Okay, this whole business when an MP from UKIP declared that the flooding of the past few months was God's punishment for the UK government passing a gay marriage law.

This ignores the fact that we've had severe flooding every winter for at least the last five years and all the anti-homosexual stuff in the Bible is from the Old Testament alongside the rules about not touching pig skin, keeping the Sabbath on a Friday on pain of death and explicit legal dispensation to sell your children into slavery.

Yet we keep being told the anti-gay stuff is still relevant? Seriously, guys, if this stuff is actually important to your world view you should read it properly not just cherrypick the bits that confirm your own prejudices.

Anyway, the picture at the top of the post hit Facebook the next day and now some brilliant joker has started a UKIPWeather Twitter. It is hilarious and I recommend it to anyone who likes a laugh. 

Monday 20 January 2014

What's wrong (and right) with Bretonnia

Under no circumstances am I even going to
attempt to paint that heraldry!
So the “scrapping of Bretonnia” rumour is doing the rounds again, this time enhanced by the idea that Wood Elves, Beastmen and Tomb Kings are getting the chop as well. I'm not going to dwell on this because it is bollocks, doubly bollocks when you consider two of those ranges were given substantial numbers of new models within the last four years so let's point and laugh at that idea and move on.

Finished pointing and laughing? Good, let's start.

Another rumour that did the rounds a few months ago was that Bretonnia was getting a new Army Book some time about Quarter 3 of this year so I decided to start a new army in anticipation. Sadly, a lot of the range went out of production whilst my back was turned but I'm choosing to interpret that positively as GW running down soon-to-be redundant stock instead of negatively as a conspiracy to “destroy my hobby!”.

But what would a new Bretonnia book do? The current book will be ten years old next month and whole editions have come and gone in the mean time so a few odd relics of ages past remain that could do with updating.

Before we move on I should warn you that I'm going to do something I've often said in comment threads was stupid: I'm going to compare Bretonnia to The Empire. I want to qualify this hypocrisy by saying that in the past I've warned against this because commenters on rumour sites who themselves say they don't play Fantasy believe the Bretonnian army could be absorbed into The Empire. This is also bollocks: differences play styles, formations, special rules and background scream against the idea. Points costs, however, are based on statistical usefulness and game balancing so the also-human Empire makes a good point of comparison to propose theories against.

All settled? Let's talk crunch:

Lords and Heroes

Characters for the most part are rather reasonably pointed and I was pleasantly surprised to see a Bretonnian Lord has a couple of superior stats to a General Of The Empire (+1 Weapon Skill, +1 Initiative and +1 Attack, as it happens) for only 15 extra points. Eminently reasonable. Paladins and Damsels are similarly reasonable against their Empire equivalents so the only over-priced one seems to be the Prophetess who is 25 points more than a Battle Wizard Lord with a lower Toughness.

What might need a bit of fixing are the Virtues: extra traits you can buy for your knightly characters, some of which are useful, some of which are useless and some of which are blatantly broken. This is no one's fault, edition changes have simply wreaked their customary havoc.

My personal favourite bug bear is the fact that to have a great weapon your knight character has to have the Questing Vow but you have to pay extra for the great weapon on top of the Vow.

Core Knights

Not over-priced, in spite of what people have said to me. Knights Errant are 20 points, Knights Of The Realm are 24. Empire Knights come in at 22 points and I'll take either Bretonnian choice over them any day. The lance formation gives you a bucket of extra attacks. In a lance of nine knights (three wide, three deep) you get the full attacks of seven knights and their mounts plus one supporting attack from the guy in the middle.

Knights Errant, whilst statistically inferior to Empire Knightly Orders in several regards are Immune To Psychology after charging but I have one complaint: the Impetuous rule. If you're in theoretical charge range you have to take a Leadership test to restrain the urge to charge headlong at the enemy. Unfortunately the theoretical charge distance of Knights Errant is 20 inches and that means your enemy cam easily bait you into maximum distance charges to get you nicely out of position and then slam into your flanks.

Whilst we're on the subject, though, I'll take the current lance formation over the old arrowhead idea any day.

Grubby Working Class Yobbos

It was recently pointed out to me that Men-At-Arms are, statistically speaking, Vampire Counts Skeleton Warriors with higher leadership. That's all, really, they're fine, so are the Peasant Bowmen so all that needs noting is that we could really do with plastic Mounted Yeomen and it'd be nice to have Men-At-Arms with the spear option included on the kit.

A Modest Proposal Towards Pegasus Knights

This is a big one because one of the most feared units in our little gaming club are Matt's Demigryph Knights. In light of The Empire's monstrous cavalry being a full 3 points more expensive than mine I humbly submit that one or both of the following measures need to be employed:

One: Give Pegasus Knights the option for barding and therefore a 2+ save. The barding is on the model so it won#t necessitate a re-sculpt.

Two: Give them 3 Wounds. This is absolutely standard for monstrous cavalry and infantry these days.

Beyond that I have no complaints. Questing Knights stand up well and, in all honesty, I never used Grail Knights so I can't vouch for their effectiveness. The Field Trebuchet remains an immensely powerful stone thrower by anyone's standards and I hope it stays as is for the next edition.

So, all in all, a fairly solid army even now so GW can spend more time working out cool new shit for them than bringing their rules into line with anything more than a few token additions and subtractions.

Fingers crossed. 

Sunday 19 January 2014

Campaign Divergence: the House Harkonnen soundtrack

Yesterday Matt, Tom, Dave and I got together for a day of fast-paced 1000 points games (results: two wins to Matt, one to me) and as usual we had some music on in the background. Hans Zimmer's Gladiator soundtrack is a perennial favourite, ditto Howard Shore's The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit soundtracks.

Then it was Tom's turn to fight Matt and he had an idea: alternating soundtracks turn by turn. He was playing Matt so in Matt's turns the soundtrack was Hans Zimmer's Gladiator and Tom pulled up Youtube and started playing the soundtrack from the game Emperor: Battle ForDune.

The section we're interested in (though I do like the opening Atriedes tracks) are the Harkonnen campaign tracks by David Arkenstone starting at 1:11:30. For those not familiar with the franchise Dune is a planet where a future empire mines the most precious substance in the universe. One of the noble families doing the mining are the Harkonnens who are all various shades of evil: the duke is a sex criminal, his son is a maniac, his nephew is a sadist and their planet is an industrial hell of slavery and gladiatorial combat between healthy nobles and malnourished, untrained slaves.

And they have a bitchin' soundtrack.

Tom has been using it as painting music whilst working on his Nuln army. A heavy industrial sound dominates most of the tracks which works for the forge of the Empire. For me the harsh sounds, especially the inhuman wailing in the background of Tribute To Evil, made me think about resurrecting my Dark Elves. Other highlights include The Machine which has a baseline that makes me think of heavily armoured elite troops stamping down a street in occupied territory.

In spite of being a MIDI-heavy electronic soundtrack it's quite atmospheric and perfectly captures the character of the House Harkonnen and well worth a look if you want inspiration music for a project concerning very nasty people.

Though it has to be mentioned that my game against Tom which involved farcical miscasts on both sides, a close-to-mutual tabling and my Necromancer army chasing his around the board would have been quite atmospherically accompanied by Yakety Sax

Saturday 18 January 2014

Hobby Vows passed and failed

Hobby Vow Tracker
Passed: 1
Failed: 1

Last week I set myself two hobby vows. One I passed, one I failed but I can content myself that the one I failed wasn't through laziness.

I failed to paint my three Necromancers but not through lack of effort but rather because for most of the last week I've had a stinking cold and not been motivated to do anything, plus I left my army case at a friend's house and so I didn't have them readily to hand for most of the week.

I have succeeded in the other vow, however, and have not only a colour scheme but theme and self-written background for my new Bretonnian army.

The army will be (predominantly) from the duchy of Artois. It's general, the one I am converting from King Louen Leonceour, will be Sir Merovech of the Quest. This is one of the lords whose heraldry is set out in the Army Book. As it turns out Merovech is the name of a semi-legendary Frankish king from around the 450s AD so I'll read up on him to see if there's anything I can blatantly poach.

The idea at the moment is that Merovech has finished his Quest (and so I won't have to do too much cosmetic surgery on his hippogryph) and has been named by the king as Warden of Artois. Most of Artois is covered by the Forest of Arden so I imagine the people are under constant attack from Beastmen, Goblins, bandits, Orcs, Skaven and feral squirrels. Artois also shared a substantial border with Mousillon, home of Bretonnia's Undead. Thus the king has appointed a warden to co-ordinate the entire military might of the duchy. It allows me to include any units I want without the limitations put on me by saying the army is on crusade.

As to the next two vows:

Vow the Practical
Build the contents of my Bretonnia Batallion. It might look like a lot for a week but the Peasants are actually quite easy.

Vow the Theoretical
Plan out the conversion for Merovech himself. As said above I've decided against making him a Questing Knight because I've seen some amazing conversions using Leonceour's body and a lance. Not sure what I'll do with the Questing Lord body I have spare now but I've seen some very nice kitbashes on the Google Image Search sitting him on a Pegasus.

Though I do feel that perhaps taking a flying mount on the Quest is rather cheating a bit. 

Friday 17 January 2014

Fairy Tail, my new slightly guilty pleasure

Anime has never been a big fandom for me. I've watched, even enjoyed, my fair share (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the Studio Gibli films) but by and large as an art form it passes me by. I blame Studio Gibli, to be honest, once you've seen Spirited Away there's really nowhere to go but down, is there?

Anyway, Fairy Tail and why I think of it as a bit of a guilty pleasure. You see, I'm as guilty as any non-fan of mocking long-form anime's tropes: fanservice episodes, filler, overblown magic attacks hyper-competent child protagonists... well, the whole series structure of Naruto, basically.

Yes, Naruto, which isn't as bad as a lot of non-fans make it sound but does have systemic flaws. Most of these can be put down to it being a long-form anime based on a long-form manga that's still running. Filler arcs, flashbacks and over-extended fight scenes are a necessary evil to stop the anime overtaking the manga. It makes the pacing of the series brutal, though.

Yet here I am about to extol the virtues of a series that, on the surface, is rather similar. Fairy Tail is about a guild of wizards who take jobs from the civilian population, usually combat-oriented, for money. This structure is basically indistinguishable from Naruto's Leaf Village set-up. The core cast are three young wizards from the guild: Natsu, Lucy and Gray. Natsu and Gray have a passive-aggressive rivalry that turns just aggressive-aggressive at random intervals (see also Naruto and Sasuki) and Lucy is the outwardly least mature, least competent character who muddles her way to success (either early Naruto or Sakura, depending on your reading of the character).

Where things differ is that Fairy Tail takes a very Carry On approach to its characters' roles.

The Carry On films, if you've not heard of them, were a series of film parodies that ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. Each one takes a known genre, populates it with all the expected characters but plays them all for laughs. I saw one over Christmas that was a parody of a Foreign Legion movie and had Kenneth Williams as the Camp Commandant (I know, not too obvious) and he played the part with a ridiculous German accent except in private the character spoke with Williams' normal voice because the character was an Englishman putting on a stereotypical German accent because that's what a Foreign Legion Commandant is “meant” to sound like. Having a strict German officer in charge of a Foreign Legion outpost isn't even a joke, it's a trope and that's where the gag comes from.

So we have Lucy, our blonde, busty, over-sexualised heroine who is also a powerful wizard of the summoner type except whenever she tries to get her way through flirting or flashing her cleavage it turns out the other character just doesn't fancy her. We have Natsu, who is constantly bigged up as the most powerful fire mage anyone who fights him has ever seen except that he keeps being floored by horrendous motion sickness. We have Gray, the attractive young man you'd expect to get shirtless every now and again for fanservice but who doesn't need any contrived plot reason to do so, he just continuously and randomly strips as a running gag. Literally, the shot will leave him for a moment then turn back to him in his boxers or less for no explained reason.

Then there's the Fairy Tail Guild itself, which is based out of a pub and whose members have a reputation for collateral damage above and beyond the call of duty, drunken behaviour and general rowdiness. One character, Mirajane, is apparently a powerful and famous mage but instead of the sort of epochal destiny you'd expect such a character to have her ambitions don't seem to run to more than running the bar and doing a bit of glamour modelling on the side.

The resulting series is fun and utterly charming. I doubt I'll sit through the full 170+ episodes but its a better than decent way to waste twenty minutes between bits of housework.

(This post is indebted to Philip Sandifer and his scientific breakdown ofhow Carry On films work from his TARDIS Eruditorum series). 

Thursday 16 January 2014

Please, take a moment to thank your CS telephone operative

So today I had reason to phone the town council. The reason being I've recently moved house (I may have mentioned or, more accurately, have transcribed several tantrums during the process) and I had to sort out my council tax. I thought I'd already done it but it seemed my lettings agent and I were working at cross purposes so the balance of my old account wasn't incorporated into my new account. Consequence: £296 owed to the council that I shouldn't owe.

I phoned them, had a short conversation with a very efficient young woman and the long and the short of it is my council tax is, as I originally assumed, paid up for the year. What's more my old account had a credit of “249 pounds on it from the first year I lived on my own when I didn't know about single persons' discount so next year's council tax bill will only be about £500.

I reiterated the result verbally to her to make sure, we had come to the agreement I thought we had and then I took a moment to thank her properly:

I just have to say you've been brilliant. I was kind of dreading this phone call but you've been great and I just wanted you to know that. I know you must get a lot of grief doing this job and I want you to know I really appreciate your work.”

The sad thing is that she was really, really grateful for my gratitude. That's just sad. So the next time you have a good customer service experience by phone, just take a moment to let your CS operative know that you appreciate their work on your behalf. Yes, it's their job but that's no reason not to tell them they're good at it (especially after they save you £796).

Now I'm going to go on Youtube and watch old episodes of The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show to make sure the day continues to unfold upon lines of fluffy niceness. 

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Tzeentch's Advocate: White Dwarf Changes

Yes, I've decided to give my “Games Workshop reaction” posts a title. Perhaps one day I'll even work out what to do with it. Anyway..., the long running Games Workshop magazine White Dwarf is changing and having spoken to a local GW employee I'm rather exciting to see where this goes. Basically there'll be two magazines now: one weekly, one monthly.

The weekly will take the White Dwarf name and a significant reduction in page count. 32 pages for £2.40 (the price, the GW website reminds us, of a pot of Citadel paint) and will have some new columns, the week's releases, painting guides and new game rules. So, yes, weekly releases are go, the rumour being two weeks in a typical four week month going to GW models/rule books, one week for Forge World, one for Black Library.

Sounds good. It's the game rules being included that might be interesting: flimsy print versions of Dataslates, perhaps? Pilots for later collection are also a possibility as the various flier rules that later got collected together to be Death From The Skies.

The monthly will be Warhammer Visions and here we get to the metaphor of two traders breaking up the business. White Dwarf Weekly gets the name and goodwill while Warhammer Vision gets the truck, the tools and the address book of repeat customers.

Or, to be more literal, they get Standard Bearer, Blanchitsu, Paint Splatter and Army Of The Month. No word on Jeremy Vetock's column but I live in hope. Actually, I live in hope that in one of these magazine they'll bring back Mike Walker and the Reverend Jeff Leong, the best columnists White Dwarf ever knew.

Visions weighs in at an amazing 236 pages per issue for £7.50 and there's even more extra content than it sounds like because the store directory is being cut from the magazine because it's been useless ever since the internet got its act together.

I'll get the first copy of both on February 1st but I'm almost certain that the new White Dwarf will be an occasional purchase and Visions will be my regular fix. It sounds like Visions will be the more hobby-focussed and Low Fat White Dwarf will be the gaming focussed one and we all know where my heart lies. 

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Sod Skyrim, I got Sonic & Knuckles!

Okay, I got the Xbox but my friend Matt couldn't find the copy of Skyrim but he did have another game for me: the Mega Drive Ultimate Collection. Ladies and gentlemen, the soundtrack to my childhood:

Okay, I have a console powerful enough to render 3D graphics, soundtracks involving voice acting and games that can last me weeks but, you know what? I've forty 16-bit games from my childhood and that's enough to keep me amused for a while. Who knows, after twenty years I might even be able to finish Sonic The Hedgehog 3?

Yes, shamefully I have never got further than the Carnival Night Zone and some day I might have to admit to myself I never will but that is not this day!

Plus Ecco The Dolphin and Ecco II: The Tides Of Time. The comic adaptation in Sonic The Comic ended before I got to find out who was behind the shenanigans in Tides Of Time so that's worth playing if only to settle a dangling plot thread that hasn't bothered me since about 1996. Plus there are a load of Phantasy Star games which I hope have a save function because 16-bit RPGs were the most frustrating things ever when they didn't have that option.

Sonic 3D's on there but they couldn't all be winners, I suppose. 

Monday 13 January 2014

Canon conflict? This is a job for Big Finish!

This screencap was taken from the 50th anniversary episode The Day Of The Doctor, just a random prop photo on the UNIT noticeboard full of companions, a completely non-canon mash-up of UNIT Captain Mike Yates and First Doctor Companion Sara Kingdom, Space Security Agent.

Come on, Big Finish, you know you want to explain this one. It's a new Sara Kingdom story, you know it makes sense.

Well, it doesn't and that the point. This is a mad combination of Third and First Doctor era characters but it would certainly be damn entertaining. 

Sunday 12 January 2014

Current generation gaming: an outsider's perspective

So in a couple of days I'll be handing over £30 pounds to my friend Matt and getting an XBox 360, a couple of games and hopefully some sort of waterproof container to transport it home in. I've rather sat out the current console generation, which isn't unusual behaviour for me. I'm what's known as a casual gamer, you see, and the casual gamer is typified by short attention span, conspicuous lack of spending and better things to do with their time.

To show what I mean my favourite games at the moment are the Lego film adaptations (Lego Star Wars, Lego Indian Jones, etcetera,.) and the Sonic Rush games on DS. These are fun, light and easy to pick up just for a half hour or so when you have a bit of time to kill. When I do try something more substantial it's got to be something capable of keeping my interest for a span of months during which I'll probably play it once of twice a week. Final Fantasy games are favourite for this because they're pretty enough they'll keep me coming back just to see the next set piece or new environment but simple enough plot-wise that I can pick up it up after a few weeks and still know roughly what's going on.

Anyone who thinks I'm being hard on Final Fantasy storytelling here should please note that a) I mean it as a compliment and b) two decades of superhero comics mean I've been trained to take in backstory and intertextual connections the way the rods and cones in our eyes take in light: without conscious effort and flipping it the right way up to make sense of it as a matter of course.

But, anyway, fourth paragraph and I should probably start relating this back to the post title and talk about how I've viewed current generation gaming from my current perspective: outside the window laughing at the funny little antics of those inside.

You want how much?
Like I said I don't devote a lot of time to gaming and so I'm loathe to devote any significant amount of cash to it, either. I play Warhammer and I read comics, two activities that give me more enjoyment than video games usually do so they get a larger claim on my disposable income. I picked up my DS from a pawn shop for £40 and I literally cannot remember the last game I bought new but I strongly suspect it was for the Gamecube.

Second hand XBones have started turning up in Entertainment Exchange and they still want £500 for them plus another £40 if you want something so decadent as a game to play on it.

And then there's DLC, which is both grammatically as well as financially offensive. Initials are usually taken only from the first letter of each word, “downloadable” being but a single word, but let's concentrate on the rip off. If I buy a game I want it to be finished and I do not view this as an unusually prissy demand. I admit that the fact after-market improvements can be made to eliminate bugs is a good thing, no one's quality assurance department is good enough to spot every flaw but I resent the idea of paying extra for, say, the classic songs not included on the disc of Beatles Rock Band (most people complain about the lack of Eleanor Rigby but I'm going to point out Help a2 the most egregious one).

The long and the short of this is I'll be checking out game reviews ahead of time to see if there's any of that DLC malarkey going on because I intend to avoid it like the plague.

Martha, Git Yer Gun!
I hate shooters. My God, I hate shooters but they seem to be the emblematic genre of this generation as platformers and beat 'em ups were for the 16-bit era. Yes, that was my generation, they heyday of mutant hedgehogs, psychotic bandicoots and family-run Italian plumbing businesses with strange uniform standards.

(By that last one I meant the Mario Bros not a mafia front operation, by the way, I just realised how that could be misinterpreted).

But, my God, FPS has come into its own hasn't it with Halo, Gears Of War, Medal Of Honor, Call Of Duty and it's all so, so gritty. I don't want grit, I don't want realism and I especially don't want realistic violence. No offence to those who do, the lack of opportunities one gets to enact horrific consequence-free violence in real life is frustrating to me, too but it's the industry-dominating ubiquity of the genre that gets to me.

I am buying Space Marine, though, because people can moan at me all they like about it being a Gears Of War rip-off in every sense but I will feel a bit better ignoring all those Space Marine knock-offs to play an actual Space Marine with a chuff-off huge thunder hammer. If I'm playing a Space Marine I want the works; bolt gun, holy rage, nineteen stages of post-human implants and the extra motivating factor of making everyone forget I was ever something as shit as a Tenth Company Scout, not some rip-off pretending to originality because they're wearing different armour.

Tits, Lots Of Tits!
This is not new, the over-sexualisation of female protagonists dates back at least as far as Street Fighter. However, it is extra galling in this case because advancing technology has made visual realism more accessible to games developers and yet it is ignored. It can't be incidental, either. In a comic a brokeback pose is the result of an artist not understanding or ignoring the realities of anatomy followed by an editor who either hasn't the time or the inclination to get the panel redrawn (probably the former) with an inker inbetween stages who's kind of stuck working with what he's been handed.

In a computer game every panty flash, every cleavage shot, every brokeback pose and every pair of slackly pouting lips has been carefully rendered by an entire team of programmers over a course of months or even years of work.

So once I have money for new games I should see if any more interesting female protagonists have developed during my little hiatus. I'm not holding my breath though I have had my eye on a copy of Super Princess Peach for a while, just to see what they do with her as something other than a peril monkey for her idiot boyfriend.

Exercise, You Bastards!
I am not buying a Kinect. Ever. If I do you have complete license, should you ever meet me, to slap me. There's a Wii in our staff canteen and no one used it after a week once they all realised how stupid they looked flailing about infront of their extremely judgemental peers.

I do not look forward to the promised controller future that's apparently on the cards. Maybe this is because the technology really isn't there yet. There's still a time delay absent from handheld controllers that makes things like combat a right bugger using Kinects and Wii-motes.

One: Check reviews for information on whether it can be played satisfactorily without being charged for extra content.

Two: Also check to see that motion control is not a necessary part of the experience. I'm told it isn't for all but the very last releases on the 360 but best to check, I suppose.

Three: People keep harping on at me about story-driven games. Mass Effect looks nice so that'll be a nice place to start and Sheperd can be a woman so I can also get a start on that idea of investigating the portrayal of female protagonists in this generation.

Four: Not buy a Kinect. I don't know anyone who would want to sell one for peanuts and in any case computer games are for sitting down and giving my body something to do while I listen to audio drama.

Five: I need to get £30 out of the bank tomorrow to actually pay for the bloody thing. 

Saturday 11 January 2014

An unfortunate Sherlock theory (for Mary Marston)

I don't want this to be true but I can't help but think it. You see, weddings are big, dramatic occasions in a TV series so you don't usually seen them mid-season, they're première and finale fodder. Yet Watson and Mary Marston got hitched in the middle of the three Sherlock episodes this season.

I'm thinking this can only end badly for Mary Marston-Watson. They're happy, they're married, she's (SPOILER WARNING, SERIOUSLY FOLKS) pregnant and the character died in the original stories. What makes this theory doubly galling is that the Sherlock version is the only Mary Marston I've ever liked.

I mean, in the original stories she was little more than a plot device: a client in one story that Conan Doyle then married off to Watson to provide an ending. After that she didn't really serve any purpose except to force Doyle to write endless scenes in which Holmes drags Watson from domestic bliss to run off on some case or other. Eventually he just killed her off and had Watson move back into Baker Street.

I can only hope I'm wrong, I mean the series has done great things to expand and deepen the characters. Mrs Hudson in the stories is barely a character, just a source of food and lodging who rarely even has any lines yet now she's a central part of the cast.

And damn it, that's why I like this Mary! She calls Sherlock on his bullshit, she hangs around at Baker Street, she jumps on a motorcycle with Sherlock to go and rescue her (their) man. She's an active participant in the narrative and a million miles away from her original. She's also a damn sight better than a lot of the other women written by Steven Moffat (though, of course, he's only had a co-writing credit on one episode of this season so far so that could all end badly if he's sole writer tonight).

Long live the new Mary Marston!

Friday 10 January 2014

James gained XBox (+10 to timewasting)

I've been largely out of computer gaming for many years now, relying on my faithful PS2 and Gamecube and a selection of old favourites to satisfy any urges in that direction. About a year ago I splashed out on a DS I saw cheap in a pawn shop but apart from a couple of Lego and Sonic games it hasn't seen much use. With a new console generation well and truly under way I thought it might be time to invest in some newly obsolete technology and explore a whole new back catalogue of second hand hits.

Just by luck I ended up in the right place at the right time and gained an Xbox from a friend for the princely sum of £30 plus some games. I'm not sure what the games are but Skyrim was mentioned and I'm hardly about to complain about free stuff.

He named the price, by the way, I was going to offer him twice that. Don't tell him.

So at the very least I have Skyrim to look forward to, which people tell me is very pretty. There are other games I'm most definitely looking forward to, mainly things I saw my friend Dan playing when I lived with him: Space Marine, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, the Batman Arkham series, Saint's Row 2, Eternal Sonata, Bioshock and Sonic Generations rather make up the shortlist.

Of course this might all end with me selling on the Xbox to another Charlie. Matt got it off another friend of ours and offloaded it on me after less than two months. His own reasoning was pretty much that nothing on the modern platform quite matched up with what the PS2 was able to achieve in Silent Hill 2.

Maybe that's true but, in the words of Dave Lister, it's gonna be a lotta fun findin' out. 

Thursday 9 January 2014

Hobby Vow 1

My Bretonnian King and Damsels arrived from GW today so it's time to start thinking about getting this army off the ground. I've also played my second campaign game so I really should start making some headway on getting the army fully painted. To that end I'm resurrecting the system of Hobby Vows: a stated aim to succeed or fail at to a time limit. In this case I declare that by the end of next week (Friday 17th January) I will fulfil the following two Vows:

Vow the First (Theoretical)
I will choose a colour scheme for my Bretonnian army based on one of the duchies in the Army Book.

Vow the Second (Practical)

I will finish painting the three Necromancers who lead my Vampire Counts army. 

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Coda to previous: Wartune plagiarism goes sci-fi

So it turns the publishers of Wartune have a sci-fi game called Total Domination. That up above is a typical add for it.

Yes, that's a Space Marine. Not a space marine as in “a soldier who fights from a ship but in spaaaaaaace!!!!!” but an actual, honest to goodness Raven Guard Space Marine. Or a Black Consul, I'm not sure. Regardless that is absolutely, definitely a recognisable thing that someone has copyright on. How much more shameless is this going to get before someone sues them for IP theft?


Tuesday 7 January 2014

Male feminist rantings: The bleak, existential horror of Wartune

Here are my vital organs, please stab one!
The two reasons I count myself as a feminist:

Reason one: I am, or believe myself to be, a decent human being and so want to treat the other human beings in a decent fashion. As I believe that gender should not be a barrier to this behaviour I classify myself as a feminist.

Reason two: I am a geek and what's more a geek who is mostly straight. Therefore the perception, both inside and outside the geek demographic, that some of our interests are for “men only” kind of pisses me off. It is an exclusionary mindset that does nothing more than create self-fulfilling prophecies:

Women don't buy comics!” Yes, they do, but they're turned away in droves by the big companies ignoring female talent and marketing their female characters as fetish objects.

Women don't play wargames!” Yes, they do, and there would be more of them doing so if the community at large didn't treat them as outsiders or as personifications of the “nerdy girl” fantasy, if they just treated them as (God help us) gamers.

Geeks don't get girls!” Yes, they do, in droves by just being decent human beings around the lady folk. However, if you're going to repeat this bloody stupid sentiment you will look like an entitled dick who thinks a woman should get in bed with you just to show social conscience rather than as a considered and consenting action based on things like attraction, friendship, mutual respect or some other interaction of your actual personalities.

Women don't play computer games!” Again, they do, but when the most iconic female protagonists are marketed purely on their sexual characteristics (Lara Croft, Bayonetta) you are losing more potential female customers than you gain.

It is a well known fact that nothing says "medieval
fantasy setting" quite like a latex bikini
And so we end up, finally, at Wartune: a free browser game whose adverts turn up on any games-based forum you care to name. The image at the top of this post is actually the most restrained one I could find with some simple Google-slinging. Yes, the woman is impractically dressed and you don't need my Red Cross training to notice the sheer number of vital organs and arteries her armour exposes.

Example number two gets “better”, completely dumping any sense of the game's ostensible fantasy setting to have a woman in a bikini (and anyone who thinks it's a Dead Or Alive character is probably right) and a strapline containing one of the worst erection gags I have ever heard and I have seen every episode of Up Pompeii.

So how does this all relate back to my point about the exclusionary aspects of fandom? Example number three:

She's Korean, on her artist's side
Here we have the full panoply of the problem: The character art, as with the last example (and doubtless the first, though I can't identify that one) is plagiarised. This is, I am told, a character from a Korean MMO called Forsaken World. This one says “Adult Gamers Only” twice but some versions of the ad have “Male Gamers Only”. One of the ads even has the strapline “You deserve an orgy.”.

What may not be plain from all this is that the game is not pornographic. Clicking on the link will not take you to dark, sybaritic pleasures of the binary code. Wartune is a Real Time Strategy Role Playing Game. There is some turn-based combat and even, I shit you not, a farming sim mechanic. What is consciously lacking in the player experience are titties of any kind (okay, there may be cow-milking, I didn't go too far in researching this particular aspect).

What this amounts to is a company creating an Age Of Empires-style RTS with some basic JRPG combat mechanics and marketing it through images of scantily clad women. And even worse they don't even go to the trouble of commissioning art of their own scantily clad women but steal them from all over the place. This company has made a conscious decision to lie about its product because expecting of men to follow a link promising them boobies is a surer bet than coming out and announcing a free to play RTS/RPG.

As a man, I am insulted by the idea that quality is unimportant to my consumer experience so long as some primitive sexual reflex is stimulated. Not even satisfied, just stimulated, this company literally thinks it can lead me by the cock towards its substandard product. As a straight(ish) man with quite a few female friends I am embarrassed that this is how the larger culture sees my relationship with them. As a geek whose female friends are by and large also geeks I am enraged that they should be consciously excluded and their custom tacitly declared worthless in favour of mine.

And what pisses me off the most? It bloody works for them! There is no worse aspect than that. These corporate behaviours continue and are repeated throughout the culture only because they produce positive results. That's how capitalism works in practice. If a large enough section of the gaming population looked at those ads and thought “Well, that's a load of sexist shite!” they would disappear but enough people have clicked on them, stayed to play this Age Of Empires knock-off and handed over money for the higher level benefits (and these don't include titties, either, before anyone thinks any element of honesty went into this marketing strategy).

So, yeah, a company has made enough money to maintain a free to play RTS/RPG by betting on male gamers being sexist and easy to please.


Monday 6 January 2014

Hobby Log: Warhammer Campaign first game

This is not going to be a battle report post. I'm hoping to do one soon but this is more like bookkeeping. This was my first game using a Vampire-free, Necromancer-themed Vampire Counts list and I want to write down some observations I made during the game.

Battle format and background
Straight-up pitched battle, no fancy rules, 1000 points, my Vampire Counts versus Matt's Empire. Both of our forces were scouting up a mountain pass, to the north of my home territory, to the south of his, the only square on the map separating the two.

The Armies (roughly)

Scouting Party of Berenice von Gallenberg's Undead Horde
Irwin Sollander: Level 2 Necromancer using the Lore of Vampires (General)
Mehendri Korendorf: Level 2 Necromancer using the Lore of Vampires
The Prisoner of Blood Keep: Cairn Wraith
(I know this is 10 points over the character allowance, but we discussed it before the game and Matt gave his Battle Wizard a Channelling Staff to match me)

20 Crypt Ghouls with Ghast
20 Skeleton Warriors, spears and shields, full command
20 Zombies, standard and musician
20 Zombies, standard and musician

Corpse Cart (no upgrades)
5 Black Knights, lances, barding and shields, full command

Expeditionary Force of the Third Army of Nordland
(If I missed something from this I apologise, Matt)
Captain Steiner: Empire Captain with great weapon
Magister Lehrer: Level 2 Battle Wizard using the Lore of Light with a Channelling Staff
Father Wolfgang: Warrior Priest with double hand weapons

25 Halberdiers, full command with detachment of 10 Free Company
20 Halberdiers, full command with detachment of 10 Free Company
10 Handgunners
10 Handgunners

5 Pistoliers with Outrider

The Result
Victory to the Undead Horde. All but the two Handgunner units, the Captain (who was fleeing) and the Light Wizard (who had miscast and lost all his magic) were dead by the end of Turn 6. The mountain pass belongs to the Undead now and I make the first territorial claim of the campaign. Next to move east and try to take the bay Matt's ships are moored in, cutting of their retreat by sea.

Epic Moments of Battle
The first shot fired saw Matt's Battle Wizard casting Shem's Burning Gaze and vapourising my Corpse Cart in one shot.

My Black Knights rolling the 11 they needed to make a Turn 1 charge into the Pistoliers who had used their Vanguard move to jump forward, hoping to take out a flank quick and easy. Matt's Pistoliers are old enemies of mine and this game marks the very first time I have ever actually taken them out. Though they escaped my Black Knights by fleeing they later ended up bogged down in combat with my Skeletons.

Faith in Sigmar proved a poor shield and the Cairn Wraith skewered the Warrior Priest in a challenge.

The final combat of the game was an epic scrum with Captain Steiner besieged on all sides: Zombies to the front of him, Skeletons on the right flank, Crypt Ghouls and the Cairn Wraith to his rear. The now-powerless Battle Wizard even got in on it, bravely (or stupidly) charging the rear of the Zombie unit. Sadly, my Black Knights couldn't equal their Turn 1 feat and roll another 11 to take the Battle Wizard in the rear. The Halberdiers fought to the last man but it all proved too much for Steiner who fled in fear in the last seconds of the game.

Lessons Learnt
Surprisingly, I do not miss having Vampires. I especially don't miss having a Vampire General and having to choose between holding him back from combat and wasting his devastating potential or sending him in and risking the Instability tests I'd have to take if he dies.

Instead I had a Necromancer with a Cairn Wraith standing next to him ready to accept any challenged on his behalf and even issue a few of his own. In a larger game I intend to take a Wight King but the Cairn Wraith proved more than adequate and was very good at taking out Matt's characters, none of whom had the magical attacks needed to harm an Ethereal foe. I was planning on including a unit of Wraiths in the future but I think I'll keep him as a solo act to play bodyguard to one of the Hero-Level Necromancers whilst my Wight King does the same for the Master Necromancer.

I was also planning on spending points expanding the Zombie units but seeing how many Invocations of Nehek I got off I think two 20-man units are more than sufficient, though I do need to paint more spare (perhaps in Nordland colours?).

The Corpse Cart is a target, even unupgraded it has scary potential, so in future I must deploy it in cover.

The Black Knights' ability to move through obstacles is great not just for charging enemies but for escaping those horrible situations where you overrun and stop slap bang in front of a missile unit. It happened in this game, I took out some Free Company, overran and found myself sitting in front of ten handguns clicking ominously into ready position. The next turn I made a dash (well, ish, I couldn't march) through a small building and blocked off their line of sight.

Crypt Ghouls make a great unit to accompany my General. They might have no armour save but you can always bring them back using Invocation. Between the 20 Ghouls and his Cairn Wraith bodyguard my General managed to make it through the battle without a scratch. 

Sunday 5 January 2014

Oooh, that's quite shiny: Tyranids

Fair warning: I don't play much 40k. I have the odd game every now and then but in the I just buy models to paint them. So it's less interesting to me what a model does in game than how it looks. Which is also pretty much how I approach Fantasy models, as well, but just to make sure we're all aware this is about how pretty stuff is, not how it might enhance my/your army on the tabletop.

The look of Tyranids has always appealed to me: they have a very unified aesthetic that looks great en masse. I hate tanks, as well, by the way, can't paint them to save my life so you can imagine that only makes 'Nids more attractive as an army. Surprisingly, I've never had a 'Nid army, mainly because there aren't the character-creation opportunities more human armies present. But enough waffling from me, let's move onto waffling on about the models:

Tyranid Warriors/Tyranid Prime
So let's start small and work our way up. New Warriors, which is a good sign in a lot of ways. The old Warriors might not have had all the weapon options but they were good enough sculpts even twelve years after release. Now we've got a new sculpt with every option and an HQ choice slipped into the frame in the form of the Tyranid Prime. It's good to see that even with all the cool new monsters coming out in plastic there was room for GW to work on a kit that does little more than plug a few gaps, most of which were dealt with by Finecast conversion kits.

Hive Guard/Tyrant Guard
It's all about the Tyrant Guard for me. Tyranids with guns don't interest me as much as Tyranids with big claws shredding things. The huge carapace around the shoulders looks nice or like the Hive Mind has absorbed the 1980s concept of power-dressing, I'm not sure.

Harpy/Hive Crone
There's a flyer, of course there's a flyer because that's how this goes. I've been mainly underwhelmed by the fliers so far. I liked the Ork Bomba but the various Space Marine ones didn't interest me much. This one interests me more (probably because it's a big monster and I'm mainly a Fantasy player). I like the idea of the Hive Crone a lot: a creature that takes out enemy fliers by jumping on them, grabbing on, holing it with spikes on its tail and chest and vomiting acid on it. It satisfies the need to take out fliers whilst also allowing an option based on tooth and claw rather than ranged weapons.

Depending on your point of view the Exocrine is either a small Tyrannofex or a huge Biovore. I like that the head of the creature is massively out of proportion to the size of the gun or the legs stabilising it. It's not meant to be very smart, it's just a gun carriage and the gun itself is actually smarter than it is.

But for my money the best model in the release is the Haruspex, which is disgusting. It's a creature that fights by eating, and digesting its enemies. It looks vile. Yes, there's more than a hint of the Mutalith Hentai Tentacle Monster from the Warrios Of Chaos army but I rather like it.

(Images from the Games Workshop website).  

Saturday 4 January 2014

Setting my hobby goals

Goal the First
Build my Vampire Counts up to 3000 points on a Necromancer theme. Dump all the Vampiric characters and units and go fully down a route of mad old bastards doing horrible things to dead bodies: Zombies, Skeletons, Wights, oh and a Mortis Engine, I love that model.

Goal the Second
Paint my Dark Vengeance starter set. It's been hanging around on the to do list for ages and I think the models look bloody lovely.

Goal the Third
Build a nice, solid core force of Bretonnians so I that when the new release comes (here's hoping...) I can spend my money on cool new stuff and have the basics all ready.

Goal the Fourth
Build and paint the Forge World Death Guard kits I got at Games Day. Possibly this will be done in conjunction with Goal the Third.

The Only Things That Shall Distract Me From These Goals...

If at any point this year Games Workshop releases multi-part plastics for Valhallan Imperial Guard or Sisters Of Battle all bets are off, just saying. 

Friday 3 January 2014

Art Matters: The Problem We All Live With (Norman Rockwell, 1964)

So in answer to a Facebook challenge from my erstwhile editor Saranga I was given an artist and asked to pick a piece of their work and talk about them. She assigned me Norman Rockwell and I thought "Well, this is dead easy, I'll do The Four Freedoms!" but instead I stumbled upon this in researching his more political art, "The Problem We All Live With" from 1964.

Rockwell is perhaps best known for his depictions of "everyday" American life, stereotypical scenes of middle class families gathered around the table for thanksgiving dinner and the like. This conservative image is only enhanced by works like The Four Freedoms, a series of four posters based on FDR's 1941 State of the Union speech. The Four Freedoms is even used in modern school textbooks (here and in the US) as an example of Allied propaganda but the label erases the fact that Rockwell didn't do it on commission: it was a considered political reaction on his part as is "The Problem We All Live With". So let's set the scene...

It's 1964. Less than a year ago Martin Luther King Jr declared that he had a dream and in a few months the Salma Voting Rights march on the capital will end with police brutally beating peaceful equal rights demonstrators after guaranteeing free and unmolested passage, Rosa Parks and the bus boycott she inspired were a decade ago and yet the US Supreme Court has only just ordered the desegregation of public schools be mandatory.

Which brings us to The Problem We Live With depicting a young black girl in a simple cotton dress carrying a book, the most elementary symbol of education, surrounded by white Federal Marshals. Rockwell depicts the girl in realistic terms, eschewing even the barest hint of the affectionate caricature his creations usually carry about the face. The Marshals escorting her (and, yes, this really did happen in many towns for the childrens' own protection) are faceless entities operating above the child's head and even above the frame of the picture on a level she likely doesn't fully comprehend. Behind her a cracked and decayed wall, old and damaged, bears the slur "NIGGER", a Ku Klux Klan tag and a stain from a thrown tomato: the sentiment and physical actions of those opposing desegregation here are allied with the physical ugliness of urban decay.

On a related note, Rockwell is also responsible for one of the more striking images of Rosie the Riveter. Not the iconic Rosie with her head scarf and flexed arm but an altogether more realistic one where Rosie has dirty skin, a less-idealised physique and a nice big workman's sandwich in her hand. Far from being a caricaturist or an unthinking propagandist for the American Dream, Rockwell was immensely invested in the material reality of his country: the faceless government, the innocent child, what sort of physical shape a woman would have to be in to operate a riveting gun eight hours a day. It's in this observational reality that his work had, and still has, real power.

As a short coda, in the original Facebook post Saranga commented that she wondered whether people seeing the picture for the first time and learning the title might image the problem to be the girl. And there's probably some truth to that. I think we're in the slyly satirical territory of Alf Garnet. For those unaware Alf Garnett was a character created by Johnny Speight and portrayed from 1965 to 1998 in various shows by the actor Warren Mitchell. The character is a working class, politically conservative, reactionary, sexist, racist cockney and the character had a cult following amongst people holding similar views in real life. Mitchell himself often recounted tales of being recognised in the street and being congratulated for whatever racist, hate-filled speech he'd performed on the television that week.

It should come as no surprise, given the previous content of this post, that both Speight and Mitchell were left wing (Speight a liberal, Mitchell a literally card-carrying member of the British Communist Party) and that the whole project was aimed at highlighting the absurd and repugnant nature of the views Alf Garnett was used to convey.