Avenge: Best served cool

(No spoilers)

Batman Begins rebooted the bombastic batman movies into a darker, quieter, more serious and far better series. Superman attempted to redo that series into a high-contrast heroic fantasy, and failed.

Iron Man made a similar attempt to be a bright action movie, and (IMO) did it very well. The other Marvel movies so far have been mostly good to great, but the most important two of them I think are Iron Man 2, and Avengers Assemble.

The Spiderman series is interesting of itself, but never really got over its own origin story. Hero movies have this weird obsession with the creation of the hero, and the first two Spiderman stories seemed to focus on the idea of becoming a hero, and when they got to the the point where he was fighting the evil of the week more than his own head, the film collapsed like an over-observed soufflé. Fantastic Four 2 did the same thing, to an extent.

Iron Man 2 started with Stark being Iron Man already. Being known for that, and already having the suit and the confidence, he went though the Wheel of Plot (Setup, Defeat, Man-Up, Win, Return to the world, Having learnt something) without needing to define the character at the start.

Avengers has two advantages to being an Origin Story. The first is that it doesn’t have to set up or introduce most of the main characters, but the second – and I think unique in Hero movies – it doesn’t need to set up the villain either. Tom Higgleson’s Loki from Thor was a strong and complicated character, and survived the denouncement at the end of his own movie. He’s even more awesome here than he was in Thor, which is a neat trick, and it gives me hope that the shooting-gallery of comic villains can work in a movie context, and that Marvel Studios is actually capable of producing comic book movies without rebooting into a new Origin Arc because a new writer/director wants to put his/her handprints into that set of concrete.

The writing is Whedonesque (obviously) and the characters stay true to their original movie characterisation while sifting slightly into the more quickfire style. It does a good job of setting up the strengths and weaknesses of all the main players both as heroes and as people, and actually pulls off all these massive characters working well as a team without losing the self-reliance from their own movies.

The action sequences range from slightly by-the-numbers though to absolute awesome, and there are crowning moments of awesome for everyone, even the complicated villain. Samuel L Jackson is recursive, given that he’s playing a character based on him, so he’s quite good. It’s good to see Colby Smoulders doing something other than HIMYM.

You need to know about Iron Man, you should probably have seen Captain America, but you probably need to have seen Thor before you watch Avengers. It does stand alone, but the story follows on from Cap and a lot of the characters will make more sense if you’ve seen Thor.

There’s one post-credits sequence halfway though (After the animated credits, before the white-on-black roll) but nothing at the end.


BrewDogged Determination: The 2012 Brewdog AGM & Birthday

The event can be divided into four bits without much difficulty, those being the AGM, the Bars, the Shop and the Music.

Late into the night the stage was host to several bands, ranging from a somewhat lonely singer/songwriter though to the semifamous and quite good Kassidy. The building being a great concrete barn of a place, the acoustics left something to be desired, but the bands were quite good and the sound did the best they could in the space, I think. As it filled up, the echoing chasm effect wore off.

To some extent the music and sound-checks drove the shop situation worse. For whatever reason – I assume ease of stock-checking – the order-for-later-delivery bulk-beer shop was running orders by taking them down, finding all the stuff, filling and addressing the boxes there and then, and then sending them off for later postage. This meant that every order took ages, and with only five or six people taking the orders on thirty feet of counterspace, queues to place orders went though a joke into epic failure. The two hours it took to actually get my order though are the least fun I’ve ever had whilst at a festival celebrating decent beer.

The bars too suffered a little from having vast amount of queuing space to limited serving spots, and could have done with more pumps, but the token system (Since they weren’t licensed for a cash bar, you had to buy tokens worth 1 or 1/2 pint, depending on the beer) sped up the ordering process (because change is annoying and fiddly). It’s hard to complain too much when pints of BrewDog’s as yet unnamed Pale Ale are going for a couple of quid a pint, as are their more famous 5am Saint and Punk IPA brews. So good beer, served at a high quality. Queues got a little silly during some periods, but that’s not really avoidable completely when you have 1500 beer fans and two bars.

I missed the actual AGM bit because of queuing for the shop, but the reports I heard were all very positive. The second London Brewdog has a site (in Shoreditch), they hope to start issuing dividends soon, the new brewery provides an 8-fold increase in yield for them, although they’re going to need to spend a few months after it comes up doing quality and consistancy control on beers previously created at the old factory. 66% of their output goes overseas, they’re looking at international bars, Sweden likes BrewDog.

Then on to the aforementioned music and more beer. I managed to track most of what I was drinking on Untappd (Where I am “Aquarion”), and probably need to play with some of the Stone breweries beers, as the ones I’ve tried I’ve liked a lot.

Aberdeen is nice enough, though how the exhibition centre managed to get two different Holiday Inns built next to it beggers belief a bit (and nobody warned either of the massive influx for this weekend, something they didn’t cope with perfectly).

When I booked the train back, I knew I was going to consider 9:30 the next morning too early, but I can only imagine past-me was attempting to get some kind of vengence. It worked. I am quite tired.


That which doesn't go away when you stop believing in it

I’m on a train from Glasgow to Aberdeen, as part of my world tour of Scotland.

My excuse for wandering North is that I am invited to the AGM for BrewDog, but mostly it’s because I haven’t done the travel thing for a while.

As much as I love my girlfriend and my family, I love the feeling of traveling on my own. From wondering around the temples of Bangkok, to joining up the islands around underground stations that formed my initial mental map of London. Taking a train up to Glasgow and trying not to listen to the politics and personal problems of the people on the table around me. (“The hotel was very clean, wasn’t it? Very clean, and the showers were immaculate! So very clean” “I thought she wanted me to vote that way, but now there’s all this stuff when I thought we should just abstain, but just by trying to do what I thought she wanted, it’s suddenly become this huge thing!” “Do you think his wife knows about her?” “I’ve heard she does, and is fine so long as he doesn’t drag it home behind him, which is … short sighted”)

So you get days like today, when I got back from a wonderful evening of tea and geekery at somewhere around 3am to get up at 6 to catch a 7:30 train to Aberdeen, and I’m hurtling though the scottish countryside (Actually, right now we’ve pulled into Perth station, which is one of the single most stationy stations I’ve ever seen) towards a place I’ve never been before.

True, I won’t see much of it. I’ll see a convention centre and a hotel, maybe a couple of taxies and the view from them, but still, new places, new things, before an equally early train tomorrow morning takes me back. (Relatedly, I can understand why peak travel happens during the week, although the price hike is a little enthusiastic, but trying to get people to travel before 8am on a Saturday? Do these people have no souls? I mean, I can blame past-me for booking such stupid tickets, but I was driven to it by the madness of the railways. I booked because if I hadn’t booked, the cost of on-the-spot train tickets for this week would have booked me flights to New York).


Other People's Dreams


Personal Projects Random Work

Updates, Invisible Content and the lifecycle of the feedback junkie

Updates are kind of hard to come by. The venerable Aquarius has celebrated his blog’s 10th birthday, which kind of made me think “Gosh, 11 and a bit years. I should update more often”. And Thus.

So, an update, then. At work, I’m working on the Next Big Thing for Work, which will have absolutely no impact on the tech industry at all, and because of the inward-facing nature of same will be worth not much.

Home-wise I’m working on The Book, which continues… well, crap, really. The story is there, and the writing is as not bad as is reasonable, but it turns out the actual story is far too slow to actually get moving, let alone get to anything that will hook the reader. The writing continues apace, and by this method the pace will be fixed, we hope.

Also, Lifestream, and more specifically the current incarnation of NicholasAvenell dot com. The actual display of which isn’t anything revolutionary, but I’m having fun writing the grid system it all runs under.

PiracyInc continues as well, with a new Combat system that I really should have worked out ages ago, but may end up being rewritten (again) into a language I know, because learning at the same time as doing does not appear to be producing the results I need it too. Right now the economics system works fine without any player input, so now all I need is added pirates.

So most of what I’m doing is entirely invisible to the public eye.

The only actual visible thing I’m producing right now is a series of parodies/satire on UK Larp systems, and the idea of the “perfect system”, which isn’t really interesting to my current readership who aren’t already involved, I think. It’s an interesting vector for creative writing. More interesting, to me, is the aspect of user feedback that centralising on Facebook provides. The frictionless UI that supplying a “Like” provides appears to increase user feedback, or at least enough positive feedback to avoid the “I’m shouting into a black hole” feeling that I’ve found posting anything on the internet tends to engender. This, I predict, will last until something I’ve invested actual mental effort into results in significantly less interaction than previous throw-away jokes, at which point the frictionless interaction will turn into a more friction-focused stick with which half my ego uses to beat the other half. The problem with being a feedback junkie is that the comedown is rough.

Also, the highs are hard to come by.

So, tomorrow work, and then on Thursday up to sunny Glasgow, Saturday the Brewdog AGM, Sunday Glasgow again, and Monday the long trek home. It’s entirely possible you’re in for a great deal more introspection over the next few days, for which I can only apologise.

Since I have to get up in seven hours, I should probably take my leave of this pub.

Computer Games

Diablo 3

The CD insert for Diablo
The CD insert for Diablo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Diablo 3 is … Diablo 2++. No revolutions in gameplay, no “wow” moments, really. I mean, the previous game *was* great, and this is just as click-addictive as the last one. The fighting is satisfying and explodey, the bosses are tough but beatable. The loot is shiny and sparkling, and the story hackneyed and overwrought.

There is stuff that’s new. The upgrade trees are cleaner, and the interface is nicer, but these are tweaks. Evolutions. You are occasionally joined by followers, and they’re okay. You are rewarded by achievements for doing cool stuff (like crushing enemies by dropping a chandelier on them). But the game, the mechanics, the progress, the fundamental game below the newer graphics and shiny world is still Diablo.

Cover art from Diablo II, a game designed by S...
Cover art from Diablo II, a game designed by Stieg Hedlund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since Diablo 2 ARPGs have happened. Dungeon Siege has gone though a game and two sequels, bringing with it party combat, pack horses, using percentages of health kits, buttons to highlight and collect all nearby loot. Torchlight came with it’s visceral combat and “sell my useless crap without taking me away from the fun bit” button, and the pets.

It’s odd. It’s a great game, and once I started working it didn’t even occur for me to leave my seat for the three hours or so I spent going though the beta. Addictive and a gameplay that’s so smooth as to be entirely frictionless. For a sequel to a game that’s so very loved, it’s possibly close to perfect. More of the same, but better.

Which is why I’m not sure if my… disappointment in it not being revolutionary is a sensible reaction.


Diablo III (Photo credit: Kimli)
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A Maelstrom moment

Someone on Reddit asked for “Your best/worst larp stories ever”. Now, most of my best moments larping need to be secret for a little while longer, I think, but I posted one of my favourites, and for lack of content here, I’m copying it :).  All the events happened in game (Well, mostly. There’s dramatic licence involved).

Photo by ostephy on Morguefiles.

The system is Maelstrom, UK fest larp. Summer event. The event hosts had chosen to host the festival on land which contained a palisade, and the event organisers (OOC) had agreed to physrep it, so the field is dominated by this giant wooden wall, complete with guarded gate. They camped inside, I was camped outside.

Now, Maelstrom is almost entirely player driven. Massive wars in uptime will happen if two sides are brought to war, monsters only happen if people summon them. There are good guys and Bad Guys, but they’re (almost) all players, and that night some of the most long-running, long hidden Bad Guys came back with an army of summoned undead behind them. Rumour, like a barking dog, ran before them of their plan to attack that night.
The hosts weren’t massively popular, and they were soon… evicted from their nice safe defendable area, and most of the characters (Somewhere around 700? ish?) decamped behind the palisade for the evening. Fires were lit, songs were sung, the clouds gathered in, night fell, and then the storm came.

The storm was awesome in the non-internet sense. Worthy of Awe. Great cracking forks of lightning shattered the darkness, the clouds above us rumbled like the march of gods. Black clouds lurked above the campsite…

…but no rain fell.

The oppressive humidity of an unbroken thunderstorm lay heavy upon the site, ominous and foreboding a doom that was certain. The undead were sighted from the gates, and by gunpowder and swordpoint driven back into hell. It was only temporary – they would rise again, of course – but their presence was proven.

A cry came from behind me, “The shrines are falling” and I ducked into a nearby tent to check. The shrines of my goddess – The Weaver, of free thinking and careful action – bestowed calm and enlightenment on those within, but this one’s effect was shattered. Someone had cast a spell to blight this land, to make it easier to raise the fallen bodies of our comrades as weapons against us.

I am Detail Marshall, priest of the Weaver, my shrine is on the outside of that wall, and within it lies the body of my friend Tac, who was murdered and whose funeral I hosted hours before. I couldn’t let him rise again. I had to reconsecrate my shrine.

Beside the gate an argument was breaking out. Friends of mine wanted to get out to check to see that all the camps were evacuated, that nobody was trapped outside in this. I explained what I needed to do, that unless this was done Tac was certain to rise up undead, and – Weaver bless them – they joined me, and the gate guards relented.

The gates shut behind us firmly, emphasised by the sudden clap of thunder the crack of doom, that lit up the field before us. Never had my camp seen so very far away.
For a dark and stormy night, we could see well. Shifting gaps in the clouds let the full moon shine though, and though the thunder around us shook the world we could see the course before us. We ran.

Something followed.

A sword was pressed into my hand and I waved it without skill as the approaching forms shambled closer, but before they reached us a shout from my left and “Mister Marshall, you seem to need some assistance”… one of my flock, leading a patrol in the dark. They saw off the creatures of darkness and guarded us while I stepped into the shrine.

I chanted and represented the space to my lady, asked for her blessing upon it, and I don’t think it has ever taken so long for my prayers to be answered. Occasional clashes outside told me that the world was still dangerous, but eventually the oppression around me lifted, my thoughts became lighter, and the shrine was consecrated again.

The storm crashed around us as we hurried back to the camp, only hoping that the spell would not be repeated. We huddled within the walls around our fires, the dry storm lit the sky around us,

and the night wasn’t over yet.

Projects Random

Under the warehouse

Once upon a time, the deepest dungeons of SJGames’ Warehouse 23‘s basement were free to rummage in by the forces of the internet. Alas, technical problems took down the basement, and it hasn’t really recovered.

This is an attempt to do the same thing. We don’t have the ten years of submissions the old one did, nor do we have the vast vault of imagination that the old one was seeded with. We do have vote buttons, though.



My desk

Eventually, I’ve got around to revising my desktop rig, as happens every couple of years. The new machine is called Thundersnow. The key requirements were the three monitor setup and a CPU revision, but the upgrade to 16gb memory and a decent sized SSD was also nice. Full specs at that link.

Annoyingly, I can’t play games across all three monitors, since AMD’s Eyefinity tech refuses to support monitors with different resolutions. Eyefinity 2.0, which was released a couple of months ago, does support that but appears only to work with 7000-series cards, which being the current high-end are over what I was budgeting. Plus, I didn’t even find out about Eyefinity 2.0 until I tried to make the above work properly. Apparently some stuff rom Eyefinity 2 “might” make its way back to older cards, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe in a few months another upgrade, then. Actually “Refuses to support” is a little strong. If I change the monitors to a common resolution and orientation, it’ll work, but any res that works on the wings looks like stretched-lego on the centre, and I’d rather my games look awesome on the middle monitor than awful across the entire world.

The background across all three is “Ambiguitas” by taenaron on deviantart.

The biggest problem with that image, though, is that it reflects that my teacup is empty. I should fix that now.


'Stromfront, Part One

Taken at Maelstrom's final 2006 event, Matrimony

It’s been nearly six years since I started playing Maelstrom, and it ends this year. Between the sunstroke and the admin problems, I think I was quite lucky in getting my Out of Character “worst event” over with quite so quickly, and in the last six years every single aspect of the character save his player has changed quite dramatically (For starters, I rewrote the background from the one posted here before I sent it to PD, adding a lot more angst and a number of key hooks for character traits, most of which have now triggered).

The character is now a fairly well respected priest of the goddess of free thinking, which is a pretty good thing considering he started with none of this. His list of friends has waxed and waned over the years, but every time I think his story arc has finished, another thing appears. I’ve been plotting various characters on the expectation of his death over the years, but now I doubt I’ll play another character seriously in this campaign.

This event waxed and waned also. The four day easter event is an interesting set of challanges, being the first event of the season as well as the longest and, usually, the coldest. By going up on Thursday for the traditional day-before social gathering, I ended up sleeping in a tent in -4 temperatures. My camping gear isn’t top-level – I camp six weekends a year, almost always during summer, up from four until last year – but it wasn’t pleasant, and by Saturday night I was entirely fed up of life under canvas.

In character wasn’t a lot better. Site layout rendered most of my usual game complicated by long walks and difficult communication lines, and the weather and bleak feel of the game was causing a lot of people to – entirely rationally – give up and go home. By Sunday morning I had a deadline. I had enough cash to get a taxi to the station or I could get lunch, so now I had a Deadline.

I don’t think I like four day events, in general. Three day events tend towards a structure of  Prepare, Build, Execute, Repair of major plotlines, and the extra full day in the middle ends up being a bit vague, lessoning the critical timing. Sunday dialled that directly back up again, with an attack by the current leading army of “bad guys” on the main encampments, a glorious withdrawal and retreat, and a wonderful moment in character where I realised that the gate was being manned by two of my cousins casting spells to check for undead taint and me checking for soul symbols on their foreheads. Between minor revolutions in things he is a part of, and the tense battle of the last night, it had picked up again.

I will say I hate fighting an off-field enemy. One of the great things about Maelstrom is that almost everything there is is driven by players and characters. Even if you are fighting the monster crew in a variety of silly hats, you can be sure that the hats are looted from the city you saw razed in downtime, the monsters are never more numerous than you would have seen if you had spent your downtime looking for them; and for a long time the “bad guys” of the system have been “over there” in another encampment, rather than lumbering on from off-site. The wall and the palisade turned an epic player campaign into a Tower Defence game where the only people who got to play were the ones who ran the gatehouse.

I’m used to having an enormous amount of fun at Maelstrom events, and while I still had a lot of enjoyment, the change of pace of the game is making it harder to play the bits I enjoy. Not enough to not plan to be at the next one, but enough there’s a lives counter in my head, and it’s just had a point taken off.

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