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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Forward Planning IV

Time for the latest update on my painting mission:

I finished the assembly of the 2 Converted Raptors (stuck on back packs). I then based and sprayed them and got them to about 25% complete.

The 1k sons: I almost finished the 3 remaining troopers(they just have to be based) which leaves only the Asp sorcerer to be painted.

Plague Bearers: Unchanged since last time.

Since this time next week it will be nearly Xmas I won't be updating till the new year when I will hopefully have pictures of all 4 completed units.

So in case I don't talk to you between now and then let me take this oppertunity to wish all my readers/ followers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Till next time


Monday, December 13, 2010

Baldurs Gate II - Shadows of Amn

It's a definitive role-playing experience, and the only reason it can't be called the best game in its class is because in a sense there's nothing available that compares to it.

The interface

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is the sequel to BioWare's highly acclaimed 1998 role-playing game based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms universe. Baldur's Gate was an impressive game, and the subsequent role-playing games published by Interplay were also generally excellent, so a lot of players will understandably have very high expectations for Baldur's Gate II. Even so, the game will more than likely exceed those expectations. It's a worthy successor to Baldur's Gate and a superior role-playing game in its own right.

Initially, Baldur's Gate II looks very similar to its 1998 predecessor. The isometric perspective, the controls, and the interface bars along the edges of the screen will all be instantly recognizable to anyone who's played the original or either of Black Isle Studios' two most recent RPGs, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment. That's because Baldur's Gate II uses the same engine as in all those games and consequently plays in much the same way. Various similarities between Baldur's Gate II and previous games using the Infinity engine are readily apparent, and a lot of these similarities may be initially disappointing, as they may seem derivative of previous games, rather than reveal what's certainly the best of Black Isle Studios' AD&D-based role-playing games to date.

Baldur's Gate II picks up soon after the conclusion of the first game: A stylish cinematic sequence explains that your character is captured, jailed, and experimented upon, presumably because of his unusual lineage. Your character starts off at a relatively high experience level, based on his previous adventures. And you'll immediately need to put these honed combat skills to use: The first chapter in the game mostly consists of a dangerous prison-break sequence that's presumably meant to be an action-packed opening for the game. However, the sequence falls flat - you'll spend a lot of time trying to equip your character, and the battles even in this early part in the game can be quite difficult. You'll see several bizarre events in the prison that won't make much sense, and you'll be glad the whole escape scene is over after a few hours of play. The game gets much better at that point, once you've escaped to the city of Athkatla, and from then on, throughout the dozens of subsequent hours you'll spend with the game, Baldur's Gate II remains highly enjoyable and very involving.

Some players felt that the original Baldur's Gate was too drawn out - you had to thoroughly explore each area and keep track of all the characters you met as well as the tasks you needed to accomplish. Since then, role-playing games using the Infinity engine have been refined so that they're more cohesive, and Baldur's Gate II represents the ultimate stage of this refinement. It's an enormous game that lets you do a lot of different things, yet it's surprisingly easy to keep track of your main objectives. This is possible partly because of a well-implemented map feature. You'll refer to the automap often, because its miniaturized depiction of each of the game's hundreds of big areas clearly notes the various landmarks you've encountered, such as important structures, exit paths, and more. Some areas are fully mapped for you as soon as you get there - namely, the city of Athkatla. You can conveniently check your map to find locations you'd be interested in visiting such as taverns, guilds, shops, and temples. This is very fortunate, because Athkatla is huge.

However, one of the things that makes Baldur's Gate II so great is that in spite of the fact that you're free to travel throughout the entire city, many of your objectives will quickly become apparent. You need to find your captor and discover the nature of his experiments. Accomplishing this is anything but simple, yet Baldur's Gate II does a great job of keeping you from getting too lost or bewildered in your search, partly through the map, but mostly because of the well-designed quests. There are seemingly countless quests in Baldur's Gate II, and amazingly, most of them are very substantial. You'll almost never encounter a situation so simple as having to retrieve lost property or clear out some small monster infestation somewhere - there's always more to it than that. Also, since your character has already earned himself some notoriety based on the events in Baldur's Gate, it's understandable that rather than having to pry information out of everyone you meet, oftentimes it's you who'll be approached and asked for help. And just as often, as you're working on solving a particular quest, you'll end up discovering more than you expected and will take on other quests as a result. All this makes the pacing in Baldur's Gate II very fluid.

AMBUSH! - There is always something happening to keep you intrested.

Once you get to Athkatla, the subsequent chapters of the game mostly alternate from being open-ended to more linear. You'll travel through a huge variety of settings and encounter hundreds of different characters to speak with and monsters to fight. All this variety somehow manages to maintain the game's tight pacing throughout the long duration of Baldur's Gate II. It helps that the party members that travel with your main character are generally very well developed. Your party members will often interject a comment into conversations you have with other characters, and over the course of the game, they'll all take some time to speak with you and even with each other. Some of these characters are entertaining, while others offer a real sense of camaraderie over the course of the game as they do their best to support your decisions and to offer their advice whenever appropriate. All your party members have a lot of dialogue, and a good portion of it is actually audible speech, which is put to good use throughout the game in order to provide deeper characterizations for many of the more important individuals you'll meet. At any rate, since you won't be able to travel extensively with all the characters in Baldur's Gate II if you play it through once, you'll actually want to play it a second time if only to learn more about your companions.

Another reason you'll want to play Baldur's Gate II more than once is that the game poses several tough choices for you at various points; you'll need to go with your instincts and make decisions where the right solution isn't obvious. The game also features many dozens of optional quests, lots of hidden treasures and artifacts, and a very flexible character-generation system. Actually, unless you import your character from Baldur's Gate, chances are you'll spend a long time just deciding which sort of character to play in Baldur's Gate II. That's because in addition to each of the basic AD&D classes, Baldur's Gate II offers three variations of each class. Several of these are intriguing, such as the shapeshifter, a druid who can change to a werewolf; and the kensai, a master swordsman who forgoes wearing armor in his effort to achieve supremacy with his blade. Baldur's Gate II even features three of the new 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons character classes: the monk, the sorcerer, and the barbarian. Many of the Baldur's Gate II classes make for a very different play experience, and if you wish to try them all, you have the option to play the game's multiplayer mode, create up to six characters, and play through the whole game with your own party. The only disappointing aspect of character creation in Baldur's Gate II is the very limited selection of character portraits available to choose from, which is especially disappointing since the portraits all correspond with the various characters you'll meet in the game. You can also choose to select a portrait from the original Baldur's Gate, and, as in the first game, you have the option to import your own portraits and even your own sound effects for use with your character.

During the course of Baldur's Gate II, you'll find a huge variety of conventional and magical equipment for use with your characters. Weapon specialization in Baldur's Gate II is broken down into each individual type of weapon, including long-, short-, and two-handed swords, scimitars, maces, flails, spears, slings, crossbows, katanas, and many more. You can also gain proficiency in different types of combat, including sword-and-shield skill and two-weapon fighting. Thus, whereas any fighter character could be equipped with a mace in one hand and a longsword in the other, unless he specializes in two-weapon fighting and those particular classes of weapons, he'll be relatively slow and weak in battle. As such, choosing your equipment and your skills in Baldur's Gate II is an important strategic decision.

The magic-using classes are even more interesting, if even a bit overwhelming. Baldur's Gate II features literally hundreds of different spells, many of which are exceptionally deadly. Later in the game, when you're facing powerful magic-users and probably have strong magic of your own, you'll be firing off debilitating or deadly spells and powerful protection auras constantly. Although the game does tend to slow down when a lot of spells are being cast simultaneously, the Infinity engine actually does an elegant job of letting you manage all your magic. You can set hotkeys for spells you use often, and when your party rests, your healers will automatically use their remaining healing spells in order to expedite your recovery. Another very helpful feature in Baldur's Gate II is the difficulty slider, which can be adjusted to make battles even more challenging or to automatically give you maximum hit points when you level up and eliminate the chance of failure in trying to scribe mage spells.

Baldur's Gate II even has an optional tutorial sequence, a huge manual (much of which is devoted to describing all the spells), and a collapsible interface so that you can play the game full screen. The full-screen mode is actually highly versatile, as the interface pops back up whenever you pause the action, which you'll have to do often in order to issue commands in battle. The game runs well in either 640x480 or 800x600 resolution and has unofficial support for even higher resolutions than that, and it takes advantage of your 3D-accelerator card for slightly enhanced visual effects. The game's loading times can seem a bit long, and it may crash on a few occasions, but these problems aren't significant. Otherwise, the game's prerendered maps are highly detailed and generally look very good, while the characters and monsters are fluidly animated. In addition, the great voice acting is complemented by the game's memorable symphonic score. Yet it's somewhat unfortunate that the game recycles some of the special effects and miscellaneous sounds and graphics from the first Baldur's Gate, as Baldur's Gate II is a superior game in every other respect.

The map of Trademeet, one of the many locations you visit.

There's always more that can be said about Baldur's Gate II, because while it's a very long game, its fine points are what make it so great. Clearly, it was designed to be the ultimate AD&D role-playing experience - it features the most powerful monsters, the strongest artifacts, and the huge variety of characters, places, and situations that make Advanced Dungeons & Dragons so prevailing. The game has a great story, good dialogue, highly sophisticated combat, meaningful decision-making, memorable characters, and plenty of replay value. It's a definitive role-playing experience, and the only reason it can't be called the best game in its class is because in a sense there's nothing available that compares to it.

Till next time


Friday, December 10, 2010

Forward Planning III

A little earlier than planned but I made a discovery that demands an update. At the moment I now have 5 of the 1k sons done just leaving 3 normal troopers and the aspiring sorcerer to go. But while looking for the asp sorcerer I discovered that I also have 2 converted raptors (CSM's with SM Jump-packs)still unpainted as well so I am going to add them to the list for completion. So my revised list now stands as follows:

4 1k sons incl asp sorcerer
4 Plague Bearers
2 Raptors

All to be done before the end of the year (21 Days).

Till next time


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Forward Planning II

Well here is the first update on the list of models I wanted to finish and to be honest I am quite pleased with my progress so far.

The noise marines are all finished but I think I over estimated how far along the unfinished models actually were they were closer to 70% complete as I still had to finish their weapons, a few minor touch ups and details and base them. But that is beside the point as they are 100% done.

I finished the 2nd thousand son, got a third to 85% and got all but 1 up to about 60%.

So hopefully this week I will get the most of the 1k sons finished leaving only the balance and the plague bearers to do.

Now for my next trick I will remember the paints I used for the PB color-scheme. :)

Till next time


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gav Thorpe Interview


Gav Thorpe is a name that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with many of Games Workshop's various rule systems writing several himself, as well as being accredited with work in developing many others including the Lord of the Rings game. He is also a Warhammer novelist, regular contributor to White Dwarf and organiser of games at the Nottingham headquarters, however he has found time in his busy schedule to talk to us here at Gamer Heaven.

KD: When did your interest in wargaming first begin?

GT: When I was around eight or nine, I would say. I had lots of plastic toy soldiers, and a friend and I made up some rules for them. When I was ten years old or so I discovered several wargaming books in the local library, including a couple by Donald Featherstone, and I realised there was this whole hobby out there just waiting for me.

KD: How did your career at Games Workshop start, and what was the first project they had you work on?

GT: I started GW as an Assistant Games Developer in 1993, after speaking to Jervis at Games Day and sending in a letter and some stuff I had written. My very first job was pasting together mock-up wargear and psychic power cards for the playtests of Dark Millennium for 2nd ed 40K! Writing-wise it was the relaunch of the Citadel Journal, alongside Mark Hawkins and Ian Pickstock. My first ‘mainstream’ product was the Pit Fighter warrior pack for Warhammer Quest, and my first WD article was about the Squat Cyclops for Space Marine (Epic).

KD: Of all the codex's, Army books, Rule books you have worked on which is your favorite, which are you most proud of?

GT: Tough choice! I’m really proud of Codex: Sisters of Battle and Inquisitor, both of which allowed me to introduce all kinds of things to the 40K universe that are now taken as granted and seen everywhere, but were fresh and new at the time. I’m also quite pleased with my last two contributions – Vampire Counts and Dark Elves. As projects they were perhaps the most complete and rounded things I have worked on, combining background, miniatures, rules and art from concept to completion in a very pleasing way.

KD: Are there any of the codex's/ Army Books that you thought looking back "Oh I wish I had(n't) done this!" or "Damn I could have included/ changed that special rule"?

GT: Every single project contains a few things that you would tweak in retrospect. One that I usually bring up is the special bonus movement rule for the Blood Angels in 3rd ed. Originally the rule simply made the Blood Angels squad move forwards, but after a discussion with Jervis (who rightly said “players tend to forget rules that aren’t of benefit to them”) I changed it to a bonus movement and look where that ended up! As I said, there is always a points cost that can be modified, a rule worded better or changed, a magic item or piece of wargear that is under- or over-powered.
As a project, I think the rewrite of Chaos Space Marines could have benefitted from a bit more ‘grit’ and options, and we were overall too puritan at that time. I still think the principle of streamlining the list and rules was right, but we took it a little too far.

KD When working on the Army book/ Codex of one of your favorite armies is it hard to resist the temptation to make it especially hard so you will win more games?

GT: Not hard at all. My primary goal has always been to make an army interesting to collect, play and face, and you have to bring the same enthusiasm to every project. You find and angle that you think will work as a dynamic and stick with that. If you’re already deeply involved with an army it’s often tempting to write for only those people who have the same experience as you, but you have to be professional and remember that you are writing for newcomers as well as established players.
You can’t second-guess everybody, so you have to go with what feels fun and cool and hope that other players agree with you. Power-levels and all of that are part of what you need to keep an eye on, but blandness is a far more significant problem.

KD: The career route of Games Developer to author seems to be quite popular (yourself, Graham McNeill to name a few) how did you go about writing and submitting your first novel/ short story.

GT: I was sat in the same department as Andy Jones when Black Library was started, so it was a simple matter of having a chat with him about writing a short story for the to-be-launched Inferno magazine. Rather bravely I pitched in with Birth of a Legend, telling the story of how Sigmar got his hammer! Later came the debut of Kage and the Last Chancers, which naturally led me into the novels when BL were looking to turn some of their Inferno characters into series. I’ve been very fortunate to have it this easy!

KD: So can you give us a quick list of the armies you collect yourself and which is your favorite?

GT: I must confess that I haven’t done much with my GW armies for a while now, they’ve sort of fallen fallow for the last couple of years. That said, I have Dwarfs for Warhammer, Eldar for 40K and Orcs and Easterling allies for LOTR. The Dwarfs have seen the most use, so I guess that says something about which I have the greatest love for.

KD: If you could introduce a new plotline or race to 40k who and or what would it be?

GT: This sorta follows from the last answers, but if I had a magic wand I would bring the Demiurg into full existence as an army and race. Various discussions over the years about making space dwarfs make me believe there is a fantastic image and background to be explored there. I came up with the Demiurg name, by the way, when we were trying not to use ‘Squats’.

KD: One of your biggest acheivements has to be the "Inquisitor" system. How did that come about? Did you pitch the idea to "Them" or did "They" approch you?

GT: There was a ‘slot’ open for a spring 2001 game. Games Dev got together and devised a bunch of pitches, including bringing back Man o’ War, recreating Space Hulk as a boarding actions game, doing Warhammer pirates, Adeptus Titanicus pitting Necron War Engines against Mechanicus armies on the surface of Mars, all kinds of stuff. Amongst them was a 54mm skirmish game. We had an Inquisition angle in mind, though nothing with any detail.
The idea of creating a highly collectible range of 54mm models appealed to the higher-ups and that option was taken. At that stage of my career is was felt my next step was to create a rules system, so I became lead designer and we went from there. The original idea was for the ‘sides’ to be Inquisitors and Chaos Magi, but after considering the somewhat small size of the range I came up with the puritans and radicals idea to allow the majority of miniatures to be used by any player.

KD: How would you respond to the comment that "the lack of balance/and power creep in all of gw's creations is spurred by an imbalanced need to sell than fun or for the good of the game."?

GT: I would say that power creep is not as prevalent as some gamers would like you to think, and that it exists not because of official policy but by the human nature of games developers. If power creep were enshrined in the games development strategy, you wouldn’t have some of the older armies still being more powerful, in some players’ eyes, than the new ones. There is imbalance, unfortunately, but there are only a couple of armies that are so out-of-whack it makes any difference outside of the narrow tournament mentality.
There are some factors inherent in 40K and Warhammer that favour certain army styles, but as can be seen with many of the other games systems like LOTR, Epic, Blood Bowl and so on, that’s more to do with the ‘inheritance’ of many years of constant development and the complexity of the basic system as anything any individual developer creates. At no point in any briefing I was part of or wrote did the words ‘This army has to be more powerful than the other ones’ appear. Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to incompetence!

KD: Have you ever played any non GW games systems? (Privateer Press, Battletech, Flames of War etc)

GT: I’ve toyed around with various other games. I wrote the ‘Open Fire!’ starter booklet for Flames of War, for instance. Recently I’ve been concentrating on creating some games systems of my own, just like it was when I started out, rather than off-the-shelf games systems already out there.

KD: If the answer is yes then was there any part of their systems that you thought "Wow thats good I wish we had thought of that" ?

GT: The examples you cited are all very different games trying to achieve a different gameplay. Particularly with 40K and Warhammer the style of the game has been established for so long you’re not going to do anything that radical to the underlying games system. I like all kinds of games, whether miniatures, roleplaying, board and card games, video games, and I always look for interesting ways of organising rules or mechanics for resolving certain things.

KD: To date (Nov 2010) you haven't written any full novels for the HH series. Is there any part of the HH that you think "I would sell my soul to Khorne to write about that" and if so what part?

GT: I’ll be starting my first HH novel after Christmas. I wouldn’t sell my soul for any particular subject, it just isn’t helpful to become wedded to a narrow idea, but I’m very happy to play in that big sandpit with the other authors.

KD: Apart from your own which is your favorite BL Book?

GT: Probably Execution Hour, by Gordon Rennie. Not only is it a cool 40K novel, it reminded me a lot of the Hornblower and Ramage novels I read as a teenager.

KD: And to continue my $h!t stirring. :) In his interview, Graham is convinced that if all the BL Authors got together for a session, he would be the last man standing (Air Guitaring). Do you agree with that statement?

GT: Hell no! McNeill is such a lightweight these days, he’s always falling asleep. Something about having a young kid, and all that... Not that I’m claiming the prize for myself either – three beers is about my limit these days. I think I used up all my ‘Resist Alcohol’ points in my youth.

KD: Do you have a preference when it comes to writing 40k or fantasy books?

GT: No. Both have their different appeals and challenges.

KD: If one of our readers was thinking of trying to get into the games development field what advice would you offer?

GT: Think of it as a whole, don’t fixate on working for a particular company or on a single games system. Opportunities are too few and far between to limit your options. Everyone I know that is a games designer or developer started out just doing it for themselves. You either have the urge to write games and scenarios and stories, or you don’t. If you get the chance to turn that into a career, all the better, but if you want a chance to make a decent living out of it, get into computer games!
Or found your own company...

KD: Do you get much time to play/ paint now or doesn't your timetable allow it?

GT: Not much time. I still play plenty of games, I just don’t have much time to do the painting. I’ve always been hot and cold in that respect, perhaps going on a binge for a few weeks before cooling off. If I ever get around to sorting out a permanent painting area, that might improve.

KD: What was the last model you painted and game you played?

GT: I can’t say... It’s a game I’m currently working on for a miniatures company!

KD: Did you win?

GT: I sort of did, but since I was just testing out the basic rules, it doesn’t really count.

KD: So finally can you give us a few hints on what you are working on now or will be in the near future?

GT: For Black Library, I’m just finishing Path of Seer. After Crimbo is the Horus Heresy, and rewrites for my Angry Robot novel The Crown of the Conqueror. There’s plenty of other Black Library stuff over the next couple of years!
On the games front, I’ve written/ am writing a couple of different rules systems at the moment; one a skirmish game, the other for slightly larger forces. That’s about all I can say at the moment until the information has been released by the companies involved.

KD: Well thanks for taking the time to answer these questions its been a pleasure as always. The next time you are in Ireland promoting a book or whatever the first drink is on me.

GT: Cheers, I’ll take you up on that!

Till next time