Computer Games

Wot I Think: Horace’s Endless Christmas

With the popularity of the character Horace only eclipsed by The Hobbit for exposure this year, it was inevitable that a studio would sign up to do some kind of cheap cash-in game this holiday season, and Big Robot’s Carey has stepped up to the task, with original scribe and character creator John Walker contributing an original short story set in Horace’s universe, making this not only a vital game for your Christmas stocking as a gamer, but an important aspect of universe canon too. This is Wot I Think about Horace’s Endless Christmas


Originality of game mechanics are seldom something that a licensed property does well, usually following a lineage pioneered by Ocean Software in the late 80s and early 90s, where an existing run-and-fight game would be palette-swapped and have its sprites replaced to become anything from Batman though The Terminator to that classic example of 90s licencing excess, Scrooge McDuck’s Gonna Cut A Bitch. In this case, the HEC team have gone for a twist on a classic genre, the third person personal labyrinth, or “Tron game”. Eschewing the traditional escalation of complex starting areas, the team opts to make the game field larger and the game longer over successive levels, providing a sense of progression as well as a defined story arc for the return of Horace’s world-defining infinity.

The graphics are entertaining and reflect the detail and care of the main Horace continuity, having been painstakingly recreated by the original artist into computer game form, with a high level of animation and articulation that makes the game a joy to see on screen. The whole caboodle, however, is let down by occasionally twitchy controls, a major issue in a game where turning before you hit the border of the playfield is a game-over. This problem is exasperated by the checkpoint save system, which will only retain your progress on level boundaries, and not let you quick-save in play. A notable absence from an otherwise finely crafted game.

Finally, it would be lax of us not to discuss the Free to Play model the publisher has chosen for distribution. The initial release lacks any kind of restrictions or item shop, but without a cash model the game is surely doomed, and so we shall expect the first DLC drop in the new year, possibly involving some kind of closure and revenge against the mysterious antagonists of this introductory mission set.

So 2013 looks good for fans of the Horace franchise, and at the low, low price of Free we can’t help but recommend Horace despite the occasional control glitch. Go get it now.


HDNL Are Not Useful To Me

Part of a Continuing Series.

’tis the season for waiting for home delivery companies. There are a couple of presents this year which I would rather not lug home on the bus, so I woke darling girlfriend up as I was going to work, and explained that an Amazon parcel might turn up. Ideally, two.

Both parcels were going to be delivered by a company either called HDNL or Yodel. I assume the Yodel rebrand is because you are no longer allowed to call yourself the Home Delivery Network Ltd if you are incapable of… well…

I got home about 6, laden with bottles of beer and other ingredients of the evening, to discover one of the parcels had arrived. This was odd, as the website clearly stated that both had been delivered, although at different times. There was a very light parcel, and a very heavy parcel, and the light one was on my desk, and the heavy one…


So I phoned the support number, which demanded the number on my failed delivery card three times, then said “Sorry we couldn’t help this time” and closed the call. Thanks.

So I found another support number and phoned it, which rang (normal phone ringing) for ages and so I gave up. Fortunately my phone didn’t get the message about giving up, and a little while later as I was attempting to use their live chat – which also span on a “Waiting for an operator” for a while – I heard a voice from my phone and scrambled to pick it up. I explained that the delivery hadn’t arrived, which they characterized as a “dispute”, which I agreed with. They explained their system said they’d delivered it to a neighbour, although not which one. Also my neighbours don’t sign for parcels. And there was someone here all day. And there was no failed delivery card.  Or parcel.

They recommended I contacted Amazon.

I contacted Amazon. They were somewhat surprised that the carrier recommended this course of action, and launched an investigation, which might take a couple of days. A couple of hours later, I replied to Amazon. It should be noted that the block of flats we live in does not have a name that is in any way similar to “The Hollies”, though we do live at Flat 5. I sent:

Hi there,

So, it turns out that HDNL delivered the weights to the wrong block of flats, a couple of roads away, at Flat 5, The Hollies.
Flat 5 The Hollies were not in, so they posted them a “Delivery Failed” notification, and then instead gave them to their neighbor at flat 9 The Hollies.
The guy at Flat 9 The Hollies actually read the dispatch note, and lugged the weights all the way here.
Of the two items that HDNL were due to deliver today – I am vastly amused that it’s the one that’s *really heavy* that got lost in the shuffle.
So, a happy ending. For me, at least, since the person who got the things by accident was honest, otherwise I never would have known.
Please register this as a formal complaint about HDNL and their inablity to perform their single most basic function, and identify houses. I’ve got no problems at all with Amazon’s treatment of the matter, and remain a happy customer.
Happy holidays,
HDNL are not useful to me.

The Hobbit: The first bit: The review

or “The reason it shouldn’t be called The Hobbit

Today, I went on an adventure. A mysterious source told me that a treasure trove of golden cinema moments awaited me, and also that if I didn’t go this weekend I’d have wasted the money I’m paying on my Unlimited card for this month. (Part of the reason I bought an Unlimited card is to motivate me to see more films in the cinema).

So, the cinema experience. Thirty seconds of my film experience today, which lasted just over four and a bit hours, was devoted to telling me how much the world would suck if Cinema was killed because of piracy. Thirty minutes of my film experience was devoted to television-style advertising, despite having paid over a tenner for the ticket. Ten minutes was devoted to advertising films I might want to see. Two minutes to how awesome the cinema chain I had ALREADY BOUGHT MY TICKET FROM was, and thirty seconds to remind me to buy popcorn. But the rest was entirely movie.

The Hobbit first edition book cover

I saw the film in 3D, because the time I wanted to go the showing was in 3D. I generally don’t seek out or not seek out the 3D versions of movies, because either the glasses are interfacing with my normal glasses oddly, or the technology is not quite there yet. Jackson’s love of gliding shots tracks badly with 3D, rendering every motion frame just a little blurry on the details until it halts. Where the camera sticks still, the action on screen is glorious, and the use of 3D is mostly natural rather than “HEY LOOK I CAN DO 3D”. Kind of like the early technocolor films, the use of films to demonstrate the awesome power of a new bit of film tech slowly fades out, and with any luck in a few years we’ll have natural looking 3D, and the slightly weird over-sharp films we get now will look as strange as the colouring of the Sound of Music does next to a modern film. Anyway, next time I go see a 3 hour movie, I probably shouldn’t go to the 3D one.

Apparently this is also in 48fps also. Either my cinema doesn’t support that, I’m too much of a peasant to notice the difference, or the people complaining can be lumped in with the folks who buy $600 2M HDMI cables.

End technical details section. Begin critical appraisal of actual movie.

This isn’t the Hobbit in the form that you read it when you were twelve.

How much you enjoy this movie will, I suspect, track pretty closely with how invested you are in The Hobbit the book that papa Tolkien wrote because he didn’t think he could sell the story of the world he wanted to tell, so filed the serial numbers off the histories and wrote The Hobbit.

The Hobbit (2012 film)
The Hobbit (2012 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the Hobbit. It was one of the first “Grown Up” books I ever read, I’ve reread it less often than I reread LOTR (And, in fact, less often than I rewatch the LOTR movies, which is a bit of a shame) but the reason I enjoy LOTR in general is the sense of this gigantic sandbox Tolkien is playing in, and how we’re only actually seeing a small corner of it. Behind every window in the plot is a vista of paths unmapped so far. The Hobbit put shutters on a lot of the windows.

Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies are two things. First, they are the movies of the children’s book The Hobbit, Or There And Back Again, by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. This movie is about a third of that story, and that story is about half of this movie. Second, they are the prequels to The Lord of the Rings, also by J. R. R. Tolkien. The same story that was told before, but with the serial numbers on the universe painted back on again. I think, in a way, that this is closer to The Hobbit that would have been written if he planned to write LOTR afterwards. Backstories are filled in, conversations that logically happen, happen. Gandalf notices the ring, Gollum is slightly crazier, the backstory of *why* the Dwarves are on this quest is better spelt out, Radagast the Brown shows up (I… am not sure about his comic relief status).

I recognise that very few of the Dwarves get personalities. This is a problem with that size of cast, really, and nothing compared to the epic whining that cutting out half of the dwarves would have caused. The purposes of a lot of them are folded into each other for ease of the audience’s comprehension. The lack of female characters is entirely the source material’s fault, and unfortunatly most of the candidates for gender-swapping are recasts from the first three films. Plus see above about whining.

The Hobbit is a a closer, warmer, more personal story that LOTR in a lot of ways; and the film turns a lot of that into a more Epic version, suitable as a prequel. As I say, about half of the film – at a rough ballpark – is things that I assume are taken from the notes and essays. They’re worldbuilding for LOTR, and indeed for The Hobbit, setups for a payoff we’ve already seen. Both problems in the Other big epic prequel trilogy, as it happens. So my conclusion is that if you go in expecting a film of The Hobbit, which is quaint, somewhat cosy, and slightly provincial, you’ll be massively disappointed, as a lot of the critics have been. If the title had been instead something that referred to both aspects of the source material, or to neither in specific, that expectation might have worked for them.

But it’s never the same as it was in your head anyway.

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