Thursday, 14 November 2013

Christmas gaming - Metro: Last Light

Metro: First Light has plenty of darkened and creepy environments that should
 keep the solo gamer on the edge of their seat! [Click on picture to enlarge.]

I don't do much single player FPS computer gaming these days, my time is so limited - what with my slew of hobbies - that my involvement with single player games is limited to some casual Xbox 360 driving and flying gaming. In fact, I used to play a lot of solo first person shooters and was a huge fan of atmospheric dystopian survival RPGs like Fallout 3 and - especially - Stalker. So when I saw Metro: Last Light featured on STEAM my interest was piqued.

One of the beautifully desolate scenes from the amazing Stalker: Clear Skies.
The Russians seem to have a talent for creating creepy game environments.

In the back of my mind I am thinking about that chilled out Christmas holiday period where there is no pressure to do very much at all except relax, eat and drink, watch telly and play games (oh, and do some family visiting in between those important tasks)!

Naturally, I will be hoping to get in some multiplayer gaming with my mates - IF they fix BF4 by Christmas - but I do like getting up extra early, sticking some left over turkey and cranberry in a sandwich and having a bit of a solo blast on the computer.

Oh how I do like a post-apocalyptic game world! [Click on picture to enlarge.]

Metro: Last Light looks to have all the creepy sci-fi/horror elements that I used to love about Stalker. And like Stalker it also has some beautifully atmospheric and grim environments to play in, in fact it was these game environments that caught my attention - the plot escapes me - as Russian game developers seem to have a real knack for gritty and desolate urban backdrops with huge amounts of brooding atmosphere.

Memories of Stalker, Metro:Last Light heightens the single player's sense
of 'not quite being alone' even in seemingly vast empty locations!
[Click on picture to enlarge.]

So, December's pay day will see me forking out the £24.99 on STEAM for their combo 'MAC/PC' deal, which means I can play it on my PC upstairs or - if I want - on my MacBook connected to the big telly downstairs.

Link: STEAM store - Metro: Last Light

Superb! [Click on picture to enlarge.]
Link: The official UK Metro:Last Light web site

Sunday, 10 November 2013

We do need some stinking badges...

Just happened to pick up some badges this week, one of them a particularly important one...


I've been after the two cloth badges for ages, but quite by chance both of these badges came available to me at the same time.

The 'Yorkshire' badge is a simple bit of tourist tat that I saw on sale in one of our seaside shops a few years ago but then couldn't find when I went back to buy it - I suddenly came across it again yesterday for just £2.99. It's an ideal fun addition to my Russian loadouts, in place of the usual Spetsnaz unit's 'district' badge.

The second cloth badge is the famous 'Green Man', a Celtic god (Cernunnos) who has become a popular character in  British mythology. I like the idea of a green leafy deity who has a strong association with pubs decorating my woodland camouflage!

Additionally, we have the most important badge for this time of year - and enamel Poppy Appeal badge. Every airsofter should have one of these on their person at the moment...


Sadly, my mum - who is now in a care home - is no longer able to join other veterans in selling poppies, a duty that she always loved. But she is attending the local Remembrance ceremony with the very kind assistance of her carers who have organised a group visit from the home.

And finally, not new badges but a couple of badges that I thought I had lost. I found this pair of cloth emblems - typically - while I was looking for something else! They are my 'Red Alliance' badges indicating my enthusiasm for Russian and Eastern Block airsoft loadouts...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

World's first 3D printed METAL gun

After all the furore over 3D plastic guns this latest piece of news may sound even more sinister to some. An American company has just prototyped the world's first metal model 1911 hand gun...



Now, you might ask just why this may be even more controversial than a 3D printed plastic gun? Well, I can see several reasons that this process will have people in an even greater uproar than the plastic variants of 'DIY' guns - and not all of these people will be the anti-gun lobby...

First of all, being able to produce guns in metal means that you will be able to build a gun that can withstand greater pressures than it's plastic counterpart, and this means that you can make guns that use larger and more powerful calibre ammunition. Furthermore, it means that you may be able to build a gun that can handle the stresses of fully automatic fire - like submachine guns and assault rifles.

But it is the consequences of Solid Concepts - the company who has made this 3D metal gun - replicating a conventional and popular gun format of the '1911' that is perhaps the stand out issue that may have even gun manufacturers worried.

3D metal printed 1911 components by Solid Concepts, USA
Quite aside from the concern about criminals eventually having access to 3D printed guns that look like guns there is other criminal activity that will be very interested in seeing whether 3D metal printing becomes as easy to access as 3D plastic printing has. I am talking, of course, about the pirate counterfeiters.

Counterfeiting and brand piracy are two of todays most lucrative and widespread commercial activities and dare I say that it's one of the worlds most publicly accepted crimes!

Think about it - can you say all your music or movies are legitimate? Is your wife's Dolce & Gabbana handbag a real D&G product? Come on guys, is that really a Rolex you are wearing?

Airsofters are very well aware of the propensity for Chinese companies to be able to reverse engineer and produce cheap knock-offs of more expensive replica guns, so what will stop them doing the same with real firearms?

These are just some of the worries that 3D metal 'printing' brings to the table - however, it's perhaps not all bad news, airsofters may wonder how long it will be before we see a Chinese 3D metal printed AEG clone.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

LCT VAL Russian Spec-Ops rifle replica

This is something Russian loadout airsoft enthusiasts have been wanting for some time, and now - like buses - a few manufactures are bringing out a replica of the Russian VAL Special Operations rifle more or less at the same time. Today's video highlights the LCT replica, and as usual LCT seem to have produced a pretty high-end quality AEG...



Now, what's good about this is that - if the usual process happens within the AEG manufacturing community - is that some enterprising Chinese manufacturer *might* be tempted to churn out a budget version of this gun if they perceive a hole in the market place. The other piece of good news for those of you - like myself - who like to use budget AEGs rather than forking out the premium prices for the likes of a LCT is that LCT has a habit of offering body kit versions of their designs.

Personally, I really have my fingers crossed that someone like KALASH (D-Boys) or Jing Gong will be reverse-engineering an LCT VAL as we speak! (Wishful thinking I know!)

Anyway, it's always good news to hear that there is another Russian AEG design on the market.

The AS "Val" (Avtomat Special'nyj Val, Russian: Автомат Специальный Вал or Special Automatic Rifle, code name: "Shaft") is a Soviet designed assault rifle featuring an integrated suppressor. 
It was developed during the late 1980s by TsNIITochMash (Central Institute for Precision Machine Building) and is used by Russian Spetsnaz special forces and the MVD, FSB and select units of the Russian Army. Since 1987, it was added to the arsenal of the Soviet Army and the KGB. 
Its effective range is approximately 300 m, as it uses heavy subsonic 9x39mm SP-6 (high performance armor piercing) ammunition, as well as the SP-5 ball round used by the VSS Vintorez. It can also use the same 10 or 20-round magazines as the VSS. Controls are similar to all AK-type rifles with charging handle on the right side, tangent rear sight, magazine release button behind magazine well and safety lever above the trigger guard. The fire selector is however located within the trigger guard, behind the trigger. The "Val" has two modes of fire, single shot and automatic fire at a cyclic rate of 900 RPM. According to its users, the "Val" is reliable, accurate and well liked. [Wikipedia]

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

CQB Airsoft, Centurian Airsoft, Scarborough

Something of a pleasant surprise, that very nice chap and airsoft aficionado Spider alerted me to a CQB event being run in Scarborough by Centurion Airsoft. Well, as the venue was virtually at the bottom of my street - sort of - there was no excuse for me not to join in.

In fact, I had been planning a return to airsoft for some time now, it was just fortuitous that Centurion managed to secure a temporary indoor site at the town's Military Adventure Park (which usually runs laser quest games). Centurion described the event as a 'tester day' to evaluate the viability of a game run in a relatively small building - which turned out to be the old outdoor swimming pool admin and changing rooms!


Above: Google Street Map view of the location of MAP - this shot was taken before they built the assault course for laser quest in the foreground, but you can make out the CQB venue which is the building just under the old swimming pool water slide!

Now, I've been banging on about 'small scale' urban skirmish venues and that there should be more and so this was the ideal opportunity to see just how realistic it is to create a 'pop up' airsoft site in a town centre. Additionally, this was my first chance to experience airsoft CQB, something I have always been keen to try out.

Loadout: Russian Tiger
I decided it would be nice to run out my Russian Splav made BEKAS battle dress in Tiger camo. I was tempted to wear my 'new' (two years old now) Gorad camo Bekas suit as this is probably more appropriate for a Russian CQB unit, but I got all sentimental about wearing my Team AKA regalia!

The choice of AEG was a no-brainer - it had to be my VFC AKS74U. It is exactly the right format for the job as even with the stock unfolded it is a very compact weapon. I didn't add a red-dot nor did I add a flashlight to the AEG - in hindsight I really wish I had applied these options, for reasons that will become clear.


Webbing was my trusty Russian Splav M23 'Pioneer' chest rig, which held everything that I needed in it's good array of pouches and pockets. These include four double capacity AK47/74 pouches and was ideal for my choice of 6 120BB mid-cap mags plus one 2000 bottle of 0.2g Madbull Biodegradable Precision BBs (with an additional 4000 spare BBs in my kit bag in the car).

Finally, and most importantly as this is CQB, protection. I went with full face protection and a helmet - both because as this is a close quarters event ranges are very short but also because in CQB the head is often the only visible part of the player (more about this later). My goggles are the perforated steel plate type of 'mesh' googles and not the less safe wire mesh goggles - though I did take my hardy Bolle polycarbonate double-layer eye protection, but in the end I was concerned about 'fogging' up so went with the less safe mesh.



The venue: Indoor at the MAP
Scarborough's Military Adventure Park occupies what was the town's old outdoor swimming pool complex. The pool has been filled in and now is a Laser Quest assault course but the CQB games were being held in the disused changing block. This dilapidated building is quite compact but is a bit of a Tardis as it consists of a maze of small rooms which filter into the large changing rooms - most recently the building has been used for a Zombie Apocalypse game (hence the rather unnerving 'blood' smeared walls).

Drawn from memory, so probably not 100% accurate, but this diagram
gives you some idea of the layout of the CQB venue at the MAP. The 'red
room' is the main point of contact and the main bottleneck.

Centurion Airsoft secured the venue for this one-off trial event and the building was just about right for short format games for about 20-26 players, any more and the rooms would become too congested.

The only playable exterior entry was this side entrance - the majority of the action was
conducted inside the building and AEG's were prohibited anywhere outside the
designated safe zone so we didn't freak out the locals!
Game Formats
Obviously, long format and complex ‘mil-sim’ operations were not perhaps appropriate for a site of such limited space. The limited number of rooms available to us was just not great enough to afford varied locations as we used all the available space for all the games. So, shorter ‘attacker/defender’ type competitions were organised, such as ‘free the hostage’, ‘escalating attacker’ and – a very ingenious – ‘find the bomb code’ game!

The ‘escalating attacker’ was ideal for a limited player situation – everyone but two players defended the main room and the two designated ‘attackers’ tried to ‘kill’ defenders in order to convert them into attackers. EVentually the balance of numbers would turn to the attackers favour and defending would become harder and harder.


Above: Spider's excellent footage of the game event. Credit: www.raptorsairsoft.co.uk/


It's worth repeating that - as a first time venue - this was a 'tester' event and some of the games were modified and improved - based on player feedback - as the day went on. But all-in-all the day worked out very nicely indeed and it was a credit to the Centurion staff that things went off so well.

Safety and enjoyment
Obviously paramount importance was given to safety. As a very close quarters game a lot of emphasis was given to the need to avoid head-shots, also firing was limited to semi-auto only with a FPS limit of 350fps (nobody opted for sniping for obvious reasons).

Now, here's where there was a bit of a conundrum (and the only hic-up in the day)...

By it's very nature CQB prohibits the amount of fully exposed target opportunities and while the staff heavily emphasised the preference for 'centre of body mass' shots and 'no head shots' naturally the head is often the only part of the body which become visible in this sort of simulation!

Simply by random chance you ARE going to accidentally make a head shot even if you aren't trying to - defy anyone to say they didn't - I did! The plain fact is, due to darkened rooms how would you know a lot of the time? (--- Note to self: Erm, take a torch! ---)


"You want ME to go in THERE?"
...But what makes this such a contentious issue was - as normally being told 'no heads shots' should be enough and that's that - the choice made by many of the players NOT TO WEAR FULL HEAD PROTECTION (I told you I would be coming back to this)!

Yes, despite this event being clearly advertised as a indoor CQB airsoft event approximately 75% of the players on the day opted for the 'cooler' polycarbonate ballistic glasses eye protection and maybe a hat!

...At this point I could write a huge diatribe about the whole 'full face protection spoils the realism' and 'it isn't paintball' arguments made by some airsofters regarding full face protection....But guys, THIS WAS CQB! Headshots will - and did - happen, I know because one of the things about wearing a helmet is that you hear the head hits like a snare drum being played on your head and I had a virtual military tattoo being played on my head at times! (To be fair, because I had the security of full head protection I did stick my noggin out a bit more than some.)

Spider's eye view of my big ass! As you can see I sort of fill the doorway and
make a wonderfully silhouetted target for the defenders!

Lessons learned on the day
[Apologies, as this section is more of a 'note to myself'...] Contentious arguments about head protection aside - as we are all grown ups and make our own choices about our personal safety - I enjoyed my first taste of CQB, particularly as I haven't skirmished at all in over a year. I learned a lot, made a couple of glaring feck-ups and am now better equipped to more confidently approach CQB armed as I am with some 'does and don'ts' which I shall impart to you...

As said, I made one major faux-pas on the day and one 'grey area' mistake (that may not have been a mistake):

The main mistake I made on the day relates to firing over high cover. I inadvertently shot someone in the top of the head as I tried to use my height to fire over a high partition wall - I simply hold my hands up and say I was an idiot for trying to do this, I clearly wasn't tall enough to ensure I could clearly identify my target over the 'wall'. Although not strictly 'blind firing' - I was trying to aim - because I couldn't see properly over the wall I couldn't get my gun to bear properly and in snatching a couple of shots at some movement at the other side (it was dark) I'm afraid I - quite rightly - upset the recipient of my in-advised fire.

The moral: Unless you are tall enough so that a partition allows you to get head and shoulders above it, or you can stand on a platform to allow you to get head and shoulders clear of the partition, then count that partition as a 'wall' and do not attempt to fire over it. It's just too unsafe.

Second issue, as I say, was a grey area one - literally, as it concerns a darkened room!

As I say, head shots can happen purely accidentally but more particularly in the case where you are dealing with a darkened room. Putting fire into a darkened room without illuminating a target (...remember me saying I wish I had brought a red dot and a torch...) is something of a necessary evil at time - you want to lay down suppressing fire but you may only have the vaguest notion of where your target actually is (judging by the direction of incoming fire).

Now remember at this point that the defenders in the darkened room have the advantage - as attacking from even a low lit room means that you are silhouetted against the doorway every time you pop out to take a shot!


Defender's eye view of one of the main doorways - any attackers coming into
this entry point are clearly silhouetted targets!
The same entry point, this time illuminated by Spider (attacking). Without a
flashlight this is a big black yawning hole of doom!
Because I had good head protection (LOL) I popped my head out the doorway more than I perhaps should - in fact on a number of occasions I moved across the open doorway laying down fire as I went...And I got a hit, a head shot! Du-oh! To which the recipient shouted 'no blind firing'!

A bit annoying as THEY had the tactical advantage in that they could better see me than I could them - and I must have been clearly visible crossing the doorway as I fired!

--- Discuss this situation! (The moral could be to only fire at positively identified targets BUT this is difficult in the frantic situation of CQB and without illuminating the target - and in so doing giving away your position in return. Maybe clarify the 'suppressive fire' rule?)

I'd say that was 'positive target acquirement' by Spider and his magic torch!
'Take the hit?' - 'Er, yes please!'
Conclusion - emphasising the positive
Now, I've gone on far too much about negative sounding isolated events - but hopefully you will understand that there are 'positive' reasons I included these incidents as they highlight some of the challenges about playing CQB - a very difficult game format. However, I have to balance these with a whole day of enjoyment and good play.

The Centurion staff did an amazing job, they were friendly but firm about discipline (a good thing) and were very ingenious in their game format development. Saying that this was the first time they had done this I think they really have to be commended for running such a well organised and fun event!

A win! Yellow team decode the bomb to take the game! An excellent prop
and well thought out game.
I really hope that they think that the event was a success and decide to run more - and not just because having a airsoft event at the bottom of my street is 'convenient' for me! If I had journeyed to this event I would still have thought it very much worth while. So thank you very much Centurion Airsoft and also a big thank you for the owner of Scarborough's MAP for making the venue available.

SO - now to the traditional pros and cons:

CONS:-
- Perhaps not advertising/emphasising the 'advantages' of full head coverage in a CQB event so that potential players can make a more informed choice about whether to wear it.
- Not marking 'safe zone' with signs (just as a visual reminder)
- Not organising an alternative mini-competition for the long-arm shooters while the pistol comp was going on (those not involved with the pistol comp were getting restless due to the length of waiting)
- And that's it! :)

PROS:-
- Well and courteously run event.
- For your £20 (walk on) fee you got a a bacon butty and cuppa before starting and a bread and stew lunch! Terrific!
- Very sporting fellow players - as far as I could see everyone took their hits! Excellent.
- NO arguments - not one 'it was a hit' - 'no you didn't' nonsense (again this was due to good event management, well done Centurion).
- No-one was sin-binned or sent home (I probably came closest by my unfortunate head-shot on the Marshal)...Oh dear!
- Very enjoyable and ingenious game - I particularly enjoyed the 'bomb code search' game.
- Just the right amount of players, it could have so easily be over-congested
- Very good venue - small, but an interesting set of rooms
- Very friendly and entertaining set of fellow players (Spider was on his usual great form)
- There were proper toilets - hurrah!
- BBs were on sale.
- Oh dear, I could go on and on......

Bottom line: Bloody good day and I'd definitely do it again! Highly recommended - 7/10.

WELL DONE CENTURION AIRSOFT!


Not the first or the last time - I find myself in Spider's sights! HIT!
Suggestions:
Just a few ideas for whatever they are worth...

- Portable cover with 'kill house' boards: These are free standing portable boards - about one player wide - that can be moved about by the staff to vary the cover in the 'kill house'. They are particularly useful for modifying 'bottle necks' by providing additional cover just inside doorways and in the middle of large rooms.

- CQB timed target clearing mini-events: One idea that could have been used for the 'long arm' shooters while the pistol shooters did their thing would have been a separate 'steel plate' or paper target course through a few rooms. Timed target course for room clearance techniques.

- 'Hostages' scenario: A few designated people could have acted as hostages - shooting a hostage would have resulted in the attackers loosing a player. More than two hostages killed would mean a win for the defenders.

- CQB tactics mini-briefing: Not a training session as such, but some 'useful hints' about good CQB entry techniques for everyone at the beginning.

- White board availability: Sounds daft BUT it might be useful to have a large white board available in the safe zone to illustrate game rules and job down ideas, techniques and tactics.




Monday, 4 November 2013

Battlefield and airsoft weekend, oh my!

It's been a hectic weekend for Milgeek! After a long time when not really all that much has been going on it seems like everything is all happening at once. This weekend saw the release of Battlefield 4, which is sorta a big deal if you like military FPS computer games, and also I made my return to airsoft.

There's a lot to talk about so I will split this post up into two parts, today I will discuss BF4 and in the next couple of days I will post up my airsoft experiences.

My favourite BF4 map so far - Parcel Storm. This makes impressive use
of the dynamic weather effects which do actually enhance your gaming experience.

BATTLEFIELD 4 - RETURN OF THE MONSTER
The BF franchise has become something like the Ghost Recon gaming franchise now - it divides opinions between those that see themselves as 'old school' traditionalists and those fans of the way that the game has subsequently developed.

Ghost Recon - of which I am a huge but somewhat lapsed fan - Like BF2 is seen as something which is a little sacred. Both games are mentioned, by their fans, in whispered reverent tones and because of this worship the follow up incarnations have always been accused of 'leaving the righteous path'.

In the case of the BF series there is no doubt that the emerging importance of the console market has had a dramatic effect on how the sequels have been designed. The developers - EA and DICE - have tried to concoct a recipe for the game that is somewhat 'universal' in that it's ingredients suit all major platforms.

I submit, as do a great many of my fellow PC 'traditionalists', that this 'one size fits all' approach failed dismally with BF3 and that the game balance was pushed too far to favour console 'run and gun' players.

However, Battlefield 4 - as it developed - looked to be dealing with some of these criticisms. Most notabley there is the return of a Commander, an absolutely crucial element of the game if you want to promote serious team play rather than simply having 64 individuals running about a map willy-nilly (as in BF3 and as in the CoD games). And there were other positive notes too…



The developers seemed to be trying very hard to differentiate clearly between the gaming platforms, which each system showing a particular advantage over the other. For example, if cost is your overriding consideration when choosing a game platform then you can play BF4 on the XBox 360 - but then you suffer from reduce team sizes (24) and clipped graphic and dynamic effects - and if you want to full-on 'everything and the kitchen sink' exporience you can opt for buying a PC rig and a BF4 that has 64 player teams, spectacular graphics with amazing dynamic effects and what DICE call 'LEVOLUTION'.



...And I include this video as it has some very interesting points to make about this not so dynamic interactive interactivity...



Anyway - I will stop myself going into a tirade against how a game developed because I have learnt over my long game playing career that I have very little control over this and basically the game goes where the money is (and my niche and unreasonable personal gameplay fetishes have little bearing compared to the spotty 12 year old adrenaline junkies who's parents give them too much pocket money)!

SO, to cut to the chase - is BF4 any good?

Well, bearing in mind it's just the first weekend and I think it's reasonable to forgive some early glitches (remember there were daily patches for BF2 in the beginning) the answer is yes and no! :)

The game is a spectacular feat of graphical ingenuity, you WILL be impressed. The return of the Commander and the map designs HAS redressed some of the team-play balance that I feel was lost in BF3. On the down side the horsepower demanded for all the eye-candy sorta get's a little in the way of being able to concentrate on the tactical experience and the whole Levolution does not make up for this.

There is a argument, also, that once again that the vehicles are over-powered (I saw so much moaning about this in the ams chatter) BUT I would say that these are early days, soldiers have not yet earned some of the more advanced upgrades that are designed to help them combat vehicles AND people are not yet (still) working as proper teams in order to bring down annoying vehicle whores!

BF4 is definitely a mixed bag - the server glitches (see accompanying video) on the PC made it almost unplayable on the first day and there is still not enough servers available for the huge demand. But, when things go well it IS a very enjoyable game AND I have to say that the games I have enjoyed most are where you do get into a squad where there is a sense of some team play. BUT, there are some very strange things going on which I thought were just my age and slowness....Apparently not (see vid)...



My major complaint is that I am having to worry about what my system can and can't do and/or what the code is doing, which is a obstacle to my simply enjoying the game for what it is - a game. But, I seem to remember that I had this problem when I first started playing BF2 as well (I had the least spec'd PC among my team-mates).

So as things stand I certainly can't win out in those speed critical one-on-ones, but I do see the potential for the game and have modified my game play tactics to suit my situation - I simply don't go rushing in and defend further back. Luckily my chosen role of Engineer suits this 'second line' sort of play - particularly as I have now unlocked mines! :)

I have yet to get online with a whole squad full of my voice-comm equipped friends, which is the absolutely ideal way to play BF, but once this happens I will see if I think whether BF4 is really as good as BF2 was. But even playing with one VOIP equipped mate online increases your enjoyment and ability to avoid the hated spawn/die cycle!

Bottom line: The very best way to play BF4 AND ENJOY IT is to play with a Commander (who knows what he is doing), USE YOU Q KEY, issue orders if you are a squad leader or respond to orders if you are a grunt (do your job) and finally play with voice-commed squad mates!