This month was the AGM for the BCS Animation and Games specialist group that I have been chairing for a very long while now. I gave a presentation from a personal view point (this is not a work presentation and I make that clear in the disclaimers, though it is what I work in too of course), on the advances in Metaverse and GenAI content creation. The full YouTube version is below but the link to the blurb and bio (and the video) at the BCS is here
We are always looking for presenters to come and share some ideas with our specialist group around all things games, animation, metaverse, esports etc, so if you are interested ping me there is a slot waiting for you. We sometimes get a big crowd, other times smaller ones but with the videos published like this it can be a useful thing to do and share.
For those of you who don’t know, BCS (formerly British Computer Society) Chartered Institute for IT is a UK based (but worldwide membership) professional body for anyone in the tech industry. It exists at all levels from just getting going in the business to Fellows with vast amounts of experience and willingness to help. It was part of my professional certification whilst at IBM and I then also became a certifier whilst there too. Volunteering and sharing ideas, such as this presentation, is one of the many ways to get involved (you don’t have to do this). It benefits you as an individual but also elevates tech roles within enterprises and organizations you work in.
I play a lot of games, of a lot of different types and genres, and have done for too many years (45 of them at least). I know that driving games always attract my attention, I am many hours into the current Forza Horizon and all the preceding Forza’s of all types. I like a good free roam RPG, obviously GTA5 rules the roost there, but No Man’s Sky also scratches that itch. However I also really like turn based combat games, many of which have been Switch based ones of late, though good old Xcom used to be the one to drop into. I also really like Fights in Tight Spaces for a quick blast of card based gameplay with great visuals. These turn based games suit us older slower gamers, I do still enjoy run and gun FPS like COD but in multiplayer those tiny milli seconds of thoughts wading through years of experience to get to a trigger pull reaction on a target don’t work.
At christmas I got Marvel Midnight Suns on the Xbox Series X, thinking it would be an interesting, quick enjoyable game to have a go at. It is most of those things but it certainly has not been quick. In fact since xmas 22 I have not played anything else (10 mins on Forza doesn’t count). It has properly dragged me in with its turn based, card/resource battle, over the top cartoon visuals, stacks of side missions to just play for to level up, a massive storyline and a mini world to explore on foot in between battles. All this super heroes are in it (well not all, but an awful lot!), and the lead character is my very own super hero. There is also a stack of costume and room customisation, collectables, research of upgrades and weird little friendship building conversations and gift giving (I did say that was weird).
The heart of the game uses individual superhero abilities expressed in a small deck of cards to say what a move can do or the impact it has. Some cards give heroism as a resource, others spend it. You get 3 cards to play each turn (or more with some levelled up modifiers) out of selection of cards depending on the 3 particular super heroes in the mission you are engaged with. There are also environment moves to throw things, blow up things and drop heavy objects on the bad guys. The camera work and the animations for all these battling effects get increasingly frenetic. e.g. Wolverine (once he joins through the story) is able to chain hits together on multiple enemies, they often begin with a frenzied battle cry and flexing of his blades in traditional Wolverine fashion. It shares a lot with XCom given its by Fireaxis but it does’t have that infantry style constant loss of the team, after all in most cases superheroes live to fight another day. They do get hurt and damaged and some attention to repair them is required though. Also in the deck there are special battle cards that recipes are research,learned, found etc. Various resources can be used to craft those. Also battles often give an item that Tony Stark will analyse for you, a coil, that opens up a set of new cards, which you get to pick a couple to add to heroes you have taken on battles, or your personal deck. Having more than one of the same card they can be smashed together in the training yard to create more powerful attacks. It goes on and on 🙂
The start of most missions, once you pick the 3 heroes there is a short slow motion walk to camera scene, with avengers music playing that I have yet to skip, as its very much a “hell yeah!” moment. Examples are below, different versions of my hero’s costume in the centre.
I am about 60 hours in to this game, and much of that is enjoying the levelling up in side battles, or finding good player combinations, e.g. cap is very much a defensive tank, digging in with block or tainting enemies, spider man is a bounce around getting everyone character. There are also lots of magic and environment focussed characters, Ghost Rider does a lot of damage, but also to himself, Blade grabs energy and makes bad guys bleed for constant damage.
The enemy roster gets quite complex too, whilst it starts with soldiers and big guts with shields, I now have things that when attacked at all split in two, or spiritually linked demons that you have to kill them all in one turn or they come back resurrecting one another. There are also some huge bosses to deal with, not to mention (not really a spoiler) a corrupted Sabretooth and Hulk.
Different battles have different objectives, and sometimes you can get away with just focussing on the objective, e.g. hack all three terminals before the server gets beaten to a pulp, you don’t always have to clear the bad guys, so an otherwise encounter ending move might be a game saving one. Other times it is a take them all out situation.
There is some DLC heading toward the game this weekend I think, with Deadpool. So sorry any other games vying for my attention at the moment. I am busy saving the world 🙂
I had the honour of hosting my good friends from Gamesatwork.biz for a BCS animation and games event to hear about how they have managed to create compelling content in a weekly podcast for what is not approaching 400 episodes! The official BCS event link page and links to everything else about the BCS is here but I have added the youtube directly. Its very free form, not scripted and was a entertaining to be the interviewer, especially as I know Michael, Michael and Andy just know what to say and when to say it.
As the guys explain a lot of the content is based on us all sending them things we are spotting or are busy doing and enjoying. All the podcasts episodes have their own show notes and links so after watching this go check those out and see the sort of thing they do, or vice versa and then start sharing stuff with them, the more the merrier. Also if you are in tech, check out the BCS as a professional org.
I was really happy to be invited back to my favourite podcast GamesAtWork dot Biz to share some air time with Michael and Andy last week. (One less Michael than usual unfortunately). As Andy and I are both in the UK this took the number of Brits on the show up to a majority hence the title.
You can hear the latest episode on all the usual podcast places, or follow this link to ep386 Too many brits
Amongst other things I got to enthuse about the latest iteration of my favourite real guitar teaching and playing app/game Rocksmith, now Rocksmith+ which for me really shows the power of instrumentations of erm…. instruments 🙂 The original was back in 2012 and very quickly broke my guitar 🙂 I had since 1988. I also learned that the action on that guitar was way too high and my replacement electric was much easier to push down not the strings.
Rocksmith, amongst other things, lets you feel like you are a rock god at concert :), as per the midjourney geared image below. Though the enjoyment in feeling improvement very quickly through still intense practice is wonderful.
What a bumper time for games it is, and on 9th November the latest of my all time favourite racing games Forza Horizon arrived on the Xbox, The games have always had a large free roaming area to collect, drive, race and photograph some fantastic cars. Each generation gets more jaw dropping as it pushes the limits of what can be done with the graphics, sounds physics. Number 4 in the series was set in the UK, building on a huge map that merged many of key locations and and cities into a manageable terrain. Number 5 has moved to Mexico and even more stunning scenes await there. The game is bundled into Microsoft Xbox Game Pass, but being a fan I bought the full version and all the expansions, knowing full well that I will be playing this on and off for years.
The beauty of Forza Horizon is that “where we are going we don’t need roads”. There are roads and tracks and you can just stick to those but you can also tear across the landscape in even the most unsuitable car possible. This may seem at odds with the precision feel of the driving simulation but it always manages to walk that line between arcade lunacy and pure driving simulator. Why would you go tearing around the scenery, well its for the views like this.
The scenery alters across many different biomes, the time of day and weather also make for great variations and the game itself switches between spring, summer, autumn and winter every week.
Also of note is the radio stations, prerecorded play lists of rock, dance, classical music that have wonderful DJ voice overs that often refer back to things that are happening such as event s just raced or about to come up. It is enjoyable to just pick a car, and casually (or otherwise) drive around the place seeing the sites and smoking up the tunes.
A feature of Forza that I always share and enthuse about is the custom paint and decals for the cars. The game has managed to preserve artwork with each generation of the game so effort in creating these is not wasted. I use the decals as a demonstration of in game advertising and support with both my martial art and my Reconfigure books represented, along with a stylised predator face based on the Wii Mii version. These designs appear with my car in other peoples games and can also be downloaded, though there are some much better painters doing some great work to check out.
There are cars from 3 wheelers to high end supercars, over 500 different models and all hyper detailed in and out. There are drag races, giant leaps and even houses to buy.
There are lots of online multiplayer angles to join in on, but I really enjoy driving against the Drivatars of friends and family. Here, a single player race is populated by names and cars of people you know driving to some degree in the way they would drive if they were there. This degree of personalisation is always great fun.
If you are looking at these shots and saying, oh it all looks too shiny to be real though, I saw this vehicle parked outside a London train station in a recent (and long time since I have been out) trip.
I have already blasted through many of the races and levels, the last game was one of the few I have level capped and “prestiged” on. That really just comes with lots of time more than any particular skill, though doing well in races, performing superb stunts, drifting, speeding and crashing the scenery all ramp up the levels more quickly.
It is also great that I can play this on PC and on Xbox Series X but also now its available as a cloud game. Its juts a pity that our communication infrastructure on the train lines is not up to using that, but its still good if other members of the family are playing something else at home.
The recording of my BCS Animation and games pitch is now live on the site and on youtube. Unfortunately only the live audience will get to see the larger avatar I was using to deliver this pitch, as the zoom presentation feed is only of the shared screen with a tiny top left insert of the avatar and my dulcet and somewhat stuttering tones tones. It took a few minutes to get revved up and to many I might be stating the obvious but it is surprising how many people don’t get the importance of user generated content and/or expression in virtual worlds and games.
Official site is here but added the youtube below to save a click or two.
Hot on the heels of my BCS animation and games webinar on the games of 2020 I was delighted to be invited to pop along to my favourite podcast, Games At Work, as a guest to talk about my personal views of some of the thing going on in the tech and games worlds including AR and VR.
To hear us riff on a range of subjects head over to here to website and the show links or look for Games at work dot biz on your favourite podcast repository.
I have had the honour to be on before, the last time was in June 2020, a mentally trying time that the podcast recording really helped with. Its always a blast to record, they kindly had me on years ago too when I first published my Sci-fi Novels Reconfigure and Cont3xt. Given it is now on episode 311 you can tell this podcast is certainly not a fad or a flash in the pan but a wonderfully produced and entertaining experience, despite my ramblings and book pitching. Enjoy.
Yesterday I presented a webinar for the BCS animation and games specialist group that I chair, but open to all, sharing some thoughts on what games made sense and for what reasons on 2020. I am not sure which BCS channel that will appear on but whilst waiting if you want to have a look and listen its all here.
As I say throughout this is all my own thoughts as a gamer and all personally experienced, bought and paid, no promotional activity by anyone other than me mentioning my books in this.
With all the lockdowns and change of pace of life it is nice to be able to reflect back on simpler times as a kid in the 1970’s and 80’s. Yes we had to worry about nuclear war, power cuts and strikes but, we had some fun things to play with. What follows contains Lego, Nintendo, Atari and a change of pace in the World.
I like many fellow geeks are a bit of a Lego fan. It was a magic moment in my TV career when I got to talk all things Lego Online, as well as all the other ting in 2010/11 like AR, Cloud, Brain sensing computing, haptics (all on now related on this tag). It was also the episode across the 3 series I had to do the most takes as compliance (shudder) meant I could only say Lego once in the 3 minute ad lib piece. Anyway I digress. For this lockdown xmas Predlet 1.0 had seen Andy Piper friend and fellow geek, tweet about the Nintendo Lego set and suggested to elemming that should be my present. It was a fantastic surprise to see this incredible bit of history represented in Lego. This recreates the iconic NES games console and also has an old school CRT TV, but this one has a scrolling canvas that shows supermario as a games you crank to watch Mario bounce around it. As with all this Lego kits there is detail inside that you just can’t see, but as a builder you feel more engaged with the end result as below. The entire build is here if you want to see some of the internals.
It took a couple of days to build this, and all the time I was being equally retro in having the complete boxed set of Blakes 7 running on Britbox. This added to a degree of time travel going on here.
I noticed that the “TV” supported another Lego/Nintendo collaboration and spent an Amazon voucher from my in-laws on getting that right away. This was the Super Mario figure and collection of lego to make scenery and bad guys from the game. This Mario though is a digitally enabled bit of Lego. I was surprised just how much he actually does. As a bluetooth enabled device he is able to talk to an iPad app that also has some awareness of what the physical Mario is doing. You build a course of obstacles and then walk and jump Mario around just as we all do as kids with toys, a sort of clip clop effect as they are rocked and moved. I know you have done this ! The Lego Mario responds to movement, and noises play accordingly, walking jumping, falling over all register. Small barcodes on some of the Lego pieces indicate actions, such as the start and end of a level. You stand Mario on the start, the app starts the timer and off you go. It is pretty magical! I mean just look at this video (its quite tricky to play and film BTW!)
The integration with the Lego TV puts mario on top of the TV (removing a panel to fit him on) A barcode indicates its that piece of kit and then he reponds to coloured blocks on the top of some of the scrolling screen and joins in with sounds and scores. Again, brilliant! Again difficult to film 🙂
Moving into 2021 and the retro mood continues. A very very long while ago I backed the crowdsourced return of the Atari console with its new VCS reboot. Now for me the Atari 2600 was my second console, the first being a basic version of Pong. The Atari had cartridges and a massive upgrade in terms of graphics and colour. It was following behind a revolution in arcade video games and some absolute classics. When customs and UPS had finally got their act together to release these machines that were sent from the US I took delivery of this.
The new look box is an online device with local storage. The setup was very quick. It came with two controllers, one similar to an xbox controller and the other the retro reboot of the traditional one from back in the day.
There are a few subtle and cool upgrades, most notable the stick is also a dial so you have have the usual set of directions but you can twist it for analogue style controls like a paddle.
Whilst there is a store and services to subscribe to for cloud gaming it is the loaded set of games that is impressive. Its has all the original Atari arcade games and all the home Atari 2600 VCS cartridges. I know there is a lot of emulation and ways to run these on all sorts of devices but there is a polished accuracy to these ports. My two favourites I used to play were asteroids and if I could find it the Lunar Lander cabinet. The latter had a massive great level to pull for thrust on the lander a very tactile and dramatic experience, it is also the one that inspired my first ever paid coding and the theme of my last Lego build of the 50 years of landing on the moon. I fired this one up first.
It was a great surprise to have the twisting paddle of the stick as the analogue thrust vector. It really took me back in more ways than one.
Then it was onto Asteroids, just as I remember it, though playing that on the home version of the stick is odd as the cabinet was a spread out stick and buttons.
For those of you who were not there during this golden age, we all wanted to have the same experience at home as in the arcade, which was really possible. The Atari 2600 asteroids looked like this as a cartridge
However it looked like this as a game. It was not the vector graphics of the arcade but more sprite variant of home machine that made life easier to program. Yes it was in colour, but not quite as good as the “real” thing. Still played it to death though at the time though.
I tried to capture a video of all the cabinets and all the VCS games in the machine. It will certainly take a while to even have a quick go on each. I am sure my generation recognises a good few there.
I always really enjoyed the Combat tanks and planes on the original Atari home machine to it will be interesting if I can get the family to come and have a game. There are also a stack of 2600 games that we probably never had in the UK, so I seem to have completed some sort of collection.
What was also weird was that I was having a quick look at these whilst the US Inauguration was happening on another screen. The feeling to relief that it went ahead without incident and the removal of that awful gangster and his cronies from the past 4 years swirled around with my feelings of being a kid and starting my gaming and techie journey that has led to this point. All in all quite an amazing journey so far 🙂
PS: I mentioned that some months ago my daughter saw Andy Piper tweet about the Nintendo NES/TV Lego, probably related to the excellent Games at Work podcast, which I listen to by my friends Michael Rowe,Michael Martine and Andy talk all things gaming, tech and biz during my garden orbiting lockdown walks. This connection which prompted the Lego NES to be my suprise xmas gift. Well I tweeted the video of the my Lego Mario, that I bought specifically because I now had the TV set. Andy then very kindly sent me an expansion to the Mario set with Yoshi as it turned out he had an extra one. yay for serendipity, great family, great friends and fun tech 🙂
Just over two weeks ago I was sitting waiting for my Xbox Series X to arrive on launch day. It got held up for some reason and for a tense moment or seven I thought I might have fell into the over booking of orders trap. The good news though it arrived the following day and here it is.
Installation and setup was super simple and I left the One X attached too. However I had already moved lots of the key large games that were due a X/S upgrade onto a removable USB drive to save needing to do quite so much downloading, network transfer was an option too but I thought things would be at least playable more quickly. On logging onto the new box the profile and all its favourites and colours etc re-appear making it completely like the older box. Next gen gaming is now very like phone upgrades with the excitement of taking the thing out of the box, logging on and seeing …. oh its exactly the same. The best way to see and feel the different is to dive into an X/S enhanced game, get some ray tracing going as in my last post.
Microsoft has a smart delivery label on some games indicating they know to patch to the fancier version on the Series X. However, for a Series X version to work it has to be on the internal 1Tb internal drive or the 1Tb extension cart (which I also felt obliged to get). So I set about asking all of the 60-100gb games on the USB drive to make their way over to the fast internal drive. That is not an overly speedy process and for obvious reasons is kind of a one at a time gig. I had booked off the rest of the week to use up 2020 holiday and immerse myself in the new console but some of that the was going to be sat sipping in a progress bar.
Whilst I waited it was great timing the Harmonix (of Rockband fame) had released their DJ music mixing game/experience the day before. I had already played it on the One X but now could spark it up (from the USB as it is not “enhanced”) and just get on with enjoying the console. This game is disc flipping brilliant! An array of tunes, from 60’s country to modern EDM are available to put into your set. 4 platters let you drop parts of those tunes onto the decks, e.g drums from one, vocals from another. As you progress you get to mix and match all sorts of elements, fading in new parts, hitting beat markers for scores, muting, looping and adding custom instrument sections. The whole thing keeps everything in time and tune and synch in a really impressive and entertaining way. Most DJ stuff is usually dance music but as with my little mashup below there are some old 80’s tunes too. It won’t win any prizes but, rather like rockbound it makes you feel a musical god when you are doing it. You can play it as a game to progress, hit marks and styles or just tootle around. I have played with a lot of music games and to be able to just put stuff together and it sound right is such a buzz. We don’t all have the musical ability to do these things but it does make you want to do more. This filled all the time I was waiting for things to transfer and I had a blast, and am still. playing it of course 🙂
Once on of the One X versions of a mega game had moved across I launched them. It was Dirt 5 the new mad Codemasters racing game. Duly it announced with a new message that a better version was available did I want to upgrade. Hell yes ! The original was something like 60Gb so I was expecting some smart delivery of a few GB more of textures, instead I got a 70Gb full download. It seems smart delivery is not a delta, but the full thing re downloaded in a new package. This meant the transferring of over a terabyte of games to the USB drive from the One X and then transferring from that to the Series X SSD, hours worth or transfer, was in fact… pointless as far as I could see. I killed all the other transfers and just went to the network to get it to download new version. In this case I started with the launch of Call of Duty Black ops whatever number it is and carried on playing Fuser! I even entered something into a monthly task competition.
Once it had downloaded I launched into Call of Duty Black Ops in the single player story mode. I was constantly amazed by how fast and slick it was, how many great scenes there were visually. I also enjoyed the story and the temporal jumps. I mean I should as Reconfigure starting chapter is form the middle of the book :). It was also set in my era. A very different time for American presidents, though Reagan was previously a hollywood actor, and wanted to create space based defence systems. Interesting to be working for him though.
I played the entire campaign through that day. To be able to a) finish a game and b) do it in one sitting is not to say it is too short or anything. The ability to block time off, enjoy and dive in made this like a fantastic boxed set on Netflix. There is of course the multiplayer, but I have to be in teh frame of mind to get a constant beating in that by all the kids.
Another really nice touch was this easter egg (which took a bit of figuring out to get to, ut not too much 🙂 ) As well as some 80’s games to play, really old eight bit glories there was this terminal.
Typing on the diplayed keyboard it was clearly a proper version text based operating system from back in the good old days. I listed and changed directories (not sure many modern players will have a clue about that, but they can always look it up on the fancy inter webs). It turns out it has full versions of Zork I, II, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and a few others. I couldn’t;t use the keyboard on the Xbox app, only the slow and annoying onscreen key board, but that was actually part of the fun. I tried one of the games and saved a game, left the console and went back to see if it loaded it, it did! In the middle of the kick ass, next gen first person shooter there was a good old fashioned text based adventure from my youth, utterly brilliant and not the only flashback this month.
There were a stack of other games I have then dived into. In teh house we were already playing Watchdogs:Legion on the previous Xbox, but it was a really nice upgrade to be able to see London in all its next gen (and own futuristic dystopia).
However, The real stand out game has been Assassins Creed : Valhalla. The free-roaming of a beautiful looking saxon Britain it truly eye meltingly lovely. Unlike Call of Duty its an almost never ending set of things to do or complete, constantly attracted way from one task to do another or just to go sight seeing. I particularly liked that over in East Anglia, where I am from, a full version of Burgh Castle exists. The roman walls still stand there today and was a childhood haunt out on the edge of the broads.
Admist all the lovely views there were a few unusual things too. I went to sort out a real work delivery of food and my controller timed out I was met with this amusing error message.
Also I unlocked fishing, of course it has fishing. As I tweeted recently.
I also played this for a while too, one I specifically bought after getting the console.
It is as mad and weird as its predecessors, will not be to everyone’s taste but it has made me laugh a lot. The new fighting system is more turn based, but you get used to it.
I have updated a stack of other games, Mortal Kombat:Ultimate was the biggest mess as I tried the moving from the USB drive again as it has lots of standalone pieces, I ended up deleting it all and starting again. Fifa got me confused too as it kept not installing much of an update, only to realise it was not actually available in the new shiny version yet, it just never told me and the X/S icon would relaunch the original One X version every time.
The only other fly in the ointment is that our 3 years old super snazzy high end Samsung TV does not cope with the new 120 hz ability of the Xbox. I also had to double check how to enable full HDR on the HDMI ports as it was not automatically doing that either. All done now though and it all works.
What no PS5? Well, once it all quietens down I will investigate getting one of those, but the Xbox, with its Game Pass Ultimate that covers the PC’s too is just too much ecosystem to ignore as a primary gaming system.
I mentioned I was relieving my childhood, well I also finally signed up to yet another video service – Britbox, as it was bundled for 6 months free on out BT broadband. I had pondered if I wanted old box sets of BBC and other channels shows, the lure of Spitting Image reborn too was tempting. However what finally did it was Blake’s 7, this was such a formative show for me, for career, interests and the sort of Sci-fi that I really like, and also write. Yes its all a bit set wobbly, occasionally long winded and cheesy, but I love it. Avon in the foreground below, played by the late Paul Darrow, as I have written often, is probably one of the reasons I became a techie/programmer. That’s turned out OK it would seem 🙂