Warning: May contain mild spoilers for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

I finally finished Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (hereon AC: Valhalla, or just Valhalla) last night. I say finished – what I mean is I have completed all branches of the main narrative storyline: Norway, England, Asgard, Jotunheim, and the recently released Final Chapter update. Although I own and have played most of them, I’ve not completed all of the optional content and DLC packs. I might do so one day but for now I’m not in a rush to get back to the game.

So… Let’s get one thing out of the way first: AC: Valhalla is a good game. I’ve played roughly 110 hours of it, so it must have had something going for it…

It’s just that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was a much more fulfilling and enjoyable game – for me – on just about every level. Kassandra (I didn’t play as the brother, whatever his name is) was a much more “connectable” character than Eivor, and I found the story and setting of Odyssey more engaging. Combat was also more enjoyable and more varied, I found. The fact it also got me to sink days into the naval combat element, despite initially wanting to avoid it like the plague says something. I’ve put 150+ hours into Odyssey, and there’s still stuff I want to do in that game (when I eventually find time to get back to it).

One of the complaints about Odyssey I’d heard is that Kassandra was a “Mary Sue” character. I personally didn’t really get that from Kassandra, but Eivor gave me that feeling by the bucket load. No where was this more pronounced than in the optional Isle of Skye chapter where the two characters come face-to-face. Some of it can be put down to Eivor’s bravado and brashness, but a lot comes across as just Eivor is, well, The Chosen One™️. (Although I guess The High One would be more appropriate…)

So what did I like about Valhalla then? Well, the overall story was interesting, if you’ve been mildly paying attention to the meta-plot of the Assassin’s Creed games (if you haven’t, then you may not enjoy it as much). I do wish they had spent more time on some elements, less on others, and some elements seemed to come out of nowhere – more than once I felt like I’d missed some thread that explained why a thing was happening, or a character was doing what they did. But I digress. A lot of the character interactions were genuinely heart-warming, and you got a real sense of a “found family” feeling between the various inhabitants of Ravensthorpe. The setting was interesting – I enjoyed Dark Ages England overall, and each region felt just distinct enough to the others… but it didn’t feel there was as much to accidentally discover as there was in Ancient Greece. Combat was fine, if a little repetitive, and stealth gameplay didn’t always feel as viable as going full jomsviking – particularly in the early game. After a bit of progression, Eivor becomes a walking paragon of death-dealing and it doesn’t really matter how you play – you’re unlikely to die, and enemies very much will. It’s fun, in a power-fantasy way, but can get old.

One thing that came out of playing Valhalla was that I really wanted to get some fantasy Viking and Saxon miniatures to paint up. By “fantasy” I basically mean stylised and not historically accurate. But I haven’t been able to find a range that quite matches what I’m looking for, so that project is on hold for now.

It might seem like I’m negative on Valhalla, but like I said a couple of paragraphs ago, it is a good game. I think my problem is I had high hopes and expectations after Odyssey that it might be a great game, and it didn’t meet that threshold. But that’s on me, not Valhalla. If I hadn’t come into it without a game to compare to, I might have loved Valhalla more.

But – it has got me interested enough in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, that I’m definitely going to pick that game up. Basim was one of the highlights of Valhalla, so I’m looking forward to exploring both his back-story, in a return to more traditional Assassin’s Creed gameplay than the RPG-lite recent games, and hopefully find out a bit more of where he’s going in the future.

A row of 17 books, mainly hardback fiction, on a wooden sideboard top
My 2023 (physical) “TBR” shelf

For the first time in a long time, I have a physical shelf of books that form my “to be read” list. (aka TBR in bookish circles)

Over the last few years I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading regularly for fun. Which is odd, given I live with someone who has their own book review blog, YouTube channel, and read 210 books last year. This year I want to make a concerted effort to try and be more consistent, so I’ve put the books I want to read sometime soon front and centre in my office – they’re on top of the sideboard that sits to my right when I’m at my computer desk, or left when I’m at my hobby desk, and within arms-reach of both.

The list itself is a mix of old favourites I haven’t read in years, new fiction reads I’m sure I’ll like, some new authors or genres I’m not familiar with, and a couple of non-fiction books to round things out. I still have 3 books I’m waiting on physical copies of to arrive. The full list, in no particular order, is:

  1. Hallowed Ground – Richard Strachan
  2. The Hollow King – John French
  3. Rogal Dorn: The Emperor’s Crusader – Gav Thorpe
  4. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
  7. The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien
  8. The Triumph of Saint Katherine – Danie Ware
  9. Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne – Marc Collins
  10. Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett
  11. Mort – Terry Pratchett
  12. Soul Music – Terry Pratchett
  13. Dune – Frank Herbert
  14. Dead Lies Dreaming – Charles Stross
  15. Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories – Agatha Christie
  16. Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories – Agatha Christie
  17. Briardark – C. L. Werner
  18. Haven’t You Heard? – Marie Le Conte
  19. Escape – Marie Le Conte

Hopefully these won’t be the only books I read through the year; I’m giving myself permission to pick up new books throughout the year as they pique my interest.

In terms of keeping track, I might use Micro.Blog, as it’s added several book-related features over the last couple of years, and has a nice and simple companion app for iOS, called Epilogue. Another option, that my partner recommended, is The Storygraph. Naturally, I’ll be posting updates to this blog too!

A 3D printed prototype of my 'MagPuck' jig for adding magnets beneath wargaming bases. It is a grey plastic block with a recess for a base. At the bottom of the recess is a further recess which holds a 6mm x 2mm magnet. A small area has been carved away at the edge of the base recess to allow for levering the base out

One of the things I hoped to do when I bought my FDM 3D printer was to use it to solve small problems I was having. Today I designed and printed my first prototype. It’s not much to look at, but it is just the first iteration!

Glueing small magnets under the bases of miniatures is a common job I have to do, as it’s useful for storage, transportation, and adding some weight. Unfortunately, it’s a job that can be unnecessarily fiddly and messy. Getting the magnet to stay in place while the glue dries is a pain. Recently I hit upon a trick of using a magnet on the other side of the base to help with this issue, but making sure everything was in the right place could be made easier.

Enter what I’m nicknaming the “MagPuck” – a simple jig that will align a base with a magnet that ensures that the base magnet is held perfectly centred while glue dries. It’s simple but effective – with the prototype I was able to magnetise a batch of ten bases in just a minute or two.

No first attempt is perfect though – no doubt you’ve noticed where I had to carve out an indentation to let me lever out the base. The next iteration will have that built-in. Another change will be to make the MagPuck modular, so as to make it more efficient to print, while supporting multiple base sizes and magnet configuration. Below is a sneak peek at the next iteration, which I’ll be printing out as soon as the printer finishes some terrain I kicked off before I’d had my ideas on how to improve on the prototype.

A screenshot of some Laravel user authentication boilerplate code

The festive break seems to be one of the times I manage to sit down and try something new. This year I’m taking the time to learn a little of the PHP framework Laravel, by way of re-writing an app I made last year with React and Firebase. That app always felt a little fragile to me, even though it succeeded at its basic functions – probably why I haven’t gone back to update it at any point in the last year. In my defence, that app was a learning exercise too, as I wanted to brush up on React for my day job before starting on a project at the start of 2022.

But safe to say, I’m much more comfortable with “the old ways” of PHP. I’ve been writing PHP in one form or another for close to 25 years, and even though I wouldn’t ever call myself an expert due to my on-off usage of it over the last decade, I do still have the basics of the language in my head. I can follow along and debug most code I’ve encountered just fine. PHP 8.x is different enough that I definitely need to follow some tutorials to write it, but there’s still a lot I recognise. Laravel itself has a lot of similar concepts to frameworks I’ve used in the past, it just does them with modern practices and architecture. Again, lots I’m unfamiliar with, but plenty that I recognise.

Apart from making I Painted This! more robust and supportable (in my view), one of the primary drivers for this exercise – other than as a convenient excuse for learning – is that the app primarily uses Twitter for authentication. That’s not something I’m comfortable with any more, so it’s got to go – and if I needed to do that change, I’d be as well giving it a complete overhaul!

With the news that Amazon Studios, in partnership with Henry Cavill and Vertigo Pictures, are buying the film and TV rights to the Warhammer 40,000 IP, I have a couple of initial thoughts:

  • I can’t wait for a whole new audience to miss the point that the fascists are not the good guys, in much the same way as Judge Dredd, The Boys, Starship Troopers, Robocop, and many others…
  • I really hope they focus on telling stories in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, and not the story of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. A larger-scale, bigger budget Hammer & Bolter or Interrogator would probably work quite well, in my opinion… Possibly even something like Angels of Death, although I’m not convinced Space Marine stories will work well without 1) watering down many aspects of what makes them interesting, 2) spending a lot of money to get the look right.

With those worries stated, Cavill is a massive fan, and takes sticking to the heart of source material seriously – as seen in his disputes with the direction of The Witcher, so if anyone can help steer the ship correctly, he’s probably one of the best picks out there.