The first video from the Minecraft Marathon Live Stream!
The first video from the Minecraft Marathon Live Stream!
First of all, we want to send a massive thank you to everyone who watched the stream, shared the links and contributed donations. We wouldn’t have made it without your help!
As you may have noticed from the donation widget, our Minecraft Marathon event met the fundraising goal we set for Child’s Play. It was a modest goal but we didn’t even think that we’d get that far! We’re extremely pleased and very touched that so many people contributed towards Child’s Play. We’re going to leave the donation link active, because the money appears to be still rolling in; we had another £10 in this morning!
We’ve got – as you might have guessed! – many many hours of video footage to sift through, edit and highlight. We’re hoping to get some highlight videos uploaded to our YouTube channel, but it might take a while so please bear with us! The first one is in the pipes now and we’re hoping to get it uploaded before the day is out.
What’s next? Well we’ve got plenty of plans for some great content over on our YouTube channel, as well as more live streaming events in the pipeline. We’re also planning a bigger and better marathon event in aid of Child’s Play next year, but we’re still getting over the first one so we’re in no hurry!
As ever you’ll find the most recent updates on our Facebook page, so stay tuned!
It’s been a little while since we posted an update here – the latest news can always be found on our Facebook page – so it’s about time I updated with what’s been going on. I can assure you that we haven’t been idle at Beard Towers!
The technical side is now pretty much sorted:
So we’re pretty much set to go!
As mentioned we now have a Minecraft server up & running so we’re pretty much all set. Except for what we’re actually going to be doing, that is! Since we’re all so lame and severely lacking in the imagination department we’ve decided that we’ll “borrow” the talent of others and play through some of the excellent survival, puzzle and adventure maps that the awesome Minecraft community has come up with. We have a few selections so far, but we’re always keen to hear more; head on over to our Facebook page if you want to give us some ideas. We’ve embedded some Yogscast videos below to give you a taste of what these maps offer.
This map plonks you on a tiny island in the middle of the sky, gives you a few basic resources and gives a laundry list of challenges. Some of the tougher challenges are:
Honestly, you should head on over to the thread and check out the full list; it’ll certainly keep us going a while!
These two stunning maps are not for those who suffer from any kind of motion sickness or vertigo! Though they are certainly a welcome relief from those who are sick of jumping puzzles, as these are exactly the opposite: falling puzzles! Check out this Yogscast video from a while back, because you really need to see these!
These two maps are adventure maps made by the awesome Hypixel. They both feature amazing locations, a full story line, custom items and dialogue, and all the other custom tricks that awesome people have come up with.
This is another awesome map by Hypixel; this is a custom mob arena with a full trading system and increasing levels of difficulty. We’ve played this a few times before, and have never managed to get past the first level!
Back in the days of yore – actually around 14 years ago – several of my friends were talking about a PlayStation game called Final Fantasy 7. Most of the PSX games I had been interested in were things like Resident Evil, Demolition Derby, Ridge Racer, etc. I had played RPG games before, such as Fallout 2 and Diablo, but it wasn’t the everyday sort of game that I played (as brilliant as Fallout 2 was). Final Fantasy 7 was a very different sort of RPG however. For starters, it was the first PSX game I ever played that came on more than one disc; most of that was taken up with cut scenes but it was still pretty epic to 15-year old me.
On the recommendation of friends, I decided I’d get this game. After saving the money required, a quick trip to Electronics Boutique (yes, that’s how long ago it was) saw the game in my sweaty little hands. The first thing that struck me was the quality of the cut scenes. They were all prerendered CG and, though they are dated by today’s standards, they were utterly mind blowing at the time. When the game actually starts properly, you’re very quickly thrown into a battle. I actually almost lost the first battle in the game, because it took me a while to figure out what the hell to do!
For those not familiar with the JRPG style, a little background is in order. Most of the game takes place on the “field” – these are the locations that you explore, the towns/cities/dungeons/caverns that you visit. When you encounter an enemy, you’re taken to a separate scene – the “battle” screen – where you see your characters lined up on one side and the enemies you’re fighting on the other side. In the case of FF7, the battles are pseudo-turn-based. This means that you have to wait a certain period of time before you can carry out an action – attacking, using magic or an item, etc – and so do your enemies. You issue commands to your characters, they carry them out, while at the same time the enemy is doing the same. The first battle over, I was returned to the field to carry on. After some plot exposition, you gain full control of your characters. At which point you start getting random encounters – the second massive culture shock. I was used to being able to see my enemies on screen before I was thrown into a battle with them. Not so in FF7 (and many JRPGs). As you’re wandering around a location you encounter random battles – usually you do not see your attacker unless it’s a boss fight. This felt utterly gruelling: wandering round somewhere, never knowing when you’re going to run into a fight. It actually took me a good couple of hours of gameplay before the hooks really started to sink in. The gameplay mechanics were totally alien to me, but luckily the game had a compelling story. Once I started getting into the story a little more, there was no way I was ever going to put this game down – especially once they’d introduced Sephiroth, the main antagonist.
This was one of the few games I played that really hammered home the importance of having a good story line. The graphics, for the most part, were certainly not the best that the PSX could produce. The field screens were pre-rendered backgrounds with simplistic rendered characters. The battle screens were all completely rendered in realtime, and were rather more impressive, but you only ever saw those when someone was trying to kill you. Compared to the detail of the characters in Resident Evil, it felt like a step backwards. It’s a time-honoured cliché to say that graphics don’t matter if the story is engaging, but this was the first time I ever experienced it.
nThe first time I played the game, I was more interested in kicking Sephiroth’s ass back to the stone age – I played through the game in around 40-50 hours. While reading reviews and other material online, I started reading about parts of the game that I had completely missed. I was more interested in playing through the story than doing all possible side quests and really getting to grips with the game mechanics. So, I decided to play the game again from scratch. This time however, because I knew where the story was going, I could really explore the game fully and really get to grips with it. It took me a year or two to get the motivation to go through it all again – it is a very long game, after all – but boy did I miss a shedload of content.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to go all nerdy here – a common theme of this blog – and really get under the skin of this game. The basic RPG mechanics are that your character has a number of attributes, represented by numbers, that dictate how good they are at attacking, evading enemy attacks, using magic, accuracy of attacks, etc. To increase these skills you fight battles; battles give you “experience points” (hereafter referred to as EXP) and once you’ve gained enough EXP, your character goes up a level and their stats become more powerful. This system is employed by Final Fantasy 7. The magic system in Final Fantasy 7 was through a system called “materia”. In the game world, materia are condensed orbs of the “stuff of life” (lifestream) which contain knowledge of previous generations. When materia is equipped the wearer can use that knowledge in the form of offensive and defensive magical attacks/spells; some types of materia also allow you to call up powerful monsters to carry out an especially powerful attack against your enemies. rnrnIn order to use materia, each character’s weapons and armour have slots to which materia can be equipped. Usually, the more powerful the weapon/armour the more slots it has. Some of these slots can also be “linked”, meaning that you can combine two types of materia for added effects. Materia come in a number of different types:
Materia also gains “experience” and “grows” to become more powerful. At the end of each battle, as well as awarding EXP to characters, AP is also awarded. Whatever materia the characters are wearing will have that AP added to it and once the AP reaches a certain threshold, the materia grows and becomes more powerful. Some materia, notably Summon materia, also have a limit on the number of times it can be used in battle – as it becomes more powerful, you can use it more and more times in battle. Materia usually has five AP levels before it reaches it’s maximum power; at this point it will absorb no more AP and is called “mastered”. When a summon materia is mastered, you can use it as many times as you like in battle (well, as many times as you have Magic Points, but hey). It doesn’t stop there though; once a materia is mastered, a new copy of it is spawned. This new copy has no AP, so is the most basic form you can obtain. Some materia is so powerful that it is only possible to find one copy in the game world. With enough time and effort though, you can equip all your characters with the most powerful materia in the game by levelling it up.
Once you get your head around the tricks to the game, and find the combinations that work well, it’s very easy to become very good in battles. With enough time invested, it is very easy to create extremely powerful characters which have no problem in walking all over the bosses in the game – even the end-game bosses. In my first playthrough of the game, it took me a long time to get through the final area. I struggled like crazy to beat the end-game bosses – Sephiroth just does not want to freakin’ die! – and lost count of the number of times I died and had to start again. When I replayed the game and made a bit more effort with my characters, I walked all over the end-game bosses. Of course the game designers anticipated the fact that you could tank through the game with powerful characters, so put in optional bosses that were even more powerful and deadly than the bosses in the main story line, just for us punishment-gluttons.
As mentioned, the game even allows for combinations of materia which pretty much make you invincible. One of the later summon materia you can obtain is called Phoenix. It does a Fire-based attack against all enemies; it isn’t exactly the most powerful fire-based attack, but what it also does is revive all characters who have been killed. There is also a rare support materia – you only ever find one copy in the game – called Final Attack. When the character wearing it is killed, they automatically use whatever materia it is paired with. Pair Final Attack with Phoenix and you have a character that automatically revives themselves – and all other dead party members – when they are killed. At lower levels of the materias, this isn’t so useful – you can only use them a limited number of times each, so you might only get this chance once or twice in battle. Once they’re mastered however, you can use this combo as many times as you like: no matter how many times that character dies in battle, they’ll always revive automatically and bring all other dead party members back. Of course once you master these two materia, you get another two copies – master the copies and you can now have this materia combo on two characters. Of course if you master the two new copies you get a third copy of both. If you can master three copies of this materia, you can equip it to all party members – you now have a party full of characters that can never be killed. Some monsters will remove characters from battle without killing them, but they tend to be extremely rare and extremely powerful bosses – usually the optional bosses I mentioned earlier.
This is just a small example of the flexibility of the combat system in this game, and says nothing for all the optional quests and content available. As a testament to just how big this game is, one of my save games on the original PSX has over 180 hours logged against it.
If you’ve never played the game, and can spare some time to invest in it, I highly recommend picking up a copy and giving it a whirl.
The site has launched! Finally!
There’s really nothing more to say in this post now!
I’d like to talk about a game I picked up recently called DEFCON. This game was released several years ago by Introversion, of Darwinia and Multiwinia fame. The game itself has a pretty simple setting: it pits countries (or blocs of countries) against each other in a fictional nuclear war. It’s essentially a strategy game in which you have to place and then command a number of unit and structure types; players must place their missile silos (which also serve as anti-air and anti-missile defence), radar stations, airstrips, radar installations and naval vessels. There are a number of different naval vessel types, each with different strengths and weaknesses, which can be organised into fleets; they will then move as one group, but individual units can still be commanded to use their unique abilities – such as switching between launching bombers or fighters in the case of aircraft carriers, or switching between active or passive sonar, in the case of submarines.
The game uses a timer to move between different DefCon statuses, from 5 all the way up to 1. For those not familiar, “DefCon” is a term used in the US Military – defence condition – to denote the readiness status of the military; DefCon 5 is normal peace-time operations, and DefCon 1 is all-out nuclear war. In each DefCon stage, the player is only allowed to perform certain actions: units must be placed before DefCon 3, units cannot attack before DefCon 3 and nuclear weapons cannot be used until DefCon 1.
It seems pretty simple when laid bare, but it still allows for strategic complexity: each of the unit and structure types has strengths and weaknesses which can be countered by another type of unit or structure. It’s a strategy game which has been pared right back to its most basic elements, but the depth of tactical and strategic gameplay is still vast. Even the interface is minimalistic, using neon lines to represent everything, instead of complex polygons or bitmapped sprites; it really does look like something out of the 1980s. Although if you can already see where this game draws its inspiration from, that should come as no surprise. The objective of the game is strikingly simple: kill as many of the enemy population as possible, whilst minimising your losses. There are different game types in which scores are allocated differently, but the essential aim of the game is always the same.
It takes a great deal of inspiration from the film WarGames, in which we see a young Matthew Broderick playing a teenage computer hacker who inadvertently almost starts a nuclear war with Russia. Young Broderick, using his now antiquated modem, stumbles into a computer which has a program called “Global Thermonuclear War”. Thinking that this is a game he starts a new session where he “plays” as the USSR and targets nuclear missiles against the good ol’ US of A. Turns out that computer he’s connected to is a US government supercomputer designed to simulate different global war scenarios – including nuclear war. This computer also happens to have been given autonomous control over US nuclear missile silos, it starts warming up the nukes in real life and pointing them back at Russia. Chaos ensues. In the conclusion of the film, Broderick tells the almost-but-not-quite-artificially-intelligent supercomputer to play tic-tac-toe against itself. It discovers that there is no winning strategy for tic-tac-toe and tests this conclusion in the game of thermonuclear war, simulating countless nuclear war scenarios. Eventually it announces that global thermonuclear war is a “strange game” and that “the only winning move is not to play” – at which point it promptly turns the nukes off and offers a nice game of chess instead. Everyone is happy.
I decided, of course, that I’d play as Europe; the game doesn’t let you play as the UK only, but to be honest the UK has a pitifully small landmass compared to every other continental bloc: you can place maybe two ground units in the UK comfortably. My enemy turned out to be the USA – plenty of nice large targets, such as New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. I carefully placed all my units/structures, issued orders and bided my time until the counter reached DefCon 1. I’d already snuck my submarines up as close as possible to the enemy coast so as soon as DefCon 1 ticked over, I launched a first strike. All submarine fleets were ordered to unleash their missiles straight at the enemy’s major cities. As I expected, the first salvos were quickly taken out by enemy air defences; my hope was that later salvos would overwhelm the air defences and score hits on enemy cities. A few missiles made it through and I scored a few points, but nowhere near as many as I’d hoped. My submarine fleets were rapidly running out of missiles, and had been nearly torn apart by enemy surface vessels, so I ordered what remained back to my waters in order to patrol for enemy fleets.
The retaliation came not long afterwards: the first salvo of enemy missiles was unleashed. As soon as an enemy silo fires its missiles, its location is immediately revealed to the enemy. At that point, I targeted each of my missile silos to fire three missiles each at one of his silos, hoping to cripple the most devastating enemy weapon. At the same time I ordered sortie of fighters on scouting missions over enemy territory, hoping to reveal the location of the enemy airbases and take them out with bombers. As our missiles passed each other over international waters, my fighters brought the enemy territory into view and I had my first moment of panic: the enemy had only fired a few missiles from each of his silos before converting them back to air-defence mode. My silos were still firing missiles, and I had no chance of converting them back to air defence mode in time. The enemy would easily be able to shoot down my incoming ICBMs, while my territories were wide open to incoming missiles. It was an extremely costly miscalculation on my part: the death toll climbed steadily. Only a few of my missiles made it past the air defences; nowhere near enough of them to take out the enemy silos.
I decided to throw caution to the wind and launch an all-out attack – I was already in well over my head so I had little to lose. I re-targeted my silos at enemy cities, ordered my carrier fleets in closer, ordered sorties of fighters into enemy territory and sent bombers to take out the silos. It was time for mutually-assured destruction; the red mist had descended and I wanted to make damn sure that didn’t go down without causing as many enemy casualties as possible. Long before the last missiles in my silos had launched the enemy silos opened up again. Soon the map was awash with missile trajectories, and most of them were heading straight at me. I managed to cause a good deal of destruction to the enemy cities and racked up pretty steep death toll. Where I’d gone for maximum casualties, the enemy had chosen a more precise and ultimately more devastating strategy. The first wave of missiles took out my airfields. The second and third ICBM waves completely annihilated my silos. Then the enemy submarines made an appearance off my coast; I moved from mild panic and rage to sheer terror.
My infrastructure had been utterly crippled. I had no air defences left. All my silos were gone, and I didn’t even have any airstrips to launch bombers from. The bombers on my aircraft carriers had been unceremoniously shot down by enemy air defences and fighters. The enemy had brought his naval fleets in behind mine, cutting off my only escape route, and a fierce naval battle had erupted – one that I was losing. The enemy submarines rose out of the water and unleashed their cargo at me. I hastily scrambled the remnants of my carrier fleet back towards my own shores, but they were still being ripped apart by enemy fleets as they withdrew; they didn’t make it back to my own shores. All I could do was watch the enemy missiles languidly spiral down towards my cities, racking up massive casualties as little white flashes exploded across my territories.
Finally, the victory countdown appeared. When one player has launched more than 80% of their missiles, a 45-minute victory countdown appears – when the timer runs out, the player with the most points wins. In one last desperate attempt, I moved the remains of my submarine fleet back into enemy waters and fired a final salvo; some of the enemy silos were still firing missiles, so I had a good chance of getting a few hits in. I managed to score a few hits on some of the larger cities, but most of my missiles were shot down by enemy silos which had already exhausted their missile supply and converted back to air-defence mode.
I have played games of DEFCON in which I’ve “won”, and by “won”, I mean that I scored more kills than the enemy did. But even when I “win” a game, I still feel like I haven’t achieved anything. I don’t know whether Introversion were trying to make some kind of political statement with this game, but this game certainly left an impression on me. In the early stages of this game you’re forced to make hard decisions which, as I discovered, can come back to haunt you later on. Do you send in your submarines alone with no support on a near suicide mission to the enemy coast, or do you send some surface vessels along for support and leave your coastal defences weakened? Do you wait for the enemy to bare their teeth first before retaliating, or do you try and get an early strike? Do you go for precision strikes against enemy ground units, or do you go for maximum casualties and try overwhelm the enemy air defence with sheer volume? Which cities are you going to abandon and allow to fall? Who is expendable?
What I take away from this outstandingly haunting game is an overwhelming sense of futility and dread. I don’t know if it’s the simplistic neon interface masking the brutal truth of what this game is really about, watching the “score” counts for either side racking up slowly but steadily, or the sheer terror of watching all your carefully laid strategies being torn apart like a wet paper bag in a mushroom cloud… Even winning a game still involves the enemy scoring hits against your cities and racking up a death toll counted in millions.
I never found a winning move in DefCon. I can happily gun down countless hordes of near-photorealistic enemy soldiers in first person shooters without a second thought. Sailing a fleet of nuclear submarines up to the American coast to launch a sneak nuclear attack on New York, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles is an entirely different affair.