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Monday, October 06, 2014

For Richer, For Poorer by Victoria Coren

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For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair with PokerFor Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair with Poker by Victoria Coren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Partly a biography, partly a treatise on modern poker, and partly the story of how Victoria Coren became the first female million-dollar-winner of the European Poker Tour (she's since gone on to win it a second time), this is one of the most readable books about a complex subject I've ever read.

Part of that is the chatty, witty writing style and, whilst it doesn't hold your hand in explaining the exotic-sounding poker terms and expressions, the book is still completely clear. This is because it is less about the game, and more about the bizarre and fascinating community that plays it.

Using Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as the metaphorical map through the rabbit-hole is a great device that mirrors the highs and lows of a life spent chasing cards in a game that was going through massive changes due to the internet.

Before reading this book I mainly new Victoria Coren from her great columns in The Observer and The Guardian newspapers, as well as her hosting of the fabulous Only Connect. My admiration for her has only increased since reading the book, the tale of an outsider in the shady world of professional poker, fighting acceptance, mysogyny, and her own addictions along the way. In the end she won me over in the same way she won the EPT - by knowing that "it's really not about the money".

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Inspired by the weird fiction of Lovecraft and the ghost stories of M.R. James, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a first-person narrative exploration game in which you investigate the disappearance of a young boy in the remote hills of Wisconsin. It's a game that breaks new ground in many ways, and whilst short (my playthrough, which I didn't rush, took around four hours) it lingers long in the memory.


The first thing that will strike you is how amazingly beautiful the game looks. Red Creek Valley is by far the most realistic and beautiful environment I've ever seen in a game. It's an absolute joy just to wander and get lost in the visuals, and my screenshots key has never seen so much use (screenshots do not do any justice to the in-game visuals by the way).

New indie developer The Astronauts achieved this incredible feat by turning to a new technique for generating game assets known as photogrammetry. They have a blog post on their site detailing the method, with some great examples of how it works. That they achieved this with a team of only eight people (including just a single programmer) speaks volumes as to how a small indie team can beat AAA titles by developing new techniques. It's a stunning achievement. Don't be surprised to see the technique used elsewhere now, as it makes the virtual worlds of many triple AAA games look drab by comparison.
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Masks of Nyarlathotep - A review of the last two years

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Adurj summed up many of my thoughts on our recent two-year-long Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign in his guest post. It's been a bit of an epic, and I have to admit that I'm a little surprised we got through it in the end. We took a break half way through due to the birth of one player's first son, but managed to get the momentum going again pretty quickly.


It's kind of difficult to formulate my thoughts after such a long campaign. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and despite the work involved in keeping everyone up to speed and motivated I looked forwards to every session. It was interesting to see how the players changed their approach as the campaign progressed, with caution eventually giving way to reckless abandon as the months went by.

I'm certainly going to take some great memories away with me, and I can imagine that when we all get together over some beers the conversation will inevitably turn to our shared experiences. We still talk about our Cthulhu sessions from years ago.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Players Perspective

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Hola!

I think this is a first for 'Far Beyond My Capacity'. It's nice to come first. Yes, I'm a guest blogger! It's been an eternity since I blogged myself over at 'Le'Bard Connection' but I'm here to give it a go. It's worth it. Saving the World needs a special celebration right?

Good table top roleplaying stays with you. It can build an adventure of the imagination so vivid that the memories last a life time. The last time my Brother ran a Call of Cthulhu campaign was around 20 years ago. Cthulhu on the Orient Express. I can still remember my characters on their fearless journey. Shade Otakuwe, Circus Performer, and Constantine, a hybrid of a whip wielding Indiana Jones and the cavalier Liverpudlian (yes, I know! HellBlazer wasn’t as well known back then!). So around two years ago when my Bro contacted our old school years table top group and asked who wanted to try an experiment to see if Fantasy Grounds would be a good medium to get a remote table top campaign going again, we all jumped at the chance.

This time round, there was an addition to our group - Matt, a great guy who we had met MMO’ing on EverQuest2 and had remained friends with ever since. Aside from that it was all the OldSkool. Simmsy, Davey Cee, James and of course, myself. All under the careful tutorage of our Games Master, my older brother Neil. As long as Fantasy Grounds worked OK, we kind of all knew what to expect. Neil is an extremely imaginative and competent GM. Which to us meant that we would be led through one hell of a crazy ride should the experiment prove successful. We were not disappointed. Not in the slightest. Skype and FG worked fantastically and the next two years would prove to be yet another amazingly enjoyable, memorable and truly epic campaign across the globe in an effort to save the World from certain destruction at the hands of The Elder Gods. 

My Bro documented the journey from start to finish, so I’m not going to go in to the intricacies of the storyline but I’d like to add some snippets showing my favourite parts and the experiences that embodied the last two years for me from The Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign (You'll find the list after the jump). They are not in chronological order. Just the order that they popped in to my brain. There are a load more too. As the memories started to flow, I had to curb my input. There’s just too many to list!

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign Journal: Chapter 36 - The End.

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And at the last from inner Egypt came
The strange dark one to whom the fellahs bowed;
Silent and lean and cryptically proud,
And wrapped in fabrics red as sunset flame.
Throngs pressed around, frantic for his commands,
But leaving, could not tell what they had heard:
While through the nations spread the awestruck word
That wild beasts followed him and licked his hands.
Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he had chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.
Nyarlathotep by H.P. Lovecraft.

I knew that this was likely to be the final session of our epic two year campaign, so in an effort to try and give a more entertaining pulpy climax for the players I made a few changes to the campaign as written. First of all, as I had already engineered the arrival of the investigators for the 14th of January 1926, the date of the eclipse over the China seas, I decided to conflate the ritual of the birth and the ritual of the opening of the gate.

Secondly I decided to change the timing of the arrival of Nyarlathotep himself until after the ritual of the birth. Whilst the investigators had taken time to heal during their rest in the Kikuyu village they were still low on Sanity Points and I didn't want drive them all insane before they even had a chance to succeed in their mission.

If they got that far, at least...


"Gentlemen, you must prepare to travel to the Mountain of the Black Wind. Once there you must stop the birth of the son of the God of the Black wind. If you don't the son will rise, and he will open the Gates and bathe the lands in blood. Once you have stopped the birth, you must place the Eye upon his altar, and chain the god forever, stopping the Gates from opening".

It had all seemed so simple. Unfortunately the investigators hadn't counted on coming across 10,000 cultists in the valley outside the mountain, involved in a hideous ritual, that they would have to get past...
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