And two for one…

I have been trading, and I traded two for one…

Recently I have gotten the urge to get back into playing folk music. Mainly in the form of going to sessions and other meetups. I used to play the recorders, but they drown under the more commonly used instruments in Swedish folk; fiddles and nyckelharpas. It is kind of hard to play when you can’t hear yourself. I could start bringing my electric instruments and all the other gear, but that would be a lot of work. And it would really be a bother if we were to play outdoors. So I have traded two old electrics for an accoustic one.

Two old violins

Two old violins

The two violins that I traded. An Arirang EV-20 and a Fender FV-1.

My new violin

My new violin

It is a Guarnerius 1734 model one, built by Lennart Lundmark in 2003. If I hadn’t lost all my violin playing due to guitars, cello and gamba the last year I could have posted a sound clip too, but that will have to wait for a while.

I’ll have to put some money in between the trade, but it is well within the budget for a travel instrument. And I managed to cull my collection, so now there is room for that neat guitar I saw on the Internet… – Fender FV1 product page. – Din Fiol (Your Violin), the company/luthier where I did the trade.

Killzone 2 annoyances

The game design course I am taking has reached the segment on play testing, it is one of the better in the course and also accessible for people who are not taking the course but still interested in the subject. This week’s blogging assignments contains the option to ‘playtest’ a game and look for bugs or flaws. As the topic of this post suggests I am taking a closer look at Killzone 2 on the PS3.

The most obvious bug in Killzone2 is that it crashes. The game doesn’t crash a lot, but sometimes, suddenly right in the middle of a game it freezes. Sometimes it is enough to hold down the PS-button on the remote and exit the game and start it again, sometimes you have to restart the console. Had this been a game on Windows I would have just shrug and blamed the OS or graphics drivers, those crashes are not that frequent after all, but on a console? I don’t think I should have to suffer random crashes on a console, while I am pretty new to the PS3 I have never had a game crash on me on the Xbox, GameCube or Wii. I think fixing the crashing is simply a matter of reviewing crashdumps, but perhaps the PS3 is more complex than that to work with.

Anyway, such matters are not really interesting, run another Q&A cycle and you should have them sorted out. What I find more intriguing is stuff that is broken by design, the ‘features’ that someone deliberately designed that way, and it makes for a worse game. For the rest of this blog post I will address what I perceive to be such flaws.

Controller precendence
There has been some uproar in the community over the sluggish controls, but this is not what I am having problems with, the game is supposed to be slower and more tactical. Being able to read the game and place yourself in the right position is more important than a straight and quick aim, in my opinion. But the way that the controls are prioritized are plain broken. The game makes a difference between walking and running, while you walk you can shoot, while you run you can’t. Straight and simple. But, if I am running down a corridor and suddenly press the fire button to shoot (presumably because an enemy turned a corner and started firing at me), what is the anticipated response from the game? Spend a few moments here, try to visualize the situation and form your own opinion. Ready?

In my opinion the character should stop running and shoot. Ordering the game to shoot seems to me to be something that has higher priority than running. This is not how the game prioritizes the controls though, it merrily keeps you running until you manually stop or slow down to a walk, only at then may you return fire.

This I perceive to be a flaw in the game. Simply giving the shooting higher priority in interpreting the controls would solve the issue. You still have to wait though the animation of bringing the weapon up in the firing position again, so anyone waiting for you would still have the edge in the exchange of fire.

Controller precendence again
In Killzone2 you are limited to two weapons at a time, one being your main gun (a rifle, rocket launcher, shotgun, sniper rifle or whatever) and the other being a pistol or revolver. The game also is somewhat realistic, in the sense that your guns fire ordinary bullets instead of fancy futuristic rays, so you have to reload the gun every so often. Sometimes during the game you may come into the situation that your magazine gets empty, while there still are highly hostile enemies close by, shooting at you. Early in the (online) game you are limited to the pistol, that has so low stopping power that it is next to useless, better to wait through the reloading animation, hoping that the enemies are bad shots. But later, once the revolver has been unlocked it is usually advantageous to change weapon and continuing the firing with the revolver and save the reloading of the main weapon until a later time when you are in less of a peril.

To change weapon you press the change weapon button on the controller once, and the weapon is changed, do it again, and you change back. Again and again you can press it, cycling back and forth between your main weapon and the (useless) pistol or revolver. That is, as long as you are not reloading your main weapon, something that is automatically initiated as soon as you fire the last shot in the magazine. Because the game will not listen to that change weapon request if you are in the middle of a fight and reloading, not unless you press the change weapon button TWICE!

This I perceive to be a flaw in the game. It could be fixed by giving the change weapon button higher priority over whatever it is that causes the reloading to continue.

What roles do the others on my team have?
Killzone2 is a neat game, as you play online you start as a lowly soldier with the standard rifle, a good gun and you have the simple task of finding enemies and shooting them. There may be a little more to it than that sometimes, like stand in the colored square and shoot the vile enemies, or shoot the enemies while carrying a radio across the play field. But as you progress (that is kill enemies) you unlock more weapons and roles. Roles give you special abilities, like the medic that can get wounded soldiers up and fighting again by shooting them with a lightning gun, or the ‘tactician’ whose special ability is to put out new spawn points on the map. Remember what I said above about being in the right position being very important in the game? Yes, having spawn points at those ‘right places’ is very important if you want to win the game. How do you know if you have a tactician on the team? You don’t.

For those players that have moved beyond the grinding on public servers with random gamers, into playing with a clan this is not a problem. You get to make up a battle plan with your clan before the game starts, you can simply assign someone to be tactician and then he or she can give you those spawns in the right places. But from the game interface there is no way to tell if there already is an tactician on the team. Sure, you can see on the map if there are any extra spawns around, but the player that planted the spawn may have left the game (or changed class into something that gets a bigger gun). No extra spawns does not mean that there isn’t a tactician on your team, he or she may be running to get to the right place to plant the spawn.

This I perceive to be a flaw in the game. It could be fixed by showing the chosen class of all players on your team when you look at the team rooster.

But still it is an awesome game, it has gotten me back into online gaming after several years away. I have managed to climb to the top 10% of the players after a significant investment of time and I have had a great time doing it, in spite of the annoyances above. I checked my statistics online and since I got the game I have managed to kill someone in the game 5400 times, and died 7700, horrible statistics that would keep me out of most clans. But still there are other ways to make points in the game, it is more important to be in the right position… – The course page for this weeks assignments. The podcast episodes can be found on the right. – The Killzone2 site on the web. Has statistics and match replays and all sorts of other neat stuff. – The abbreviated version of this post on the course page.

Full Thrust

Over on StoryGames they started talking about CarWars. We used to play that game a lot in high school, great game, but I can’t stand chit games any more, bump the table and everything has moved. But the thread got me thinking and I decided to try my hand at gaming with minis again. First the thought were mostly on the lines of getting a bunch of Matchbox cars and scale CarWars up to that scale. But that would require that someone, that is me, built terrain for the cars to do their wars in. Not a very attractive proposition.

Back to the drawing board and I remembered all those booster packs for Rocketmen I got a few years ago at EB Games as they moved out of analogue games all together. The Rocketmen game is about, spaceships, fighting and harvesting natural resources in space, not a very nice game IMO, but nice minis nonetheless. I scrounged BGG for minis games where they could be used and came upon Full Thrust, that is free to download (and available as print copies as well). Also I got a black bed sheet, and stole some glittery stars from the GF.

After spending an hour or so assembling the ships, having the GF draw me a turning template we were ready to game!

Start of a Full Thrust game using Rocketmen minis

Start of a Full Thrust game using Rocketmen minis

Closest to the camera, my ships flying in two separate formations, one with my frigates Flame, Plain and Lightning, the other with the two mighty cruisers Claw and Checkered. All named after the paint patterns on the ships. On the other side of the board are the GFs’ ships, the frigates Cookie, Frida’s Frigate and Corduroy , all tangled up with the two cruisers Pancake and Unicorn. A win for me to be sure!

After some impressive navigation on her part, coupled with excellent throwing of dice the situation was a bit different…

Five turns into the game.

Five turns into the game.

My fine formations shot into pieces and Frida’s Frigate chasing my two remaining ones away from the battle. Anyway I had a great time, it is a very neat game, simple rules that offer great depth and variety. I’ll try to push the game on the crowd I usually play games with and see what happens. – The Story Games thread on CarWars. – GroundZeroGames that has made Full Thrust and some other games. They have a great minis line for the game, if I can get a group going perhaps I’ll upgrade from the Rocketmen minis into the proper ones. – Full Thrust: Cross Dimensions, a rules variant that collects the rules in an easy to grasp way. The original rules are spread out over multiple books, all available for free, but a bit of a hassle to work with. – Rocketmen, these were the minis used in our game on the pictures above.

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