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Monthly Archives: May 2012

I realise it is very fashionable these days to be joyously hammering nails into SWTOR’s coffin – but do not include me amongst their number. I am still enjoying SWTOR at the slow pace I am playing it.

My main character is a Jedi Sage, which I have specced for healing. Given how little I actually group this probably sounds a little odd, but actually I quite enjoy letting my companions do a fair bit of the dps. Also, it’s very different from the Hunter I primarily play in LOTRO.

I have just finished Balmorra. I have to say I wasn’t sold on Balmorra at first, I found the first area a bit lacking. Then again, this may just have been the atmospherics of the place, a ramshackle beach-head of the Republic’s war effort. Once I moved out of Bugtown however I got quite taken by the individual story of Balmorra, of a resistance against the Sith Empire. Much of the language and ideology sounds very similar indeed to the Original Star Wars series (the rebellion of farmers etc) against the mighty Empire. This in turn of course ties directly into the American foundational myth. History and politics aside, it’s a darned good story. The Consular class story along this also had one of those wonderful Bioware moments at the end where your choice really felt in character.

The Bonus series, which I also did, was not quite as good. I think it may well have been the weakest bonus series thus far. I think this is because the main series of quests leaves one with a feeling of victory, but then the bonus series takes us back over some of the same battlefields again … which doesn’t quite work. I didn’t feel the same about Taris, for example, probably because the main story in Taris (or Nar Shaddaa thinking about it) don’t end such a triumphal note. One leaves knowing there is still work to be done … only that you are now needed elsewhere.

Leaving Balmorra I know have my third companion, Zenith. I rather like Zenith and his story. He’s a dark soldier, and perhaps one day I will have a dark-sider Jedi Shadow to see if one can’t explore his depths. While I might use him now and then, however, I don’t think he will replace Qyzen as my primary companion.

The story now takes me to Quesh. The name sounds like something either made up from leftovers (like bubble-and-squeak), or like something you step in. I can’t quite decide. Either way, I am looking forward to when I next decide to spend a few more hours in Star Wars.

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Some events are etched into our minds. Of those, many might be of national or international significance. Along with very many others I can remember how I heard about the attacks on the World Trade Centre (it was on a car radio of a friend, who was helping me move flat in St. Andrews). I remember hearing about the death of Princess Diana. Others events are of more personal significance – I remember very clearly meeting my wife for the first time, and for some reason I remember extremely clearly when I took up Lord of the Rings for the second attempt (when I was 9) having been put it down several months previously. I also remember the time I took a step towards the road, in that moment fully intending to step into the path of an incoming lorry.

If that sounds overly melodramatic, well, in my mind that is because it is. I know that many thousands of people have made similar steps, and I know far, far too many take the subsequent ones. I have no idea why I did not.

That happened five years ago, in the first week of July. Until that point, I did not consider myself depressed. The first person someone on a downward spiral deceives is themselves. I could walk (about two and a half miles) to work thinking about “arranging” an accident – “slipped” so that a car would run over and break my leg, and think it normal. I could have tears in my eyes on that walk, and ignore them. If that sounds stupid, well, in many respects it is. A person on a downward spiral doesn’t think straight. I was drinking more as well, at times quite heavily, but this was another warning sign unheeded.

At the time I did not know I was Aspergic. I always used to describe myself “at a tangent to the world”. I knew I had a tendency to prefer my own company, that I often did not get others’ humour (as they did not get mine). However, there was never any opportunity to find out more – and indeed, how could there be? Life was apparently fine. However, there were circumstances occurring at work that, in the course of the spring and early summer of 2007, conspired to bring about my fall. My case worker on experiencing my workplace later said he thought if one wanted to create an example of a job that would be hell for an Aspergic person, my job would have been it. Not because of the job itself, but because of the circumstances. In addition, that spring my farmor* was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer (my farfar* had very severe Alzheimer’s, my other grandparents had already passed on). On positive notes my youngest brother was getting married that summer – the first of my brothers and I to do so. Change though, even positive change, can be stressful.

The breaking point came when my supervisor went on her summer holiday. I did not always see eye to her, but ultimately I always knew that we were on the same side. That could not be said about others in a position of responsibility in that environment. On the Thursday of that first week, I stepped towards the road, and stopped.

In that moment I began to realise, not necessarily consciously, that I had a problem. I stopped walking to work, and took the bus, to reduce temptation. I stopped drinking, almost entirely. I put on a good face on my brother’s wedding (which was the Friday of the second week) but I am sure plenty of people there must have realised something was wrong.

My supervisor came back the next week, and I was obviously in a state. Partly on her advice I saw my doctor on Wednesday 18th July. I went in, and said I thought I was depressed. I filled in a questionnaire with questions like how often I had thought of self-harm, or practised self-harm. I answered truthfully, and scored quite high. Initially though I clung to the idea that I could work through it. He supported this. It is, after all, an approach that works for very many people.

My birthday was the Thursday, a quiet low-key affair. On Friday I went to work just like any other. That morning, it came to light I had made a minor mistake the previous week. I felt myself starting to tear up, as if to cry. Wishing to protect my dignity, I went to the gent’s bathroom, and I fell apart.

I started to cry. I started to hyperventilate. I hugged myself so strongly it restricted my lungs. My body started to jerk beyond my control. Another member of the team called from outside the door if I was alright. I still don’t know how I managed to open the lock, and I fell out of the toilet onto the staff room sofa, unable to properly breathe, rocking violently. I was suffering my first full blown panic attack. It is a curious sensation, being aware of everything that is going on with oneself physically, but being utterly unable to control one’s own body. It is also very, very frightening.

I literally have no idea how long this lasted, but at least one of the advantages of working in a hospital is that medical staff don’t panic in these situations. My colleagues got one of the doctors, and were simply brilliant. At some point, I started to calm, and the attack passed. I was, of course, a wreck. Someone contacted my brother (who at that time was living with me) and he drove me home. I was placed on sick leave.

I remember those events so clearly, in part, because I really don’t remember very much of the next six weeks or so at all. I had panic attacks 2-3 times a week. I remember one day sitting down on the living room sofa mid-afternoon, and stayed sitting on that sofa for hours, until it was dark. I remember staring at the tv, which was turned off. I did not have the energy to pick up the remote that was just next to me on the sofa to turn the tv on. I remember once scaring my brother my going to bed in the mid-afternoon. I slept so heavily I did not hear the phone ring, or the doorbell ring, so he had to almost break into the house (he had forgotten his key) just to check I was still amongst the living.

Until those six weeks, I really had no idea of what depression was. Until then I just thought it was some serious kind of “feeling bad”. It is something all consuming. I could hear people – friends and family – saying everything would be alright, that it would in time get better. I did not believe them. I basically stopped laughing – I would occasionally smile.

I would not wish those six weeks on my own worst enemy.

Yet, I at least had the support of my family and some friends in the USA that I had made thanks to the Paradox Interactive forums. So many in this situation do not.

I think early September, though it might have been late August, my medication changed, and the new medication helped stabilise me.

This is already a very long post, and is going to be the first in a series detailing the series of events that have led to be becoming an expectant father. They will be written in order, but other posts will be in between. It is as good a stopping point as any. I just want to say here however that one of the reasons I want to write this is because I know there are many people out there now in exactly the same situation I was five years ago. If someone in such a situation stumbles across this post, I want to beg them to go and seek help.

Because even the longest night will end, and the sun will rise.

 

*I am increasingly finding myself of using Danish terms for grandparents, as they make things so easy. Farmor is fathers mum, farfar father’s father. Mormor and morfar on the mother’s side.

Last night I watched my recording of Michael Wood’s new historical series. I am generally terrible at watching television series of any stripe, and the only reason I managed to watch this was thanks to Sky+ (and the only reason I will get to watch subsequent series is thanks to Series Link). I had high hopes for this, as I really do like Michael Wood. In fact it was one of Michael Wood’s earliest series (In Search of the Trojan War) that got me first interested in history, and I have never looked back.

The first episode at least did not disappoint.

A few obvious things – this series is clearly taking the opportunity to reflect on British history and the British people in the lead-up to the Diamond Jubilee. It is also occurring quite fast on the heels on The Story of England, which looked at the history of England through the lens of one English locality – and no doubt it is similar – but unlike the Story of England does not restrict itself to just one area of the country. It is also very much a general history. I have read some negative comments about this – but a series of this nature is only ever talking about history in large sweeps. That means one can always find it lacking on details. In a sense therefore myself and other history buffs are not the target audience.

Except we should be.

The series is called “The Great British Story“. I do not think that word is accidental. Modern history began, quite literally, in the public spaces of Athens and other Greek cities as Herodotus declaimed his Enquiries. The Greek word became our word History. Herodotus was Enquiring about the recent history of his own times, the wars between the Greek city-states and the Persian Empire. All history is of course an enquiry, if only to answer the question of “What happened here?”. Herodotus was also telling a story. Storytelling is a very powerful historical technique, and I think the truest method of conveying the past. To be sure there is a place for technical academic articles discussing in fine details one point or another. There is no excuse for poorly written ones however that cannot link the sometimes dry facts with the wider historical narrative.

Narrative – another word to do with Story.

You don’t have to spruce history up to tell a good story – quite literally the history of humanity is full of the greatest stories (alas, for too many are untold). You just have to let the history do the talking. Michael Wood is excellent at doing this.

Michael Wood is also very keen on drawing links between the past and present. This tendency was evident right back in In Search of Trojan War, and it has become more and more pronounced with time. It is not for everyone.

With all that I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I didn’t learn anything “new” in terms of major events – but then I never expected I would. The story was also simplified, and if one is of a picky disposition one could claim this makes errors (but in a general overview, this is unavoidable). That said, there were a few details about recent excavations and discoveries that I hadn’t heard about.

What stood out most though was how Michael Wood wove the very complicated strands of British History in the first five or so centuries of this island’s history into an interesting tapestry. I am sure his great hope is that he will spark the imagination of some of his viewers to find out more. He had that effect on me more than twenty years ago, and yet, this one episode already has me itching to pick up another history book and find out yet more stuff about us.

Currently there are tanks from four nations in World of Tanks (ignoring Premium tanks). Initially it was the Russians, Germans, and Americans, and in a later update the French were added (in a scaled down tech tree). In the 7.4 update coming probably in June the French tech tree is going to be expanded. However, today Wargaming.net have revealed what the basic British Tank tech tree is. No doubt this will be expanded in due course as well, and I have to say I am quite looking forward to be able to play a few British tanks. No date as to when this will happen, but my guess would be October-December time. That said, it is quite possible Wargaming might pull this one out of the hat earlier.

I read quite often on the forums that many folks want other aspects of the game to be improved, rather than new tanks. Ignoring for a moment that the people coming up with new game modes will not be the same people developing new tanks, I have to disagree. New tanks bring a bit of variety into the game. They are different, sometimes surprisingly so, from each other. There is also a rather fun element of playing “your” nation’s tanks, I think. This is one reason why I am looking forward (long way down the road) to when they add a tech tree of the tanks of various other nations who had some tank production.

For now though I will wait and anticipate playing through the British line.

When I was reading through the Inferno patch notes, I was struck by the following entry:

“Market tax has been increased from 1% to 1.5% as a part of our initiative to keep the EVE economy healthy.”

What does this mean? Well, in all market transactions in EVE there is a tax (that the seller pays) on the transaction. The base rate was 1% of the transaction, though this was modified by skills so relatively few transactions had the full tax applied. The isk that is taken by this tax is basically taken out of the game.

So the first half to the above sentence says that tax is being increased by half, it basically says they are increasing this isk sink. However, it is the second half of that sentence that is of interest. To keep the EVE economy healthy. The logic of that sentence is that they believe, if changes are not made, the EVE economy runs a risk of being “unhealthy”. Since the change they have made is to increase an isk sink, it seems likely the problem is too much isk. I then think of the new isk sink introduced with the datacore changes.

Now, in the Escalation patch a new isk faucet was introduced – rogue drones now have bounties where previously they dropped drone alloys that could be refined into minerals. Previous to that there was a lot of belief that Incursions had also introduced an isk faucet that was too over the top. In these two changes, I think we are seeing the response, and the acknowledgement these concerns were justified.

It would be interesting to see, in a few months time, how much extra isk these two changes have removed from the system, and how much extra isk drone bounties have put into the system. Perhaps CCP Diagoras can let us know 🙂

I haven’t been much in EVE this last week. On balance this is probably a good thing, as from what I am reading the Inventory system is going to undergo several further changes over the next few weeks. By all accounts this is a good thing – and I am quite heartened that CCP appear to be listening to the feedback they have had.

The reason I haven’t been in EVE much is mostly because I have been too scatter-brained on the one hand (waiting for the baby you know), and otherwise getting distracted by LOTRO and World of Tanks. It does not help in this regard in that I am very much waiting before starting a new project in EVE too. I am intending to kick-start up a small manufacturing business, a mixture of sub-battleship T1 ships, and T1 and T2 modules. However, I decided that on the verge of the mineral changes in the Escalation patch followed by Hulkageddon probably wasn’t the easiest time to get that going. Also, I want to wait until after the baby arrives so I have some idea of how much time I am actually going to have for the next few months.

That said, assuming I do have some time, I have my eye on a quieter system in a quieter region. I am not expecting to make massive profits – rather I want to slowly build myself a customer base. The real trick will be managing it so I don’t burnout. EVE can be enthralling in that way – in all senses of that word.

In World of Tanks one can earn a number of “Battle Honours” in a match, to acknowledge good performances. There is “Top Gun” for example, that you can earn for killing 6 or more enemy tanks (and most on your side), or “Sniper” which is about being accurate with your gun. There are also a number of achievements that represent grander accomplishments, called Epic Achievements. Prior to today I had earned two epic achievements on my Marder II (Halonen’s Medal). This morning however on my KV-1 I earned a different one: Billotte’s Medal.

The map was South Coast – one of the maps introduced in the recent 7.3 update. It was a tier 3-5 match, with a handful of heavy tanks on either side. My team started on the north side and so I drove down out of the base into the town area. As I moved forward a lighter tank in front of me made contact with the enemy. There was a rise in the ground that prevented me from attacking them, with a large rock at the top of it. I climbed up that, angled myself mostly behind the rock, and started shooting.

Of course, very quickly I was shot at as well. There were a lot of red diamonds there. I didn’t stop to make an exact count, but I think perhaps half the enemy team were in front of me – and for quite a while it seemed I was mostly facing them alone. I kept getting hit, some which did damage, some which didn’t. At one point I advanced slightly to get a better angle on a particular enemy, and got my track blown off. I used a repair module to fix it and retreat back again to be half-covered by the rock. After a while I said to my wife “If I survive this I am surely going to get Steel Wall”.

It took me a long time to get my first Steel Wall Battle Honour. You get it if you have been hit at least 11 times, with at least 1000 HP of potential damage, have had the most potential damage of any tank on the battlefield, and survive. It’s the last that stopped me from getting this for ages. Twice for certain on battles we had otherwise won when I could have held back to make sure I got the honour, I pressed forward with the rest of them and died. My particular favourite in that regard was a patch with a Panzer III where I took over 50 hits. In any event, it is a Battle Honour I like, for reasons I can’t very well explain.

It seemed like a long time, but in reality was probably only a minute or so, and I became aware that there were rather fewer enemy tanks than there had been, and that we had destroyed of them than they had of us. I became aware of friendly tanks nearby, and suddenly, there were no more enemy tanks in front. One tank (a T1 HT) was sniping from a hill that another tank and I took out, a light tank found a got rid of the artillery. It came down to a lone T1 HT that we surrounded, and finished off. I ended the battle with 30 HP.

The description of Billotte’s Medal reads: “Awarded to players who destroy at least one enemy vehicle and survive the battle to victory despite receiving at least five different critical hits and 80% or more loss of hit points”.

In total I think the final battle report (which I forgot to screenshot 😦 ) showed I took 32 hits. I think I killed 3 or 4, damaged a few more, and even detected a few as well. My hit ratio was in the 60-65% range. All in all not bad at all. I think in the final team tally we lost about half of our tanks.

It got me thinking, not for the first time, of the role of heavy tanks in the tier III-V matches. I am sure the same might be true for the top-tier tanks of other matches, but I don’t really have experience of that. That the role of the KV-1 in such a match, where there are only 3 or 4 other Tier V tanks, is not so much to deal out damage (though that too) but to soak it up. For a quite appreciable portion of the match I had 5 or more tanks, plus at least one artillery, concentrating on killing me. While they were doing that, the rest of my team was fairly effectively killing the rest of theirs.

I realise this too sometimes from the other side. If on my Marder II, for example, I get a choice between shooting at a KV-1 and a T-28 (a Soviet Medium Tier IV) I will if possible first shoot at the T-28. I can kill it quicker, which means less incoming fire. Sometimes also, when one sees the dreaded prime enemy, it is very tempting to try to down it as quick as possible. Sometimes that is probably the best course of action. Sometimes though it can be a distraction.

Of course, in this situation there is always a certain amount of luck, which should be acknowledged. If that rock had not been there – well, I would have died for sure. If I had not popped the small repair kit, likewise. The 100% crew and effective c.70% repair skill doubtless helped too. As to the last, that crew has now seen over 250 battles. It doesn’t happen often, but just now and then those extra little advantages make all the difference.

Without doubt, the most personally satisfying match in World of Tanks to date.