Wednesday, June 10, 2009

UK Games Expo'09 #1: Time to kill

UK Games Expo'09 has been and gone, and our inaugural Combat Commander tournament is done and dusted. I am pleased to be able to report that the Expo was hugely enjoyable, and that the CC tournament was a great success. But all of that is to get ahead of myself a bit.

To begin at the beginning
A giant cyborg sadly
couldn't kill the turkey
hiding behind this movie
Arriving in Birmingham in that teatime twixt afternoon and evening, Andy and I had no difficulty finding our destination thanks to the wonders of modern technology, AKA the Tom Tom satnav. Duly installed in our hotel and with an evening to kill, we sought out a cinema there to watch the newly released installment of a movie franchise which has never quite lived up to its point of origin, by which I mean Terminator: Salvation.

At first sight the trailer had given me real hopes for this movie, but subsequent reflection and one really bad review had brought me back to more realistic low expectations. Which was just as well: the best thing that Andy and I could find to say about the film was that it wasn't as bad as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (and I speak as one who lists Terminator 2: Judgment Day as a Top 5 SF/Fantasy movie sequel).

This was a real shame, because the idea of moving the story into the future and the war with the machines was good. And there were more good ideas, and some reasonable moments in the film. It's just that, as ever, the high SFX budget couldn't make up for a half-baked story. And Christian Bale growling his way through yet another movie was briefly disappointing, but rapidly and more enduringly downright annoying. Ah well, at least it filled the evening.

And so to the Expo
Friday dawned, early- we were going for breakfast. More time passed in that vague and unmemorable way it does when you're at a loose end, then Andy and I set off to check out the venues. The brutalist postwar architecture of the Strathallan hotel - which we could see through the window of our room - looked no better up close than it had through that window. An interior less ugly is simply functional in that characterless identikit style with which many readers will unfortunately be all too familiar. The Strathallan's saving grace was that it was right next door to our hotel.

Wandering around a bit before heading off to the Clarendon Suites to pick up our tickets, we happened across something which gave me the occasion for my first photo of the trip.

To find, the proverbial stone's throw from the venue of Britain's first Combat Commander tournament, a place with the same name as CC's designer was a coincidence just too delicious for me to ignore! The purpose of St Chads Court turns out to be quite prosaic: it's part of the NHS. Unless, that is, there is something Chad and Kai aren't telling us all?

At first sight, the Clarendon Suites were barely more appealing than the Strathallan; well, perhaps a bit more ruthless than outright brutal in style, but that might just be my own fondness for red brick. Ticket collection in the Clarendon Suites' vestibule was smooth as silk, just the first of many examples of the Expo team's efficient organisation. Entry reveals an interior far more interesting than the expectation the exterior creates, although the sharp turn left into the bar delays the first moment of that growing appreciation.

Wow, so this is deep space!
Andy has often sung the praises of Attack Vector as a game rendering space combat in painstaking detail simultaneously genuinely scientifically authentic and accessibly playable. I was finally able to test this bold claim that Friday afternoon when we opened our first Expo-weekend's gaming with this unique gem from Ad Astra Games. Andy's claims were utterly vindicated in all particulars.

Attack Vector is built around a speed table more fiendish even than that of HERO system infamy and legend. The peculiar fiendishness of AV's speed table resides in two key conditions:
  • You can expect to be recalculating your phases pretty much every turn as you apply positive and negative delta-g's to your ship's velocity.
  • The game's rendition of manoeuvre in the Z-axis of the classic XYZ axes of Cartesian 3D space means that you'll also often be running your ship through 2 speed tables each turn.
And if you think that explanation is heavy duty, you should see the data sheets and tables used to implement it: they are truly intimidating; especially if you try to understand the game by just reading the rules, instead of playing out the sample games as instructed by the author (samples are available to download @AAG). Fortunately, the game is easier to teach than it is to learn, something I discovered as Andy ran us through basic flight training and into our first battle in double-quick time.

Crucial to AV's surprisingly intuitive Newtonian physics engine is its crisp and detailed sequence of play, whose extreme clockwork proceduralism is of the sort inevitably anathema to some gamers who would otherwise love the experience of sending tens of thousands of tons of steel and hi-tech systems hurtling through space in vivid darts, swoops, spins and tumbles.

More than this I cannot say until I've played and digested more of the game and its rules. Apart, of course, from recording that Andy had the edge over me in damage dealt when we called the action over after my ship went spiralling wildly off the board edge thanks to a long thruster burn I'd tried, to see if I couldn't swing round to attack from 6 o'clock high (AKA -X/+Z). I was, of course, taken quite aback at how rapidly velocity increased under constant acceleration.

Andy ½
Me ½

Pure dead brilliant! This system does what it says on the box. More soon I hope. ;)

UK Games Expo'09
- #2: And so to war
- #3: I eat dirt and die
- #4: Old friends and new stuff


Andrew Paul said...

A little belated, but this:

pretty much sums up my suspension-of-disbelief issues with the Terminator series. :)

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

A good article Andy, cruel but fair. Except for the first bit, about paradoxes. The film presents a coherent paradox; it doesn't have to (and shouldn't, in fact) resolve the paradox. The paradox illuminates the issue of time travel as the movie represents it. Methinks the author got carried away with his comedy stylings on that one! ;)