John

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14th August 2013

8:45am: London
As many of you know, I'm now working for a company in London.

I'm working at home most of the time, so still based in Oxford. However, I will be coming to London fairly frequently (I'm currently looking at every other Friday).

It would be good to catch up with my London based friends on some Friday evening (for a drink or wandering around a museum; conveniently the British Museum is open late on Fridays).

I know a lot of people are busy this Friday, but drop me a note if you want to meet up at some point.

12th July 2013

5:29pm: BBQ
Anyone interested in a barbecue tomorrow (Sat) late afternoon/evening? It's supposed to be rather warm (TM).

21st April 2013

6:12pm: ConStellation
A couple of weeks ago, I headed to Derbyshire for ConStellation, which was a gaming con / group holiday organised by leathellin. This coincidentally coincided with my 40th Birthday, which was a great excuse for a party.

What I did on my holidaysCollapse )

On the subject of Interesting Times, I'm putting together some thoughts for a not-quite campaign of it. If a one-off game is a film, and a campaign a tv-series, I may be aiming for a mini-series. Thus I may try to schedule some slightly longer than one-off games for the occasional weekend. This won't be imminent though, as I've got lots of other stuff happening at the moment.
5:19pm: British Museum and Cambridge
Following my previous post, I did indeed make it to the British Museum, which I've not been to in ages. After I had wandered around for quite a while and seeing a tiny fraction of what is on display, leathellin joined me to look around the current Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition.

Though I'm familiar with the history of Pompeii, I was astonished by how well preserved may of the artefacts were. While I didn't think there was anything particularly inspired about the organisation of the exhibition, it was well put on, and had a fine collection.

This weekend, I've been near Cambridge visiting my Mum, and enjoying the belated sunshine.

19th April 2013

11:50am: I'll post something about ConStellation (the Peak District Con) soon, but for now:

I'm off to London today, and hope to get to the British Museum Evening opening later. Anyone else around?

In other news I've been summoned for Jury Duty next week which is a pain (mainly in timing) but hopefully will only be a couple of weeks.

30th March 2013

7:39pm: Procrastination
I'm supposed to be writing my game for the upcoming con, but I seem to have been distracted by playing through Bioshock Infinite.

Fortunately, it's not that long, but it is very good. As has been mentioned many times (so isn't much of a spoiler), the ending is indeed rather odd. I rather liked it though.

A quick tip though: as it is quite short, I do recommend starting on Hard difficulty and going slowly (there are a lot of details along the way).

17th November 2012

10:21am: Interesting design is no substitute for a business model
As I think I've mentioned before, I've played a fair bit of the interesting and wildly-different-to-everything-eelse Flash-based 2d MMO Glitch.

My original reaction to this game was that it was an awesome piece of technology and an interesting piece of game design, but I couldn't see how it was sustainable.

After being notable for one of the only MMOs ever to go back into beta from a launch (though Final Fantasy XIV is sort-of doing that at the moment), Glitch is finally closing.

It did innovate in a lot of areas. It was one of the only MMOs where you can actually drop items, and have some effects on the game world (including building stuff on your home streets). It also had the best crafting interface I've yet seen in an MMO in that if you are trying to make an object, and that object has another craftable object as a requirement, you can make the second object in the same UI and so on.

However, it does show that if a game has too high a running cost, the wrong technology and just not enough players then it's not going to be viable even if it is unique.

21st October 2012

10:22am: XCOM
Just finished the new XCOM game (PC version), though on the pretty easy "Normal" difficulty only.

I've been really impressed by it. It's a lot shorter than the original, but it's more that it's streamlined rather than dumbed-down. It's still a proper turn-based squad game, and still has most of the tactical complexity of the original, both in the missions and on the map.

It's certainly worth a look for fans of the original, or other gamers looking for something different to the piles of FPS games around at the moment.

11th May 2012

2:10pm: Avengers
Went to see the new Avengers film last weekend. This was better than expected.

The notable thing from my perspective is that it's the closest I've seen in a film to an rpg session. Clearly the heroes are PCs, and the poor GM has to find things for each of them to do in any scene, as the party goes around bickering and causing collateral damage.

EDIT: corrected autocorrected word.

27th April 2012

11:03am: Museums
Off to wander around some London museums today.

I'll be finishing up at the Natural History Museum for their late night opening of the Animal Inside Out exhibition, hopefully meeting leathellin and possibly others there.

13th April 2012

8:34pm: Just back from a fantastic week in Devon with lots of role-playing friends. Much of the time was spent playing various role-playing games, but various castles and other castles were visited. While away it was also my birthday, so much food and drink was consumed.

I ran a one-off session of my game mentioned in previous posts. This seemed to go pretty well, though the rules need a few tweaks, and there are some things that I had to compromise on to squeeze into a one-off. I may try to run some more one-off adventures or a campaign.

I got to play some great games too, including ones from lathany and ao_lai.

On the board-games front, and fair few games of new-favourite Dominion were played. I played Betrayal at House on the Hill, which was fun, but I'm not sure how well it will stand up to repeated play.

10th March 2012

12:09pm: Cards
Just received a delivery of cards from moo.com for the tabletop RPG I mentioned before. I'm really pleased with how they came out, though a they are really business cards, they are a bit too think and stiff to riffle shuffle.

My website may be currently unavailable due to the issues with the server which bateleur has been posting about, so can't share images properly, but there is a photo in my Facebook feed.

2nd February 2012

6:09pm: Endearingly rubbish
I'm the kind of person who gets annoyed at poor customer service. I'm also the kind of person who does actually bother to complain to companies when they have given me poor service, and have had reasonable success in actually getting acknowledgement of such and change.

In a related bit of news (bear with me, you'll see where I'm going with this eventually), I've turned to the Dark Side, and got an iPhone (they clearly are Dark Side - Apple is obviously evil, but they are indeed quicker and more seductive).

For this secondary phone (I've still got my basic phone - my main number hasn't changed), I needed a new network operator. On the recommendation of a colleague, I selected the new virtual operator GiffGaff.

They are rubbish.

Having said that, and referring to my first paragraph, you might expect me to go off on a rant about how rubbish they are. Quite the opposite, I'm actually quite pleased with them.

Why? Because to my surprise, they seem to have pulled off the marketing feat of that classic British state of being endearingly rubbish.

They genuinely are rubbish: their website was impressively broken in trying to make a card payment originally, they have no phone customer service at all, they can take a while to respond, and so on. When sending me an extra SIM to pass on to a friend they even managed to send it to an address with a line consisting of the word 'None'.

What is endearing about them are two things. Firstly, they make no secret about being rubbish; their forums are full of tales of them being rubbish. Secondly, as well as being pretty cheap, they are refreshingly free of the bullshit terms-and-conditions that most other operators enforce. They don't have contracts, so don't try to screw more money out of you on cancellation, and don't provide phones so don't have awkward locks on the phones or otherwise tie you in. Calls to 0800 numbers are actually free. If you use more than a bundle of minutes, they don't charge you a fortune.

Obviously, as they are rubbish, I can't unequivocally recommend them, but I'm glad there is a phone operator around that does offer a different choice.

12th November 2011

12:55pm: A great time for computer based RPGs
I've been playing several great video game RPGs recently. What's particularly impressive is that they are all extremely different, which is good for diversity in the genre.

As I mentioned before, I've been playing Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii. This is a fairly purist JRPG, but with MMO influences. I'm approaching the end, and it's maintained a high level of quality, and is genuinely massive. The only criticisms I have are that some of the side quests start to get a little tedious, and the Wii is rather underpowered for what it's trying to do.

I've also mentioned that I've been playing some Glitch. This is a browser based MMO. It's really cutesy, but quite playable. Despite having no combat, it does have most of the other things you'd expect of an MMO. I've had a lot of fun with this, but it's a bit lacking in content so far, and I feel I've seen most of what it has to offer in a few weeks' of play.

At the opposite extreme, I've also been playing some Dark Souls on the PS3 (though it's also out on the 360). This is in the action-RPG sub-genre. This is a great game, but it isn't something to play for relaxation. As has been commented extensively on the net, it's one of the few properly hard and unforgiving games there are. It's been a trend for a while for games to be carefully tuned to not be too difficult, and to be forgiving of mistakes. Dark Souls goes to the opposite extreme. It autosaves, so you can't try out other options, so decisions and mistakes are permanent. There is nothing to stop you attacking merchants (so be careful when using the controller), and if you kill them you'll not be able to trade with them for that game. There are a few surprisingly interesting moments due to the permanence of decisions: for instance, there is a very convenient magic trainer in a central area. I then found a more advanced trainer. On talking to the first trainer he asks where you got such advanced magics. I selected the option to tell him, and he left to find the trainer, and I can never use him again for training.

Like many people, I've also just started playing Skyrim on the PC. This is a classic in the Western RPG tradition. I've not yet got very far, but I've liked what I've seen up to now. It runs surprisingly well on my ancient PC. This is good for playing it, but means I can't use it as an excuse to upgrade my PC...

I've not got it yet, but Skyward Sword (the latest Zelda on the Wii) is also getting stellar reviews. This is again wildly different from any of the above games, but still in the broad RPG category.

13th October 2011

11:43pm: Strange Game
I've been playing a bit of Glitch recently. I'm not entirely sure how good it will be in the long term, but it's quite amusing at the moment. Despite the ridiculously cutesy style, it does seem to be a genuine mmo, but just in 2d and entirely in Flash. There seems to be a queue of about a day to join, or I've got a few email invites.

2nd October 2011

2:40pm: Kew
Given the glorious weather (and not just glorious for October), leathellin suggested a trip to Kew yesterday. This being a great idea, a group of us took up this suggestion.

It's been far too long since I have been there, and I really shouldn't leave it as long next time, particularly as it is easy to get to from Oxford.

We had a wonderfully relaxing (though hot) time wandering through the gardens. I've put up a selection of photos on my flickr page.

21st September 2011

8:30pm: Good game on Wii shock
I've recently been playing quite a lot of Xenoblade Chronicles. It turns out that the reviews are correct and it really is one of the best JRPGs of this generation. It's also on the Wii only. Which is strange.

I had to get my Wii back from leathellin to play it, which indicates how little I've used the Wii recently.

1st August 2011

5:57pm: Folk festival
Just got back from a weekend at Sidmouth Folk Festival where we were helping glittertigger's dad celebrate his birthday.

I've never been to a folk festival before, and it was fun. The main concert from Show of Hands was good, even if the support were patchy. It was good to get a feel for what glittertigger got up to in her youth.

I still don't like camping though; if only we had the weather that is happening now at the weekend.

1st July 2011

10:48pm: Survived June
After a ridiculously hectic June, we can now relax a bit. Hopefully this will allow us to catch up on various things, and have a more quiet time at home.

On that note, for a technical reason, it is important that we have a picnic and barbecue at some point this weekend. Possibly Saturday afternoon/evening depending on weather.

Also, I've not forgotten about organising some more anime evenings. If you contacted me before about this (or do so now), then I should be sending out emails to see what people thing soon.

Similarly, if you are in the book group, sorry for not announcing my choice; I will do soon.

* The technical reason being that I got carried away in Tesco.

27th June 2011

11:18pm: A&A Wedding photos
Like various others who may be reading this, we're just back from Norfolk from Amanda and Andre's wedding.

This was a lovely event, and the venue (the same place as the regular August party many have been to) was superb as usual. It was also great to catch up with some people I've not seen for a while.

I've now posted an initial set of photos from the event.
8:35pm: Why did no one tell me these existed?
While in Denmark, we came across Lego board games.

This strikes me as a genius concept. The bricks immediately lend themselves to a board layout, and mean that pieces don't go flying if you knock the board. It's also (obviously) easy to customise parts. The dice used by all the games are also customisable, as each face has lego studs on them.

They are also fairly cheap, as they don't need many pieces, and Lego (the company) do know the logistics of packaging custom plastic bits in a box.

We bought one for the son of the people we were staying at (the main house being full). This was Rameses Return, which was pretty playable for a simple game. You can stack the parts you collect on the heads of your figures as a giant hat.

21st June 2011

11:39pm: Pictures from Fanø
As promised, I've put up a selection of photos from our trip to Fanø.

This was a nice relaxing short break, which was largely spent pottering around the island being tourists, and watching lots of Germans fly strange kites. We also performed the required activities of playing games (I've now finally played Race for the Galaxy), having a barbecue in the forest and drinking beer.

Fanø is ridiculously picturesque, and stands in contrast to the industrial port parts of Esbjerg just across the water. It's an extremely pleasant place to stay; even if it is now dominated by tourism.

20th June 2011

9:34pm: Back from a tiny island to a much bigger one
We're back from a few days on Fanø, which was great. More stuff (including pictures), in a bit.

23rd April 2011

9:17am: More on Portal 2
Given some of the questions, I should probably give a mini-review (based just on the single player game):

First off, yes, it is as good as the critics have been stating (it's currently running as one of the highest rated games of all time on metacritic). It keeps the pace, stories and puzzles of Portal 1, while substantially increasing the length, and massively increasing increasing the graphics detail. Portal 1 though a great game was mostly set in simple grey boxes and had almost no animation; the sequel has the lush environments you'd expect in a current game, and in a nice touch many of the environments themselves are animated.

There are some negatives though: the single player game, while much longer than Portal 1, is still a little short and it doesn't have the equivalent of the challenge levels from Portal 1. There is a coop game (which is completely separate from the single player campaign), but it's a bit of a pain to play that (which is why I haven't yet).

The other negative I had is that there are some places where I think the puzzles are not quite as sharp as the first game. There is a little more re-use of puzzle elements, and there are a few too many that are basically spot the obscure place that you can shoot a portal. In fact, of the three puzzles I was stuck on for more than a few minutes only one was because it was an interestingly tricky puzzle; the other two were because I missed a portal surface.

One thing it does almost without fault though, and that is the voice acting (and the scripts for them). This is uniformly superb, and does a lot to bring alive a game that otherwise could feel a little dry.

22nd April 2011

11:18pm: Portaled
I've just finished the single player part of Portal 2 (on the PC). This was awesome while it lasted (though it's a little lacking in extras or replayability).

The only real extra is the coop mode. Sadly this is a little awkward to do as it does need two systems, two copies of the game and two steam accounts.

Anyone else with Portal 2 on the PC or PS3 looking to try coop?
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