Category Archives: Article

Series of posts which together form part of an article, or sometimes longer single posts which have a specific focus

Movie Memories: Clash of the Titans

clashI’ve always been a fan of fantasy and to a lesser extent sci-fi.  There’s something about mythology, heroes, dragons, monsters, wizard and magic that I love.   In 1981 I saw Clash of the Titans at the pictures.  To the best of my knowledge and memory (which, if this series of posts is anything to go by, has been proven to be weak) this was the first film, or certainly one of the very first films, I went to see without immediate family.  So I guess I went with some friends.

I certainly remember feeling grown up, but my lasting movie memory was the opening few minutes.  There was a beach, and along it walked a naked woman.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I was in a cinema, and there was a naked woman on the screen!

Titans in the UK had an A rating, which when I started writing this post I thought meant it was suitable for 15’s and over only, but according to Wikipedia’s history of BBFC ratings meant it was ok for anyone over 5 to go in alone, with parental advice that it might contain scenes not suitable for anyone under 14.  So I would have been 10 in 1981 when it was relased.

Of course I loved the mythology and I was scared by the Medusa and relieved when her head was removed and disgusted to find it was in a bag, and then amazed by the mechanical owl.  But mostly, I remember the woman on the beach.

Painting Diary – Chronoscope – Sasha DuBois – part two

The eyes have it

First thin layer of flesh tone paintThis is the second part in a series of articles covering the progress of a single miniature painting job (Sasha DuBois, Time Chaser).   In the first article I covered the basic preparation of the miniature.  In this article I show you how I can take a perfectly good miniature and ruin it from the outset with a hack skin and face job.  Rather than just include a long line of images near the end, I’ll scatter them throughout the paragraphs, each one has a title which should let you know which stage it’s at.  For full pictures and descriptions you can still check out the Picasa web album.

Once I’d prepared the figure I had a think about basic colour schemes and skin tone.  I’m really uncomfortable painting much other than ‘sun beaten caucasian’ skin, I’ve tried a range of colours in the past from the realistic to the fantastical and either my technique doesn’t suit them or I’m just not able to convert what I see in my head into colour choices and colour application on the final figure, so I went with my traditional skin colour choice.  For the rest of the figure I want something bold and colourful, this is a steampunkish / sci-fi figure and I really want it to be vibrant.

Continue reading Painting Diary – Chronoscope – Sasha DuBois – part two

Painting Diary – Chronoscope – Sasha DuBois – part one

Introduction

Figure in blister packI wanted to paint something and I also wanted to write some reasonably lengthy and meaty blog posts, so I thought it made sense to combine the two things.  Welcome then to my first painting diary where I’ll cover the process I followed to paint Reaper Miniatures’ Sasha DuBois (part of their Chronoscope line).  The whole article is split up into several parts, and this is part one.

It’s worth saying what this series of articles is not.  They’re not a guide on how to paint, they’re not an example of the right way to paint, they’re not about how you should paint.  What it is, is purely a diary about how I painted this specific miniature.  At the moment, I’ve got no idea how the figure will turn out, I may ruin it, I may give up half way through, I may finish it and hate it, or complete it and be really proud of it.

Along with the blog posts I’ll be updating a Picasa web album with all the photo’s I take.  You can check out all the photo’s in the on-line gallery here.

I was going to track the progress of a space marine I got (for free!) when I bought some paint, because it would be something totally different for me.  I’ve never painted a space marine, I don’t usually paint sci-fi miniatures, it’s male, and it’s fully clothed.  However, I eventually decided at least for my first painting diary (on this platform) that I’d stick partially to form.  Hence the figure is female and is at least partially naked (bare midriff), however it is at least a sci-fi miniature.  So, here we go.

Continue reading Painting Diary – Chronoscope – Sasha DuBois – part one

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part four

Welcome to the fourth and last part of my short (yeh yeh) review of the Lord of the Rings Online (you can find parts one, two and three behind those links).  As Grete said while she proof read the third part for me, it’s not really a review, more of an introduction to the game.  Generally I agree, although I could argue it is a review, but not a critique.  Either way, it was a little longer than I expected when I decided to answer Ottaro’s original question.  Hope you found it useful.

4. Other Stuff

There’s the stuff that makes up a game (the content, the system, the graphics) but there’s also the non-stuff or maybe the quantum-stuff which is much harder to pin down which makes a game worthwhile and gives it longevity.  I’ll talk about those things here, I’ll give you a list of all the stuff I remembered I hadn’t spoken about, and I’ll finally (thank the Greek gods finally) wrap up.

4.1 Immersion

A game can’t be totally responsible for your eventual immersion.  People with hectic lives will find themselves being dragged out of the game, or distracted and not able to ‘lose themselves’ as easily as people in quiet households.  Some people find it easier to focus on a single thing and immerse themselves for many reasons than other people.  But a game must certainly take some responsibility for enabling that immersion.  If the game constantly drags you out of the action because of the control system, or if the information on screen is so anachronistic that it constantly reminds you you’re playing a game then it’s always going to be harder to feel fully involved. If the graphics on the other hand are impressive, representative and make you feel like the world could be real, then it’s going to be easier.

Add to this the other players and to a lesser extent the other non-player characters and how they behave.  If the players around you are constantly discussing their mortgage or car purchase in an easy to read channel, or the NPC’s act dumb all the time, then suspension of disbelief becomes harder and harder.

How then does LoTRO rate?  Well firstly you need to remember I’ve played exclusively on a roleplaying designated server, and that means people are pretty keen on keeping out-of-character chat to a complete minimum and limited to the /ooc channel only.  In that respect, it’s very good, people try hard to talk in-character in fellowships or in /say and there’s very little non-IC chat to remind you about the bills you should be paying.

Alongside the well behaved players, we have NPC’s in LoTRO that sometimes call to friends for help, sometimes run away to shoot at you from range and sometimes call you names during the fight, it’s not going to win AI awards but it certainly helps.

Finally, the beautifully rendered world sucks you in, and before you know it you’re staring into fires in Goblin Town feeling the warmth and wondering if that smell is roast pork or maybe, just maybe, somewhere, a Hobbit is being turned into dinner.
Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part four

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part three

Welcome to the third part of a short review of Lord of the Rings Online that I hope I can keep to four parts.  Parts one and two have come before this one (I like a traditional numbering scheme) and part four is on the way.

3. Technology

With any luck, this part will be short!  The content and system behind an on-line roleplaying game combine to make up much of the overall experience.  Certainly for many players those two things are enough to decide the fate of a game.  However, how the game is actually presented on the screen and how the different technology elements work can also make or break a game for quite a large section of the player base.  That’s what this part is going to talk about.

3.1 Interface

The interface is the window through which we look at the game and the system through which we control it.  Bad interface design has killed games in the past and will sadly kill games in the future.  I freely admit I struggled with the LoTRO interface at the outset.  I was very used to EverQuest after 7 years, and I wasn’t at all sure about changing.  Over time though I have gotten used to it and while there are features which annoy me there aren’t any show stoppers.  Discussing the interface in full detail would take hours and thousands of words, I’m not going to do that so I’ll just give you a general feel for it.

The interface is actually several elements,

  1. how do you control the game
  2. how does the game display information to you
  3. how does the game handle chat
  4. how can you configure those three things to suit you

3.1.1 Control

I’ll handle control first.  Basic movement in LoTRO is pretty standard, cursor keys or WASD for moving around, combinations of keys to look around rather than turn.  You can use left mouse button + mouse to turn and right mouse button + mouse to look.  Holding down both mouse buttons makes you move in the direction your character is facing.  You can mix and match all those combinations.  Anyone who’s played a FPS or a recent MMORPG will find using that control system easy, it’s pretty standard these days.  You can position the camera either floating behind the character (3rd person) or inside the character (so the game is 1st person).  I played EQ in 1st person but for some reason LoTRO works a lot better for me in 3rd person and I’m pretty used to it now.

Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part three

Movie Memories: Dead Poets Society

When Dead Poets Society was released in 1989, I went to see it at a cinema in Newcastle Upon Tyne.  I’m pretty sure it was the Odeon, but there’s a small chance it was somewhere else, maybe the Tyneside Cinema across the road from the Odeon.  I really, really enjoyed the film.  I found it moving, inspirational and it really moved me.

But what I remember most about seeing it is that I cried.  The cinema was packed, so busy that it wasn’t possible to sit with the people I’d gone with.  We all ended up sitting on our own, amid the crowded rows of people.  You’ll note I’m being vague about how many of us there were, because once again, I’m not 100% sure who I was with.  I think it might have been David Sant, or a few of us.  I really wish my memory for people was as good as my memory of the movies themselves, but alas it’s not to be.

Anyway, we were forced to sit on our own as it were, surrounded by strangers.  Once the film got going it wasn’t a huge issue, after all it’s not like we’re going to be chatting to each other, although it made the adverts slightly less interesting.  However, by the time we got near the end which if you’ve seen it you’ll know is highly emotional, tears were streaming from my eyes, I’m man enough to admit it.  I was balling my eyes out.  I was flooding the row of seats.  Which is all the more embarrassing when you’re sitting next to people you don’t know sniffling, and yet also incredibly handy since you’re never going to see them again in your life (most likely).  I remember standing, when it had finished, and trying to get my eyes and face dry before making it back out into the light, so that no one would know I’d been crying only moments before.

That is my enduring memory of Dead Poets Society.

No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world — John Keating

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part two

This is the second part of what started out as a small review of Lord of the Rings Online and has turned into an epic monster.  You can check out the first part back here, and parts three and four are coming up after this one.  This bit (part 2) deals with the system aspects of the game, i.e. how things work.

2. System

It doesn’t really matter how much awesome content there is in a game, if the system behind it sucks like an open chest wound.  People will only put up with so much pain to get to the content they enjoy.  Systems have come a long way since the early online roleplaying games which extolled the virtues of lots of hard work for small increments in power.  These days developers realise the casual gamer market is just as key to the success of a game, and people with families can’t commit to six straight hours in front of a keyboard every night.  Systems have developed that allow casual gamers to get the most from games but still offer opportunity for complex character development and fine tuning.
Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part two

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part one

splashscreenOttaro was asking how much I liked Lord of the Rings Online (you can read his comment here), and rather than write a 400 word comment I thought I’d write up a more general review. Only it got out of hand so I’m breaking it up into individual posts.  This is part one which has an introduction and covers the game content.  Part two looks at the system behind the game, part three covers the technology of the game such as the graphics engine, the user interface and so on, and part four provides my overall impressions, a look at the social elements in the game and how immersive I find it.  I reserve the right to completely change all that once I actually write the articles and find I’ve waffled endlessly about something else.

Background

So that you can get an idea of where I’m coming from with this review, here’s some information about me.

I played EverQuest for something like seven years.  I played as a new player who knew nothing, as a player in a big casual guild who sometimes got groups with guild members but often grouped with random people, as someone who ended up in a raid guild one expansion behind the curve, as a ‘hard core’ grouper doing the hardest group content (at one point), as a casual raid-force leader, and all levels in-between.  At one point I cared about the ratio of hit points to AC as a warrior, I cared about the amount of avoidance and shielding I had.  I spent time looking at upgrades and trying to work out how to gain tiny incremental benefits.  I had three maximum level characters (when 80 was the maximum level) and one of them had every useful AA (my warrior) before the last expansion came out.  Eventually I just got tired.

I love fantasy and sci-fi, and I deeply love the world that Tolkien built and the characters he wrote about.  I love the Lord of the Rings story, world, characters and mythos and I have done so since I was 11 or 12.  However, I’m no serious scholar of Tolkien and Middle Earth, so if I think things aren’t in the lore but they are, don’t have me shot.

Before I stopped playing EverQuest (EQ) I’d tried a few other MMORPG’s, EverQuest II (EQII), World of Warcraft (WoW), Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), Guild Wars (GW), Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) and Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO).  I had the LoTRO account for over a year, playing on and off before I finally stopped EQ and LoTRO was not the cause.  I fell back into LoTRO when I wanted a social on-line game and found that EQ was just too much.

I am very much a casual LoTRO player.  I spend some time solo,  most time with my wife and every now and then a little time with a few friends.  Sometimes we group, sometimes we just chat while we all do our own thing.  Before the release of Moria I had a maximum level character (50), but it had taken over 12 months to get there.  I’ve tried all the classes to some level or another and all the races.  I have never raided, and have spent very little time in the elite dungeons (top end content at various levels).  I don’t look hard for item upgrades, when I get gear as rewards I make a snap decision based on which seems best using a bit of guesswork.  I’ve read something like three articles on the web to give me a very basic insight into choosing weapons.  I have very little idea how my character stats compare to other peoples, in fact, I have very little idea what my character stats are at all.

I play on a roleplaying designated European server (the European instance of LoTRO is run by Codemasters, I guess it’s licensed to them by Turbine, this means that we don’t always get all the features, like my.lotro.com for example).  The roleplaying server keeps the number of trolls in the out of character chat down to a minimum.  Although I don’t roleplay in any real sense I do act in-character as much as possible in the /say channel (i.e. the channel which emulates characters talking to those nearby) and if you want lots of roleplaying it’s there for the taking.
Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part one

Movie Memories: True Lies

In August 1994 I went to see True Lies at the cinema.  I think I was living in Rotherham at the time, which means I would have seen it with Jack, Phil and Chris.  However, it’s also possible I had just moved to Teesside in which case it may have been Charles and Ness.  I changed jobs in August of that year but I can’t remember when.  I have a very strong feeling it was Rotherham, in the multi-screen complex in the Meadowhall Shopping Centre.  Note: frankly, I can’t remember who I went to see it with, for which I am eternally ashamed, in my defence I claim complete and utter memory crappyness.  I really did like you, and I enjoyed your company, whoever you were.  I swear.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know it almost appears to be a serious spy movie at the start, and then as it progresses it becomes clear it’s not as it seems, and the comedy begins to ramp up.  It remains an action flick, but definitely changes in in tone.  Well, we were happily watching True Lies, and had just gotten to the part where Harry starts chasing a bad guy with Harry being on horseback, and chasing him into a hotel of some kind.

At that point, the fire alarms went off (we weren’t sure what it was at first) and we had to evacuate.  We were a bit incredulous, but we did as we were asked.  The cinema gave us replacement tickets, and we went back at a later date and watched the movie again.  The weird thing was, having seen the first bit, the tone of the movie changes almost at the flick of a switch moments after the scene we saw before we left.  Up until then it had been at least semi-serious, but the scene we didn’t see was Harry attempting to jump across from the roof of one building to another on his horse, and the horse baulking with a silly face.

Totally comic moment.

It just sticks in my mind because the interruption of a few days meant we all went back expecting the serious tone to continue and were jarred when it didn’t.  My lasting memory of that movie is expecting fire alarms to go off whenever Harry’s horse goes into the cinema.  The more I think about this film the more I have an image of going up some narrow escalators surrounded by a food court of some kind, so I’m growing increasingly convinced it was Meadowhall shopping centre.

I really enjoy the movie, have seen it a bunch of times now on video and DVD, and although some parts make me cringe in general I think it’s a pretty solid action comedy worth your time.  Just don’t smoke.

Movie Memories: Tarka the Otter

When I was young (I’m not sure of my exact age, my memory for that kind of thing is terrible but this was before 1984 so under 13 years old) the Royal British Legion club, which was situated in our local ‘shopping centre’ (which we called The Top Shops) played films.  I think it was at weekends.  I recall them playing onto a screen with some kind of projector.  My memory isn’t good enough to tell you why we were there (I was with at least my cousin Chris, that much I do remember), if it was just to see the films or for another reason, but I vividly remember seeing one film in particular.

Tarka the Otter.

I strongly remember not really being interested in the story of an otter, no matter how cute it might first appear to be.  I was probably sulking, I was a really sulky kid.  I know you find that hard to believe now when I’m unnaturally happy at all times, but it’s true! I sulked!

I remember seeing other films there, at the Royal British Legion, but I can’t for the life of me remember any of them except Tarka the Otter. I remember the smoke in the air and the stale smell of beer, the red vinyl covered seats with rips and foam showing through.  This was the age of supermarkets that were the same size as todays news agents who charged for carrier bags and still labelled food products with 1/2p stickers, hardware stores that smelled of metal and wood and sold 3amp fuse wire next to spare broom handles, local grocers and butchers who sold far better quality products than those supermarkets but couldn’t compete on price, and real Stotties (from Greggs!) filled with bacon and peas pudding.

I don’t recall if the RBL was showing the movies at the same time as their cinema release somehow, or if they were playing videos on some kind of projector (which seems more likely) and if they had or needed a license of any kind.  It’s just an odd memory of an odd time when places other than cinemas seemed to show films.