My Playtime in 2015

The year is nearly over, so it’s time for a brief look back.

Streaming Boxsets – The New Hotness

I’ve mentioned a few times that streaming video, and especially watching TV boxsets in their entirety, was the big new thing for me this year. That took up a lot of time that I might have otherwise spent playing games of some kind. Here are some of the highlights that I can remember, with micro-reviews…

  • The Walking Dead – prior to 2015, I hadn’t seen a single episode, now I’ve seen them all, and it’s probably one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I thought I wouldn’t be into it because zombies == horror, and horror has never really been my thing. Instead it turned out to be one of the best post-apocalyptic stories, a genre that I love. Especially love the way it explores how people retain – or lose – their humanity in an extreme survival situation.

  • Downton Abbey – another that I hadn’t seen at all before, and assumed was not going to be my kind of thing, but loved it when I gave it a try. I suppose they’re a lot like hobbits aren’t they? The era it’s set in is the same that formed Tolkien, and the overall atmosphere is not unlike The Shire.

  • Justified – Superb crime drama, great characters, and excellent one-liners.

  • Agents of SHIELD – the best of all the plethora of superhero-ish shows. Interesting characters, and well-thought out storyline. After some of the lame arcs and finales we’ve seen to shows like BSG, Lost etc, a show that seems to have been worked out properly from beginning to end is so refreshing! Also, a lot of fun.

  • Elementary – Continues to be excellent. Remains surprisingly true to the flavor of the original Holmes, while also exploring things like addiction and family in a thoughtful way.

  • Buffy and Angel – I had seen large chunks of them before, but this year I rewatched them in their entirety. Deservedly considered some of the best TV ever made, though not all the seasons live up to that billing. So much of the dialog is so fantastic they’re very enjoyable to rewatch even when you know the plots already.

  • The Flash – I watched Season 1, and the early part of Season 2. In the end I just didn’t have time to fit this into my life! There are so many good shows nowadays that the bar for what I get around to seeing is very very high. In decades gone by this would have been one of the highlights of the week, something to look forward to when it was on. Now, regretfully it has to make way for other things. For the same reason I saw a little of Agent Carter, Arrow and Supergirl but had to drop them.

  • Bosch – another excellent crime drama. Recommended if you like police procedurals and intelligent grown-up stories. A little like The Wire, and some of the actors from that do feature.

  • Outlander – I saw it, but now I mostly remember the landscapes and the music rather than story or characters. The time travel element was sadly neglected in it I felt, and likewise the historical drama aspect.

There were probably others, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

LOTRO

I continued to play LOTRO, but a lot less than in previous years. See Why I’m not playing LOTRO much for an explanation of why not.

One thing that I did fail to mention in that post… in 2014 I sorted out some knee problems I’d been having. As a result in 2015 I was able to be a lot more physically active and outdoorsy than I had been for a while. So that’s another major reason I ended up not gaming so much – I was actually not home as much!

Anyway, towards the end of the year, the server mergers did give a fresh impetus to my LOTRO playing. For one thing there was the need to decide what to do with my characters, for another the transfer process let me hook up again with kinnies that had already re-rolled onto busier servers. And it is nice to see the consolidated servers buzzing, a lot like in “the old days” when I was first in the game.

At the moment there is a “Triple Bonus Points” offer on Turbine Points and that still feels very exciting. But I can’t decide whether to splash out, as I’m not sure I’ll ever need those TP again. Maybe I will.

Chess

This year I played quite a lot of chess, maybe averaging 3-4 hours a week of playtime, and possibly a similar amount in reading books and such. One of these days I’m finally going to get around to doing a post explaining what I like about chess and how it compares to MMOs. There’s more parallels than you might think!

As usual, I’m rapidly running out of time to finish up this post before 2015 is officially over! Time to wrap up.

A Happy New Year to all my online friends!

Tolkien Themed Questionnaire, Part 2

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Part 1 is here. If you want the questions to do them yourself, they’re here. If you do them, please let me know too!

16. Rivendell or Lothlorien?

“For what?” is the question! I’d feel more at home in Rivendell, so if it’s a question of settling down somewhere, Rivendell it will be. As I said in Part 1 of this questionnaire, I’d love the mountains, the valley and the company.

If it’s for a visit, perhaps even quite a long one, I’d pick Lothlorien. It’s more unique and unearthly, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in real life. But for the very same reasons, I wouldn’t quite belong. Plus while I do love spending time in woods, I’d prefer more open countryside to gaze upon every day.

17. Least favorite character?

Grima is meant to be unappealing, and he is.

18. Have you ever cosplayed as one of the characters? If not, who would you choose?

I never have. It might be fun to try any number of characters, perhaps especially Gimli. Not sure I could pull it off though, not particularly dwarf-shaped.

19. What scene makes you laugh the most?

Not so much the scene as one great line.

“Your bodyguard?”

“His gardener.”

20. If you could meet 3 of the actors, who would you choose?

  • Sam Astin, he’s up to interesting stuff these days.

  • Ian Holm, seems like a nice guy, with a long career to talk about, including the radio version of LOTR,

  • Andy Serkis, because I think it’d be fun. Also – Gollum!

21. What are your top five favorite lines from the films?

Usually I like a passage rather than a line. Mostly a line only makes complete sense or gets its full impact from the context, and that’s what makes it a favortire. So I’ll quote passages and highlight the lines I mean.

1)

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

2)

Frodo: [of Gollum] It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.

Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

3)

Frodo: I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again.

Sam: We may yet, Mr. Frodo. We may.

4)

Aragorn: Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you *stand, Men of the West!*

5)

Gimli: Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf.

Legolas: What about side by side with a friend?

Gimli: Aye. I could do that.

22. What are your top five favorite lines from the book?

Some of my favorite lines are shared between the books and movies, but I’ll try to come up with five different one this time. (Also both times I decided not to include other lines like “His gardener” that I’ve included in other parts of this questionnaire.)

1)

Bilbo: “I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”

2)

A man may do both,’ said Aragorn. ‘For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!

3)

Theoden: Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song – if any be left to sing of us hereafter.

4)

Elrond: The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.

5)

Bilbo: I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

There are so many great lines and passages, these selections are a little bit artbitrary. Another day, another mood, I’d pick some different ones.

23. Who do you think is the most underrated character?

I think all the major characters are well-loved, so it’ll have to be a non-obvious choice. How about Sauron? He never appears in person, but he permeates the book, and if Tolkien hadn’t done such a great job of portraying him, the whole story would have lost its power. Maybe that’s why the book is named after him.

24. Have you watched any of the animated films? If so, what are your opinions?

Not yet seen them.

25. How has LOTR affected your life?

A proper answer to that would take up its own blog post if not a whole series. But here’s a short version…

When I first read it, about 14 years old I think, I was moved, delighted and enthralled. When I re-read it at various times, I was transported back to Middle Earth, and also to that especially happy period of my life when I’d first read it. In some particularly bad patches of my life, that could be a big comfort.

Also the book’s influenced my outlook in various ways, especially when it comes to dealing with situations that seem frightening, daunting or hopeless. I’ll quote things from the books and movies to myself – like “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”, or “The day may come when the strength of Pasduil fails… but it is not this day” – and it will help me approach the situation with the right attitude.

Lastly since th movies came out, I’ve got to connect with lots of like-minded people via our shared love of Tolkien, either adding an extra dimension to relationships with people I knew already, or making new friends.

26. Which characters would you want in your Fellowship?

How big would my fellowship be, and what would be its mission? The actual fellowship seems nearly ideal. Though I always found it hard to understand why Glorfindel wasn’t included.

27. Weapon of choice?

I’ve always had a liking for bow-wielding heroes, even before reading LOTR, so I’ll have a bow.

Alternately, if it should be a specific named weapon from LOTR, I’ll go for Sting.

28. Would you have volunteered to destroy the Ring?

Yes, I would. That is if no one more likely to succeed at the task was willing to try. I’m not sure how good of a candidate I’d be as ring-bearer. Possibly I’m hobbitish enough to resist it, but I might be susceptible to being lured into thinking it could be used to do good. But as humans go, I’d probably be a better candidate than most.

29. Who do you think is the most attractive character?

Physically attractive? I’ll say Eowyn, though I could easily have said Arwen instead.

30. Do you own any LOTR merchandise? If so, what is your favorite item?

I own books, DVDs, audiobooks etc, but nothing you’d call merchandise.

31. Have you read the book?

Yes, lots of times. By now you probably guessed that right?

32. Have you ever had a LOTR marathon? Describe your perfect marathon.

Not as such. I’ve had long sessions of watching a movie and then rewatching selected scenes, but never all three movies in one go.

If I was going to have a marathon I think ideally I’d want it over a long weekend, with one of the extended edition blu-rays per day, and having a bunch of Tolkien fans over to watch them with. Allow plenty of time for rewatching of favorite scenes, and talking them over together.

There should be time for pies and walks too.

33. When did you first watch the films and/or read the book?

I was about 14 or so when I first read Lord of the Rings. I saw the films as they came out, a good many years later.

34. What is your favorite film/book?

I tend to think of LOTR as one book. I first read it as a single volume paperback, so that’s how I always thought of it. But of the three volumes, I think Fellowship of the Ring might be my favorite. They all have many great scenes, but maybe FOTR has the most such. and the greatest variety of them too.

I’d chose the FOTR movie for the same reason, and also because seeing Middle Earth done so well for the first time had the biggest impact.

35. Get drink with/marry/fight to the death. (Pick three characters)

Drink – Gimli. He’d be fun to talk and banter with over a beer. Any of the hobbits would be great too though.

Marry – Eowyn. She’d be more fun to live with than Arwen, I’m thinking.

Fight to the death – Tricky. I don’t want to fight any of the goodies, and would I be able to defeat any of the baddies? If I can borrow a suitable Second Age weapon, I’ll fight Shelob.

36. Which scene scares you the most?

The Shelob scene scared me the most when I first read it in the book. I’m not sure anything in the movies really scares me, but perhaps Shelob again. Being in complete darkness with a monstrous spider is hard to beat for creepiness!

37. Gondor or Rohan?

Rohan, not least for their wonderful theme tunes.

38. Which character(s) would you want as your parent(s)?

I think Sam and Rosie would be great parents.

39. Which characters would you want as your best friends?

Sam is the bestest of best friends. Can there be any debate?

All of the fellowship would make great friends, and so would Bilbo.

40. When was the last time you watched the films/read the book?

I’m not sure. It’s been a few years since I watched or read them in their entirety, though I do read and watch chunks from time to time.

41. Favorite horse?

Bill the Pony.

42. If you could spend a day in Middle-earth, what would you want to do?

There’s lots I’d love to do, but I’ll say a day in The Shire, walking, talking and eating with some agreeable hobbits. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam would be excellent company if they’d show me around.

43. Is there anything you would change about the books?

Dare I meddle?

A way to extract the interesting stories from the Appendices and put them someplace they’re more likely to be read and enjoyed maybe?

Have an extended edition that’s a lot longer and shows us a lot more about the world and its cultures?

44. What do you think is the greatest lesson LOTR has to offer?

Victory, success or even survival might not be in your hands, but how you live your life and how you face up to whatever life brings you always is.

45. What would your dream home in Middle-earth be like?

Make Bag End big enough for me, and I’ll be very happy. Put it near a small river and some woodland too, and I’ll be even more delighted.

46. How would you describe what LOTR means to you in one word?

Po-ta-toes.

Ok, that’s one word that needs a lot of explaining. I’ll give you a less surreal answer.

Resonant.

47. Which death makes you the most sad?

Theoden. He’s like a beloved grandfather by the time he falls.

It might have been Gandalf on the first read through, when I didn’t know what happened afterwards.

48. Favorite behind-the-scenes moments from the films?

I don’t really remember too much of the behind-the-scenes stuff that I’ve seen. I haven’t rewatched it since the movies came out on DVD, so a long time ago now.

49. If you could own any item from the films, what would it be?

Gandalf’s staff. I might go walking with it.

50. If you had the opportunity to meet the Professor, what do you think you would say?

I’d tell him how much I’ve loved his work of course. And then there would be plenty of other things we could discuss. For example: Do Balrogs have wings? What did he mean when he said LOTR was a fundamentally Catholic work? What does he think about his work being beloved by technologists?

Credits: Hobbiton photo courtesy of Rob Chandler (flickr)

NBI 2015 Screenshot Safari – Lothlorien

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The city in the trees, Caras Galadhon in Lothlorien.

This is my entry for the Landscape category of the NBI Screenshot Safari. One of the nice things about this event is that it’s given me an excuse to look over all my gorgeous LOTRO screenshots. It’s hard to pick just one view of Lothlorien, never mind pick just one landscape from the entire game!

I like this view because it both gives a sense of the essence of the place – otherwordly beauty combined with simplicity and naturalness – and also helps to understand how it’s physically laid out. It’s one thing to read about mallorn trees, flets, and a city in the trees, and another to visualize what Tolkien intended. LOTRO does a remarkable job of bringing it to life.

This post is part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015, a month of events to help new bloggers get off to a good start. Read more about the Screenshot Safari event here. You’ll find links to other screenshot posts in the comments at the bottom of that post, and via the #NBI2015Safari hashtag on Twitter.

NBI 2015 Screenshot Safari – A Hobbit in Bag End

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When a hobbit finds himself in the home of the famous Bilbo Baggins, it’s a “Look where I am!” moment, and definitely time for a selfie. Bilbo and Frodo are no longer living in Bag End, but I managed to get past Lobelia and put my feet up for a bit.

This post is part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015, a month of events to help new bloggers get off to a good start. Read more about the Screenshot Safari event here. You’ll find links to other screenshot posts in the comments at the bottom of that post, and via the #NBI2015Safari hashtag on Twitter.

Putting the “play” into “Free-to-play”

Kids play on beach - photo by Idban Secandri (flickr)

Kids play on the beach – photo by Idban Secandri (flickr)

It seems Nintendo’s CEO has been pondering the term “free-to-play” and thinks it would be better to use another phrase to describe the concept, especially as it applies to mobile games…

“I do not like to use the term ‘Free-to-play,'” Iwata said. “I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called ‘Free-to-play’ should be referred to more accurately as ‘Free-to-start.'”

Fixing free-to-play’s image problem

Well I’m always pleased if a business wants to describe its products more honestly, but I think there are several problems with his particular idea. Firstly we already have a perfectly good term that means “free-to-start”. Such things are called “a trial”, or if you must underline the freeness of it, a “free trial”. Trialability is a good quality for any product to have, and free trials are usually a good idea whether we’re talking about test driving a car, trying a free weekend of an MMO, being able to level to 20 for free, or whatever.

However free trials don’t have the appeal of free-to-play, at least when that is a fair description of what is on offer, and not just a bait-and-switch tactic. Would I use Gmail or WordPress.com if they were truly free-to-start as opposed to genuinely free-to-use? Almost certainly not. Whenever I see anything that has a free trial, a free month or some such, my first question is always: “Well how much would it cost me if I were to really keep using this thing?” Often that simple info is made rather hard to find, and at that point my interest in the thing ends. Even when the info is clearly and fairly presented I’m usually not going to bother to take advantage of a free trial in most cases.

“Free-to-start” might be a more well-meaning and honest description of what a company has in mind than “free-to-play”, but that’s like a baker truthfully describing their offering as “stale bread”. Thanks for not trying to fool us, but we actually wanted a fresh and tasty loaf, not just for you to use the right terminology for what you’re selling.

Of course there is such a thing as bad free-to-play, and there are plenty of examples. However there are good examples also, and what’s good about them turns on it actually being fair to describe them as “free”, and it being fair to describe what you can actually do for free as “play”.

Whether something is free is relatively simple to determine. Lying about something that is not really free and calling it free-to-play is going to be found out pretty quickly. At best you’ll have bitter customers who resent how you conned them to get them hooked on your game. At worst you won’t have any customers anyway because people aren’t stupid and they can figure out the con before they ever download your game.

Whether what people get to do in the free part of your game is even really “play” is a big question however. Defining the essence of play is fascinating and important, but also difficult to do, though many have tried and come up with good ideas. (For example The Definition of Play.)

I’m not going go into any formal definitions, but there are certain qualities that to my mind are fundamental to something being play and it being fun. For example…

  • You should be able to immerse yourself in it, get lost in the flow, lose all track of time while you’re doing it.

  • You should experience a sense of freedom and possibility. There are many different things you could do, many ways to approach what’s in front of you, many ways to explore, many ways to express yourself.

  • You should mostly be enjoying what you’re doing in the moment, doing it for it’s own sake, not doing it solely in order to attain some other goal or fulfill some obligation.

Well, when you consider such things, the problem with some F2P games is that they are sorely lacking in actual play. There are exceptions though, and they are the ones that when reviewers discuss them they use phrases like “a generous free-to-play model”.

Freemium works very well in many tech-based businesses, and it can work very well in games also. But it’s critical to freemium that the free service is satisfying in itself and provides core functionality and an experience that more than adequately meets the needs of most people who give it a try. In a game, that means people can have lots of fun with it, for free. If you’re not going to provide that, don’t bother calling it free at all.

Why I’m not playing LOTRO much

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I’m not playing LOTRO very much at the moment, and a piece on LOTRO Players got me thinking about why that might be. Brax’s post is in the form of fanfic, an in-character letter, and I commented in kind…

It may be the cursed power of Sauron. The closer I get to his realm the wearier I feel and the more it seems my will to fight on is sapped. The loss of many of our brave friends and cheery kinfolk weighs heavily also. But I yet hope to press forward in this quest, little by little perhaps, resting as I must to gather my strength.

I hear rumors that the scattered forces of the Free Peoples will soon be rallied into several great armies. If this be true it may prove a great boon, and will raise my spirits much. With such combined forces we may hope to battle on and perhaps even live to see the downfall of Sauron. Or if that proves finally to be beyond our resources, at least to make an end worthy of song.

On reflection I think the reasons why I’m not playing LOTRO so much these days are more varied and complicated than what is implied by that comment, though what I said there is an important part of the overall picture too.

I’m not playing MMOs, I’m doing other stuff!

One thing to start with is that unlike some people it’s not that I’ve switched to playing some other MMO. I’m spending a lot less time playing MMOs overall, and since LOTRO was my main game, it’s most noticeable there.

Reading books and watching boxsets has been taking up a lot of my leisure time since Christmas. I’ve also played a fair bit of chess, and I’ve dabbled in a MOOC or two as well. I hadn’t seen any of The Walking Dead or Downton Abbey before Christmas, and now I’m totally caught up with both series. That’s probably well over a hundred hours of spare time accounted for right there! And there were a few other shows where I caught up a season, or at least watched a few episodes.

Streaming video is a newish thing for me, and has that extra excitement that comes with finding a whole new toy box to explore. It was about a year ago I got a Chromecast and that made the whole streaming thing much more attractive. Over time I’ve discovered more shows and more streaming services.

The hobby lifecycle

Hobbies and interests tend to have a lifecycle with me. I guess it’s not unlike the lifecycle of a relationship. There might be an initial checking-it-out phase, followed by a falling-madly-in-love phase, which leads to wanting to spend as much time as possible with the totally amazing beloved. And that can last for quite some time, but in due course it goes to a more mellow phase where I retain much love and affection, yet don’t want to devote my whole existence to that one thing.

MMOs – and LOTRO specifically – were that new love for me three and a bit years ago. I still like them now, but not in quite the same way as in the first year or two, where the game was the activity of choice for many hours on most days. Meanwhile the new hotness is The Walking Dead, Agents of SHIELD and suchlike. But diving into great boxsets will have its lifecycle too I’m sure, and maybe then I’ll return to more intensive MMOing.

It’s not just me, it’s you too…

All of the above are reasons why I probably would have been playing less now regardless of whatever had happened with the game itself. However it’s not all just about me and my hobby lifecycle, a good deal of the change in my playing habits has to do with LOTRO itself.

People are very important of course, and the banter and friendship was a big part of what kept me coming back regularly. But friends and kinnies have their own hobby lifecycles, or they have changes in their real world circumstances etc. So over time there are less and less of the familiar faces around, and they’re around less often. What’s more some of the people that still do play regularly have done their own DIY server merger by re-rolling onto more populated servers. Now I’d join them, but the very fact that I’m not playing so much now makes it difficult to re-roll and level-up all over again. If LOTRO had something like the technology in other MMOs where I could hop to another server easily, it would be a big help to me.

The proliferation of changes to game mechanics also don’t help. I still haven’t properly figured out all the skill changes that came in with Helm’s Deep, and I’m largely clueless about essences. Add in lots of small changes throughout the game, like changes to housing storage, making various crafting materials obsolete etc, and it’s pretty hard to really get back in the game and feel totally at home without devoting masses of time to working out the differences. After Helm’s Deep I rapidly went from feeling proficient with quite a few classes to not knowing what the heck half the skills do exactly on most of them.

Then there’s the grindiness that can be excessive. I’m not sure that LOTRO is really that much worse than other MMOs in this regard, but I guess the more familiar you become with an MMO, the more the repetitiveness of combat may weigh on you. The worst case is when you have to kill many mobs, the kills are time consuming, and yet there is no stimulating challenge in the fights. Too many quests seem to land me in this scenario.

Monetization Catch-22

There are things Turbine could do to get someone like me back and more active in the game. Easy and free server transfer is one thing I already mentioned. Another would be ways to insta-level my alts, or otherwise bypass unwelcome grind.

However to the extent that LOTRO has anything like that, it’s all by spending rather big bucks in the cash shop. $50 for the Gift of the Valar to get half-way to the level cap for instance! Or I could get rest XP by subscribing, and buy various XP and deed boosts to cut the grind some.

The problem is that those things might seem worthwhile to someone who was already heavily playing the game, but at a point where I’m not playing much, spending that kind of money seems ridiculous to me. It’s a Catch-22 situation. You have to spend money to maybe make the game as fun as it used to be again, but if you’re not having that fun already, why would you spend lots more money on the game?

We may yet, Mr Frodo

Let’s not overdo the gloom here! I still have good friends who play plenty of LOTRO, and it wouldn’t be surprising if I got back into it with them sooner or later. I’ve had quite long breaks before, and gone back with relish afterwards. It seems that Turbine are working on plans for server mergers, and the option of a free server transfer could be a real blessing. There’s still plenty of good content that I’d enjoy doing, and if it were easier to get caught up and play with the people I’d like to hang out with, I’d be glad to do just that.

I have plenty of love for Tolkien and LOTRO, and one way or another I’m likely to be around to see the end of all things, whenever and wherever that comes.

A Year in Games and Books

As 2014 comes to an end, it seems like a good time to say a few words about what I’ve played and read this year that seems notable. If nothing else, maybe it will give people ideas of what they might want to grab in the sales before they close!

Games I Played in 2014

LOTRO

As ever LOTRO is my most played video game of the year, though I played rather less this year than last. Early in the year many of us were worried about the game’s future after a round of Turbine layoffs followed not long after the news that there would be no expansion this year. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that Turbine did deliver new content as they’d announced though.

If I played less, probably that has less to do with the game itself and more to do with me. For one thing the first couple of years of any great new thing are more exciting to me, and after that I get somewhat used to it, less absorbed and generally ready to do other things.

Chess

Another reason my LOTRO time dropped is that my interest in chess got revived. That was mostly down to happening to read a book called King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. Ironically for a book that focuses on the darker sides of chess and chess players, it brought back a lot of fond memories for me.

While I’ve never stopped playing completely, it’s probably getting on for twenty years since I played at all seriously or was a member of a club. But with my revived enthusiasm and starting to sharpen up my rusty skills, I might well do that in 2015 sometime. Meantime I’m having fun playing online, and reading bits and pieces about the game again.

Hero Academy

This is a rather nice turn-based strategy game that I play on iPad. It’s entirely PVP, and has some of the flavor of MMOs (tanks, healers, debuffs, AoE effects etc) and some of the flavor of chess as well, in calculating possible moves and counter-moves.

It’s very enjoyable, and if I don’t play as much as some other games, that’s only a matter of what I have time for.

King of Dragon Pass

Another iPad game, and a unique one, so it’s rather hard to describe. Something of a cross between a full-blown fantasy novel and a turn-based resource-management strategy game. It has one of the best worlds and most interesting cultures that I’ve come across not only in a game but in any form of fiction.

Like Hero Academy I only wish I had more time to play it and explore its depths.

Others

Other games I played and enjoyed but spent even less time on include..

  • The Secret World, lots to love about this, but I haven’t got very far into it yet.

  • Guild Wars 2 (for a trial week, see also), maybe I’ll get into this in the future

  • Skyrim, Enjoyable in lots of ways, though I think I prefer games with more of a social aspect for my RPGs

SF & Fantasy I Read in 2014

I’ve read quite a few books this year. Some of the SF and Fantasy ones that stand out are:

  • The Last Policeman Trilogy – A fascinating an entertaining series set in a world that knows it’s going to be devastated by an asteroid impact in a few months time. (The three books are set IIRC six months from impact, three months from impact, and last week or two before impact.) It’s hard SF in that the asteroid and its effects are well researched and accurately portrayed, it’s also a series of mysteries and criminal investigations. Most of all it explores how people and society cope with knowledge of impending doom. For example, why is it even important to catch murderers now when everyone will be dead soon anyway?

  • The Farseer Trilogy – I wrote a review of this, in short a very fantasy good series, though it could do with some trimming!

  • The Liveship Traders Trilogy – This is a follow up to the Farseer Trilogy, though there is only one character in common, and it deals with events in another part of the world some time after the first series. If you know the Game of Thrones (GoT) series, you will find this rather like that – told from many points of views, lots of characters and story arcs, lots of themes, a good deal of politics etc. Like GoT the author probably bit off more than they could chew, but unlike GoT at least it’s finished and has a proper climax! (Though there are even more trilogies after these, but I’ve not read them, as I was sated with Robin Hobb at this point.)

  • The Game of Thrones Series – Technically the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. After five huge books we still don’t know much about the Ice and Fire aspects of the world and probably never will! The world and the stories are fascinating, though I’m by no means convinced the series will ever be concluded successfully. Which makes it like a mystery story in which you never do get to find out whodunnit, or an epic quest story in which in which our heroes only got half way to the destination.

  • The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke – I haven’t read all the stories yet, because there are a lot of them! It’s a great book to dip into, and I read it especially in between longer novels. Reading a collection like this you do start to see various themes and patterns that repeatedly show up with the author, more than I did as a kid reading the odd Clarke book as and when I saw one in the library. There’s a nice range with comic stories, tragic stories, thought-provoking stories, very short and snappy stories, novellas etc. A good read if you’re new to Clarke or have not read him for a while.

As ever I could write a lot more, but then it would be 2015 before I got finished. Since an end of year blog post should arrive precisely when it means to, I’ll leave it there.

A Happy New Year to all!