Visiting Prague – Very photo heavy post!

Hello Ladies and Gents, long time no…..type/read I guess would be the right term.

Anyway a couple of weeks ago I traveled to Prague for a long weekend holiday with my parents. Okay I know it’s not exactly rock ‘n’ roll for a mid-20s guy to be holidaying with his parents, but you know what I actually had a really good time.  Prague, despite now having a bit of a reputation for being a Stag Party haven, is a beautiful and culturally interesting place.  Now I’m not a travel blogger, I barely managed to pass my GCSEs in Geography/History, so I won’t go into too much detail on the places we visited.  As I knew the city was going to be a mixture of cultures and historical influences I seized the opportunity to dig out my old Olympus E-500 and brush up on my photography skills.  Now, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I used to continually rely on my cameras ‘Scene’ function to best capture a shot; so for this trip I decided to do everything on Manual Mode!

So without further ado, here’s my photography tour round Prague!

Astronomical Clocktower and Old Town Square

St. Charles’ Bridge, St. Barbaras Cathedral

And who can forget the

Range of Beer

So I hope you’ve enjoyed my little whistle-stop tour around the city of Prague. Of course there is lots more to see than I have shown you here, this was just to give you a snapshot of what a weekend in Prague can have in store.  Before I bid you all farewell there is just one more attraction that I consciously did not include in this post.  In the city of Kutna Hora lies a burial chamber known as the Sedlec Ossuary; this fascinating and yet macabre site was one of the places I specifically wanted to visit. Why not include it then?

Here’s were the warning comes in:

If you are squeamish or of a nervous disposition then my upcoming post will not be for you!

The Sedlec Ossuary is a religious site where the remains of 40,000 people are kept. The interesting point, but also the point which may upset some readers, is how these remains are displayed. I have taken some photos of the site, and you can find that post <<here>> (link will be added when the post goes live).

I look forward to hearing what you guys and gals think of some of my photography skills, or lack there of. Any criticism is welcome.

Catch you later,

Iain

Social media Links:

Twitter / Instagram

Taking a Stroll – Photography

Hello ladies and gents,

Last year the family and myself took to going on walks as a way to spend time together, as well as for the fitness benefits. This lead to us signing up and completing a 26 mile walk for the charity Naomi House (click here for a link to find out more).  This walk took us from Winchester Cathedral, over hills, across rivers, and finally landing at Chichester Cathedral. I can officially say this was a very rewarding and challenging task to take on but I’m so proud that I did. Anyway, since then I’ve tried to carry on walking, just not to extent of that walk. Recently my parents and I went on another walk (only a 5 mile one) in the New Forest, and in the spirit of rekindling my love of photography I decided to take my camera with me. I managed to get a few nice scenic shots done, but mid walk my memory card decided to lock up and go in PROTECT mode.

Note to self: Invest in back-up battery and memory cards!

So without further ado I give you my attempt at some foresty photography:

 

As always, please let me know what you think? If you have any suggestions on how I could improve I’d be grateful of your input.

Take Care,

Iain x

Trying Something Different – Photography

Hello Ladies and Gents,

Recently I’ve been thinking about hobbies that I used to enjoy, but rarely get to to take part in, as you can probably tell from the title this post is going to relate more to Photography. I’ve always enjoyed taking photo’s while out and about, the problem is I got into the habit of using the built in settings. Obviously this causes a problem; yes you may be learning to frame and create a pleasant looking image, but you miss out on learning the skill it actually takes to balance the light level and shutter speed to create those images (I hope that makes sense, it did in my head).

While catching up with a friend (another blogger, Jenny from fashionfromafield, if you like fashiony stuff go check her out),  who I hadn’t seen in about 3 years, in London last weekend we got talking about taking pictures and I got to use her fancy new camera instantly sparking my interest in this hobby again.  Through our chat I remembered how I used to enjoy taking my camera, an Olympus E500 DSLR, to zoos in order to practice.  Obviously the fact that you’re taking pictures of fascinating animals helps when creating an image, but it also helped my get used to focusing on moving targets and the patience it takes to photograph a subject out of your control.  Anyway last year I did just that, the family and I visited Marwell Zoo and I took along my camera. Out of all the photos I captured I found only a few were actually worth using, the problem is I lost my card-reader and so had no way of processing them…..until now! Turns out I had forgotten that I leant my sister the card reader when she went on holiday and had never claimed it back.

And so, after a little while remembering how to process the images, below are some of the photos I captured.  Unfortunately I cannot remember the actual names of some of these animals, so if you have any idea please let me know!

I’d love to hear what you guys and gals think about these photos, and if you have any tips/tricks that you think I could use. Again, thank you all for taking the time to read through my general ramblings and thoughts about any of the things I post here.  I know I don’t post all that regularly, but when I do I hope you enjoy it.

Catch you later,

Iain

Gaming Spotlight – Hearthstone

Hello ladies and gents,

So this weeks Gaming Spotlight comes from an already established and well known games developer, Blizzard Entertainment. That’s right the huge guys behind such blockbuster gaming series as Diablo and World of Warcraft (often lovingly referred to as WoW). Hearthstone is the company’s latest creation; a blend of the much loved characters and graphic style of WoW, with the strategic thinking and patience of a trading card game. Yes, I know this is yet another card related game but I promise it is more in depth and along the lines of a video game than the previous ones, so bear with me……again.

Gameplay

The aim of this turn-based game is to defeat your opponent (either human or A.I.) by depleting their heroes health, while defending yourself using a varying array of cards.  The players selection of hero can shape the way in which they handle their card strategy, the hero’s represent the varied classes available in the pre-existing Warcraft lore and determine what special cards and ability the player receives in-game. The current classes available are:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The match starts with both players drawing a new card from their deck – this is a collection of 30 cards selected before starting a game. The choice of deck can either be a pre-assembled ‘basic’ pack, or can be designed and customised by the player for strategic plays. The cards available to players can vary between class specific and general cards, this means each hero has their own strengths and weakness’.

Each turn the player can choose to play any of the cards from their hand, use hero powers, command summoned minions to attack, or attack the opponents hero directly if their hero is equipped to do so. Sounds simple enough, until you realise you’re actions are limited by a mana supply, this resource pool is refreshed at the start of each turn. Each player starts with 0 mana crystals and gains one every new turn up to a maximum of 10. Each card and hero ability requires the player to spend a certain amount of mana crystals in order to play it, this is where the strategy and patience comes in! Often throughout gameplay the more mana crystals a player has the stronger and more impressive cards are revealed, opening the game up to more possibilities. The cards within a players deck can have a range of abilities that the player must use offensively and in defence. Some notable abilities are:

  • Taunt – When played this card draws all attacks from your opponent and must be defeated before any damage can be done to the rest of your active cards.
  • Battlecry – The card will carryout a specified action as soon as it is played, an example of this could be adding +2 attack to a friendly minion or healing the player for a stated amount.
  • Deathrattle – When this card dies it’s effect will activate, this could be summoning another minion, or damaging the enemy hero.

As you might be able to guess a players ability to manage their cards abilities and plan the order in which cards are released is key in becoming the victor.

Guide to the Hearthstone UI
Guide to the Hearthstone UI

Graphics

The visual style of this game is graphic, goofy, and beautifully created. Each card has its own artwork, and appeals to the lover of graphic novels inside me. The purpose, health, attack, and mana cost of each card are clearly shown and integrated into the card designs without sacrificing the overall style.  Reading through a few articles about Hearthstone, some reviewers considered the artwork too childish and in turn fear that the game would only appeal to younger audiences.  I can appreciate this viewpoint, but I do not think that a graphic style alone can limit a game to a specific age group, the graphics are fun and remind me of the years I spent as a child collecting and battling Pokemon cards (I wasn’t a huge collector, but it was the thing to do back then).

One of my favourite things about Hearthstone is their attention to detail to the game board itself.  There are 4 possible game boards available to play on, each of which has its own interactive areas. While waiting for their opponent to decide on what cards they are going to play, players can find various objects to click on, activating fun and unique events. Some of my favourites include loading and firing a catapult, smashing a chapels windows, and annoying a nesting gryphon. Although this may not seem like a thrilling addition to the game, it keeps me entertained between turns.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Final Thoughts

Hearthstone is an addictive card game that features fluid animations, quirky graphics and engaging gameplay. Don’t let the games link to the WoW series put you off playing this game, personally I have only dipped my toe into the pool that is the Warcraft world and I have not found it to be a disadvantage.  The cards are all easy to understand and I am always learning new strategies and techniques with each match I play. Overall if you have ever had an interest in trading card games or fancied pitting your strategic mind against likeminded gamers, this is the game for you. Hearthstone is available on both PC and Mac, and is currently free to download and play.

So that’s it for this Gaming Spotlight, let me know if you found this review helpful, and your thoughts on Blizzard’s latest release. If you have any suggestions of games you think I should have a look at or just want to say hey, please feel free to send me a message on any of the social media links below.

Catch you later.

Social media Links: Twitter / Instagram

Disclaimer: Images courtesy of Blizzard Press Kits

Most Used Apps

Hello there,

So I’ll lay it out on the table for you all; I’ve become attached.  Attached to my phone and iPad that is, to be more precise the Apps that I use.  I’m sure in this age of smartphones and tablets we all have apps that pretty much run (or in some cases ruin) our lives.  Let’s face it there are apps for pretty much everything; from calorie counters to crushing candies, so I thought I’d give you glimpse into the gaming apps that keep me glued to my devices.

Smash Hit (created by Mediocre)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is the most recent addition to my App catalogue, and it is by far one of the most addicting games to date.  The game is simple; throw balls towards oncoming obstacles to clear your path.  I know it doesn’t sound as exciting or thrilling as an action game but trust me give it a chance.  You only possess a limited supply of silver balls so the player must rely on good timing and aim to be able progress through the levels.  The graphic style is minimal but futuristic, which is always a soft spot for me.  The sound design mirrors that of the visuals, background audio provides a fantastic ambience but is contrasted by the shattering of crystal blockades and structures.  Smash Hit is available on both iOS and Android systems and is currently free (a £1.49 Premium version is available, allowing access to Cloud saving, Stats, and restarting from checkpoints).

Magic Piano (created by Smule)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This app appeals to the musician in me, and if you are a fan of games like Guitar Hero then this game is worth a try.  Magic Piano allows you to play along to thousand of tracks by simply following dots on the screen.  As the song begins the player must tap the screen as the coloured dots reach the highlighted area, the difficulty of each song can be chosen at the start.  The difficulty challenges the player from using two finger commands (Easy) up to four finger responses (Hard).  This game has been on my tablet for about a year now and I have yet to become tired of it.  The choice of musical genres and the ever present urge to 100% complete a song is irresistible to me.  The choice of songs and instruments to choose from are limited at the start but more are unlocked as you progress in levels, or they can be purchased for both in-game and real currency.  Smule have a number of musically orientated apps, but this is the most addictive in my opinion.  Magic Piano is currently available on both iOS and Android systems and is currently free to purchase.

QuizUp (created by Plain Vanilla)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is for all you pub quizzers out there! The aim of the game here is to quite literally be the the know-it all of a desired area of study both academic and entertainment. Once you have downloaded the app (and created a profile, allowing you to track your progress/wins and losses/other fun stats), the player chooses a topic, of which there are quite literally hundreds of, and a contender is found.  The contestants then battle it out in seven rounds of multiple choice questions, of which the points scored are determined by how fast the correct response is selected. This is not a gladiator-esque affair though I’m afraid, both parties are awarded with points toward their progress in the selected category; the victor getting a sizeable amount more than their now humiliated opponent. QuizUp is a great way to test your knowledge and in turn learn things you had no idea about.  The app allows for users to add friends, chat to other players about your recent battle of minds, and discussion boards to talk about topic suggestions. As with all the other apps, QuizUp is free on all operating systems.

Honorable Mention: Evil Apples (created by Evil Studios)

I won’t spend long going into this app, for a simple reason; it is an application based on a game I recently posted a Gaming Spotlight on.  The aim of Evil Apples is the same as that of Cards Against Humanity (of which you can read my full review here). Users are pitted against each other to provide the funniest answer they can from a hand of randomly generated cards.  It is then down to the card tsar to choose the best response, in this case the winner of the hand is awarded five coins. The overall champion is the player who is awarded seven winning hands. It must be said and made clear that this application has no affiliation with the creators of Cards Against Humanity. The only flaw I have with this app is that it limits the amount of games you can play (against strangers, against your friends is free). Each game costs one slice of in-app cake, slices of cake can be purchased for real life money or they are awarded daily. The app itself is free and is fun for just filling a few minutes, but obviously your enjoyment is limited due to the cake issue, funny really cake being the killer of enjoyment!

So ladies and gentlemen of the smartphone world, those were the four main applications that are currently sapping away my life and phone battery at present.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this little summary of games that I play while out and about, please do get in touch if you think there’s an app that I should be checking out!

Gotta run, some wise-guy thinks he can outsmart me in the topic of the Marvel Universe Movies.

Wish me luck x

 

Social media Links:

Twitter / Instagram

Gaming Spotlight – Cards Against Humanity

So for this Gaming Spotlight I’m going to review something a bit different, a card game.  Cards Against Humanity was created by a group of friends for a New Years Eve Celebration, and then developed further for wider release later.  Funds were created using Kickstarter, a company that offers media creatives a way to fund/develop their projects through peer pledges.  Cards Against Humanity is a game designed to be played by you and your friends (ideally 4 – 20+ players), and reveals how well you know your compadre’s sense of humour.  Now a slight warning is needed with this game as some of the cards are quite…. shall we say adult in nature, giving it a suggested age rating of 17+.  The game originally was released solely for USA release, but recently due to popular demand a UK version has been unveiled (this is the version I purchased).

Best. Game. EVER!

Will Wheaton

Gameplay

So down to the nitty-gritty.  How is the game played? Inside the box are two sets of cards, one Black and one White.  The Black Cards contain either a question or a fill-in-the-blank style statement, the White Cards have the corresponding answers.  At the start of the game each player draws ten White Cards that only they may see for the time being.  Now bear with me, as this is what it says in the actual instructions:

“The player who recently pooed first begins as the Card Tsar and plays a Black Card”

Box Cards
Black and White Cards – So many possibilities!

That’s right boys and girls, this simple statement gives the idea of the tone this game will have, but I’m sure you can find other ways to decide who begins the game.  Moving on, the Card Tsar then reads out the text on the Black Card, the other players must then answer/fill in the blanks by passing the Card Tsar one of their White Cards face down.  These answers are then shuffled by the Card Tsar, once this is done he/she must then read out each card combination with the whole group, preferably premising it with the text on the Black Card each time.  I hope you followed that all the way through, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds trust me!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Scoring

 Whichever combination the Card Tsar finds the most humorous is the winner and wins one Awesome Point, I usually measure this by awarding them the Black Card of that round. A new Card Tsar is then chosen and all players draw back up to ten cards. So where does the game end? That’s up to you to decide! Believe it or not this game is actually designed for the players to make up their own rules and to remix the game to how the see fit.  So you could decide that the first player to get 10 Awesome Points is crowned the Court Jester and wins the round, or maybe your cruel streak creeps into the game and those who are not victorious must carry out a forfeit while the winner looks on smugly. The choice is yours!

Final Thoughts

Personally I think the game is a great way to spend an hour or so with your friends, trying to make each other laugh and in some cases shocked. Admittedly if you are sensitive towards politically incorrect jokes, this game is probably not for you. I love that it has been created by a group of mates and then developed through peer-to-peer support schemes.  The fact that the designers also factored in the choice for players to remix and change the game to how they see fit is frankly awesome. So if you’re in the market for a new card game, specifically one that will make you chuckle and show off your naughty side, I suggest Cards Against Humanity!

Thanks for taking the time to read through this Gaming Spotlight, I’m going to try and post a bit more regularly as I’ve been a bit all over the place lately.  If you have any suggestions of games I might like or in fact anything to do with blogging (I’m still a newbie) then please feel free to comment.

Alright catch you later,

Iain

Gaming Spotlight – Papers, Please

Everybody who’s ever travelled abroad has come across the necessary evil that is Border Control! That’s right the endless queuing, holding tightly onto all your important documents, and hoping you haven’t forgotten anything in fear of the dreaded strip search!  If you were hoping for a game that challenges you to sneak through this hall of scrutiny, then I’m afraid Papers, Please is not the game for you. Instead, this fantastic independently created game puts you in the position of a Border Control Operator, that’s right it is your job to check and examine all the people trying to enter your country.  What country is that? The glorious, communist, country of Arstotzka.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Papers, Please is the creation Lucas Pope (@dukope), and was originally submitted to Steam Greenlight (a branch of Valve’s Steam distribution platform designed specifically to promote and develop Indie games) on 11th April 2013.  After a huge celebrated welcome and community support the game was greenlit on 1st May 2013, giving Pope the opportunity to complete the game fully and release it to a wider audience.

Grim yet affecting, it’s a game that may change your attitude the next time you’re in line at the airport.

(Simon Parkin writing for The New Yorker)

The gameplay of Papers, Please has the player inspect arrivals’ documents as they reach the Border Control Booth.  At the start of each day you will be given a short briefing, this will include rules for admission.  As the game goes on more and more rules will be added and omitted, it is down to you to remember these rules and who you will be allowing into the country. Using a varied range of tools (questioning, fingerprinting, full body scans) you must determine whether their papers are in order.  If they aren’t, the player must then choose whether to have the applicant arrested, or simply deny them entry.  This all seems pretty straight forward, until your morals as a human being are brought into question.  As you progress through the game you will be faced with a number of moral dilemmas, such as allowing the wife of an immigrant through despite her lacking complete papers, or accepting bribes to allow a wanted criminal through the border.  At the end of the day your performance is evaluated and you are awarded a pay-check, this is where the game adds further moral choices for the player.  You must then decide how to spend your hard-earned money; on rent, food, heat, and other necessities in low-class housing for your family and yourself.  Will you put the safety and well being of your family before the security of the country, or do you focus on protecting your glorious country regardless of the consequences?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The game has a wonderfully designed graphic style which personally I fell in love with straight away, it suits the overall feeling and theme of the game perfectly. This coupled with the fantastic music, range of interesting characters, and the fact that there are twenty different endings depending on your choices made, make the game a joy to play.

Gaming Spotlight – Defence of the Ancients 2 (aka DOTA 2)

So for my first Gaming Spotlight I’m actually going to start with a recent favourite of mine, Defence of the Ancients 2 (or has it has become lovingly condensed to, as these things often are, DOTA 2). The amazing development team Valve created DOTA 2,  these guys were the genius’ behind such game series as Left 4 Dead, Half-Life, and Portal. They are also the development team behind the now widely used Steam distribution platform.

Valve Games

Now before I begin, are you all sitting comfortably? As with building a house, foundations must be laid first before a solid understanding can be made. In this case it’s the getting to grips with the type of game DOTA 2 is; At its core DOTA 2 is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (guess what kids…. Yep that’s right here comes another abbreviation – it’s a MOBA).  The idea behind this sub-genre of game is to have two teams of players, aided by computer controlled units, destroy their opponents main ‘base’ structure.  The map is often designed with three pre-made paths, referred to as “lanes”, which lead to each base. Along these lanes are strategically placed automated towers that the players must destroy and advance past.

Map_of_MOBA
Generic layout for a MOBA map

In the case of DOTA 2, the teams are made up of 5 players each controlling a single hero unit.  These heroes come in lots of different shapes and sizes, ranging from the sleek, cold-hearted ‘Drow Archer’, to the gruesome and menacing ‘Pudge’.  Each player’s hero comes with a pre-designed set of unique abilities that they can use to destroy their enemies and claim victory.  The abilities often take the form of four base abilities (which can be tuned up with each new level achieved) and a fifth more powerful one, often referred their ‘Ultimate/Ulti’. The selection of teams individual heroes, and their ability to use said hero as part of a team, is a vital part in becoming victorious.  DOTA 2 requires a large amount of teamwork from all those involved, whether that be defending your lane against the advancing enemy or summoning the whole team to attack a single player (known as ‘ganking’).

DOTA 2 Characters: Drow Archer // Pudge
DOTA 2 Characters: Drow Archer // Pudge

I can appreciate that this kind of game may not be to everyone’s tastes, and I’ll be honest with you, the game does have quite a steep learning curve.  With that said, I have really enjoyed getting to grips with both the controls and understanding how each individual hero can be used to achieve the most deadly/effective warrior.  My final conclusion to DOTA 2 would be this; if you’re a fan of Real Time Strategy (aka RTS games… had to squeeze in another few abbreviations before I signed off) and not afraid to spend a little time learning the ropes DOTA 2 is worth having a look at.  Also the game is completely free, okay I may be leading you astray there, with the exception of a few OPTIONAL in-game payments (for the most part these unlock purely customisation options for your heroes), the game is free to play.  How can you argue you with that?

Catch you later gamers and gamerettes,

Iain x

On The Brighter Side

Hello ladies and gents. boys and girls, just pretty much anybody.

Well it’s been a difficult week or so; car accidents (don’t panic it was a very minor kerfuffle), sorting out my final days of work, and slowly resolving some issues from my past.  That is not what this post is about, in fact it’s quite the opposite.  Instead of wallowing in self pity, as is so easy to do in these situations, I’ve been trying to think about those elements that bring a smile to my face.

New Music, New Mood

One of the first things I consider a kick up the arse and gets me into a better mood is discovering a new band/songs that can completely alter how I’m feeling. This can be anything from listening to the upbeat and loud tones of ska bands like Reel Big Fish, to the sultry tones of a recent discovery Gregory Porter.

Reel Big Fish, hold specific significance for me as years ago I was going through some rough times and a friend introduced me to them.  The mixture of a rocking horn section and fun lyrics always brings a smile to my face even now.

The latter is a recent discovery for me; Gregory Pointer is a baritone jazz/soul singer based in Brooklyn and can lift my mood whether he’s singing a slow ballad or an upbeat swing track.  He’s been featured on Later with Jools Holland (another favourite of mine), is signed up to Blue Note Records, and always wears a modified flat cap which he refers to as his “Jazz hat”.

There are many other songs that cheer me up but it’s these two that really stick out in my mind at the moment.  Does anyone have this, and if so what songs/artists?

Friends and Family

This may sound like a pretty obvious one, but it’s taken me a long time to really appreciate the effect these can have on your mood.  The realisation only came to me recently when I hit a rather big low in my life, but these wonderful people have supported me and made me smile just when I needed it.  Now don’t go fetching the tissues and getting all soppy on me, this isn’t some Hugh Grant romcom, and besides this is meant to be a happy post.  So smile goddamn it!

The times I feel most at ease and happy are often when I’m spending time with my friends and family, be it just sat watching a film with my dad (my mum will instantly fall asleep within the opening credits), or going down the pub with my friends spending the night with good company and good drinks.

A Clean Swing

It’s a pretty simplistic feeling of satisfaction and achievement when you accomplish this one.  A clean, straight golf swing.  Golf is a past time that has become a great way for me to zone out and relax in the past few years.  My introduction to the sport came from my late Grandad, who over the years taught me how to hold a club to how to analyse my swing. The man was never in the game to become a pro, he just liked the feeling of getting out on a course and being able to hit a ball cleanly. I can fully appreciate this, there is something quite pure about hearing the ‘pop’ of a driver connecting with the ball and watching it fly straight to where you wanted it.

So this has just been a few little aspects of life that stop me from ever getting too down when it feels like everything is going wrong.

A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?