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Monthly Archives: August 2012

This weekend’s special offer in World of Tanks is meant to celebrate (or commemorate) the end of the Pacific War, and thus the end of World War 2. The Pacific War isn’t really something World of Tanks captures, given there are no Japanese tanks as yet; the Chinese premium tanks in game are from after the war; and perhaps most crucially because tanks simply were not as large a feature of land warfare in the Pacific. Therefore the offers this week do not really have any over-arching theme, other than just being “cool”.

To start of with the first victory of the day in any vehicle will earn five times the ordinary experience, instead of the regular doubling. A very nice little addition that will mean some rapid advancement here and there!

Secondly there are a whole bunch of tanks on a 50% discount: T-34, T-34-85, IS, SU-76, M3 Stuart, M18 Hellcat, M10 Wolverine, M4 Sherman, Valentine, and Churchill. The last two are premium tanks. Both premium tanks I already have in my garage. Of the others I am all ready to get the M4 Sherman, and will sell off my M3 Lee to do so. With free experience I could complete research to get the T-34, but I am undecided whether to do so. I might give it a pass since I am getting stubborn about the A-20, and feel myself likely to struggle on until I research it the long way around. Otherwise there is a good range of tanks, including everything apart from artillery and Tiers III-VII.

Next up there are double credit earnings on the M4 Sherman, M4A3E2, T-34, and T-34-85. Given I will be purchasing the M4 and will start playing it (and hopefully that x5 experience for the first victory will make the initial upgrading a fairly swift affair) I will benefit a bit from this as well.

Finally there is a discount on 3 and 7 day premium account options, which I will be giving a miss as I have plenty of time to run on my premium account.

Looking through at this offer one overwhelming fact stands out to me – this could be called “Victor’s Parade” or something similar. No German tanks represented at all. The Russians and Americans are well represented – and via the lend-lease premium tanks in the Russian arsenal so are the British. I guess the French just do not get a look-in.

Anyway, this looks like another good offer. It runs from Saturday morning to Tuesday morning. Hopefully much carnage awaits!

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This evening, after Melian went to sleep (a little later than usual as she was somewhat unsettled) my wife and I had a rare chance to play together for a time in LOTRO. We both have basically reached the end of the current solo content on both our mains – both Hunters. So we decided to do a little deeding. There are various deeds in LOTRO, but the ones that take longest to do are the slayer deeds. Slayer deeds have a first part that requires one to kill so many of a certain creature in a region, and a second part that generally requires one to kill twice as many of that certain creature of the first deed. The numbers involved start off 30 and 60, but can easily be 120/240. When one completes the second deed (or advanced deed, as they are called) one gets an increase to one of one’s virtues – a form of a character progression. One also gets 5 Tubine points for completing the first deed, and 10 for completing the advanced deed, which never goes amiss.

Tonight my wife and I decided to head to Enedwaith, to the Mournshaws, to cut a swathe through Wood-Trolls on the one hand and Elhudan on the other (though we generally just called them “glowing things” – descriptive and easier to pronounce).

My wife and I are not terribly efficient when we do slayer deeds – we keep running off to gather “stuffs” (ie, resource nodes). My character is a Forester, and hers is a Tinker, so there is no conflict over the “stuffs”. There we are, running around after a troll or something and suddenly one of us says “Stuffs!” and the character hurtles off in another direction – usually while the other character hurtles off in the opposite direction after different stuffs.

Basically we just had a really good time. The task we were doing was in itself fairly boring, but the company was excellent. Gaming with one’s best beloved is really the best gaming.

Blazing Saddles is my favourite film of all time, for an intensely personal reason connected to my mental health. This post was and is in many ways a review of this marvellously silly and humorous film. However, it is also a post that requires context, and so it is a (very lengthy) post in two parts.

Five years ago I underwent what one of the people involved in my care later described as a ”severe psychological trauma”. The initial period of that I described in a previous post, here. When I finished that post we had reached a point when I was on new medication, which helped stabilise me. My illness has, amongst everything else, been a highly educational experience. Until I was ill, I always thought “depression” meant being very morose, or melancholic. Understanding is not helped because we use the same word to actually mean different things. For me however, depression meant the following: severe epileptic-fit style panic attacks, thoughts of suicide and self-harm, total lack of energy followed at times by periods of frenetic energy, inability to maintain any sort of sleeping cycle, being unable to laugh, and a total lack of self-confidence so severe I refused to leave my own house unless I was accompanied.

The new medication, over the course of September and October five years ago started to help deal with principally one of these symptoms, which in turn helped alleviate some of the others. Initially my panic attacks eased. At first this was at the cost of my temper sometimes wildly flaring, but that too passed as one medication replaced the other in my system. The reduction in panic attacks also lifted my mood a little – I no longer thought of suicide or self-harm. However, one side effect of the medication was I began to sleep much longer and much more heavily – indeed on one occasion sometime that autumn I slept for over twenty-four hours – but even sleeping for fourteen or eighteen hours occurred with some frequency. An old fashioned alarm clock position a foot away from my head could not wake me. Otherwise I still alternated between being absolutely listless to being consumed by the need to do something, and I only slowly started to leave the house alone – and never into town.

My new medication hadn’t “cured” me of course. Medication cannot cure this sort of mental illness. It is broadly like taking paracetamol to help with a common cold – it does not effect the virus that is the cause of the cold at all. Rather it acts as a palliative allowing one to function better whilst one’s own immune system deals with the virus. Likewise my medication did improve my life, because despite the many negatives I was not having regular panic attacks, and I was not often thinking of self-harm. In other words it was doing its job: giving me an opportunity to heal myself. Unfortunately, mind is not body. One’s body has an immune system that knows what to do without direction, but psychological recovery requires actual thought – and it was not something I was able to do by myself. My GP had referred me to the local Mental Health Trust. My initial appointment was in the beginning of October – an initial assessment for the team to try to work out what sort of therapy would be most useful in my case.

Either side of this first appointment, my farmor and farfar died, eight days apart. My farmor had been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer earlier in the spring, and her death was inevitable, though no less sad. She died the day she was admitted to hospice. It was as if her mind, absolved of all responsibilities by the progress of her illness, saw no point in continuing the struggle. My farfar, who suffered from Alzheimer’s which by that point was so severe he could barely interact with the world around him, passed away eight days later. It was as if somehow he realised his wife and life-companion of sixty years had gone, so there was no reason for him to stay.

One day I hope to write a post about just what wonderful people they were, but I cannot get passed this moment without writing giving a glimpse to my wonderful paternal grandparents. My mormor and farmor both grew up in London, and endured the Blitz. They both served in the armed forces, both out in Singapore during the Malayan Insurgency. The met on the troop-ship back home in 1952. When he returned home my farfar vowed never to leave these shores again, a promise he kept until the late 90s when he visited Normandy a couple of times to visit his brother’s grave. My farmor was always a traveller through, and spent time visiting various places in the world. She had a fascination for other cultures. She was also a working mum, who I believe earned more than her husband long before that became common. I believe very strongly that women like my farmor did more for women’s rights than the more militant feminist movement ever did – by going into workplaces and proving by their competence day in and day out there were just as good as their male colleagues, if not sometimes better.

My maternal grandparents had already died by this point – my morfar when I was only a few months old, and my mormor a few years earlier. To this day – indeed as I type – I tear up when I think of my grandparents. I was fortunate enough to have three very wonderful grandparents while I few up and into my twenties, people I could talk to about pretty much anything, secure in their love. I do very much wonder that if my farmor had not taken ill about the time my decline had started and my mormor had still been in good health if I would have avoided my own illness. We will never know.

In the event the loss of my remaining grandparents did not make my recovery any easier. My employer was aiming for me to try to return to work at the start of November, but this got delayed for a week because of the double-funeral we now had to hold. Funerals are tricky things, and I remember feeling drained at the end of it.

The return to work quickly proved to be a disaster. At first I was only working part-days, but it did not matter. By the end of the second day my thoughts once again were turning towards self-harm. After the end of the second week my supervisor called a halt to it, after she realised what was going on. I did not always get along with my supervisor – sometimes our personalities clashed. However when it mattered most she helped look out for me when I was basically unable to do so myself.

So there I was, still awaiting an appointment to start some sort of therapy – I was not exactly sure what it would be – having just failed to return to work. My grandparents were all dead. I had no idea what the future held, on those rare occasions when I could think further ahead than a few days. Into this mix I get a letter saying I would not be seeing anyone until February, over three months away.

To say this had a negative impact on me would be an understatement, and I seriously wonder how many lives are lost, or impaired beyond recovery, by the bureaucracy of mental health. I rang up the person who carried out my original assessment in a state of complete panic. In particular I was massively worried out my employment situation. She no doubt heard my utter desperation because she said she would arrange an appointment with an employment specialist in their service. My memory may be playing tricks with me, but as I recall I saw this specialist, whom I shall call M, that very afternoon.

The arrival of M into this story is something of a turning-point, as I shall describe in a future post. M remains involved in my care to this day. I owe him so very much – so much so he was one of two people in the Mental Health Service I sent an email to after Melian was born thanking them for all that they had helped make possible.

At some point around this time though I did something that I had not done for months: I laughed, loudly and with abandon, because at some point in those weeks I watched Blazing Saddles.

What is there to say about this film that has not already been said? It is a spoof, a send-up of racists and racism, and so subversive it using racist language (nigger and so on) to do so. Some of the jokes are very much rooted in the time of the film – satire so often depends on contemporary culture – yet the theme is timeless. It is a barrel of laughs from the start to the finish. It also mocks Westerns, small town-America, politics, the film industry, and so much more. Most of the satire feels like good-natured banter – except when it comes to the racism, where there is I think just a touch of a more scornful edge.

It is not just funny, it is silly. It starts silly and gets sillier and sillier as it goes. Just when one thinks the film cannot possibly get more absurd, Mel Brookes manages to smash through the boundaries of reality once again. It is quite possible this relentless idiocy of genius will put some people off this film, and that is fair enough.

For those that do not know the – very loose – plot of the film is a corrupt politician wishes to make some townsfolk up and leave so he can profit from a railroad going through their town. To do so he hires some bandits who do in the old sheriff. He then arranges to appoint the first black sheriff in the hopes this will do disgust those common folk they will up and move. The rest is, as their say, film history.

It is a film I had watched several times before, and liked. I do not know why I started watching it again – no doubt because I was bored. I enjoyed myself, and after the film had finished I realised something – I had spent minutes just laughing. Laughing loud and clear, at times so utterly creased up with laughter I had started to cough because I was not breathing quite properly. For a few minutes this film managed to transport me to a place where I was not staring out at (what seemed to me) to be a wrecked life with no hope of recovery.

The euphoria did not last – it could not. I was still deep in depression, after all. The memory of the euphoria remained however, and I rewatched the film several times over the next few months. Just as much as M became so vital to my recovery, so did Blazing Saddles. Given half a chance I can now recite large portions of the dialogue (this may not be a good thing for those in my vicinity) and I still smile when I think of my many favourite scenes.

 

The annual summer festival is now occurring in LOTRO. This has traditionally been my favourite of all the LOTRO festivals for just one reason: Hobbit Races.

There is just something about the Hobbit races that really amuses me. I know they are basically just random – you pick one of four hobbits to run around the course and cheer them along. There is the same deal with the dwarf races, but I prefer hobbits to dwarves.

Except this year, they changed something. The races used to take part in the open landscape, running around the top of the hill. Nowadays they have placed the races inside their own instances, and I have to say this has somewhat put me off. I liked the fact the festival celebrations happened in the open landscape. It was fun, a great opportunity to meet up with people and generally run around without being tied into a specific little area.

Suffice to say I believe this is a classic case of breaking something that was working – quite exactly in fact since I believe the dwarf races were broken by this change.

Given my general time constraints now and other entertainment available (not least of which is the joy of baby Melian) this has rather put me off the Summer Festival this year. I have gotten the new horse – largely from a massive stash of festival tokens I had from last year. I may run a few horse races, even a few hobbit races as the fancy takes me, but by and large I think I am going to give this one a miss.

At some point this weekend I suddently found myself in a match in my KV-3 where there were four Type 59 tanks on my team, and five on the other. Nine identical tanks out of a total of thirty. While this particular match was quite exceptionally it occurred to me there had been rather a lot of Type 59s around. Then I realised it: once again the Type 59 was for sale.

A little history, most of which is before my time in World of Tanks. The Type 59 is a Chinese premium Tier VIII medium tank. When it was first launched it was regarded as being somewhat overpowered, and it proved very popular. At later point, a few weeks before I started playing World of Tanks, the tank was withdrawn from the regular store. Meanwhile it retains its overpowered reputation, though to be honest I have not found it so opposition – from what I understand a process of balancing improvements across the game has removed whatever problem had existed.

This week however it is on sale again (for the second time since its general withdrawal I think) and it seems to have been a popular item given the number of them I have seen pop up on the battlefield.

This has not been the only tank made available again – so to is the Panzer B2 740f and Panzer 38H735f. Both of these are captured French vehicles that the Germans used in secondary duties to free up their own tanks for more important tasks elsewhere. These two have become my gaming indulgence for the next month, as they are historical oddities I am rather interested in playing.

Just as well all those Type 59s appeared, otherwise I might have forgotten to get them.

Anecdotally, the most common Tier V artillery I have encountered has been the Tier V Hummel. I think part of that is just that it is an iconic World War 2 SPG. Another part of it though is that it is just alot of fun to play.

When I bought the Hummel I had already researched both the engine modules and both the radio modules from other vehicles. This meant the only modules I had to upgrade were the tracks and the gun – and I needed to upgrade the tracks before the gun.

There is a tendency – deserved – to regard most “stock” (ie, unresearched) tanks as being a bit underwhelming for their tier. Which makes sense, if one thinks about it for a moment. However, I personally found the stock gun on the Hummel to actually be not bad at all. It is fairly fast firing for an artillery gun and still does a reasonable enough amount of damage that I didn’t feel extraneous even in higher-tier matches. This was good because like all artillery the Hummel has a tendency to be placed in matches higher than its own tier. However, with the upgraded gun this tank really comes into its own, able to deal out damage to all and sundry.

The Hummel also has a couple of other features that make it a very nice piece of artillery. Firstly, the gun traverse is comparatively very large, meaning one does not have to keep re-aiming. Secondly, the Hummel is, relatively speaking, fairly nippy and agile. This makes it very easy to get into position, and to re-position as necessary. One should reposition at times to avoid becoming a victim to counter-artillery fire, but also sometimes the flow of the match necessitates a more drastic movement – something not always easily possible in a slower SPG, but much more easily achieved in the Hummel.

I have my Hummel equipped with a rammer and enhanced gun laying drive, reducing reload time and aiming time respectively. I also equip it with a camouflage net to hopefully ensure it remains hidden for a little longer.

Getting the experience to upgrade the gun was a rather pleasant experience, and since the gun playing this tank has been a joy. Usually it has also been extremely profitable, credits-wise. Though one has to be a little careful, since a single shell costs over 1000 credits if one is too wasteful it is easy to lose credits. I am currently have about one-fifth of the experience necessary to research the next German SPG – the GW Panther.

So my overall impression is very positive, and I thoroughly recommend this SPG as something to aim for.

 

Recently I had a chance to watch the TV Film “Ghostboat” that was shown in two parts on ITV3. When I saw the adverts for the first episode my interested was piqued for two reasons – the first was that it is set on a submarine, and secondly that the lead actor is David Jason.

Have you ever read a series of books, in which the last of the sequence just didn’t quite live up to the standards of the earlier novels? Ghostboat was designed to be broadcast in two episodes, and it just feels that the first episode received more attention than the second. I wonder if this had something to do with the fact the first episode has to sell the second episode, whereas the second episode doesn’t have a similar need – just as the first book in a series should make you purchase the next one and so on, but the final book no longer has that imperative. This felt a little like that.

The plot is simple enough. It is 1981, and a British World War 2 submarine suddenly surfaces. It is in pristine condition. The submarine disappeared back in 1943 in the Baltic, and there was only one survivor – Jack Hardy (played by David Jason) who had complete amnesia of the last week or so of the patrol. Now a mission is formulated to take this submarine back into the Baltic, retracing the route of the earlier voyage, to try to work out what happened … and stuff happens on the way. A large part of the story is how Jack, whose mental state is not the most stable, reacts to all the journey and to the changes that take place.

There is a touch of the supernatural to this film, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it horror – more suspense. There is alot of “stuff” that never gets fully explained because the characters do not understand themselves what is going on. I rather like that approach. The film also has a claustrophobic element since, apart from the first portion of the movie, it is almost entirely set in the confines of the submarine in question.

The submarine set is actually quite a beautiful thing if one likes submarines, and very much has the “feel” of a world war 2 submarine. Somewhat prettier perhaps than Das Boot, but that more or less fits within the story. On the other hand, the routines of daily life on a submarine are far from authentic. You do not need to know a great deal about submarines to have to fairly dramatically suspend disbelief. One rather suspects the screenwriter decided it was just not important.

This leads me back to my first point, in that likewise I think it is quite clear more care was taken on the first portion of the story than the second. The first half, or episode, is quite a well put together piece of film with a nice overall pace. In the second half/episode things just start to fray at the edges. The sense of timing is no longer quite there, the lines seem a little looser, and all in all it just does not quite “click”.

David Jason was very good in the role of Jack Hardy, and I think he played the part of someone with considerable mental fragility under strain very well. Indeed, if this story were told slightly differently one could quite easily be tempted to think it was some sort of dream or hallucination on his character’s part.

Apparently it is based on a previous novel, and I wonder if maybe some of those weaknesses relate to the original work. Despite its shortcomings however I enjoyed watching this story. I do wonder what perhaps it might have been with a little more care and attention and/or more money behind it. However, at the end of the day it is what it is – a tv film that does not pretend to be a way to be entertained for a few hours in an evening. In that role is succeeds admirably.