Fallout 4 Sucks

The graphics are okay, the AI sucks, the plot sucks, the UI REALLY sucks, the music sucks… Good grief. This is just an awful game. Who on earth thought this was ready to release?

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The Aftermath

Well it’s another election where the opinion polls were disastrously wrong. The campaign had been deadlocked for the entire duration, but the result is anything but.

There’s always a movement towards the incumbent at the end of a campaign, but could it really be this much? Perhaps Tory voters were even shyer than polling models had allowed? Hardly surprising given the destructive nature of the Conservative party, I suppose. I imagine the pollsters are frantically re-evaluating their models even as I type.

Labour wiped out In Scotland? I never thought I’d live to see the day. They weren’t helped by Jim Murphy being slightly less charismatic than an axe murderer, but there’s no doubting that the SNP have made huge strides since the referendum. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now they have such a crushing mandate north of the border.

For Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and David Laws, there’s one simple message: THIS is what happens when you break a promise. Don’t give me this guff about not being able to achieve some things in government – you could have said no on tuition fees and you know it. The party for which I used to work now has fewer MPs than at any time since before I was born. The near death of the party was caused by your idiocy. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

And I hope the British people are proud too. You’ve given a bunch of uncaring bastards free rein to continue their war on the poor and disadvantaged and to put money in the pockets of those who already have it.

Roll on five years from now.

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Where?

BBC saying the Greens and UKIP will win 2 seats. I remember ’97 where for most of the night the BBC were claiming the Tories would win two seats in Scotland. Then they lost Edinburgh Pentlands and Eastwood… and still claimed the same. I can just about see UKIP getting two seats but where is the second Green seat?

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Lib Dem Gain?

BBC reporting rumours that Danny Alexander has lost his seat! Now let’s get rid of Laws, and the night will have a silver lining.

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General Election 2015: Exit Poll

Wow. If that’s even close to being right, that is a devastating result for Labour and the Lib Dems. Could there be a Con/LD/UKIP/DUP coalition?

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Absolutely Not Fabulous

Well that was a let down.

I’ve wanted to play a Fable game ever since I heard about the series, but not being an XBox owner I’ve been denied that opportunity because the game has always been exclusive to that platform. Always until last Friday, because Fable III has finally been released for the PC – months after the XBox version. From a few reviews I’ve seen it appears that Lionhead Studios have used the time to fix a number of bugs and irritations from the XBox version, so even though we PC users will have to put up with being called out-of-date by XBoxers, at least we got an error-free game, and frankly that suits me fine.

Part of my desire to play Fable came from the subtle dig that Bethesda had M’aiq the Liar make in Oblivion, where he was heard to say “People always enjoy a good fable. M’aiq has yet to find one, though. Perhaps one day.” Lionhead return the favour at least once in Fable III: there’s an odd quest where you end up as a character in a roleplaying game, and pull a lever only for a swarm of butterflies to appear. “Butterflies?” remarks one character. “Worst. Game. Ever”, says another; a not-so-subtle reference to the start of the Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion.

One of the first things a Brit will notice when playing the game is that it’s a who’s who of British stars in the voice acting department. John Cleese, Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Sean Pertwee and Zoë Wanamaker all appear – and that’s just the biggest names; there are loads more. All this talent isn’t necessarily a good thing though. It means there’s a pressure to overuse them, leading to another thing, and one that emphatically does not change as the game progresses: you spend an awful lot of time in cutscenes. These come in two types: obvious cutscenes where you can’t really do anything except watch the cinematics, and ones where you can move around as normal, but can’t do anything except go where you’re supposed to go and listen to whoever you’re supposed to listen to. There’s far too much of this. Very often your only feeling of interactivity comes from a small amount of running down a corridor to another cutscene, which can get incredibly boring.

The next things anyone will notice is that the graphics aren’t that great and that the controls are awful. Okay, I got the hang of the controls a bit more as I got used to things, but at first it was like trying to steer a shopping trolly with several wonky wheels. The graphics… well okay the backgrounds are nice, but the NPCs walk an odd line between reality and cartoon, and it doesn’t work for me. They all end up looking… odd. And almost identical.

After a while, you get given the tools you need to fight. As in most games, combat comes down to melee, ranged and magic, but the twist is that magic comes from the gloves you wear rather than spells, and that the ranged combat is done using guns rather than bows. It’s still either a sword or a hammer for melee though. At first I tried my hand with a sword: during the tutorial section you have to practice combat against your mentor for a little while and it seemed pretty simple. Unfortunately, one-on-one combat in Fable III is as rare as a sequence of ten minutes without a cutscene, and you can’t use all your fancy moves because someone will stick a sword in your back while you’re trying to deal with the thing in front of you. After a while, therefore, I switched to magic, because as well as a one-on-one spell, you get an area-of-effect spell that helpfully hits any enemies in a certain radius around you but not allies. The problem is that this quickly becomes unbalanced: when you find yourself charging into the middle of a crowd of enemies just so you can kill more of them with your ultra-powerful AOE spell, something has clearly gone wrong. The gun can be useful in some places because you can use it to aim from a distance, but generally charging in worked just fine for me.

You don’t level up as such. Rather, you acquire points called Guild Seals that can be spent on upgrades to your weapons or spells, or on perks that let you buy shops, chat people up, have kids and so on. In a few places you also need to acquire enough of these seals to convince a faction to join up with you. I’m not going to go into why because I don’t want to start spoiling things if you’re going to play the game.

But this raises the question: why would anyone want to play this? You can talk to the various NPCs who fill up the towns and villages, but they’re all totally without personality so after a few times I stopped bothering. You can get married to these NPCs and have kids, but again I didn’t bother. All the quests boil down to “Go here, kill this thing, collect this other thing, come back again”. Some people may claim that because I didn’t bother much with the NPCs I missed out on the role-playing aspects of the game. I disagree. Since the only point of getting married is to have kids, there’s nothing to role-play. It’s just another game mechanic. The only places where any kind of roleplaying occur are in one or two laughably black-and-white choices where you have to either a) murder a sackful of puppies, or b) pet them and make sure they all go to good homes. Anybody calling Fable III a roleplaying game needs to be made to play Oblivion or Morrowind for a few hours until they learn the difference.

I finished the first part of the main quest in less than 8 hours only to be presented with the prospect of tedious grind spending the next in-game year raising money to avert an apocalypse, at which point I stopped and went to bed because I really couldn’t be bothered. It’s not even like you can really go off and explore the world: the game is similar to Dragon Age in this respect in that it looks like a sandbox but isn’t really. Compared to TES games where there was always something new and interesting just over the next ridge, it’s a really small world. This means that if I decide to go back and bother with the grind-fest, I’ll have completed the whole thing in around 15 hours. That’s not very long.

The good news for me is that I’ve finally played a Fable game so at least I’ve got that off my chest. I can’t see myself bothering with Fable IV though. If Bethesda return Lionhead’s compliment and insert another reference in Skyrim, I hope it’s a suitably insulting one.

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A Game Worth Watching

I think it was about 18 months ago, or it might have been even longer, that Timenn and I were chatting in IRC about books. It turned out we both share similar interests in fiction so were swapping titles to give each other a few new items for their wish list. I think I recommended Adrian Tchaikovsky’s (then new) series Shadows of the Apt – and I recommend it to anyone who likes good fantasy novels – and in return, he suggested George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

Somehow, I’d never heard of this guy, and I have to confess that after a couple of searches had informed me that he was known as “The American Tolkien”, my heart sank. I love J. R. R. Tolkien’s stuff. I got a copy of The Hobbit on my 11th birthday. I know this for a fact because my copy has the message “For Robert on his 11th birthday & for passing to L.R.G.S. 26/4/84, From your father and mother – We hope it will not be too hobbit-forming!” Unfortunately, this last hope proved false, because Tolkien was to prove hugely habit-forming over the years. Since then, I’ve read Lord of the Rings over 30 times, learned huge chunks of The Silmarillion by heart, read all the Unfinished Tales and every other book Christopher Tolkien released, and generally become a bit of a Middle Earth nerd – although not, I must emphasise, enough of a nerd to learn Elvish. The reason I mention this is not just to establish my nerdly credentials, but to help you understand why somebody described as a Tolkien has got a hell of a lot to live up to.

It doesn’t take you long to realise that the comparison is total rubbish. It always is. Whenever anybody is described as “The New X”, it’s merely lazy journalism. Lionel Messi is not “The New Maradonna”, Wayne Rooney never was “The New Michael Owen”, and George Martin isn’t “The New Tolkien”. He and Tolkien both write rather good fantasy novels, but that’s all they have in common – apart from the two “R”s in their initials. When I read A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series, I was impressed. A lot of fantasy books seem to have been written from a cliché checklist: ancient fight between good and evil? check; low-born character eventually saving everything? check; improbable love interest? check. Many books fall into the trap of thinking they’re mysteries, so we get sudden plot twists for no good reason. This isn’t necessary: was anybody really expecting Frodo would fail to destroy the ring, or that Harry would fail to kill Voldemort? An ending that you’re expecting isn’t a Bad Thing by default – a book is about the journey, not the ending.

Anyway, so the books were good. That’s not why I’m writing this. The point is that the books have been made into a ten-part TV series on HBO called Game of Thrones after the first book. For once, we can see it in the UK with only a 24-hour delay instead of the usual months or years, but only if you subscribe to Sky Atlantic. Obviously, if you don’t subscribe it would be totally wrong to download the episodes using BitTorrent from the huge number of sources that appear within minutes of the program ending on Sunday evenings (US time).

The series gained a lot of hype on the Internet, and when you see the sort of clips that were released ahead of time, it’s not difficult to see why. It stars Emperor Martin Boromir Sean Bean, who gives a typically good performance as Lord Ned Stark. A lot of the other cast members are British too, the locations are all in Europe (Ireland and Malta, mainly), which raises the question “Why can’t the bloody BBC make stuff like this?” Unlike most of the BBC’s output these days, which seems to target the 10-15 age bracket and hopes that adults will be interested too, Game of Thrones sets out its stall from the first moments as Adults Only. After about ten minutes of the first show, the corpse count is already in double figures and we’ve had two beheadings. That’s not even the most outré moment, the award for which probably goes to a scene where a dwarf is in bed with four naked prostitutes. Yup, this isn’t for the children. Now I’m not advocating sex and violence for the sake of sex and violence. It’s just good to see a program that doesn’t set out to be safe for once. The disregard for safety can be felt in the story too. It doesn’t take long before you have three or four different stories all progressing at the same time. Too many films and TV shows assume that the audience can barely follow one story, so this is a major departure.

I’ve waited until three episodes have come out before saying anything because I wanted to make sure that the quality stayed high. So far, so good. If you don’t watch this program, you’re missing a real gem.

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