Saturday, September 16, 2017
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Given my father's habit it is hardly surprising that I myself carried a pocket knife through my teenage years and right through college. A boy's life is full of adventure and a boy's pockets are deep and full of things. Carrying a pocket knife made sense when it was the only tool I owned but even in the 1970s this was somewhat unusual. I was the only boy in my middle class surbuban secondary school classroom who carried a knife although I did meet other tool carriers later in engineering college.
Then I grew up got and got a job in an office and somehow a pocket knife didn't seem essential any more. Adult pockets are filled with keys, wallets, jangling change and later phones. In the adult world we have dedicated tools which are better for any given job than a pocket knife. In the office we have real scissors, guillotines, box cutters and other dedicated tools. At home I have a kitchen full of chopping, peeling and paring implements, and a shed full of tools. No matter what the job there is almost always a proper tool at hand to do it. Why carry a pocket knife?
I do still have several pocket knives. I keep a battered single blade folding knife in my tool kit and I keep a Leatherman in my car for emergencies. My favourite knife however is Victorinox Huntsman that I bought in Zurich airport about thirty years ago. It is about as large as I can comfortably carry in my pocket and it does have a number of useful tools including a long and short blade (I prefer the short), a scissors, an awl and a corkscrew. I don't carry it every day and I don't need to but I know where it is and it regularly gets called into service when we cannot find a corkscrew or a package arrives from Amazon that needs opening. Occasionally I put in in my pocket in memory of my father. I think I will carry it today.
|Looking good for a thirty year old. The toothpick and scissors spring have been replaced while the corkscrew mini screwdriver was a later addition.|
Aside #1: This post was inspired by my stumbling down the rabbit whole of Youtube knife videos. Knives are a big deal for some people and humble Victorinox and Leatherman tools are only begnner models in a hobby that rises to $1000+ custom made pocket knives.
Politics warning: There is some overlap between knife collecting and gun culture / survivalism / militarism particularly in the US so some knife channels may annoy more liberal viewers. Nick Shabazz on the other hand is a very non political non controversial Youtuber who has a great knife channel so go there if easily triggered. Wranglerstar is another channel I really like. It is more of a homesteading / general tool show although he does cover knives. Colby who hosts the channel is a gun loving Trump voting republican who occasionally voices his political views. However he comes across as a very decent down to earth nice guy. He hasn't managed to change my views on politics or on Trump in particular but he has certainly made me reconsider my opinion of Turmp voters.
Aside #2: I now know that the modern parlance for the sort of knife my father carried around is EDC (every day carry).
Aside #3: Irish law is occasionally a source of puzzlement to knife lovers. On one hand Irish knife law is very strict and bans every knife and all other sharp implements. Even screwdrivers have been cited as items that it could be illegal to carry. On the other hand it is an acceptable defense that you have a reason for carrying that knife for legitimate work or leisure purpose. This means there are no hard and fast rules about legal blade lengths or legal blade shapes. If you have a legitimate reason for carrying that knife in that location then it is legal but the onus of proof is on you. Who decides what is legitmate? In the first instance a garda officer (policeman) and then ultimately a judge. The law is ambiguous however and in theory you could be arrested for bringing a swiss army knife into a public place if a garda thought you meant to cause trouble with it (although given the choice I would rather bring a scewdriver into a knife fight than a swiss army knife). It probably isn't ideal to have such ambiguity in the law of a modern nation but in practise it seems to be applied reasonably. You won't get into trouble for a multi tool or pocket knife but you will have a harder job explaining away a dagger or a machete unless you are actually using it to chop down trees.
Saturday, September 02, 2017
It started on the top floor of a double decker bus. I was coming home from work and I sat near the middle as I usually do. This day there was a rather loud gentleman sitting several seats back from me who was clearly intoxicated on alcohol or something else. He was determined to engage in loud conversation with those around him as he expounded his opinions in rather colourful expletive laden language. This happens occasionally on public transport and while it is annoying you learn to ignore it or perhaps move seats. I did my best to ignore the loud gentleman although those sitting closer to him didn't have that luxury and a few of shuffled forwards, some even going downstairs.
There is this thing with some drunks where even when they are being outwardly friendly there is an ominous threat about them. There is a sense of violence is waiting just below the surface and that if you don't respond in the right way it could explode. It was only when the bus pulled over to make an unexpected stop that I put together the pieces in my mind and I realised that this gentleman was one of those drunks. I put together the half heard snippets of conversation and the fact that some had obviously reported him to the bus driver. I realised that the object he was loudly displaying to the other passengers was a knife and the semi joking rant he was making took on a much more sinister tone.
What to do? Those of us who were still on the top of the bus slowly realised what was going on. Should we continue to keep our heads down adopting ostrich armour or should we flee. The fact that the drunk had noticed and begun to comment on those who had already left made this decision harder.
We didn't have to wait for long because two police cars arrived and at least four Gardai (Irish policemen) boarded the downstairs of the bus. Happily the drunken gentleman didn't immediately notice their arrival but those of us who had remained on the top of the bus did and were concerned about the likely reaction of this knife wielding gentleman should four uniformed Gardai storm upstairs to arrest him.
Four uniformed Gardai did not storm upstairs. Instead one casually clad Garda officer came up and started to engage the drunk in conversation. I cannot recall the details of what he said but I do remember that he started to banter with him in language as expletive laden and colourful as the drunk's own. The policeman was non threatening and convivial. He talked the drunk down with tenderness and compassion. He even managed to convince him to hand over the knife and got the gentleman to come off the bus and into a waiting police car. There were no handcuffs involved and no obvious signs of arrest.
The whole incident was so low key it is hard to remember details of what was said and how exactly the policeman had managed this. Shortly thereafter the bus continued on its way. Thinking about it I realised I had just witnessed a master at work.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Sadly only the first two Halo shooters made it to the PC along with a more recent RTS game called Halo Wars but I still love the series. SPV3 replicates all of the missions of the original game and extends them with extra sections, extra enemies, new weapons, new vehicles and new abilities. Did I mention the extra enemies? There are a lot of new enemies. Happily they game supplies you with a lot of extra firepower to deal with these enhanced threats.
The mod is incredibly polished and feels like a professional game. If you are interested you can grab the latest version from this Reddit thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/halospv3/
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Wednesday, May 03, 2017
Sunday, April 30, 2017
The ambush battle went well. I squeezed their marching line between a wall of infantry and a barrage of missiles with some cavalry charges thorn in for good measure. I then chased down every last one of their routing soldiers including most importantly the general. Army annihilated and battle over I recruited some of the captives into my own army and was waiting for the loading screen when ... Errors Message: "Attila Total War has crashed". Arrghhh,
I reload a save from just before the battle, use the same strategy and cross my fingers when I get to the same loading screen: It crashes again.
I tried auto resolving the battle and it didn't crash but instead of a total annihilation I got a Pyrrhic victory leaving my opponent alive and my forces in a sorry state. More experiments revealed that I could also avoid the crash by playing the battle myself and not winning as convincingly. It seems like the game only crashes if I am doing well! Is the game just being spiteful?
Monday, April 24, 2017
Even low level dwarven warriors are very tough and tend to win battles just by standing still and letting the enemy come to them.
Dwarves have easy access to some of the best ranged troops and artillery in the game.
The dwarven economy is very strong so it is easy for them to make lots of money.
The dwarven building tree is very streamlined that and allows a player relatively quick access to high quality units.
The dwarven starting position is easy to defend with nearby access to weak green skin armies and settlements for early game combat experience.
Dwarves have a huge technology tree that is chock full of good things. You can buff up your already tough warriors to a huge degree as well as getting massive buffs to your economy.
They are slow.
They are very slow.
In the multiplayer game dwarves are considered one of the weaker factions hampered by their lack of mobility but sadly the AI doesn't seem to be able to exploit this so dwarves are a very easy faction to play. Easy doesn't mean fun unfortunately because their lack of mobility leaves you with very little choice of tactics. Dwarves play a slow defensive game using artillery to taunt enemies to dash themselves against the impenetrable ranks of dwarven warriors while dwarven ranged troops rain death from a distance. They win these battles very easily but it isn't a whole bunch of fun.
There are nice things about the dwarven campaign: The book of grudges is a lovely idea that is well executed. If anyone wrongs you (eg conquers a settlement or raids your lands) it goes into the book and gets added to the list of offenders you must punish. If the AI was better I could imagine dwarven attributes could lend themselves to some epic last stand defence battles but sadly it isn't and increasing the difficulty level just increases the number and stats of enemies not their intelligence.
Perhaps I am getting burned out of TW Warhammer. Certainly this campaign isn't keeping my interest. There are some interesting mods out there (Steel Faith Overhaul has caught my interest) but it may just be time for me to move on.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017
1. Streamlining: Total War has been getting more streamlined for the last few iterations but Warhammer has brought a new ruthlessness to this process and has not been afraid to sacrifice once loved aspects of the game-play to deliver a slicker faster paced game. I miss the old epic city assaults for example but have to agree that the simplified versions in Warhammer speeds things up a lot.
2. Polish: Total War games have always looked and sounded great but they were often let down by niggles underneath the hood. Thankfully Warhammer seems to have overcome this and the game is very polished. Everything seems to work pretty much as it is supposed to and for the most part it works as you would expect it to.
3. A combination of streamlining and polish means that this is probably the most accessible Total War game ever for newcomers. Creative Assembly have produced some horribly bad tutorials in the past but in Warhammer the tutorial process has been streamlined and semalessly tied into the campaign. the ingame help files are still somewhat lacking (no search facility?) but active tooltips make up for a lot of that and for some reason the active tooltips give more detailed information than the help file.
4. Despite the streamlining and simplification this game still has great depth and variety to enthrall old timers. Moving to a fantasy setting has freed Creative Assembly from the shackles of history and brings new elements such as monsters and magic to the table. The various factions look and play completely differently and they have completely different objectives and motivations. This leads to a huge variety of strategic and tactical gameplay options. I started playing Empire a fairly traditional human race with a mix of units but even then I had to adjust tactics to deal with the monsters I was fighting. For variety I also started campaigns with the Dwarves, with the Greenskins and with Brettonia. Each has a completely different play style and objectives. Even playing a different human faction is completely different. The chivalric Bretonnians for example have a feudal society which treats peasants as disposable but they are shackled by the often bizarre constraints of their own chivalric code.This code frowns upon many standard Total War activities such as ambushig or looting.
5. Total War Warhammer knocks it out of the park in terms of ambience, setting and attention to lore. Total War games have always been good at this but it is great to see that nothing has been lost in the move to a fantasy universe. This was actually one of my biggest concerns before I stated playing the game. My enjoyment of previous titles has always been strongly linked ot how much I liked the era. It is no coincidence that I have spent most time in Rome I and also Rome II of any of the previous games becaus eI am just fascinated by that historical setting. I was never a Warhammer buff so most of the Warhammer lore is new to me but Creative Assembly's evocative realisation of the rich Warhammer universe has sucked me in.
So for all these reasons I am willing to concede that Warhammer is probably the best Total War game ever an honor that many observers had previously given to Shogun 2.
Aside: Even though I give the crown to Warhammer on objective grounds Rome is and probably always will be my own most played and most fondly remembered Total War game. I have always loved the period and Rome was the first Total War game I really got stuck into. Rome was wildly over ambitious and deeply flawed yet totally wonderful all at the same time.
A few examples:
Cities in those days were sprawling metropolises with narrow street and you could actually see a city map from the campaign world before going to fight in those very streets. Assaulting a city was a long drawn out affair as you first picked the locations to assault and then employed artillery or sappers to break down the walls before streaming in to engage in close quarters fighting on the walls or in the narrow streets.
Town management was far harder than in later games and demanded a lot of micromanagement. You could try to automate things but that invariably led to problems for example Unfettered growth led to squalor which in turn often led to unrest. Rebellions were a constant nuisance and you had to garrison every town with an army of troops.
Troop recruitment and replenishment became particularly challenging in long campaigns because troops could only be replenished at their own recruiting centres and it drew from the local population to recruit. If you were fighting at the outskirts of the empire there was no way to replace losses of your elite troops so you had to guard them carefully while padding your ranks with the limited offerings that were locally available.
Mercenaries were a thing. With enough cash you could hire mercenary troops from other races. Often these were just needed to make up the numbers but sometimes you could get specialists that were better than your own troops in a particular role (Balearic Slingers ftw).
Saturday, March 04, 2017
Brief background: My current gaming rig is long overdue an upgrade (currently running a 2009 era Xeon 3470). In 2014 I was due to replace this system completely but put it off in favour of an overhaul initially to wait for Windows 10 and then later to wait for AMD Ryzen. Well here we are in 2017. Windows 10 is old news and Ryzen 7 has finally been released. I have run out of excuses.
I am old enough not to have completely gotten lost in the hype about AMD Ryzen but I was very much looking forward to a new competitive CPU market that might bring bring high end CPU power down into my mid market price range.
I guess my hopes were that Ryzen would bring i7 level performance at i5 level prices. Realistically I was expecting half way between i5 and i7 performance at slightly better than i5 pricing. Instead the release of Ryzen 7 appears to be offering i5 level of performance in gaming at i7 prices.
To be fair Ryzen is a terrific step forward for AMD and is genuinely competitive with Intel in many applications that require multiple cores. Ryzen gives you far more cores for your money than i7 and excels in tasks such as video editing. Unfortunately gaming relies heavily on single threaded performance and Intel's CPUs still shine here because they have faster clock speeds and they do slightly more per clock cycle.
Bottom line is that for gamers AMD still has no CPU to compete with Intel's i7-7700k and because Ryzen 7 is priced to compete with i7 they dont even have a CPU to compete with the i5-7600k yet.
Having allowed my initial hopes to dash upon the harsh rocks of reality I will allow a bit of optimism to climb back into the boat. Ryzen is a brand new product and there are indications that BIOSes and Windows itself have yet to be properly optimised for it. I wouldn't be surprised if Ryzen performance numbers get better as experience with the part grows and systems are patched. Even more significant from a gamer's perspective is that the next Ryzen parts to be released (Ryzen 5) will have fewer cores and cheaper prices. It is quite likely that these will be just as good for gaming as Ryzen 7 so these could finally be the i5 killers I am really hoping for.
There are other benefits attached to the launch of Ryzen: Competition is likely to bring down the price of Intel parts. Also AMD based motherboards have generally offered more options and more flexibility than Intel based motherboards for a cheaper price.
So I still don't know whether to upgrade with another Intel or switch to AMD but I have decided to wait a bit longer. Ah well My 7 year old CPU is still coping with modern games like Total War Warhammer but it won't win any benchmark contests.
Monday, February 27, 2017
So what do I think of Warhammer so far? I am playing the default Empire campaign and still in the very early stages but so far I am impressed. The interface remains familiar but streamlined and the new features of magic and heroes seems to be handled well. One unusual change for a Total War game is that you can no longer conquer all the territory. Playing as a human I can destroy an Orc faction and I can raze all their towns but I cannot occupy their settlements and I believe the opposite is also true. I have yet to see what impact this has on overall game strategy because there are still plenty of human territories for me to conquer / annex.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was seeing how well the Total War formula translates to a fantasy setting. I have always loved Creative Assembly's dedication to capturing the ambience of whatever historical setting they choose and I am happy to report that Warhammer does not disappoint in this respect. The game drips with lore and ambience and even though I am far from expert on Warhammer the devs seem to have done their usual meticulous homework on this one. Of particular note is the map. I don't know if there were any existing Warhammer maps before this but freed from the constrains of real world geography CA have gone to town with the map and produced a wonderful playground of fields, forests, treacherous mountain passes and deadly marshes.
"What about the AI?" you ask. I haven't experienced any disasters on the battle map yet but a couple of experiences on the campaign map have convinced me that normal Total War standards apply:
First off is sieges. In previous Total War games I have used the tactic of laying siege to a superior army that is garrisoned in a city because I know that eventually they will be forced to leave the city to try and dislodge me. This robs them of fortification advantages and allows me to fight from a position of defensive strength. In previous games the defenders would wait till they were nearly out of time and then sortie to try and dislodge me. I tried this twice in Warhammer and both times the defenders never sortied. Despite having superior numbers the defenders waited behind their walls until starvation had devastated their numbers (a new mechanic I think) allowing me to walk into the city and mop up their miserable remnants. This is surely broken because it makes sieges an "I win" button.
A second observation relates to diplomacy (always a sore point for Total War AI). In the relatively short time I have been playing I found myself becoming friendly with a dwarven faction. Initially this arose from a shared mutual enemy as we worked together to annihilate a goblin faction and from this we established a non aggression pact and a mutually profitable trading relationship. Green smiley face and a positive friendly attitude all round. Unfortunately these particular dwarves were also at war with the powerful Wood Elves. This required some deft diplomatic manoeuvring from me because the Wood Elves were the strongest faction on the map and maintaining my trading relationship with the dwarves while not attracting the ire of the Elves was stressful. I thought I was managing it until suddenly the dwarves declared war on me out of the blue marching on one of my towns. What? So much for friendly relations. I marched my own army down and sent them packing. For good measure I followed them back and looted their capital city. Now they want to be friends again declaring peace and offering new treaties! The only good thing about this idiocy is that it has improved my standing with the Wood Elves quite a bit.
Monday, February 13, 2017
There is simply too much stuff out there. How on earth does one choose which stuff to spend the time and effort consuming? Mega corporations like Netflix, Google and Amazon have spent millions trying to answer this question with algorithms that analyse your profile and your past behaviour to predict what you would like to read, watch, play or buy next. Facebook and its ilk try to leverage the power of social connection to answer this question on the premise that if your friends like something then maybe you will like it too. None of these services answer the question to my satisfaction however. Their recommendations are wrong as often as they are right and the very mechanical nature of their algorithms puts me off.
Trusted reviewers are another obvious approach but in today's world of instant access to everyone's opinion that is simply swapping one problem of overabundance for another. On YouTube for example there are thousands of video game reviewers and the more popular ones often have widely differing opinions. Which reviewers should I follow? Can someone start reviewing the reviewers please? Aggregate review sites can sometimes be useful for highlighting the all time classics that everyone really should sample but the mechanical nature of their algorithms obscures as much as it reveals. A quick look at the top rated video games on the last 90 days on Metacritic will quickly convince you that that approach is fraught with hazard. While there are likely to be some gems on the list I defy anyone to play and enjoy all of the eclectic assortment of titles that pop up.
Over the last year I have had great success with Humble Monthly's curated bundle of video games. Of the six or seven games in each month's bundle I have always found one or two that have held my attention long enough to more than justify the bundle price. More often than not it is one of the lesser known indie titles that grabs me rather than the headline game. Last month I spend a lot of time playing Neon Chrome. I am currently enjoying Steamworld Heist from the February bundle although I do intend to sample XCOM 2 later. Teh key word for me here is "curated". I really do get the impression that each of these games are chosen by someone for a reason. Some of the choice are more "experimental" that others but with very rare exceptions I don't think any of the games are just thrown in to meet a price target.
Monday, January 23, 2017
I highly recommend the game by the way. It is an action platformer with a couple of twists. Twist 1 is that you play as a random selection of "Bros" (translate: thinly disguised action heroes from 80's movies), You never know which character you will get next and they all have very different weapons and skills. The second twist is that the terrain is completely destructible. Altogether this adds quite a bit of strategy to the usual shooty carnage. A major bonus is that the game is very co-op friendly and it is a complete blast in co-op.
Now what game will I try next? Another indie game will be quick to pick up but I have a few AAA titles in my queue that I also want to try. Deus Ex Mankind Divided is tempting.
Sunday, January 01, 2017
The original Hill Climb Racing was something of a misnomer given that it was a single player game with no actual racing involved. The sequel addresses this and features four vehicle cross country racing. Hill Climb 2 has topped the app charts and the game's leader board is filled with thousands of players from all over the world. It is a lot of fun and it certainly adds excitement to the game as you speed past Joe from USA and Jim from Bulgaria on your way to winning a race.
It is all very slickly presented so it took me a while to realise that there is some slight of hand going on. It wasn't until I noticed that you can pause and restart races that it dawned on me that I wasn't racing other players in real time. The game actually pits you against pre-recorded runs by other players in asychronous multiplayer.
Asychronous multiplayer is very common in mobile games and I have tried several where you create an army or a base which other players can attack while you are away. This tends to be a very stale affair though because attacking AI controlled troops can never compare to the excitement of a human opponent. In a race game the illusion is much better. The recorded player drives just as they would in real life. They struggle at the same tricky bits and they speed up to try and steal a victory at the end in recording just as they do in real life.
There are many advantages to asychronous multiplayer in this case. You can race whenever you want and never have to wait for suitable opponents. It also allows every player to be a winner or at least to win more often than they lose.
Does knowing that it is an illusion spoil it at all? Perhaps a little. My thrill at crushing Joe from the USA is a little diminished when I realise that Joe is oblivious to it. Indeed Joe may actually have won the race the first time that particular run was recorded. For all I know strings are secretly bring pulled by the boffins of free to play to ensure each player achieves the optimum win loss ratio for monetisation.
Asychronous racing could have real world applications especially if used with virtual reality. Amateurs could pit themselves against Olympic athletes and those same athletes could train using past races of their competitors.