An Open Invitation

As a fully paid up member of Geek club I have sunk too much money over the years into trading card games, only to be unable to compete with players who can afford to sink yet more money into the game for those overpowered rare cards. And yet I never learnt my lesson, and whenever a new one that looked interesting came around I’d be right back into the cycle.

Enter Fantasy Flight Gamesliving card games. If you’re not familiar with the format it is essentially a trading card game with an important distinction; all of the ‘boosters’ ‘ contents are already known, and usually supplied at the maximum amount allowed in a deck. No more costly chase for that one rare card that would really make your deck. There are also plenty of places to plan your deck online, meaning you can plan future purchases to gradually improve your deck.

What really pushes the FFG LCG format over the edge for me is the support for the online community and OCTGN. OCTGN is an online tabletop tool which allows you to play your favourite card games against your friends online. The best part is the aforementioned support by FFG. They allow use of all but the latest booster packs on OCTGN.

Which leads me to my open invite.

I know a few of us already play the A Game of Thrones LCG, and I propose an online tournament (or league if we can get enough players) through OCTGN. I am more than happy to teach people to play and use OCTGN. I suggest that we all play each other either best of three as a small tournament or perhaps twice in a league, with the winner taking 1 point and matches taking place once a week over OCTGN, and I will provide a chapter pack of your choice for the player with the most points when it’s all done.

I’m also going to try to live stream / record and narrate some games since it is all done online.

So what do you think?  Why not leave your WWE style call outs in the comments below and lets get this going…

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White Space

A blank page. To a writer, or even a “wannabe” like me, there’s nothing more hopeful yet and simultaneously intimidating in the whole world. The white expanse stretches out before you, full of infinite possibilities but devoid of even the slightest hint on how to uncover the embarrassment of riches you know lie within. To even attempt the expedition involves risk, an expenditure of time, of course, but also to one’s reputation. It’s one thing never to try but quite another to come back empty handed or, even worse, having filled the space with something your peers consider “worse than nothing”.

I write this by way of excuse for my shameful lack of copy presented on this website by myself in the last… well… since we started. Sure I’ve written some, but nowhere near as much as I should. I have, of course, had a great many good ideas for articles and interest pieces (and not all of them involved reviewing things or Live-Blogging) but most have remained just that… ideas. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that ideas are the easy bit. If there are two things I’ve learned, then the latter is that I almost always do the easy bit and leave the graft until that infinite ‘morrow that never seems to arrive.

Blank Page
We didn't write anything deliberately... so there!!

So, with the preceding paragraphs in mind, where do we go from here?

Well, I can see this going one of two ways. Either it’ll be akin to my exercise cycle, whereby I have one reasonably successful session, realise it makes me feel much better and I should do this more often. I’ll then swear to do it all the time and be sincere when I day it, but six weeks later I’ll still the same pot-bellied under-exerciser my mid-twenties left me as. The alternative is that it could go the other way and I might actually start to fulfil some of the potential I’m sure is in my head… somewhere.

I guess you and I had better hope the latter come to pass, else this is all we’re gonna see at the top of this page for a while to come and I’ll just sit here, in front of the TV, getting angry that nothing ever changes but never doing anything to make it happen.

Minecraft it and they will come

So, it’s been a while and a godd few releases, it must be time to do a mass Minecraft again right. Well yes sir, indeed it is and here we are doing it. Apparently there’s an end game now (something about a Dragon and a portal to the Nether) and there’s a shed load of new stuff to do. I’ll try and take some screenshots and document our discovery of the new features we see, and of course I’ll show you all the stupid crap we make and destroy too :o)

15:15
Let the craftin’ commence!!!

‘t i’n’t in’t’ Tintin

Having just returned from watching the new CGI, motion capture, animated movie “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”, I must say I had a rather fun, if slightly unfulfilling, time. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s certainly a film worth seeing, however it left me feeling a little like the characters on screen, pretty good on the surface but hollow on the inside.

French Live-Action Tintin
At a glance you'd think these were real people, but they're actually French.

As a child I was a fan of the Tintin cartoons and I enjoyed the occasional Hergé comic too, it was the adventure of it all that I loved. Ever since I’d heard of it’s inception I’d been looking forward to this movie. The knowledge that Spielberg and Jackson were on board only served to heighten my anticipation that this could be a classic. The trailers helped too but also made me a little fearful as, it must be said, the characters do look a bit odd. They’re right on the line between real and stylised, sinking to the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley and freaking the willies out of you at a glance. As a disclaimer I’ll just say; This does fade during the action but every now and then your brain realises and does a little “Urgh!!” in your head to remind you.

I’d also like to state, for the record, that we were forced to watch the movie in 3D*. None of our party wanted to see the movie in any more than the usual two dimensions but the final 2D showing anywhere in driving distance was at 18:30 and that’s just a touch too early for us working folks.

So, with mixed feelings but high hopes (and 3D premium paid), I made my way in and settled down, wearing two pairs of glasses on my face.

The movie starts quickly, with a nice in joke and some incidental crime. We’re then immediately introduced to the plot’s MacGuffin, the titular “Unicorn”, and, seconds later and unmistakably, the villain of the piece. This is a good start and the breathless pace continues throughout the whole movie. Clues are presented, people appear, that piece of the puzzle is put together, action happens and it’s all done extremely slickly, with great style and flare. Some of the “one shot**” action sequences are especially well accomplished, flowing from one set-piece to the next with only the briefest of time to digest what you’ve seen before the next section of  beautifully rendered CGI slaps you around the chops and shouts “Boo!!”. It really is an irreverent adventure movie from start to finish, punctuated with some good jokes and a standout performance from Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. (When will they give that man an Oscar??)

My only real criticism would be that everything just seems to happen. I realise this is Tintin and, to a point, the only remarkable thing about him is that things just seem to happen to him all the time but we really could have done with a little more explanation or thought on the part of our protagonist before things dawn on him. Simply pointing skyward and connecting A to E without the intermediary steps of B,C and D comes off as far too convenient. Unfortunately this extraordinary instinctive ability to put clues together in an instant and then give the most cursory of explanations persists throughout the film. This does wane as the story progresses, but that’s more because action is thundering along with no need for connecting the dots than any conscious attempt to fill in the blanks.

Another point I’d like to raise before rounding off is that some things did literally just happen. Two examples that immediately spring to mind; The first being when Tintin, for no appreciable reason, goes to a “deserted mansion” that just happens to be the Haddock family home and where the main villain, unbeknown to our hero, is in residence. The second is when a tank chases Tintin, Haddock et al though a Middle Eastern city. It just happens to appear right behind them half way down the hill and, bizarrely, encase in a hotel’s entrance hall. Both of these glaring examples lead me to believe that an extended cut (similar to those of the Lord of The Rings movies) may be on the cards for the DVD/BluRay release. Jackson at least has a history of such things and it might help resolve my earlier criticism too…

In conclusion then, this movie is bags of fun and visually spectacular. Just let the pace of the film to you, don’t think about things too much and you’ll love it. Score = 7/12.

*Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 3D added nothing but a few pounds to the cost of our evening’s entertainment.
**These are presented as “one shot” but, due to the nature of the movie, are simply effects shots without cuts, so don’t really count. They look very nice though…

 

Achtung!! MeinKraft!!

So, here we are again. It’s six months since our last foray into craftin’ territory and much has changed. For a start I did a marriage, or got married, however the cool kids are saying it these days (I fear I’m no longer one of them) but also many things have been added and fixed in the world of Minecraft. With these changes in mind we decided to step back in en masse and delve the depths greedily and deep. Will this lead to a greater understanding of the world/each other or our ultimate destruction/demise? Or perhaps we’ll just spend ages building something cool only to have it out-done by one of our number building an amusing phallus??

For answers or not to these questions/statements, read the continuing adventures live blogged below… “‘Achtung!! MeinKraft!!”

18:00
The game is afoot. We all drop in and drop out. Neil and Trev manage to stick and begin to build a base while I plug my machine together, Gazz works on making his copy with the high res texture pack work, Mark’s netbook takes 30mins to log-in for no reason in-particular (other than it being a netbook) and Natasha attempts to get nice textures working on the MacBook she’s loaned for the play (I know,  MacBooks… they look nice but bloody hell they’re annoying). Ok, so now I probably ought to try and do a bit of a play, it sounds like they’ve already progressed to building the third floor of whatever they’re constructing and I can hear explosions and Mark laughing, this is never a good sign…

Also, Neil has set up a LiveStream feed so you can watch both his screen and us all sat in the room shouting and mis-coordinating each other… here’s the link: http://t.co/yBavm5t

19:15
One hour and fifteen minutes in and I’ve found the base!!! Yay!!! To be fair I logged in as things were already under-way, so I decided to try and useful and wonder off towards the setting Sun. This might seem weird but we have a massive isometric map of the current world rendered each 60 seconds onto the wall via a projector and we couldn’t orientate it. We now know which way is West, as a large strip was rendered in the direction I went, so, as I believe a famous genius statesman once said “Mission Accomplished!!” :o)

Our World Projected

Anywho, on finding the base it seems little has happened aside from a bit of building, resources are low but mining is actually happening now (I think we forgot about that bit to begin with). Several shafts have been dug but not much is showing up as yet, though Neil has just exclaimed something about Red Stone. After finding the base I managed to make a door (by wakling to close to a Creeper and it exploding the side of the base), I then did the sensible thing of sleeping in one of the beds which (very thankfully) allows you to spawn there from now on… nice.
Right, back to it now. It looks like our mines are drawing mainly blanks but some progress is being made… or at least we’re deciding to drop more shafts in the vein hope that we can turn up something of interest…

19:30
Poki arrives!! He;s setting up at present. Gazz can’t log in and is getting well pissed off. He’s enjoying the Sasparilla though, but I fear this is little substitute for craftation… :o(
Argh!! Now mine has done a die too (after logging out to find my screenshots). Erg, restart required… and I really wanted to know why Mark just said “What’s happened outside? It looks like Basra…”. Ah, man…!

20:20
Ok, well me, Poki and Gazz can’t get into Mincraft at all world seemed very poor in terms of, well, everything. We’ve now taken the collective decision to destroy the world…

In the meantime we’re gonna have another crack at Artemis, the Starship Bridge Simulator. We’ll all get a station to control on our PCs apart from one man who’ll be the Captain and the rest are the crew. The “Main Screen” is projected to the wall (via the aforementioned projector) and all we can see on our computers is the job we’re doing. Mark has call Helm, oh dear, let’s see how this goes… (tune in to the Live Stream from above to see how the crew manages).

Whyfore Pony?

Ponies, Neil? Really?

Yeah, I know. It makes little to no sense, but I’ve found myself drawn into the fandom surrounding the latest incarnation of the My Little Pony franchise, Friendship is Magic.

Let me explain a bit. There is a certain subset of the internet that has gone batshit crazy for this cartoon. If you frequent any forums, there’s a fair chance there’s a pony thread on there. PA, Minecraft, 4chan, random games and countless more have all been infected by the pony meme, so much so that a bunch of 4channers started their own site over at ponychan.net to cater for the pony fans (henceforth: bronies.)

The show revolves around six ponies learning about friendship, complete with a ‘Mork calling Orson’ moment at the end to wrap up the moral in a neat package. Doesn’t sound great so far, right? What if I tell you the show is animated in Flash? You’ll probably roll your eyes at another set of ¾ cut-out models. What if I tell you they have musical numbers? You’ll laugh that they’ll be twee and rubbish.

Pretty much everything you think the show is about is wrong. Except that there are ponies in it.
And your ideas are probably not that wrong. Sorry.

Trying to nail down what makes the show appealing is hard. The most effective way to show you is to get you to watch an episode. Go watch Dragonshy. It’ll take you about 20 minutes and if you don’t like it you’ve lost nothing. It’s from part way through the series, but you’ll be fine. There ARE cute bits, but cute can be fun. There IS pink, but we’ve got past pink being a girl’s colour, haven’t we? You will feel a bit silly; this is a natural part of the process. It may help to have had a beer or two. Watch it in secret if it helps. You wouldn’t be the first person to skip the theme tune, but I suggest you watch at least one episode all the way through…

Go on, do it for me.
Seriously, you can say it’s the new Rickroll if anyone catches you.

Did you watch it? Enjoy it? Fluttershy, amirite?

I can’t explain it at all, but I goddamn love these ponies. I love them so much I have a shelf full of My Little Pony toys (I had to import them, there is no pony in the UK!) I love them so much I’ve joined in with an event over on Equestria Daily where we draw a pony to spec every day this month. You see? I’m drawing again after a 5 year hiatus! Friendship IS Magic!

YES I did turn 30 last month, shut up!

PONIES!

Ahem.

There’s so much to enjoy about the pony fandom, and so much to be terrified of humanity for. For example NEVER read ‘Cupcakes’. You SHOULD check out the history of Derpy Hooves and DJ P0N-3 though.

Now go watch Winter Wrap Up and try to get the song out of your head (all the eps are on YouTube in HD). Read the fun little fanfic Twilight October (even if you don’t read fanfic). Listen to Not a Clever Pony’s original fan music. Read Madmax’s excellent comics. Pick a favourite pony. Catch up on season 1 and get excited for Luna’s return in season 2, or just never look at anything pony again.

It’s OK to like My Little Pony. It’s OK not to like it. It’s not for everyone, but it might be for you. Give it 20 minutes and tell me what you think.

Unmissable Day of Sex “Offer”

Ok, well , that’s not exactly true. This is just an amusing “offer” that Steam have on at the moment for the latest instalment in the Deus Ex series…

Yes, for a limited time only you can pre-purchase the game, Dues Ex: Human Revolution, for £29.99. That’s a reasonable 14% discount, very nice. More unreasonable seems a related offer for the “Augmented Package” (keep the jokes for the comments section) which contains the new game and the original (and universally agreed to be awesome) Deus Ex for £39.99. This might seem all right until you look at the individual purchase prices, £5.99 and £29.99, so a grand total of £35.99.

So, for the privilege of buying these two games in the same purchase you’re charged and extra £4.01. Needless to say… this is one of the worst offers I’ve seen on Steam. Truly unmissable… :o)

5 Real Life Deus Ex MacGyvers

You all know the scene Hollywood loves to create; The world as we know it is doomed unless one kooky scientist can save the day. I’m looking at you, Independance Day, and you, War of the Worlds, and you, Jurassic Park and you… you get the picture. It’s all so convenient, that would never happen IRL right?

Wrong, here’s my 5 favourite inventions MacGyvered up just in time to (probably) save humanity:

5. Germ Theory

It’s 1918, the world is at war and people are dying at an alarming rate, in part due to the fighting but more so because of the Spanish Influenza outbreak. ‘La Grippe’ was truly a global disaster, and killed somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. The new sciences of immunology and epidemiology were struggling to come up with a vaccine or therapies quick enough to combat the disease. Mankind looked doomed.

That is until scientists began building on the work of Koch and Lister and began injecting blood plasma of people that had survived the infection into the most severly affected military patients. This reduced the mortality rates by as much as 50%, and a better understanding of the outbreak was gained.

4. The Automobile.

Before the introduction of the automobile, horses were relied upon in the large urban areas responsible for the rise of the modern era. Places like London, Paris and New York would be swamped with horses, and at the turn of the twentieth century there were some 200, 000 horses in New York, the equivalent of 1 for every 17 people.

Horses clogged the transport network of the cities, were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of residents in traffic accidents, A New Yorker would have been almost twice as likely to die from a horse accident than a car accident today, and would produce veritable mountains of dung. The steps leading to doors in many urban areas, whilst looking good today, would have been necessary to rise above the tide of horseshit that would flow after any heavy rains.

The first international urban planning conference was held in 1898 to try to tackle the increasing threat that horses posed to mankind but was cut short since the experts were stumped by the crisis.

Enter the automobile to save us from this equine menace, a much cleaner and more efficient answer to the transport problems of the day!

3. Birdseye Fish-Fingers

Yup, you read it right. Captain Birdseye (probably) saved the world. In the early twenties population growth was reaching extremely high levels, and many leading experts of the time, such as Keynes and Beveridge, were debating the pitfalls of an ever expanding population. Many feared the food supplies would run out.

Luckily for humanity Clarence Birdseye was putting the finishing touches to his technique for flash freezing vegetables, seafood and meats using high pressures, brine, ice and wax cardboard boxes. Birds Eye Frosted Foods went on sale in 1930 and humanity was promised fresh foods all year round and the humble fish finger butty was born.

2. The Convair B-36

Four years after World War II ended with the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Republic developed their own nuclear weaponry. The world was on the path to annihilation, however neither nation had the ability to quickly respond to a detected launch, a potentially deadly situation for life as we know it. Perverse as it may sound the world needed the Nash Equilibrium of mutually assured destruction to save us from nuclear war.

With the introduction of the Convair B-36, or the Peacekeeper, into service as an intercontinental range bomber it was now much easier to deliver a nuclear weapon into the interior of a country. Mutually assured destruction was now guaranteed and a nuclear peace achieved. You’re welcome world.

1. Sharp Stones

Of course none of this could have come about if humanity never got off the ground in the first place. There were myriad deadly events daily in palelithic man’s life. Man would be an easy target for the predators by day, and easier prey still by night. Most individuals would meet an early death, starvation and predation were very real threats. Technology would save the day in many ways.

Many nuts and seeds were too tough for our ancestors to open with just their teeth, and accordingly, the ingenuity of early man would have led to the observation that any nut could be opened if placed upon one stone and hit with another. Given the propensity we have for hurting ourselves, it’s entirely plausible to imagine, after laughing at other members of  his tribe cutting himself open on sharp stones, a genius of his time observing that it is possible to hurt those other creatures that come and eat us with these sharp stones, and so weaponry was born. Since these early axe heads are found in almost every pre-historic culture in the world, it’s fair to say they were put to good use, and humanity got started/saved.

‘AV your say… and why I’m a No to AV voter

Ok, so I’ll come right out and say it, I’m intending to be a No To AV voter. This opinion has been questioned a lot by most of my friends of late. Sometimes nicely, sometimes curiously, other times heatedly and (rarely) insultingly. So I thought it best to post this here to save me explaining myself time and again today. Please read below to find things you may not agree with…

I’m all for reforming the system we have, it’s not entirely representative or “fair” (although “fair” is a very divisive and completely subjective term). I just think the proposed AV system is a poor, with more cons than pros when compared to what we have and other systems that are out there. My reasons for this briefly are:

1 – I like the “One person – One vote” principle. If you vote for a loon that gets 3 votes why should you get a say (and perhaps the deciding say) between other more reasonable candidates. You could have voted for them initially, you didn’t, so don’t cry about it now.

2 – “Fringe” voters (far right and left wings, and extremist independents) have their votes (working down their prefs) counted more than “Mainstream” voters. In fact the more crazy/unpopular your initial vote and subsequent preferences are the more carry-overs you’re likely to get.

3 – It’s my opinion that this AV system will lead to the main parties trying to appeal to fringe voters to get 2nd, 3rd, 4th prefs. I can even see politicians campaigning solely for 2nd/3rd pref votes. This would mean either you have parties standing for everything (so effectively nothing) or some more distasteful extremist ideas coming into mainstream parties agendas simply so they can get 2nd/3rd prefs.

4 – If you vote for the more popular candidates your 1st choice will be compared to the previously mentioned “Fringe”/extremists 3rd, 4th, 5th etc… prefs and given equal weight. Which, to be honest, just seems insulting.

5 – If you vote for one of the more popular candidates that makes it to the last few “rounds” no-one will every look at your other choices, even though your 1st choice is being compared directly to others 3rd, 4th, 5th prefs. Mathematically speaking, this could be incredibly important as the result could be completely different if these were considered or weighting were applied to popular candidate’s voters further prefs.

6 – There are huge transparency issues. I’d want to know how many of which preference level each candidate got and from whom, but it would be a nightmare to work out what actually happened, even with all that data available. This won’t help the public trust their MPs more but probably less.

7 – I think it could only weaken the stability of our democracy. Honestly I don’t think it would have a dramatic effect on this front, but the only thing it could do is provide more hung parliaments and shaky deal making between parties. My point here being it won’t make it more stable only less.

To me the proposed AV system just seems an inherently unfair and essentially flawed. I think we need to move on from the system we have, but I’m not going to vote for a change just so we can then have a hope of changing again which (no insult to anyone who is voting yes) but seems to be the reason most have for told me for their intention to vote yes. It seems largely to be “I don’t like this AV system, but we might get to change again to something that works if we go to this now”.

Any who, there are a few of my reasons (oh, I have more) for my intended no vote. Feel free to pull me apart or tell me I “just don’t understand” the proposed AV system in the comments section below.

The Pros and Cons of the Alternative Vote

The 5th May has the potential to be one of the most important days in the political landscape of Britain for many years to come, as a referendum is to be held on whether to stick with the current ‘First Past the Post‘ (FPTP) voting system or switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) system. The sytems in a nutshell work like this:

First Past the Post (FPTP)

An FPTP ballot requires you to mark one box of your ballot paper with an X to indicate your favoured candidate. The ballots are counted and the candidate with the highest number of votes wins.

Alternative Vote (AV)

An AV ballot gives you the option of ranking your preferences in a given election. Instead of indicating your favourite candidate with an X, you would use the number 1. You may then, if you wish, place a 2 against your second favourite candidate, a 3 against your third favourite and so on until your apathy levels reach maximum or you run out of candidates. If a particular candidate has more first preference votes than the other candidates combined then we have a winner, otherwise the second preference of the last placed candidate are used and so on until someone has a majority.

Let’s have a simple example:

Three candidates are vying for 15 votes. Alan gets 4 votes, Brenda gets 5 votes and Charlie gets 6 votes. Under the FTPT system Charlie wins. Let’s say that Charlie’s policies have divided the electorate greatly and Alan and Brenda are running on similar policies to each other. In an FPTP system this doesn’t matter as Charlie doesn’t need a majority to win, however if the ballot was done using AV, and assuming that Alan’s voters would prefer Brenda as a second favourite, then Brenda would have won with 9 votes.

So what are the pros and cons of each system?

FPTP gives a clear winner. This has been attributed to a strong government, and less likely to give a hung parliament, whether this is true is a matter of debate. FPTP is also easier to count and is a well known system. By comparison AV is only used to elect a government in Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, although it is often used for things such as student government elections.

AV will allow more local support for MP’s although it is debatable whether this has anything to do with a government. Fringe votes are also likely to have more effect under the alternative vote, since these are the votes likely to be redistributed, leading to questions about the ‘fairness’ of this and whether the votes from the fringe voters are the ones that a should be determining governmnents.

Since the proposed version of AV allows optional ranking of candidates, an interesting question is whether people would use the rankings, and what are the implications if not.

An important consideration is the wider issue of electoral reform. This has been offered as a compromise between the current system and other systems like proportional representation and single vote transferral. Regardless of whether you vote Yes or No to AV on May 5th will we get to look again at these other options.