Royston van der Kerkoff's Blog

A fledgling writer.

Snafu – wordpress and their readers

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Why would a company with thousands, possibly millions of customers randomly change the way their service works in a way that makes it far less usable, and in some ways completely breaks it?
Because they can.

It’s an odd thing about a world where everyone is connected, news like this travels fast, and everyone can have their say about anything if they want to.
I imagine there were equivalent changes made in the past, but the level of interactivity wasn’t there. You’d moan to your family and mates in the pub about the bus routes changing again, and how much further you’d have to walk each day, and that’d be about it. You’d just have to live with it.

So, who’s been at it this time?
Not facebook, though I only have a small circle there with a pseudonym anyway so I barely care what they do.
Google? Nope.
Twitter? Too busy floating and probably weeing themselves over the huge day-one share-price rise.

No, it’s wordpress.
Well I suppose one half of wordpress. I’ve never really looked into it too far, but they have the hosting side and the blog software supply side.
The problem is on the hosted side.

They’ve changed the way the ‘reader’ works recently. And it hasn’t gone down particularly well with their readers. Or their writers, who surprise, surprise, are probably some of their bigger readers too.

The reader has various elements and shows different things, but for me I just look at the default page that it gives you, where there are the most recent posts from blogs that you actually follow, and then I have a handful of search terms which they have in a list at the right side of the page allowing posts tagged with those terms to be seen too.
I actually got out of the blog writing habit for about two and a half years before getting back into it early this summer. At that point I was thinking of changing from wordpress.com as things had changed a lot, and I found the user interface to be a complete mess and utterly unintuitive.
Before the hiatus, I’d just used a general search function that existed on some top level page, and voila, the most recent blog posts tagged with that term would be listed. Right-click, new tab, read, read, read. When I restarted posting, that search page had gone, so I had to use the clunky reader, and didn’t bother very much.
Over time I’ve followed more blogs, so I was using the reader more, and like the old way, just right-clicking to read anything interesting in it’s own tab.
I even set up that small selection of search terms and use that as well. It’s a bad system though. The right column (though there is no visual sign that there are two columns until they stop scrolling together) scrolls with the left but after a while stops, so the most useful links are unavailable off the top of the screen, leaving some ‘you may like’ recommendations. I hate stuff like that, so losing all the useful stuff for that is pretty galling.
I keep those searches to a small list as you lose access to them almost as soon as you scroll anyway. Unless you hit the home key, but then you lose your place in the page.
Did I say earlier that I think the whole user interface was unintuitive?

So, to the recent changes to the reader.
Now, when you click on a post in any of these reader pages it appears in a pop-up.
Oh dear.
Well, I always right-clicked to a new tab anyway, so I can just do that and get…. a duplicate of the reader page I’m in now, complete with pop-up of the post.
Oh deary, dear.
OK, then I can right-click on ‘view original’ within the pop-up, and .. hurrah! The post as I want to see it, with double the number of clicks. No, make that triple, I still have to close the pop-up in the original tab.
Oh deary, deary, me.
I suspect it may be familiarity with the reader as it was before these changes (and the intermediate change where it just made the reader pages very ugly for a day or two), but in the forum people have been saying they loved/liked the reader as it was. It was actually rubbish, and now it’s really, really rubbish.
I’ve only dipped into the forum once or twice, and get the impression that wordpress make changes, everyone hates them, wordpress put their fingers in their ears, everyone gets bored with trying to get things fixed/reverted, everyone puts up with the new system, wordpress start planning the next round of customer aggravating changes.

There are a couple of workarounds people on the support forum have suggested, but they shouldn’t be needed.
I worked out a way of almost recreating the old search method, by just changing the last part of the url from the reader page with a saved tag search selected.
Oh, this is in a separate browser though. One where you aren’t logged in (or you just get forced back into the reader, obviously).
And hey presto, change the URL and you get a load of posts in a decent format that have the tag you want.
Ahh. Any blogs you blocked when logged in get in the way again.
But at least you can right-click on a post and…. oh. Open a new tab with the log in page.
Right-clicking the main blog title will allow you to open a nice new tab and see the blog in question. Just not the post you wanted, unless it happens to be the most recently posted.

It’s all just so much fun.
Who wouldn’t want to read wonderful blogs all day long?

Back to the original question, why did they do it?
I can’t think of a good reason.
I’ve thought of some reasons they might give, but they wouldn’t be very convincing.
I wondered if it may be some way to try and push people from the hosted site into hosting their own blog using the software, but I can’t see how that would work even if they tried it.
It’s an odd situation.
Do they not beta/road test anything before they change it?

On the upside, I’ve written a blog post for the first time in a while. And given that I can’t be bothered fighting with a surrealist UI, I may start writing more often again, as I won’t be reading any of the blogs I’ve followed, for a while at least.

This seems to be the main discussion page about the reader in the support forum:

http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/reader-changed

Written by roystonvanderkerkoff

November 8, 2013 at 5:00 am

Random thoughts after a visit to the Chagall Exhibit at Tate Liverpool

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    I went to the Tate in Liverpool a couple of days ago. It was the final day of the Marc Chagall featured exhibit. The last time I visited was for the Magritte exhibition, which must be a couple of years ago now.
    Liverpool has changed a lot over the years. It smells bad now. Like any big city it probably always did. Having all the smokers outside these days won’t help, and being a Sunday there’s all the fallout from a Saturday night too. I was a smoker on and off in my younger days so I suppose that may have taken the edge off things then, and Sundays would have been less busy in the city centre before Liverpool One was built.

Liverpool City Skyline (from Crosby beach)

    Before seeing the exhibition itself, thirst prompted a brief coffee stop in the Tate café. The table was very wet. I’d seen the young man wiping it and would have sat elsewhere, but it was the only free spot. Just after sitting I saw him stifling a yawn, wet rag in hand. Hygienic? Maybe eating or drinking out should be avoided on a Sunday. There must be a much higher percentage of hungover staff, and they’re hardly likely to be fully focused on H&E.

    I mentioned over coffee that I didn’t understand why people start walking along the platform when the train is arriving. The doors aren’t very far apart so you can never be more than a few yards from one once the train is stationary. Five or six people walked past me as the train pulled in. Which was a lot, considering it was only fairly busy. (I’m sure there used to be the same frequency of trains on a Sunday north of town, but now it seems they’ve halved that to a twice-per-hour service.) Having had it pointed out that people also try and position themselves for the doors of busses as well, as if they’re on the starting blocks with a race to win, I commented that it was a sad race to be running. If you’re desperate to win the race to get on the bus or train, you’re missing the bigger picture and the fact that you’ve lost some much more important life races already.

    Once into the exhibition itself, I took in the work fairly ambivalently. I like to see famous artist’s work in the flesh, but Chagall is one I barely knew, and his style isn’t really my thing. The main space for exhibitions at Tate Liverpool is up on the top floor. I actually found the big old warehouse windows and views beyond preferable to the displayed art. Not that that’s a particular criticism of Chagall. As I said, his art isn’t really to my taste anyway, but the quality of the Mersey views from a few floors up is something I’m drawn to even at an exhibition of an artist that I’m a big fan of. There was a nice contrast between the varying browns and dark blues of the river from the windows to the north of the building, and the sun reflected sparkles on the almost black river looking south.
    The tide was quite high on the day, only reaching a foot or so short of the highest tide marks on the docks. We pondered on the massive volume difference of the water held in the river between a high and a low tide.
    Actually, the high tide may have contributed to the smells back in the city centre.

View across the Mersey (not from Tate)

    The stand-out painting of those at the exhibition was The Blue Lovers. Though not photo-realistic, which is more to my taste, it is at least in a more realistic style than a lot of the rest. I like the use of colour too. Without having read the descriptions of some of the works I wouldn’t have realised that the paintings of couples were of Chagall and his wife. The feeling The Blue Lovers provokes would be the same either way. It’s nice to be in love.

The Blue Lovers - Marc Chagall (1914)

    When it comes to art, I’m interested, but not particularly educated. I just know if I like something when I look at it. I don’t think that’s a problem though really. If there’s a picture I don’t like because it looks like a five-year-old has painted it, finding out that the artist could paint like Vermeer if they wanted to, but painted like a five-year-old by choice, I just find baffling. It doesn’t mean I don’t like any modern art either, it just makes it a complete lottery as to whether the shapes and colours happen to please my eye. The same may be said for more realistic looking work, but even if I don’t find something more in the photo-realistic style a favourite, I can still appreciate the technique.
    I wonder if the ‘every man’ attitude to modern art may to some degree come from the fact that some of it looks like anyone could do it. Well, when it comes to things that look like a five-year-old painted them, anyone could do it, and it’s then only the fact that the artist and the critics read/instil more into it that makes the difference. Emperor’s new clothes?
    In a very self contradictory way, I liked the pieces from set designs and the theatre curtain more than most. Although still not something that really grabbed me. I guess I’m a sucker for a big painting. In fact, big art full stop.
    The Walker is much more up my street. I should go there again soon.

    With some time spare after the gallery, crepes were calling. I hadn’t put the two together in my mind prior to writing this down, but another potentially hangover induced food serving issue occurred. Coffees brought very quickly, crepe took ages. He’d forgotten.
    The menu had a sprinkling of franglais. This included a couple of items, one with Bleu as the last word, and the next with Bleouf. The second had egg in it. It’s never crossed my mind before, but I wonder at what level punning goes on in other languages. Could a lack of puns or understanding of them show up non-native speakers of some languages? If you were learning a language, would making up puns work when heard/read by native speakers? Would you understand native puns having learned in any way other than being with native speakers? Was the bleouf pun written by someone English? Do any languages not have puns at all?

Written by roystonvanderkerkoff

October 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Review – Top Eleven

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Top Eleven Logo

     You can play Top Eleven at their own site, or as a facebook app. I’ve mainly used it from topeleven.com though I signed up through facebook, so I can’t comment on the sign up and log in process at the site itself as I’ve just been let in as long as my facebook account is active. There is also a phone app, though again that isn’t something I’ve tried.

     It’s very easy to get going on the game as the menu system is very intuitive. Unsurprisingly, you start off at level 1 with a very basic ‘stadium’, or as most people would know it ‘some grass’. At level 1 you will only be entered into a league competition and the general cup. You need to finish in the top 4 of your league to compete in the following season’s Champions League competition. There are 14 teams in each league, and each season lasts for 28 days. I’m not sure whether signing up through referrals on the main site works in the same way, but joining via facebook at the same time as friends should see you put into the same league together. It’s actually quite an important part of this game, but I’ll come back to that later.

Stadium

     One of the first things you’ll want to do is make a start on building up your stadium. The balance across the different elements is quite well worked out, and you should find it easy to have something being built at all times, unless you spend all your income on players I guess. You need to work on each of the different elements of your stadium, as there are points where progress for any particular area is blocked until your stadium as a whole is improved to a certain level. So my plan to go right through the development of the Football School came a cropper, but it is a sensible system and works pretty well.

Training

     Player training is a bit basic. You can train each player at either normal or hard intensity. There are three types of training you can use, though the only difference is the amount of training done. These three types (Stretching, Cardio and Practice Match) are unavailable for a set period of time after use, with the lightest type useable again after 10 minutes and the highest level after an hour. The players have a progress bar showing how close they are to improving by one skill point with a cone appearing to let you know they have a point which you can then assign to one of three sets of five attributes. You have full control over where the attributes go across the three attribute groups (Defence, Attack, Physical & Mental), but none within each group. A further restriction is that no group of attributes can be left more than 20 skill points behind the others.

The player quality is shown using a star system:
1 Star – Poor
2 Star – Average
3 Star – Good
4 Star – Very Good
5 Star – Excellent
6 Star – Scout
7 Star – World Class

     These quality definitions change according to the level you are at. Each is a 5 point quality band, but if you get promoted, your whole squad loses 1 star, though not any skills, it’s just to make the star system useful again as you have advanced up the leagues. If you look at a team a few divisions higher than you, then they’ll look like they have a complete squad at World Class, though to the person running that team, the stars will more than likely look similar to the way your squad looks to you.

Squad

     This star system is very important when it comes to using the transfer market. There are three different methods of transferring players between teams, and which is applicable depends on the star rating of the player you want to buy or sell. Until you reach level four, you can’t enter negotiations with another manager to buy their players, but you do have access to the general transfer auction system from the time you start playing. There is also the ‘Scout’ system, where you can buy a high skilled player instantly, but with a high charge in tokens.

     And so to tokens. There are two currencies in the game, cash and tokens. As with the stadium building and squad progression, the balance on finances is well worked out and scales reasonably as your income and expenses both increase. Whether that stays the same once you have built the stadium to its maximum level, I can’t say as I haven’t reached that point yet. On the other hand, the token system is just a method of generating real money for the game developers, and any good work done on balancing is undone by the fact that you really can pay-to-win in Top Eleven.

Cash and Tokens

     Anyone used to games that are playable through facebook probably won’t see a problem with pay-to-win as it’s the norm among them, but as someone used to standalone websites for football management games, it makes the whole thing feel a bit pointless to me. Building a cartoon farm is one thing, but not having a level playing field in a sports simulation game is a bit of an issue. Some versions of freemium games flirt with giving an advantage for players that pay, but here it’s a full on shortcut. Not that it’s denied anywhere that I know of. It is what it is, but bottom line is that real money can buy success. I guess that really is a good simulation of the real life game… (Apart from QPR, obviously.)

     With the ability to buy tokens for real money, you can bypass all the balancing and just buy a squad that’s out of reach of anyone else at your user ranking level, unless they’ve done the same thing. As well as being able to buy in game cash, you can also buy ‘packs’, which come in three varieties and allow you to improve condition and morale for players, with the third giving you the option to shorten the recovery time from injuries, or heal them instantly. There is also a player win bonus element, which I doubt you could leave set to maximum for a whole season without going bankrupt, unless you use real-money-bought tokens to fund it.

Tactics

     The tactical set up actually looks pretty good. You have four tactic slots available, with a reasonable amount of scope in where you can position players on the pitch, plus a player by player option to push up or drop back. The additional drop downs for mentality, passing/pressing/tackling/marking styles and passing focus add a lot of usable options tactically. You can also set player roles for penalties, free-kicks and the like, and set default subs to come on in case of injuries.
     Sadly though, combined with the ability to buy improvements, there’s the possession boost system as well, and between them, they almost make the tactics you set unimportant. The possession boosts are a double edged sword really. You get an 8% boost for being online and watching your match, though this can be matched by your opponent doing the same. There is also a 5% boost for playing at home, with a good crowd, with less of that 5% being granted if your stadium isn’t filled, and a 2% boost for any friends that watch the game and support you, again matchable by friends of your opponent. There’s a cap of 15% total possession bonus. If you play the game with a group of friends, being online and supporting tactically can be a great part of the game. Other than that though it’s just too overpowered. As an example, I’d lost 2-0 in the first leg of my Champions League semi-final in the season just gone, so I set a full win bonus, and turned up for the second leg at home, with a full stadium, gaining a 13% total possession advantage as my opponent wasn’t watching. We won 9-1.

CL Final - Scorers

     Overall, Top Eleven isn’t a bad game, but is only at its best if you join as part of a group, and agree among yourselves to play by the same rules. So you either allow token buying or you don’t, and a rule on whether sponsor tokens are fair would be needed as well, unless all players are in the same country. For a while I ‘watched’ all the sponsor videos, which gave me an advantage over some friends that were playing from a different country and had far less available to them.
     If you haven’t played football manager games before, Top Eleven is a good looking game that could work well as a gentle introduction to them. If you’ve played similar games before, unless you’re joining with a group of friends at the same time, then I’d give it a miss.

Written by roystonvanderkerkoff

July 28, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Online Football Management Games

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Is there a market for a ‘How-to’ success book?

    It’s something I’ve been thinking about a fair bit recently. I’ve played a fair few management games over the years, most recently online games against real people, so I have a lot of experience of them. Offline I go all the way back to Football Manager on the ZXSpectrum. I’m not 100% sure there’d be an audience for a book that would help anyone interested in these games to improve, but if there is I’d really like to be the one that writes it.

    One problem with a ‘how-to’ on this subject could be how broad it is. There are a lot of games to choose from, each with their own specific challenges and way of doing things. I suspect there are a lot of similarities though, and there will be basic elements that are universal, or close to it.

    Realistically, I doubt a physical book would be of much interest, so it would probably be an ebook. Maybe with a related website for updates and additional content.

    What do you think? Would anyone be interested?

Written by roystonvanderkerkoff

July 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm

A new start in online football management

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Football Strategy Logo

     Apart from a piece about an ill fated attempt to relive my first manager game experience, and a mention of a successful moment in another, I haven’t written about online football manager games here. Which, given that it’s verged on an obsession at times, is a little surprising. I suppose I didn’t want to admit to the addiction side of things.

Football Manager at genius level (getting arse kicked)

     As shown by having played the original Football Manager on the Sinclair ZXSpectrum, I’ve been playing these things for a long time on and off. For the last ten years though, I’ve stuck with online versions where you get to test yourself against real people. Often many of them, and from all over the world. I never felt there was any point going back to offline versions once I’d found a decent online game. I can’t even remember the names of some of the first ones I dabbled with, but the first that really gripped me was Championship Manager Online. Sadly, that closed after a while. Although that was a few years ago, the fact that you had to pay to play seems to have been the problem, and one which has only got worse with more and more manager games using freemium systems of one sort or another. Even the masters of the offline game, The Collyers, couldn’t keep their online game going for more than a few years with a fully paying system.

Champ Man Online

     Now there isn’t a lot of choice, as virtually all the online football manager games use freemium to some degree. Most will try and keep a level playing field for all managers, but it seems to be beyond their ability to actually keep it that way. A more recent trend is to just go with it and allow the buying of success, mostly seen in facebook based games.

Pay to Win (blech)

     Personally, for a small monthly fee, which you almost have to pay to get the best out of a lot of freemium games anyway, I’m perfectly happy with a pay to play game, as long as it’s good. Finding a good one can be a problem though. There are so many around and you can’t really see what they’re like without getting involved for a while. Then if it’s not really what you wanted you have a difficult decision on whether to stick with it (you may have liked the community within the game and some elements) in the hope it will be more suited to you in the future, or move on, having invested time, and knowing you’ll have to make the initial higher intensity effort again while learning a whole new game from scratch.

     Anyway, having played at managerzone.com and footballidentity most recently, I felt I needed to move on from managerzone. They’ve recently added U23, U21 and U18 leagues there, which suited me perfectly, as youth development had always been my strong point within that game. Unfortunately, to play in those leagues you had to pay extra for it. Given that there was already a ‘club member’ system to be paid for, an additional cast for these leagues was too much for me in a game that I’d been less interested in recently anyway. A perfect storm of both club member and Uxx league season tickets needing to be renewed, and almost having run out of the in game tokens has helped make the decision to mothball my team and move on.
     The decision to find a new game was also driven by a desire to start a game at the same time as other managers I’ve met in different games (mostly footballidentity). We’ve been playing Top Eleven, but didn’t all start together, and as we are based in different countries, have different amounts of sponsor videos to watch, which supplies you with one of the two in game currencies. Yes, it is sadly one of those ‘pay to win’ games. Not ideal then.

Winning at footballidentity

     If only there was place that you could go to where you could get advice on which manager game would suit you and the elements of play that you’re most interested in. Well, there almost is. I started a forum for fans of online football manager games, but have never really developed it as much as I’d have liked. Too busy playing the games instead…
     So with a bunch of us split between those still playing footballidentity, and those who had left (you actually play the matches with users as each footballer, so the time needed us more than most games), and the idea that we could find another game and all start at the same time, I went off and found as many options as possible and made a big list. There was an element of deja vu about my search, having done a similar thing whenever a game I’d been playing closed, or I just felt like a change. Three years seems to be the default period between big searches, and strangely, it seems that the bulk of what I find seems to be largely the same selection of games.
     This time though, I found one that is very new. Still in beta in fact. And in the proper sense of the term, not like the footballidentity version of ‘beta’ which it’s been in since I started playing in season 4, over three real life years ago. The game is called Football Strategy and a stated aim is to avoid ‘pay to win’ entirely. It’s early days, and hard to tell how good it will be, but it’s nice to get a group of friends into a game together at a very early stage. Hopefully the developers will stick with their intention to reset once beta is over too. A nice clean slate and level playing field combo. What more could you want?

     Now that I’ve started writing about football manager games the floodgates may have opened just a crack. There may be many posts about Football Strategy. Or whatever comes next…..

Starting at the bottom in Football Strategy

Written by roystonvanderkerkoff

July 4, 2013 at 4:08 am

Flatout: Ultimate Carnage (Games That Rocked)

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     Well, this was going to be a simple little blog post about a game that rocked my world, inspired by finding a blog which is full of tales of world rocking games, but now it’s gone and got all complicated. One game came to mind straightaway while I was reading this post about Seb Patrick’s experience playing XCOM Enemy Unknown (a guest post on Jon Gracey’s blog “Games That Rocked My World“). And that’s still the game that I’m going to write about, but the complication came when I started thinking about the group of guys I was playing it with.
     Having played games from the early 80s onwards, for a lot of that time I’d been wishing for the ability to play against the whole world. Mostly at football management games, but anything would do. By the time Flatout: Ultimate Carnage came out, the ability to play against the whole world had become the norm, and that’s what really made it such a great experience.
     As I say, I’d been gaming a long time at this point, and being able to play against the whole world could be quite sobering at times. I’m really not very good at FPS games. More disappointingly though, I found that my driving game skills were as far off the best as my FPS skills were. (Fortunately I’ve done a bit better on various online football management games.) So, having been soundly pwned by various children at various games, it was nice to find a website with a group of more mature gamers that were playing various games on different nights of the week, and seemed like a group I could feel at home with.
     And it was. I had a great time playing a fairly wide variety of games with the guys at xbox360leagues.net (RIP). There was a nice active forum on the site, and even an area for members to add blog posts, which I took advantage of. In fact, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia trip reading them back. And looking at the site on the wayback machine. Which is where the complication came in as far as writing this post is concerned. Yes, Flatout was amazing, particularly the first competitive night when we had a full house and had all only just got the game, but all those other games too….
     Maybe I’ll write some more world rocking game posts…

     I’ve always enjoyed driving games. Anything but drift based and I’m a sucker for it. From Chequered Flag to whatever the latest Forza or Gran Turismo is. From Mario Kart and Street Racer to whatever the latest Mario Kart is. Motorhead, Vigilante 8, Burnout variations, Motorstorm and god knows how many more, I’ve enjoyed them all.
     But with Flatout:UC and the xbox360leagues.net guys, and the start of our Flatout nights, I found the sweet spot for my driving game experiences. I suppose the mayhem levels the playing field a little for those of us that were left for dead by proper drivers on games like Forza and PGR. Actually that’s probably not true. Those guys probably didn’t join in so it’s more likely I was just the best of the rest on the basic driving side of things.
     With Flatout:UC though, there was more than just basic racing involved. I don’t mean the boosting side of things either, that’s pretty standard on games where you’re supposed to bash into each Although I have nothing against weapons in driving games, the driving and just nitro/boost system was ideal for this one. No, the driving side in those first few tournaments we had was mostly my domain, but there were also the games and the derbys.
     Within a long tournament of random events there weren’t very many derbys. Which was lucky for me as I’m not very good at them. They’re like very bad FPS games on wheels as far as I’m concerned, and as a terrible FPS player, if I could manage not coming last and at least get a point or two that was as much as I could expect. Actually, the derbys did have a selection of power ups you could grab as well. Not that any did me any good, but the one that beefed up your vehicle to do maximum damage was a lot of fun when you managed to grab it.
     The games were a whole other kettle of mad fish. I don’t think I’d even tried them before we had the first tournament night. Which is obviously not the best idea from a competitive point of view, but as I wasn’t the only one, it was perfect for comedy value. The games used the rag doll physics driver as a ball/puck/dart/stone, launched through the windscreen at the appropriate time. The driver actually got thrown through the windscreen in the racing mode too, and sometimes you could forget you were supposed to be racing as you watched him rolling down the road, arse over tit, to end up in a strangely contorted pile between some bins. Or up a tree. Or hit by every other passing car.
     The games were pretty funny anyway, but this was where having a group of you all connected, and most importantly, with headsets really came into it’s own. You could enjoy the ragdoll bouncing off the rings in the basketball all the way down and getting no points on your own. But you could enjoy it a lot more when you got to watch it happen to someone else and hear their reaction, and everyone elses. Some of the games were actually very difficult. I don’t think I ever got the angle quite right for the ski jump, and the baseball was a complete horror show.
     I think the only way to give a flavour of the games side of Flatout is with a little video:

     It’s a shame about the music there, but at least it shows all the games. I’d forgotten about the last extra bounce you could get in them as well. Very nicely done in the curling clip. It was most useful in the bowling though.

     I’m not a fan of the word banter. Or to be more precise, what it’s taken to mean these days, but having a group all together playing Flatout and having a laugh is what really made the game come alive, and is what I think of as ‘good’ banter. And it was really, really good. The most fun I’d had in gaming up to that point, and only topped by some of the matches Cydonian Knights played in their early seasons on footballidentity.com while building towards becoming a title winning side.
     A lot of the other games we competed in on xbox360leagues.net were a lot of fun too. Some with just high scores, like Guitar Hero II (which was reminiscent of the old magazine system of photographs of highest scores posted (snailmail) to C&VG, Crash, Zzap!64 etc.), but mostly with a bunch of us all in together, headsets on competing to be site champion for a week. And for me Flatout was the best of that bunch.
     One of my tournament wins:
Flatout:UC - tournament win

Written by roystonvanderkerkoff

June 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Uncharted 3 – Review (Sort of)

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     I hate insomnia. I’ve been saddled with it for years, and though at times you seem to have loads of spare hours that should be useful, that isn’t really the case. For a long time I tracked the hours I was sleeping to try and find something that might be the cause, but it didn’t help. What it did show was something I really hadn’t expected. The long term average hours per day were always between 7 and 8 for any given month. Unfortunately, with that being the case, the fact that you end up quite fuzzy headed due to the irregularity of sleep means that those extra hours (which we now know aren’t really extra) aren’t likely to be used productively as you’re too fatigued to make the best of them. Lose, lose.
     Which is a long winded and digressive way of talking about a video game, but for some reason I felt a need to justify having played it at all. And more specifically in the space of two days. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of more constructive, personally fulfilling things that I could and should have been doing. Oh, well, on with the game.

     It’s quite odd that I play games like Uncharted 3. I know they aren’t really my type of game. I know I’m not very good at them. I know that they’ll frustrate me a lot, and yet I’ve played quite a few of them. They just don’t make enough driving games, and football management single player games (however in depth) are no competition for web based versions with huge numbers of real people to directly play against.
     Popping up as a free game on PS+ helps too. And on the upside, there was one evening of gaming that I was saved from by the epic scale of the download for Uncharted 3. Sadly, I only read later (when there was nothing there to start the game post installation) that I could have cancelled the download of the 3d movies that I was never going to watch (10Gb+). And then having to download the multi-player file was the solution to the ‘no game’ problem, so there was another 4Gb+. How silly of me, I should just have known that that’s what would be required…

     That’s the kind of thing that frustrates me with games like this. The bits where there is something you need to do, and if you don’t you are stopped dead in your tracks. Often you kick yourself when you work it out (or look it up), but sometimes there are things that just infuriate the player as the solution is so arbitrary. I say the player, but I mean me. To be fair to Uncharted 3, there weren’t many moments like that, so as someone who isn’t a fan of these games anyway, I guess they did a good job of keeping things on track. I do wonder how new gamers manage to get into a game like this these days though. As an old bloke, I started on ‘joystick with single button’ and have grown with the controllers and the way games react organically as things have changed. I’m not sure how much longer it would take to learn the control system on a current generation console game with no previous experience.
     No, there were other things that I found frustrating in Uncharted 3. Overall, I quite enjoyed playing through the game, but I very nearly didn’t get past the first chapter without uninstalling the lot and playing something ‘proper’. I haven’t played previous games in the series so I don’t know if they’ve done it before, but you start as the child version of the hero. Being limited to walking around and looking at stuff was bad start. Then completely switching to running for your life mode was a bit odd. It actually reminded me a little of the old Dragon’s Quest game during this bit. In those you basically pressed the right button when something on the screen flashed, while the rest was just a bunch of animated videos linked together with the next chosen based on whether you timed hitting that button well enough. Any time you didn’t you got a death clip and lost a life. In this section of Uncharted though, you’re given the impression that you’re completely in control, when really it’s a bit of control over direction and whether you jump or climb, but the underlying method isn’t much different.
     Anyway, the kid running bit was pretty annoying. But unlike those old days of gaming, you aren’t limited to 3 lives anymore. Actually, that might be part of the problem I have with games like this. The lack of jeopardy. There was one jump I didn’t see straight away, so the kid got caught quite a few times in a row, which in older games would be ‘Game Over’ time. But there isn’t any ‘Game Over’ in a lot of newer games. Just those stopped in your tracks bits instead. This was the point I nearly uninstalled, but went to make a cup of tea, while the kid got captured over and over again. As often happens with a short break, I saw what I needed to do as soon as I started again, and off we went.

     As this isn’t a proper review, I’m jumping to much later in the game now, to another running section. You end up on a massive cruise ship at one point, and some dude shoots the glass roof of the ballroom, which means you have to do a bit more running. The ship is on it’s side, hence the roof/letting in water scenario, but that adds to the confusion, and pseudo-jeopardy as you try and escape the in-rushing sea. This is the kind of thing that I find annoying. Suddenly the camera view is head on, so your character runs at the screen. Obviously this is so that you can see the water behind you, but it didn’t really float my boat. The game is very cinematic, which I suppose is one of the things real fans probably love, but it’s not something I like.
     Yes, the whole cinematic thing. I’ve always found cut scenes boring. As already mentioned, the file sizes to get this game downloaded were gargantuan. The size of a .txt alternative for those of us that just want the info and to get on with the game would be insignificant. Games makers, please give us the option.
     There are a couple of other bits where you are climbing and the camera system suddenly changes, limiting your ability to look around. Very annoying.
     Actually, there was another cinematic comparison my brain made at one point, and I couldn’t shake it after that. We meet Elena in the middle of the game somewhere, and she has a slight look of Jennifer Aniston. And this Drake fella has a (very) slight look of Matt LeBlanc. Not doppelgangers by any stretch of the imagination, but it stuck with me all the same. It did take the edge off Drake doing really annoying stuff that was counter-intuitive when you saw him as Joey. Turned the whole thing into ‘The Big Massive Friends Adventure Movie’.

     One other little thing that was a bit annoying was the massive range in level of ‘suspension of disbelief’ required. An orphan running around thieving in South America – low. Hooking up with a bloke that catches him – low. Suddenly being rescued by a sheik – high (but following the way it’s done in the movies anyway). Swimming around the pirate base at sea – medium/high. Swimming in the sea after the storm starts to blow in and not getting moved in any direction – ridiculous.
     Yes I know, it’s a game and needs suspension of disbelief from start to finish, but the swings of level in this game were a bit extreme at times. Possibly a symptom of the desire for it to be cinematic. Finding ‘treasure’ and weaponry/ammo all over the place is just a given in gaming, despite being in the higher reaches of belief suspension.

     Though I was close to stopping early on, it was quite enjoyable overall. Unlike a couple of other games I got from PS+ recently. I should really make it a habit to look up any games on there that I don’t already know of and see if there’s any point at all in downloading them in the first place. Shadow of the Colossus and Ico were a complete waste of time. I just don’t get what the hook is in games which largely involve wandering around in a big empty landscape.
     I think this pair must be fairly old games, hence the HD added to the descriptions, and the poor graphics. Anyway, after about five minutes with one of them, I’d wandered about on a horse, found one worm to stab, and my horse had run into a few trees due to an inability to turn properly, I sacked it off. The second very quickly looked like it was part of the same series, so after pulling a lever and finding a room I had to find a way out of I was bored. Uninstall, uninstall, do something else.

     So after rambling for ages my conclusion is basically the conclusion that most people could come up with prior to ever playing the game. I’m sure I could have myself.
     If you like this type of game you’ll probably like it. If you don’t, you probably won’t.

     As much as it was grudgingly enjoyed, I’m glad I’ve finished Uncharted 3, and I’m really looking forward to playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown now. I really enjoyed the original, many years ago, and having been massively tempted to get this version after playing the demo, it’s a huge bonus that it’s popped up on PS+. And there’s no ammo or weapons lying around all over the place, so no suspension of disbelief issues! Just your average everyday alien invasion game. Brilliant.

Written by roystonvanderkerkoff

June 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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