Archive for November, 2011

Accountants, Dragons and Helicopters (not in that order)

Posted in Games, Tales from the grind-stone on November 22nd, 2011 by MrCranky

Ooh: post 666! Spooky. :-)

I’ve the office to myself for a couple of weeks, as Tim has taken the opportunity to use up the load of holidays he’s saved up before the end of the year, and Dan is busy with both university and other projects. I’m somewhat surrounded by Amazon boxes, as my wife has been using the office as a delivery drop-off for a vast amount of Christmas presents for all and sundry; as a personal rule I don’t shop for Christmas until it turns to December, but she’s a bit more efficient and organised about it than I am. As compensation for that though, and because she’s just generally lovely, she’s also had them deliver a shiny new copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the 360. There was a certain amount of giggling with glee when it turned up, as I’ve been quite jealous of all the other devs who are enjoying it: I do like a good open-world adventure. Where I’m going to find the time to play it I’m not quite sure yet, but even rationed out over weekends I’m sure it will be fun. A first quick blast in the office had me running away from dragons, which is always a good start.

On a whim a few weekends back while I was huddled up trying to beat off a nasty illness, I picked up a copy of DCS: Black Shark¬†from Steam; I do like sim games, and the X52 in the cupboard doesn’t get a chance to come out. It was tragically disappointing though. Not because the manual isn’t the manual for the game, it’s the manual for the actual helicopter. That’s half the fun. No, what put me off was the terrible way it was presented. In a nod to playability, they include ‘game’ toggles for the flight and avionics. The ‘game’ flight mode is much friendlier to new players, but takes away half the fun and control I enjoy. However I learned my lesson with Lock On: Modern Air Combat; actually learning the radar and weapons controls for a real combat aircraft isn’t nearly as much fun! So I want ‘game’ avionics, and ‘sim’ flight, and set the options accordingly.

Here’s where it starts to go wrong. If you set either of those options, the game considers you in ‘game’ mode. And there’s an entirely distinct control configuration for game mode. It doesn’t tell you it’s in game mode, or give any indication as to which controls are ‘current’. You are just supposed to know. It’s not even in the manual anywhere, I checked. Worse, the control configuration isn’t accessible from the in-game menu. So you start a mission, take off (because that part is easy), but find you can’t operate one of the controls (of which there are many). Can you look it up? No. Because to look it up, you have to exit the mission, and go check the control configuration in the front end. I don’t even want to change it, I just need to see which button it’s mapped to.

So instead of actually enjoying the challenge of controlling a complex, agile helicopter, I find myself getting into the mission, only to find that the weapons systems are unusable, and I get shot down because I am spending a good few minutes just trying to get a particular bit of it to work. And there aren’t any missions in there that let you just concentrate on one thing at a time. You don’t get a ‘free flight’ mode, you don’t get some a mission with nice simple targets that don’t fire back right in front of you so you can familiarise yourself with the weapons systems. It’s either ‘quick start’ (which throws you into a mission assuming that you have full control over everything), or ‘campaign’. At least the first mission in the campaign takes you through some easy flying, but there’s no practicing of flight maneuvers, just ‘fly there, then there, then home’. That’s not what you need to practice. You need to practice low level flight, and going from full forward to stopped and hovering before popping up over the brow of a hill. You need to practice strafing and orbiting targets. None of which is encouraged in the missions provided.

Anyway, suffice to say that the nod towards making it ‘friendly’ very much fails. It’s not that much friendlier for novices, and those parts are ignored by intermediate or pro pilots.

Lastly, and on a completely different note, we’ve got ourselves a new accountant, who comes recommended from a couple of other game-devs around Scotland. This is a bit of a relief to me, since our filing deadline is the end of December. The previous accountants, who I’ll not name (although they do deserve to be shamed) have been informed, although they can’t have expected to keep our business, not least because they’ve been avoiding contact with me since spring (and their refusal to pay the fines they incurred through their incompetence).


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Last modified: August 14 2014.