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Topics - Darkness

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Gaming General / Archimedean Dynasty - Available on G.O.G
« on: November 23, 2017, 08:32:03 AM »
I spotted this was on GOG the other day (and apparently has been for two years now, which suggests I've been remiss in checking GOG). Not downloaded it yet because I want a clear run of time to lose myself in it.

I played this back when it was released in the late 90s and it was such a superb game. Great story and great gameplay, which has the challenge level set just right. Some of the missions involve a bit of lateral thinking and taking advantage of features of the aquatic setting, such as shutting your submarine down and using water currents to drift you past security emplacements or when your defensive systems fail, piloting in such a way that incoming torpedos fly into the sea bed or rocky outcroppings.

Graphically dated by today's standards but, still evocative of the undersea setting.

At only £1.59 on GOG this is an absolute bargain.

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Other Tech Toys / Thrustmaster: Warthog - Review
« on: October 25, 2017, 06:04:34 AM »
Pros: Superb build quality, easy to set up, good default button layout in ED, all the buttons you could need. Easy to set up for Elite Dangerous.

Cons: Price (but, you get what you pay for), no yaw twist means additional cost of rudder pedals, weight of stick takes getting used to as does button resistance. The HOTAS is metal and does get cold, which is most noticeable on the joystick.

Review
With the demise of Saitek’s innovative force sensitive X65F, the Warthog is the most expensive HOTAS you can get before going into the super specialist market. The question is whether it is worth it for the £300+ the HOTAS costs, plus another £70+ for yaw pedals, bringing your total cost up to £400. You could get the X56 Rhino for £100 less and not have to worry about yaw pedals.  You spend around £100 on the X52 and have £300 spare for a new graphics card or gaming chair or a number of other things.

The way I approached why I wanted the Warthog rather than anything else was a process of elimination, starting with the X52/T-1600 as the baseline.

The first thing is you want your HOTAS to provide all the buttons and switches you need to keep your hands on the damn throttle and stick (HOTDTAS).

Whilst the X52 and T-1600 are very customisable, you do have to set up various different mode states to get all of the flight controls for ED mapped onto the controller.  Plus some of the button placement, such as on the base of the joystick, is less than ideal. So if you want more buttons, you’re going to need to spend a bit more cash on the X56 Rhino.

So you’ve got the Rhino. You’ve got a lot of buttons and hats and switches.  You’ve spent over £200 on this, so you should be happy you’ve got all the buttons and switches you need. But, the Rhino is a bit plasticky. It lacks weight and shifts round your desktop when things get a bit heated like the X52 did. Overall the build quality is fine, not amazing but, very much like that of the X52.  The base of the throttle is a little cramped and accessing the buttons and switches by touch alone is tricky. So maybe you want something a little more durable, with a slightly better laid out throttle, which doesn’t have quite so many niggles with the software and is less likely to suffer from squeaky plastic issues.

And so you get the Thrustmaster Warthog which has all the buttons and switches you need, with software that doesn’t require you to fiddle with it just to get the default settings to work.  Where the big and weighty throttle has room for all the buttons and switches the Rhino had, and more, without feeling cramped. The HOTAS  is mostly made out of metal, so there’s no cheap plastic feeling and there is a reassuring heft to the whole thing. The Warthog feels like it is part of a larger machine, rather than just a peripheral.
But, you discover there is no yaw on the joystick.

You could go back to the Rhino or find a way to control yaw by reconfiguring commands to different buttons or you could spend £70 on some yaw pedals, freeing your hands from running another set of controls, and then you’re really in the cockpit of whatever it is you’re flying.

Then you read about the VKB Gunfighter series of joysticks, which are supposed to be even more responsive and higher quality than the Warthog and cost more than the Warthog did for just the stick…….

Basically, you get what you pay for. If you’re willing to pay £300+ for the Warthog, you’re getting £300+ worth of HOTAS. You don’t really “need” the Warthog but, if you get one, it is worth it.
The Warthog is a far bigger leap from the X52 than I thought it would be. The reliability of the HOTAS and its responsiveness far outstrips the experience of the X52. Once I’d adjusted for the button layout, I can do everything I could in ED with the X52 and more. I have far greater confidence in combat with the Warthog, as it affords far more control than the X52 did, due to its superior array of buttons.  Plus, the tactile experience of the Warthog is just a joy and really hard to convey beyond saying it is so much more deeply satisfying to use than the X52.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not going to start saving for a VKB Gunfighter stick because, apparently, I’ve acquired some sort of “prestige flight sim joystick” addiction.
 
Detailed Review of HOTAS and control layout

It was apparent from the moment the box containing the Warthog arrived, that this was going to be a very different HOTAS from the X52. The sheer weight of the box gave it away. Either this was a heavy as piece of kit or the packing material was made of lead or depleted uranium or something. Instead inside the box were two pleasingly heavy components. Heavy because they’re mostly made out of metal, with plastic in places as necessary for tactile purposes.

The Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS is, firstly, a replica of the controls of the infamous Republic Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt, affectionately known as the Warthog. A ground attack jet armed with a devastatingly huge 30mm cannon which eats tanks for breakfast. We’re in serious simulation buff territory here, a small step away from the dedicated nerdy people who source old aircraft parts and build their own replica cockpits.

The attention to detail for these components shows. Although these can just be plopped onto your desk for flying with (and their weight means they’re not going to slide around if things get frantic), they’re clearly intended to be mounted in some suitably serious way due to the screw points in the mountings. These are seriously durable looking controllers.

Installation was pretty standard. Install drivers and Target control program. Plug in HOTAS and off you go. I used the default ED Warthog keybindings and the game has worked with the Warthog with no fiddling required, compared to the shift state fiddling needed to get the X52 to behave.  This was the case for both flight and SRV controls. The controls for the SRV are very natural although the turret controls are not as intuitive as they could be.

These controls feel very different to the X52 because of their weight. They feel substantial. The stick has more resistance to it and whilst the force required to move it around isn’t excessive, it is more than that of a plastic stick and this takes a little getting used to. The movement is very smooth and the controls responsive to precision movement. The weight of the stick means that you won’t inadvertently jostle it around when moving your fingers to different buttons, which makes staying on target a lot easier. The throttle has adjustable resistance but, the default setting I found to be fine for me. The throttle moves easily and smoothly, with just enough resistance that you glide it to a desired setting without it overshooting.

The stick and throttle are comfortable to hold and their weight just makes them feel….well….right. They add to the immersion of being at the controls of a real ship.

My only gripe here is that the stick can drain the heat from your hand if it is cold. A bonus on a warm I day I suppose, in that it doesn’t get sticky and warm the way an all plastic construction does but, on a very cold day I might tempted to wear gloves. This isn’t a problem with the throttle, which is fine.

The button placement on the stick felt very natural for my hands. The stick has three four way hats at the top, with a secondary fire button, a trigger button and another button round the front, which my index finger can find quite naturally. Down the left hand side is a four way thumb switch for menu navigation. At the bottom of the stick is the pinkie switch for FA on/off and a button behind that which centres p.o.v.

The main thing I noticed with the stick buttons was that the secondary fire button takes a little getting used to, as it requires some force to fully depress. I can’t work out of this was just stiff to start with or I’ve gotten used to it. The button has two states to it (short and long press) but, ED only recognises one of these. Combined with the weight of the stick, this could be offputting for anyone lacking in hand strength, as I found it a little fatiguing until I got used to it.

Unlike the X52/X52 Pro and various Thrustmaster sticks but, like the X55 Rhino, there are no buttons on the base of the stick. Which is fine, as such buttons are not remotely convenient anyway. I rarely used the ones on my X52.

The biggest drawback of the Warthog stick is that it has no yaw twist. This is because it’s a replica of a controller than doesn’t have a yaw twist. If yaw twist on the stick really matters to you, then this is an issue to be aware of. You’re either going to have to map yaw to another part of the controller (hardly a difficult task, given the abundance of options) or buy some yaw pedals, which adds to the cost of an already expensive controller. Then there is the small matter of getting used to yaw pedals to factor in but, like anything, once you’re used to it you find you’ve got even more control.
The throttle has so many switches, buttons and four way hats, I won’t try to list them all but, after using the X52 throttle (which is very ergonomic) the Warthog replica throttle takes a little getting used to. It is comfy to be sure but, your hand rests on it differently. Part of this is to due with the throttle being a split throttle. Sadly ED doesn’t support split throttle controls (or maybe not so sadly because that does make things a lot more complicated) and so I keep the throttle is locked as a single throttle.

The biggest adjustment for me was getting used to the position of the boost button which is, by default, activated by your left pinkie finger or ring finger. I was used to activating boost with my thumb on the X52 but, honestly now I’m used to it this configuration makes more sense. My thumb is the more articulate digit and is better served dealing with the multiplicity of controls on the side of the throttle whereas my pinkie finger is very much single use in this setting. It’s good for pressing a button. It has a button to press. I can press that whilst my thumb is doing something else.
My index finger is dealing with the four way hat for thrusters, a job to which it is used. This four-way vexes me, as it feels like it has a large dead zone, in that I almost have to move the switch to its extreme before the thrusters respond. It doesn’t quite have the fine control I would like but, neither did the X52 and apparently this is an issue with switches of this sort.

My middle finger is operating the headlook control and this is a remarkably sensitive controller that takes some getting used to. The control is both very fine and very precise, allowing for quick movements around the cockpit with minimal finger movement. The equivalent controls on the X52 felt positively clunky by comparison to this little delight.

The four way hat and three switches down the side of the throttle controlled by the thumb I find to be easy to reach and nicely tactile. The four way hat is the other part of navigating menus (it flicks through the different tabs) and also switches between weapons groupings, quickly and responsively. The other buttons cover reverse thrusters, speedbreak and subsystem selection. The latter seemed a little cumbersome at first but, with practice allows for very rapid selection. A third switch is unused, at least I think it is. I’ve not used it yet. I should probably assign something useful there.
The bevy of buttons and switches on the sturdy metal base of the throttle cover all the other useful commands. Landing gear, cargo bay, deploy/retract hardpoints, FSD on/off, silent running, chaff, heatsink, shield cell, jettison and so on and so forth. Even with all that assigned, there are still unused buttons and switches on the base. I’ve pretty much zero need to touch the keyboard and I expect with a little diligence, I could probably map every flight control to the base of the throttle.

The gripe I have here is not with the Warthog throttle but, with how ED works and assigns commands. For example: the game has a command for “landing gear” which brings the gear up and down at the press of a button. This is fine if the command is assigned to a button but, where the command is assigned to a switch it doesn’t quite work. A switch needs the game to have two commands “gear up” and “gear down.” As it stands, you need to flick the switch for landing gear twice to make the gear do its thing.  This is irritating.

The switches are very satisfying to use. They’re metal and feel very durable.

Also, the throttle base has green LEDs which nicely light everything up. Sure it is not as shiny and futuristic as the lights on the X52 but, I miss this less than I thought I would. I do like shiny lights

3
The Argument Chamber / Kneeling to the flag
« on: October 01, 2017, 12:58:34 PM »
To me, this seems like a nobrainer. But, then I'm not a nationalistic person and generally view nationalism with the same sort of disdain as I view malaria.

NFL footballers are kneeling the flag, because racism continues to be an endemic problem in the US. Magnified, by the current President who appears to be a bigot of the highest order.
People want NFL footballers not to kneel, because they're concerned about "disrespect to the flag." As an outside observer the phrase "disrespect to the flag" comes across very much like an excuse to ignore the issues being raised. Issues which are vastly more severe than people being "disrespectful" to whatever deeply subjective notions people attached to the flag.

It seems to me simple enough that if people are sufficiently upset to kneel to the anthem/flag/whatever, then the issue is serious. And that addressing the issues causing them to kneel, will in turn, cause them to stand again.

The problems with racial inequality in US society go back centuries. In modern society, post the 1950s, NFL players have been "respecting the flag" and yet the problems of racism continue to persist.

When people start kneeling, why insist they stand? That is just a perpetuation of the status quo. If the President came out and said something like "ok, I get the message, we'll address this issue as a priority, providing you stand up" then there would be some merit to asking people to stand. Instead, Trump doubled down and threatened these players instead.  Which if anything, only gives further justification to why they should be kneeling in the first place.

The notion that "people sacrificed for the flag" to give it a totemic quality that means respect for it should never be violated doesn't wash. The people who sacrificed gave their lives for a varying set of principles and values. Some people gave their lives for the flag because they had no say in the matter. A lot of poor black people gave their lives for the flag as a result of conscription and I doubt very much, whether they would be complaining about NFL football players kneeling now about rights and equality for black people. After all, the only reason so many young black men were conscripted was because they were poor and uneducated which are, in turn, the products of inequality in US society. Indeed, it seems rather crass and illogical for a black NFL footballer to stand in respect of a flag/anthem, that evidently doesn't respect all of the lives sacrificed for it.

The Americans complaining about NFL fooballers kneeling, are just playing pick'n'mix with which "sacrificed" lives have value to them and which do not. I'm willing to place a safe bet that the lives with "value" are those of loved ones and the sacrifice of "all" lives for the flag is viewed through that lens. When a white person complains about the disrespect to lives "sacrificed" for the flag, it is fair that the lives they are thinking about are "white" lives. Not out of racism but, simply because of how people's minds work. They're not thinking about sacrificed black lives and certainly not thinking in the context in which those sacrifices were made.

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Gaming General / Soulsborne (Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne)
« on: September 21, 2017, 07:17:21 AM »
Because we don't have a thread on these games.

Dark Souls 2 (SOTFS) is my favourite of the series. The story, the mechanics, the atmosphere, the zones. I love it. Sure Dark Souls to has this whole interconnected world going on and its beautiful but, for me, it quickly turns into a slog and I don't enjoy the mechanics of combat nearly as much of those of 2. Dark Souls 3 is basically a lazy homage to 1 and whilst I prefer its mechanics to those of the original game, its not nearly as much fun as 2. I understand all the complaints people level at DS2 and they just don't stand up to scrutiny to me, possibly with the exception of ENB's critique of adapability but....... I've played through the game without putting any points into ADP and frankly it isn't the issue people make it out to be.

The biggest criticism I can level at 2 is..................The Royal Rat Authority. Fuck that boss.

All of this said, I do love the games and at some point I will pull my finger out to complete Bloodborne and maybe even get Demon Souls for the PS3.

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Gaming General / Elite Dangerous - 2.4 and beyond
« on: September 20, 2017, 05:38:26 AM »
I'm still playing this. My wife bought me the best HOTAS you can get  (the Thrustmaster Warthog) as a Birthday present and with a new PC up and running, Elite Dangerous is back to being a hugely immersive experience. I mainly play it to relax at the end of the day, as its so darn pretty and I can do low impact/high profit activities (like missions or exploring) to unwind. My new HOTAS takes the immersion level up a notch and I just need to find a way to combine that with voice attack + minus, to make the experience complete. I'll probably write a review of the Warthog at some point, because it excites me and I'm tedious that way.

But, I want to talk about Elite Dangerous here.

Graphically it continues to be pretty, with various tweaks and optimizations making it more so and run a lot more smoothly. The graphical enhancements to ships for damage and wear and tear, are very impressive.

Gameplay wise a lot has changed since I last wrote a review of the game, which was my second review of the game, incorporating various updates and improvements. Unsurprisingly, the game has now more updates and improvements. Although, unlike other MMOs (and ED is sort of a weird hybrid of MMO/Co-op/Single Player), Frontier haven't simply thrown more content at the game, but most of he updates are refinements to existing systems which add depth and generally improve the experience.

1. More ships = more variety = smoother experience in terms of progressing to more expensive vessels.
2. More ship fitting options = gives a wider variety of roles to different ship classes and sizes, which means that the game progression isn't linear from small ship to big. It all depends on what sort of task you want to perform and also, what sort of ships you like to fly.
3. Additions to missions and points of interest in space. Much more variety here and a meaningful sense of progression with the different political bodies around the galaxy, so the game feels less aimless (beyond just make money). Missions can be technically quite interesting to do.
4. Balance of payment for different activities. Missions and exploration now more rewarding, so they're no longer a sideshow to the main money making exercise of trading. Combat still has some issues in terms of risk vs reward, given improvements to NPC AI.
5. Engineers - add more ship customisation options and progressing through engineers is well integrated into the main gameplay, so you can do it alongside other activities or just focus on that. This is what I'm doing at present in my limited playtime and this makes for a nicely involved and focused experience. Contains some unhelpful RNG elements, which are a little frustrating.
6. Community goals appear to be more frequent and continue to help drive the overarching narrative for the game.
7. Related to CGs, one of the main stories is about the colonisation efforts outside of the "bubble" of occupied systems, led by a giant mobile space station owned by the cyborg Jacques (originally appeared in one of the stories published with Frontier Elite 2 in 1992). There is a whole mass of players currently working on the occupation of the new frontier.
8. Improvements to the in game small factions system, which allow the player base to more dynamically influence the galaxy by supporting or hampering the efforts of smaller factions. Currently this feels like the more meaningful way for players to influence the galaxy than the actual massive faction system of Powerplay. Game now also supports, by application, player groups aligning themselves to specific in game factions.
9. The story about the Thargoids has continued to progress over the year and now, they're finally here. Next patch introduces the return of the Thargoids and the military complications that arise from that.
10. Improvements to crime and punishment coming in the next patch should help address some player concerns about lack of consequences for PvP in open (where I don't play because PvP asshats).
11. Customisable pilot models and faces, adds a little more individual personality to CMDRs.
12. Ability to give names to ships and add nameplates to ships so the individual names can be seen in space (if you get close enough).
13. Ship transfer. No longer any need to manually move all of your ships to a new "home" system, providing you don't mind paying the charges and waiting for the transfer to take place.
14. Module storage and transfer. Keep much loved modules and move them to where they are needed.

All of this aside Elite Dangerous is, for me, one of the most immersive games I've played and continues to be so. Frontier have managed to add more depth to the game and have done so in a way that retains the vast feeling of space but, as somewhere with lots to do (the neutron star "highway" is one example). The game continues to be about the player making their own story in the universe, rather than being shoehorned into Frontier's narrative, which players will love or hate, depending on how much structure they want from a game.

The biggest achievement for me is how each of the ships in Elite Dangerous feel very different to fly and the game is as much about finding a ship which appeals to you as a pilot, rather than it simply being "bigger is better" as the earlier Elite games were.  If you enjoy flying a particular ship, then there is enough scope in the game now to mean staying in that ship isn't a horribly limiting experience. Obviously small fighter ships will never be useful for trading or carrying planetary exploration vehicles but, they're no longer simply a stepping stone to a larger combat vessel. If you like flying the Eagle and are prepared to invest in learning how to fly it well, then you can merrily combat away in that. There are limitations of course, in that it will take you a while to gun down a bigger ship by yourself but, against smaller ships it can be a highly effective dogfighter and ordnance launcher.

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