I'M ON HOLIDAY! Don't throw too many parties and piss on the carpet while I'm gone, okay?
Friday, December 19, 2003
Monday, December 15, 2003
If you're playing KOTOR (or have any ambitions of playing it) and you haven't found all four Star Maps yet, turn back now. This post is going to be very spoiler heavy, so if you read something here that is going to ruin the surprise for you later in the game, it's not my fault. You have been fairly warned.
You don't want to read any more if you've not got all four Star Maps yet.
Look, just come back tomorrow when I'm going to rant about something harmless like Saddam Hussein being captured by the Yanks in Iraq.
Right, it's *your* fault if you get spoiled, okay? I assume no responsibility.
Here we go, spoilers ahoy.
Other than my brief foray into work on Saturday, I've been playing KOTOR *all* weekend. If it weren't for the fact that I had to sleep, I would have been playing it for the whole 48 hours. This game has a Force Choke on my gaming affections at the moment. It's superbly superlative defying. I *have* to get this game completed for this time next week, as that's when I fly off to France for Christmas, and I don't want to leave this game uncompleted until the New Year.
What makes this game special isn't the graphics, the character animation, or the particle effects or any of those ephemeral, technical bells and whistles that seem de rigeur for every title under the sun these days, it's the characterisation, and the story.
I'd just completed the recovery of the third Star Map on Manaan, and was just off to collect the last one on Korriban when suddenly the Ebon Hawk gets captured by the Leviathan, Darth Malak's ship. Oh shit, you think. They can't force the final confrontation on you this quickly. Here's the spoiler - they don't. If anything, this is the beginning of your journey into the game.
Here is where all the subtle clues that have been placed before you in cutscenes, visions and pieces of throwaway dialogue suddenly coalesce into a truth so unexpected, so shocking, that I was physically blown away. I don't think I've ever been as shocked by a game before.
The game constantly paints a picture of Darth Revan as an evil monster - all the Jedi you talk to lead you to assume that Revan was killed when Malak turned on his master as Bastila and her strike team went to capture him. For you to confront Malak on the Leviathan and then discover that *YOU* are Darth Revan, that Bastila, and the rest of the Jedi you have met and have been made to trust have lied and misled you thoughout the *whole game* up to that point, it's absolutely mind-wrenching. It's also classic Star Wars, and I really should have seen it coming, but it's a testament to the writing, and the subtlety of the game's execution that I didn't.
*This* is how games should be written. I can't wait to go home tonight and seen how the rest of the game unfolds.
Saturday, December 13, 2003
Much as I've been tempted to take a sick (Sith?) day or five to play KOTOR of the past week, alas, I've not had the luxury - as you'll have been able to tell from the paucity of updates in the last week. The fact I'm updating on a Saturday tells you that I'm actually at work, rather than at home, because the Delphi thing that I've been complaining about for the last month needs to be finished for Monday, and at 7.15pm on Friday, I still had a couple of hours' work to do, so I'm having to finish it in my own time over the weekend, as we've got a deadline for all development work to be finished by the end of the week, and I've still got another two tasks to do. It's going to be a busy week.
Thankfully, I've finished the major bit of work I wanted to do today, and it's pretty much ready for building, but I've just got a couple of minor bugs I want to iron out before I can go back home to Bastila, Mission, Canderous, Carth and the rest of the KOTOR crew.
The patch for KOTOR has really sorted out all the problems I was having with the game. I've had a couple of seemingly random crashes on Tatooine and the Yavin merchant's station, but no memory leaks or saggy frame rates at all. Whenever this is down to the patch or the memory manager I installed, but either way, it's enabled me to up the resolution up to 1024x768 and put on the x4 Anti-Aliasing, x4 ansitropy, soft shadows and all the other natty little graphical options. And it looks *gorgeous*.
Not that you should ever judge a game on its looks, but it all helps add to the atmosphere and the experience. I've got both my Scout/Jedi Guardian character and Bastila tooled up with modified double-bladed lightsabers now, and they really kick some arse. The combat animations for the melee weapons, particularly the lightsabers, are fantastic, right out of the duel scenes in The Phantom Menace - I could watch Bastila carve up Mandalorians all day.
Vice City was really something, but this romps away with my personal Game Of The Year award by quite a substantial margin. I'm twenty hours in already, I've probably played through less than half of the game, and considering that there are nine combinations of classes to play through as (Scout/Soldier/Scoundrel x Jedi Guardian/Jedi Sentinel/Jedi Consular), and you can play through these as both Light and Dark side, Male or Female, that gives you 36 possible individual combinations to play the game with. That's a not inconsiderable replay potential. So KOTOR is going to keep me busy for a long while yet.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Yesterday was full of slips of memory.
Firstly, Fleur forgot to tell me until I dropped her off at school that she was staying late for a Parent/Teacher evening.
I forgot that Time Commanders was on and forgot to tell her that the time she wanted me to pick her up at clashed with it.
Fleur forgot that she *never* finishes on time at these Parents evenings, and that her estimated finishing time of 6.45pm was about 45 minutes too optimistic (and coincidentally, the precise length of Time Commanders).
I forgot that I'd forgotten that I'd missed Time Commanders, so when Fleur told me she was sorry I had, I was really rather annoyed. So annoyed, in fact that I had to spend the rest of the evening playing Knights Of The Old Republic up until midnight.
The only downside of that was that the slowdown I described yesterday is getting almost intolerable, particularly in the area transitions, where things slow down to a crawl, you try to move and suddenly you're halfway across the map. A quick bit of research this morning and I find the problem is being caused by - wait for it - MEMORY LEAKS!
Unsurprisingly, there's a patch already (duly downloaded and will be installed tonight) which apparently fixes the worst of them, and I've also found a hint that will help prevent these slowdowns. Using a memory manager (one of which I have handy from an old PCF coverdisk) to free up memory once it gets below a certain level will sort out these problems. I was a bit disgusted, because despite my machine being over 2 years old, it's hardly geriatric, and still surpasses the recommended requirements for the game in every respect.
However, if there are memory leaks in the game, it doesn't matter how much memory you have, or how fast a processor you have, as the leak just eats up all your system resources - which explains the performance problems. I have to admit I expected better from Bioware - normally they're pretty good when it comes to performance optimisation, but hey, this is why we have patches, I suppose.
Expect a report back tomorrow on the success (or not) of the patch and memory manager workaround.
Monday, December 08, 2003
It's been quite an intense weekend. Christmas shopping, fending off overdraft limits, saving the Known Universe,... There's no rest for the wicked, y'know?
The game I've been waiting for well over a year for has finally arrived.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic.
Was it worth the wait? FUCK YES.
I barely know where to start in describing this game - it's simply wonderful. It's not hardcore roleplaying by any means, but it's Star Wars. Totally, utterly, incontrovertibly STAR WARS. Whilst this might not mean much to you poor, soulless creatures who've not embraced George Lucas's Space Opera with your entire corporeal being, for a life-long fan (read 'Geek') like myself, it makes *all* the difference.
Blasters. Lightsabers. Vibroblades. Body armour that makes absolutely no difference in a fight at all. Cannon fodder Sith Troopers. Dark Jedi. More aliens than you can shake a stick at. Everything you associate with Star Wars, bar greasy mop-haired farm boys and Jar-Jar Binks is in there. And it's wondrous, truly wondrous.
I've not been playing for very long, about six or seven hours, and I'm only now at the point where I can rescue Bastila (one of the lead characters in the game) from some vile criminal scum. Other than a few frame rate problems in the Upper City on Taris (where it's pushing an obscenely high number of polygons) and some teething troubles with the camera and control method, it's been great. The graphics are fantastic, and it plays more like a third person action game than a full-on RPG, though that's not entirely a bad thing.
For people who are stat-adverse, it's pretty much the perfect RPG, as it hides all the numbers if you want it to, and does all the dirty dice-rolling for you. On the other hand, if you really want to tailor your character to your each and every whim, the game allows you to do that too. The interface is absolutely inspired - simple, clean, and whilst it might take you a while to get used to the controls, once you do, it's the most natural thing in the world. KOTOR simply screams "PLAY ME NOW!". And you will. And you won't want to put it down.
Game of the Year? So far, *SO* GOOD.
Friday, December 05, 2003
From my State e-mail:
Thanks for your inquiry re BREED. I have forwarded this on to CDV and while
we don't have any review copies at present, you will receive yours as soon
as they become available.
MY FIRST FREE GAME!
Having a videogames website ROCKS. (Lawsuits not withstanding) That's just really made my day.
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Fleur and I were in Richmond on Saturday, seeing our Canadian friends Chris and Tanya, who we'd not seen for nearly a year after Chris left Fleur's school in rather mysterious circumstances, which I won't go into here.
We had a really nice day, and got the chance to do a little bit of shopping. Fleur picked up an exceptionally exotic purple top from Next, and I acquired the Special Edition of The Two Towers, as HMV were selling it for £25. I finally had the time to get around to watching it last night, and whilst it was somewhat less impressive on my TV than on the big screen, it was a thoroughly enjoyable 314 minutes.
As good as the Helm's Deep battle scene is, my favourite moments of the film are with Gollum. The CGI work for Gollum is astounding - it's arguably the best performance in the film (though some people might say that's not very hard). Andy Serkis's performance is excellent, and probably my favourite scene in the film is where Gollum is arguing with Smeagol. The interpretation of Gollum/Smeagol is really quite clever - the stereotypical impression of Gollum is a deeply evil, corrupt figure. Here, whilst Gollum's corruption by the One Ring is plain, he's a much more complex character than that - tortured, self-loathing and tragic. Gollum is a truly pitiable character, and for the animators and CGI team to be able to get the audience to emote in such a fashion to a CGI character, is pretty astonishing. Compare Gollum to how most Star Wars fans treat Jar-Jar Binks, for example.
I need to watch it again with Fleur to get her ready to go and see The Return of The King with me, but I reckon that might not be until after the New Year, as we're sodding off to France for a fortnight over Christmas. Not that this really matters, it's hardly like it'll have disappeared from the cinema, is it?
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Friday, November 28, 2003
Undercover is your mantra. If more than 50 people know about a brand, it's not worth having. Setting trends is what you do; you work in fashion, film or media. You shop in small boutiques - in Notting Hill, or in retro shops and markets. Ten years ago you would have gone to Ibiza, now it's Reykjavik, Tallinn or Krakow. You're into technology - digital cameras, the latest MP3 players, mini-discs, decks and so on are crucial kit for expressing your creativity.
I spent some serious quality time with the Championship Manager 03/04 demo last night, and I'm impressed. This is how a football management game should be. All the previous versions of Championship Manager have reduced me to the state of the proverbial football manager chucking teacups at the players in the dressing room. This, however is more of an inspiring psychological analysis from Arsene Wenger.
Now, with the 2D engine, you can see tactical changes having an effect - and more importantly, that they *do* have an effect, unlike the pre-CM4 versions. The media feedback options are an excellent touch, as are the board and fan confidence updates. With all the CM4 bugs ironed out, this is pretty much an essential purchase for any football fan. With KOTOR being delayed, I was seriously tempted to pick it up at lunch today, but a quick look at my bank balance killed that impulse pretty much instantly.
It's going to have to wait until after I get paid - and what with KOTOR and Hordes Of The Underdark being released next friday, it might have to wait until after Christmas, but it's a fairly certain impending purchase, I think. There are good gaming times ahead, methinks.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
I decided not to bother with the Invisible War demo last night. It wasn't just that I couldn't be bothered with cracking out the laptop and doing the file transfer, Fleur's been wanting to get early nights so I only had two hours gaming time, and I figured that wasn't going to be enough to play the demo properly.
I'm half tempted not to play it at all, as I don't really want to spoil the impact of the full game, and I'd rather play a finished product than an unpolished and unrepresentative demo.
So, last night, with my precious 120 minutes of gaming time, I decided to try and finish off Neverwinter Nights. To my great surprise, I did. The whole of Chapter Four only took me two hours. I'm certain that I didn't I didn't play through every little side quest in the final chapter, but at Level 8/9 Fighter/Blackguard, you don't exactly need the extra experience.
The Mad Iain Judgment? The ending was a bit anti-climatic, on the whole. I did like the way Sharwyn pulls you aside as you get into the endgame - "Let's chat a bit" - but the actual end fight with Morag wasn't quite as apocalyptic as the fight with Sarevok at the end of Baldur's Gate, for example. I also was a little disappointed with the way it ends in the actual in game engine. Haedraline ticked me off for being an evil sod, but did I get back to Castle Never for the fanfares from Lord Nasher and a congratulatory snog with Sharwyn or Aribeth? (who I'd managed to save from her vengeful path of self-destruction)
No. Bang! Uber-ambiguous Cutscene. Not particularly impressive. Still, at least I managed to complete it, which is more than I've ever managed with Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II. Overall, it's a very good game - it doesn't stray too far from AD&D staples, but that's not too much of A Bad Thing, if you never get the time or the opportunity to play Pen 'n' Paper AD&D. The upcoming Hordes Of The Underdark expansion pack should add a bit more longevity, and the extra tilesets, character customisations, etc, should really allow people to start to do something special with the Aurora SDK, as finding decent mods for NWN has been pretty hard so far. I'm tempted to try and write one myself, but I'm not sure I've got enough time to invest. With the gold edition being £30, it's a good investment for 80 odd hours of action - and that's if you only play through it once.
Finally, a totally games unrelated Judgment.
There's a guy at work who has a blue SMART car, one of these tiny super-mini Mercedes A-class cars. If that in itself wasn't bad enough, he's stuck "2 Fast 2 Furious" stickers in the windows, and put two huge silver stripes down the centre of the bodywork.
PAINTING YOUR CAR BLUE, STICKING TACKY DECALS TO THE WINDOWS AND THEN PUTTING SILVER STRIPES DOWN IT *WON'T* MAKE YOUR FUCKING SMART CAR LOOK LIKE A DODGE FUCKING VIPER!!
Honestly. Who on Earth does he think he's trying to kid?
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
I haven't waded into the Deus Ex: Invisible War demo debate yet purely on the grounds that I still haven't played it. I was going to play it last night, but I couldn't be bothered burning the zip file to disk and porting it over from my work laptop to my games rig. This was mainly because there were a handful of demos I wanted to try off the new PCG cover DVD;
Battle Engine Aquilia: My, this is pretty, oh so pretty. Pretty vacuous, unfortunately. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at - nothing short of jaw-droppingly stunning, but there's nothing at all to blog about the actual game itself. Just like the X-Box version then.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3: I kept hearing about how good this is, so I thought I had to try it. Now, I've never really been into football games (beyond my masochistic relationship with Championship Manager) primarily because I've never had a decent gamepad to play them on. But now I do, so I thought I'd give it a go. And it's good. I got painfully whipped at the standard difficulty level, though I suppose this is mainly due to not having played this kind of game in years. With a fairly feature locked demo, and no manual, you can't really discover the true depth of the game, but the actual control method and playing experience seem solid enough. I don't think I'd actually fork out £30 for it, but if the genre was more my thing, I seems like a decent enough purchase. My only complaint is that the controller setup options and menus are clearly designed to cater for a PS2, and absolutely no effort has been made to make them more PC friendly, which is disappointing. Oh, and it's horribly unrealistic. Emile Heskey scoring a hat-trick against Germany? Give over.
Need For Speed: Underground: 2 Fast? 2 Furious? Almost. Here again, loads of features have been locked out of the demo, but what it does give you (a single circuit track and a single drag strip) are nice taster levels. The gamepad rumble support is good - and annoyed Fleur immensely "it sounds like a baby's rattle" - the music is predictably dreadful and the graphics are brilliantly shiny. I have slight reservations about the actual handling of the car it gives you in the demo - the handling physics seems a little off and the turn rate seems a little inconsistent, with the odd instance of inexplicable understeer. However, it is nice to see the AI drivers make mistakes too. I do like my driving games, and this is a possible purchase, probably not at full price, but certainly a £20 tempter. The Underground career mode in the full version sounds much more rewarding than the standard arcade racing levels the demo lets you try.
Now I have these out of the way, I'll probably try Invisible War tonight, now that I have an extra week to complete NWN, thanks to the Atari marketting men. *spits*
[Edit:] Of course, KOTOR is being published by Activision, not Atari - *slaps self* - I daresay Bioware aren't too happy about KOTOR shipping on the same weekend as Hordes Of The Underdark.
Await The Judgment Of Mad Iain tomorrow.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
I was distracted by the TV as anticipated last night, so I didn't get to try out the Deus Ex: Invisible War demo, but I did get to have a play about with the Championship Manager 03/04 demo whilst I was watching Room 101 and Absolute Power. I don't know how many of you watch the latter of these comedies, but I've enjoyed it so far - it's not a huge laugh out loud comedy, but it's very clever and cutting. It's worth watching for Stephen Fry and John Bird alone.
The Champ Man demo was good - it seemed to be everything the CM4 demo was, but without the crippling bugs and with a few extra features. Very tempting, but for £30? I don't think so - maybe if I see it for £20. I got the demo itself off the coverdisk of the Christmas edition of PCG, which dropped through my letterbox unexpectedly yesterday. I noticed an interesting thing in the contributors column on the Editorial page - State's very own Tim Edwards is now a PCG Staff Writer. You kept that quiet, didn't you Tim? Well done, old boy. KOTOR also got a rather huge, and predictably gushing review from Ross Atherton, which has whetted my appetite even more to play the game. Only 3 days to go.
Monday, November 24, 2003
I'm making a concerted effort to try and complete Neverwinter Nights at the moment, because there's only four days left until KOTOR comes out, and once I have that in my possession, then I'm unlikely to be playing anything else until I've completed it, and I can't guarantee that I'll go back to NWN once I've experienced KOTOR.
I finally gotten into Chapter Four, with my Blackguard character, so I'm in the final stretch now. For all the complaints about how lacklustre the single player campaign is for NWN, I've enjoyed it a lot, and it was nice to spend a fair bit of Chapter Three in the company of dragons. Once you hit Level 15 or 16, things do tend to get ridiculously easy, particularly when you're able to summon Doom Knights or Vrocks and you're running around dual-wielding +3 weaponry. And with Improved Knockdown, even things like Fire Giants don't pose too much of a problem.
Even so, it's good fun, and the engine still looks rather lovely, if you've got the full screen anti-aliasing turned all the way up and you're using the high-res texture packs. With Hordes Of The Underdark just around the corner too, I reckon I'm still going to be playing it for a while, provided KOTOR doesn't seduce me too much.
I received the extra 512MB of memory I won off eBay on Saturday, and installed it before demoing Vice City to Flo and Alex. Oh boy, what a difference it makes. You can see the difference more with Halo, as that runs practically flawlessly now with no frame rate lags, even when there's a few dozen Flood on the screen. I'm hoping the extra RAM will prolong the life of my machine for another year or maybe even another 18 months.
Speaking of Halo - I'm stuck in The Library, predictably, at the tail end of the But I Don't Want To Ride The Elevator level, where you're trapped in a small chamber waiting for the Monitor to open the last security door and about three dozen Flood come at you. I hate the Popcorn Flood with all of my living soul.
But back to Flo and Alex's visit. With the weather this weekend being so bad - two days of constant rain - we did the only decent thing; spent lots of time going shopping, in pubs or otherwise indoors. Rather oddly, I think Alex appreciated Vice City more than Florence, though that's probably more down to the random, wanton violence level more than anything else. I'm not sure if they fully grasped the total freeform nature you can play the game in, but they definitely appreciated it certainly isn't something they should let their kids play. Flo didn't really like Halo much - too sci-fi and shootery for her tastes, I think. However, the real surprise hit was Colin McRae 2 which I've been playing a lot recently to make more use of my gamepad. Both Alex and Flo really liked it - so I decided to give them my old copy of Network Q Rally and the force feedback steering wheel that's been languishing in my boot since I bought it from eBay (and found out that it didn't work on my PC). Since their PC is a lot older than mine, their COM port is far more likely to work with the wheel. If it gets Phillippe (Flo and Alex's eldest son) playing games where you don't actually have to slaughter people for it to be fun, I think they'll be pleased.
I've been monitoring an interesting thread on State today - about the Deus Ex 2 demo. It's getting pretty heated - WHEN FANBOYS ATTACK! - but I'm keeping my counsel until I've actually played the demo. I've downloaded it with my work's prodigious bandwidth and I may get to try it out tonight - provided I'm not too distracted by Room 101 and Absolute Power - Monday's quite a good TV night.
Friday, November 21, 2003
Just look at all those hungry mouths we have to feed
Take a look at all the suffering we breed
So many lonely faces scattered all around
Searching for what they need
Is this the world we created?
What did we do it for?
Is this the world we invaded
Against the law?
So it seems in the end
Is this what we’re all living for today?
The world that we created
You know that every day a helpless child is born
Who needs some loving care inside a happy home
Somewhere a wealthy man is sitting on his throne
Waiting for life to go by
Is this the world we created?
We made it on our own
Is this the world we devastated
Right to the bone?
If there’s a God in the sky looking down
What can he think of what we’ve done
To the world that he created?
Thursday, November 20, 2003
I'm moderately miserable at the moment - neither of the teams in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals that I wanted to win actually won, thanks to the gloriously negative tactics employed by England and Australia, who could only manage a single try between them to reach the final, and will probably play out a grinding snore-a-thon on Saturday morning. Which I'll still get up to watch, natch, because these things only come around every four years.
Work has also had me on the verge of a psychotic episode all week, because I've been working for three weeks on a Delphi change that turned out to be 500% more complex than anticipated, we have no design documentation, and we can't run our application in debug mode, so you can't find where (and why) things are going wrong. I'm having to change tasks, purely to save my sanity so I don't rampage around Farnborough with a chainsaw - though I'm not sure that would be such an abnormal reaction to working in Farnborough for as long as I have.
I was also mightily miffed that extended edition of The Two Towers I was holding out for is retailing for £30. Okay, it's 4 DVDs, but I'm not paying £30 for a DVD, not even for TTT. ASDA are selling it for a more reasonable £25, but do they have a copy? NO. And will GAME price match them if don't have it in stock? NO. Shower of the proverbial parentless progeny.
The one bright spot on the horizon is that Fleur and I are hosting our friends Florence and Alex for the weekend, and Flo is a fellow gamer, so I can demo her a few of my latest titles that I've acquired since they last visited us. Halo, Vice City and Neverwinter Nights are surely going to be on the gaming menu,... as for the food menu, who can say? I've still got to do the shopping.
Monday, November 17, 2003
Friday, November 14, 2003
Remember how I told you about the Telephone Preference Service? Well, it's been a while now, and I've not had a single cold call. BLISS.
I've just signed up with the Mail Preference Service as well, since I'm getting sick of receiving letters offering me low cost loans to get me in even more debt. Apparently this will take 3-6 months to get a significant impact, though. I've also registered the two most common previous owners I still get mail for (despite them not having lived at the address for well over two years) in the hope I'll stop getting spam mail for them.
Fleur was out painting the town rouge with the rest of her Languages Department last night, so I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a couple of pints of beer, a chinese takeaway (Beef with satay sauce - mmmmm, cow-tastic!) and Vice City.
I'm having to replay the game from scratch, as it appears that it doesn't like using old save games from a previous installation. I'm not sure if this is to do with the time stamp on the files, or the fact the the previous installation was on ME (on a FAT32 file system) whereas it's now on XP (with an NTFS file system).
I'm not overly bothered - it's been a while since I've played the game extensively anyway, and it's hardly a chore playing through such a good game again. Particularly now that I've got my gamepad working - it makes such a difference when driving the vehicles (though I have to switch back to mouse & keyboard when on foot - which is no bad thing). Analogue steering is an absolute godsend, though you're still stuck with a twitchy on-off throttle. I even discovered the way you can shift your weight forward and back on the bikes, which I hadn't found out about with keyboard control. I spent a good 15 minutes driving up and down Ocean Beach pulling wheelies on a Sanchez dirt-bike. I haven't quite mastered the art of the stoppie yet, however.
I also got GTAIII installed, having figured out that like Vice City, it was the fact I'd had previous save games copied over that was preventing the game from running. I'm still not sure about GTAIII. Whilst it's got production values that shame most other titles, when you compare it to Vice City, I find it's seriously wanting - the music's crap, the player character is devoid of any personality at all, and the game just lacks that edge of grandeur that Vice City has. Don't get me wrong, it's a good game, but Vice City is *so* much better. GTAIII is the precocious young child to Vice City's seasoned Master.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
I haven't given you a recipe for a while so here's what I did for dinner last night.
Frankfurter Pasta: Serves Two
200g Tricolor pasta (any shape will do, though the swirl shaped ones are particularly good at holding the sauce)
One large onion, finely diced
Three large flat mushrooms, thickly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 Ramiro sweet pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium sized piece of broccoli (about 100g) cut into small florets
1 tin of diced tomatoes
6 frankfurters, cut into half inch pieces
Lots of fresh basil
Salt & pepper (to taste)
Dried chilli flakes or powder (to taste)
Fry the onions in olive oil over a high heat in a large saucepan, for several minutes until they turn translucent. Before they start to brown, add the sliced mushrooms, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Once the onions start to brown and the mushrooms start to wilt, add some balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. Add the ramiro pepper and the broccoli and allow the vegetables to steam for a couple of minutes. Add the sliced frankfurters, and then add the diced tomatoes.
Turn the heat down to medium, and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the basil, oregano and chilli to the sauce before cooking the pasta according to the instructions. When the pasta is al dente thicken the sauce if necessary with some tomato purée. Drain the pasta, and then add to the pan containing the sauce. Stir the pasta through the sauce, until it is mixed throughly, and then serve immediately, with parmesan cheese, to taste. Recommended beverages for accompanying this dish include chilled mineral water or a hearty red wine, such as a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
When I was a Leicester University, there was a Cheesy Funk society, dedicated to the best, and worst '70s and '80s music. I only bring this up because I got Vice City working again last night, and this game would be their soundtrack.
It appears that the reason the game wouldn't run properly was because I'd ported over my previous save games from a backup CD to the My Documents directory, so when the game tried to create the Vice City user files directory, it simply bombed out because it couldn't create something that already existed. I'm sure this is probably the same problem I had with GTAIII, too.
So, only the install problems with Operation Flashpoint to solve now.
In the meantime, to salve my soldiering itch, I'm playing Project IGI again. The game suffers a little from the first time through the level being ultra-hard, but once you've figured out how to beat the level, it's a piece of cake on subsequent replays. However, this still doesn't stop it from being very, very good. The weapons are excellently modelled - the Pancor Jackhammer in particular packs a suitably vicious punch. And it's now out for a fiver - well worth the money if you've not played it.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
I'm struggling mightily with Delphi at the moment - it's being a right bastard trying to get the design of the form I'm working on right right. So far this task which was scheduled for 4 days work has actually taken me 9 days and with no end in sight. I'd be driving me nuts, but when I see things like this on the web, I know I'm not nearly as mad as I might be. If you ever see me go near a Flash IDE, please, kill me.
Here's some more internet paranoia that's come to my attention. By turns both interesting and amusing.
In the Good News Department, it appears that the Evil Belgians aren't *quite* as evil as they might have been. Only 30% as evil, in fact. On account of our acts of good faith, in removing the article and issuing an apology, they've not quite gone as far as dropping the whole legal action, but agreed for a reduced settlement, asking for "only" 400 Euros, rather than the original 1300 Euros. Which, whilst still a fairly considerable sum of money (around £275) is a lot easier on poor old Danny's pocket - even more so since I started a whip-round thread on State for people to bung him the odd £10-20 to ease his financial pain. After I get paid next month, I'm going to bung him around £30 for a decent bottle of Single Malt to calm his nerves.
I think I'll probably write a letter to PCG and maybe PCF to spread the word, as this kind of thing isn't exactly well known, and deserves to be spread around.
Monday, November 10, 2003
Oh, I got Halo working eventually - I had to change the base system resolution and start Halo up in safe mode to con it into working, but it now plays better than it ever did on ME. And the 512MB of RAM I just won on eBay should make it run even *better*.
Now,... if I can only get Operation Flashpoint and Vice City to stop throwing hissy-fits....
Had lots to write about today, as it's mainly been a good day, but I just realised that I can't write up everything after work, as it's Time Commanders day, and I have to leave work on time to make sure I get back home for 6:45. Maybe tomorrow.
Friday, November 07, 2003
You know how everyone says the Windows ME is a piece of shit and how you should upgrade to Windows XP because it's so much better, so much more reliable and so great for driver support and games? Well, I finally took their advice and acquired a copy of Windows XP, XP Service Pack 1, backed up all my data and save games, reformatted the hard drive (in NTFS mode, as everyone says you should) and did a full clean install of XP Pro.
I got all the latest drivers for my GeForce4 Ti4600, my Soundblaster Audigy, plus new drivers for my keyboard and Intellimouse Explorer off the internet at work, burned them to a CD and installed them all from scratch so I have a completely brand new Operating System with no driver clutter at all. A perfect tabula rasa for my gaming enjoyment!
It sounds too good to be true, you think - and you'd be right. Once I finish with all this upgrading and updating around 11pm last night, I naturally want to check it all works, so on goes Halo, installing DirectX 9.0b as we go. It's a brand new game, designed to work with XP and all the latest drivers, and guess what? IT DOESN'T WORK.
I'm pretty sure it's a graphics card glitch, as the splash screen comes up fine, it tries to go to full screen mode, and then the screen goes black and doesn't update properly - so you get all the sound, and the game is running, but all you see is a black screen. I would install the patch - but the one you download from the support site DOESN'T BLOODY INSTALL PROPERLY and I can't get into the game to update it using the integrated wizard.
Gearbox need to be shot, and then trampled and gored by rampaging elephants. They can't convert or optimise for shit.
But hey, at least Jedi Knight works.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
A mammoth blog entry written in front of the Man Utd-Rangers game, so don’t pay any attention to the timestamp.
The second half has just kicked off, and United are already 2-0 up. The first goal by Forlan was stunning. I can’t say I’m a fanatical football fan (after all, I support Leicester City) but it’s been a good game to watch so far, thanks to the ever superb refereeing of Pierluigi Collina. Collina is probably the single most recognisable and respected referee in the game, and he allows the game to flow beautifully. Not only that, he’s so well respected that I haven’t seen a single bad tackle or any chatback over the few decisions he’s had to make. When you watch a game refereed by this guy, you know this is how football is meant to be played. Ooh and Ruud van Nistelroy has just stuck in his second of the night. Hat-trick coming up? I wouldn’t be surprised.
However, when it comes to team sports, the game I most like to watch is rugby union, and on Sunday morning I was treated to a peach of a game – New Zealand vs. Wales.
Now; not many people would’ve given Wales much of a hope, but good grief, for 65 minutes they were right in the game and gave the All Blacks a real run for their money – you’ve got to give some kudos to any team that can put four tries and 37 points on the kiwis. It was real throw-the-ball-about cut and thrust stuff; probably one of the best games of rugby I’ve seen in years. The finishing of the All Blacks was nothing short of awesome – when they ran in their first try after a couple of minutes, you thought it was going to be all one way traffic, but after 60 minutes, both teams had over 30 points on the board and Wales were winning! It was a great game. I can’t wait until the weekend until the quarter finals:
New Zealand vs. South Africa, Australia vs. Scotland, France vs. Ireland and England vs. Wales. That’s some good rugby in store…
Still no word from The Evil Belgians, thanks to the wildcat Royal Mail strikes – such great timing! – so I have no idea whenever EIS still want to sue State, which is worrying with only ten days to go before the action gets filed. I contacted Wayward_Ronin, the chap who got State into this mess, in order to get him to contact their lawyers via e-mail, and he gave me a bit of information that’s provided a bizarre twist to the situation.
Sun Tzu’s Art of War states that you should know your enemy, and in the interests of research, W_R decided to go to the EIS website and get a trial subscription from the publication he took the article from online (Tech Europe), and low and behold, stuck to the front cover was a sheet explaining how EIS were filing for action against OVER FIFTY ORGANISATIONS who had plagiarised their work.
FIFTY ORGANISATIONS! Now that’s what I’d call leaky plumbing. Somehow, I can’t see a company as relatively small as EIS wanting to take over fifty separate companies to court. Not wishing to tempt fate, but that’d be a desperately difficult lawsuit to co-ordinate, and we’re relative small fry – after all, cutting and pasting a single two paragraph article hardly constitutes “systematic plagiarism” as citied in the legal notice. I’m pretty hopeful they’re not going to bother with us now that we’ve gotten rid of the article from the website. But I know I’ll sleep a lot better when I have it in black and white and we can draw a line underneath the whole sorry affair.
I said this was going to be mammoth, didn’t I? And I’ve not even covered what games I’ve been playing lately. Speaking of games – it finished 3-0. It wasn’t much of a spectacle after they got the third goal – the second half of the Lazio-Chelsea game looked like a better game from the highlights. Oh well.
I’ve not been playing too much over the last few days – a smidgeon of Halo; I’ve managed to get past the initial surge of The Flood (see what I did there?) and get out of the complex to try and escape with the group of marines to the LZ – and promptly got killed. So I left that, as The Flood are a truly hateful creation in videogames – I’m not looking forward to The Library at all, and I seriously doubt whenever I’ll be able to look at a brussel sprout in the same way ever again.
I played a bit more UFO: Enemy Unknown over the weekend, and tried out the UFO: Aftermath demo too. I have to say that I much prefer the original. I’m not convinced by the camera in Aftermath at all – and I prefer a strict turn-based format to the tactical combat than the pseudo-real time format in Aftermath – the gameplay doesn’t seem to flow well enough for me, and I can’t abide the stop-start-stop-start; though no doubt my friend Mr Hale will say I’m Mad And Wrong. But I’m used to that.
Having had my fill of FPS and TBS on Saturday, I went on an RPG kick on Sunday after the rugby – going back to Neverwinter Nights with my Blackguard character and making a start on Chapter Three. Blackguards are super – being able to summon Doom Knights is rather fantastic.
I also got around to finally making a proper start on Arx Fatalis. Having made it further than last time I tried it; i.e. actually getting out of my prison cell – I’m pretty impressed, despite the fact that the melee combat system is predictably horrible, as it is with most first person RPG’s, the graphics engine isn’t quite cutting edge, and I’m not overly fond of these classless stat based character systems. However, an RPG lives and dies on its depth and ability to capture the imagination, and here Arx Fatalis delivers.
The interface is quite innovative, there’s a satisfyingly high level of interactivity with the suitably claustrophobic environment, an interesting object and inventory system and at least you’re able to kill rats at Level One. Even the comedy werespiders aren’t too much of a challenge to squish. Goblin Lords, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. I’m slightly disappointed that you’re constrained to a male player character, particularly given that the cover of the game box is adorned provocatively with a scantily clad lady – who - I’m reliably informed by my mate Paul (who reviewed the game for PC Format) - doesn’t (totally) constitute a case of false advertising, but an NPC you meet later in the game. Even so, I’d have liked the option to have been there.
I’ll be spending more time with this one, though. I’m enjoying it so far.
Friday, October 31, 2003
Thursday, October 30, 2003
I'm annoyed. Yesterday Razerbug made his grand re-entrance to State, and within one post, managed to fuck up is profile. As if the threat of a lawsuit hanging over my head wasn't enough. I initiated a pre-emptive strike against him, and banned him, because I don't like him very much, he's a disruptive presence, and continually ignored all the advice and demands about his behaviour on the previous forum until someone (Pat?) had to ban him. And I have no reason to believe he's changed.
A messy presence out of the way, order restored, and State can get back to it's natural harmony, right? WRONG. True to form, REVOLT AMONGST THE MODS!
For fucks sake, no-one even *likes* him. But suddenly this is a democratic and constitutional issue. I just want an easy life for Cliff's sake.
What with this and the discussion about whenever people should post reviews to the website and the forum or not, I'm pretty sick of State at the moment. I don't need this. I don't need to be potentially threatened with a lawsuit every time a News item is posted. I don't need 250 people nitpicking every proposal or decision I make, when none of them have the balls to stand up and take a similar responsibility themselves.
So The Bug is back - I hope you all enjoy him.
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
I don't know about you, but I've been watching the self-destruction of the Conservative Party with a great deal of amusement. At Prime Minister's Questions today, Dennis Skinner, The Beast Of Bolsover, couldn't resist sticking in the knife a little further.
I was playing football again at lunch with the guys at work. I'm slightly less dead this time around than last time, despite feeling the familiar copper taste of blood in my mouth during play (which was probably my imagination), and wanting to cough my guts up right now. At least I didn't have to spend half the time in goal to prevent myself from having a heart attack. My recovery rate has improved somewhat, I think.
Still, no pain, no gain - or in my case, anti-gain, since I want to lose a little more weight. Since Fleur and I have started cutting out a lot of the meat we eat, (and I've started drinking a lot less) I've dropped half a stone in a little over two months, which is good, steady progress, if not spectacular weight loss. Another stone will get me down to a much more healthy 13.5 stone (considering I was close to 16 stone at the turn of the year, I'm already well on the way).
Other than the coughing, which is a remnant of last week's chest infection, I feel great, and really enjoyed playing, despite the fact I consistently couldn't hit the side of a barn door once I got into the final third of the pitch.
Oh well, practice makes perfect I suppose.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
More hours were lost to UFO last night - I'm into April now, and the Snakemen have put in their first appearance. One of the nice things about UFO is the variety of enemies. You start off with Sectoids (the classic "Grey" alien), Floaters (who are as shit as their name would suggest), and the game gradually ramps up the difficulty, introducing Snakemen, who are tough, but slow, and eventually introducing Mutons (BIG Green Men) and the dastardly Ethereals, who, though physically weak, possess psionic abilities that can reduce grown men to gibbering wrecks - or worse, become mentally dominated and alien slaves - whom you have to stun or kill to prevent them wiping out your squad.
All of these races possess sub-races, or terrorist races, which all add to the fun. The terror races for the Sectoids and Ethereals are the nastiest of the lot, the Cyberdisks and Sectopods respectively, as they're evil robots with spookily accurate plasma weapons. However, the creepiest of these are the Chrysallids, who accompany the Snakemen. They're horrible insectoid chaps, who impregnate their victims, turning them into zombies, which transform into other Chrysallids if you shoot them, and also happen to be super quick and as tough as diamonds.
With this variety of enemies, the numerous terrain types, and the randomly generated maps, each tactical mission presents a unique challenge and keeps the game fresh. So whilst the visuals may have dated terribly, the actual experience of playing the game hasn't - it's as good as it ever was.
In the game, I've just finished researching the Psi-Lab and Psi-Amp, so I'm looking forward to waging Psi-War against the alien invaders in the next few game months.
Monday, October 27, 2003
I've temporarily abandoned Halo in order to save the Earth from a more direct threat - the Martian scum in UFO: Enemy Unknown. You're probably wondering what the hell I'm doing playing a 9 year old game, when I've still got things like Halo, Neverwinter Nights and GTA: Vice City on my ever expanding "Uncompleted" list.
Well, you can blame Rob, because he keeps annoying me on MSN about how good UFO: Aftermath is. Enemy Unknown is the spiritual ancestor of Aftermath, and is probably the finest Turn Based Strategy game ever made. Despite the now awful 320x240 EGA-o-vision graphics, which can only be rendered on modern PC's if you turn off DirectDraw, Enemy Unknown is utterly atmospheric, beautifully balanced, supremely detailed and ultra-tactical. If I was ever stuck on a desert island with just five games for company, this would be one of them.
I've played through a couple of months of game time, and I was lucky enough to capture a Sectoid Leader in an Abductor, so I'm already researching the Psi-Lab, which should make my life a whole lot easier in the forseeable future. I should be mind controlling aliens by the end of June (and in the game!). Fear my big powerful brain.
One of the beautiful things about Enemy Unknown is that you can rename all the soldiers - which means I inevitably rename them to friends, associates, and people I don't like very much - who I assign to the soldiers with crappy stats, and promptly get them killed. It's very cathartic.
Having already completed the game many times takes away the initial sense of wonder and discovery, as you research all the alien technologies and life forms, but this means that you can play the game in an entirely different way now.
My objective now is to research a full, complete UFOpedia, have eight fully equipped and functional combat bases, and last as long as possible on Earth until I *have* to go to Mars before the alien infiltration missions threaten to shut down X-COM. I think I made it around 18 months last time - this time I want to see if I double that. I'll let you know how it goes.
Friday, October 24, 2003
Thursday, October 23, 2003
After two evenings preparing some semblence of a legal defense, in case I need one over the State cut-and-paste debacle, I finally got back to playing some serious Halo.
It's a serious grower this one. I turned down the resolution a bit further (down to 960x712, or something like that) and other than at checkpoints and loading transitions, the mostly erratic framerate has stabilised to more consistently playable levels.
The night started out at the beginning of Assault On The Control Room, which a hugely enjoyable section where there's a group of marines battling Covenant, with Ghosts, Shade fixed guns, Covenant tanks and infantry all slugging it out. A bit of quick work with a rocket launcher sorted most of it out, and then you get the opportunity to commandeer a Scorpion tank, and *really* let loose, in a massed combined arms battle. Probably my favourite section of the game so far. It's gratifying to blat Hunters with the Scorpion's main gun.
After this, the level design is almost cut and paste, with repeated sections, bunkers, followed by bridges, bunkers followed by bridges, and so on. It'd be tedious if the AI didn't provide a variety of challenge in the composition of enemies. There's lots of fun to be had, sneaking through a bunker crammed full of snoozing Grunts, boshing them on the back of the head with your weapon (as shooting them would wake up the rest) keeping out of sight of any patrolling Elites or Jackals, trying to eliminate as many of the Grunts as possible before being discovered. This is how games should do stealth sections.
Finally, the assault on the control room itself - crikey - what a set piece that is. Two Banshees, a handful of Ghosts, a Covenant tank, a couple of Hunters, and loads of assorted infantry plus half a dozen Shade guns. Talk about intense. Really rewarding once you beat it, too.
Following on immediately from that, we have The Flood. Oh god. If you've played the game, you'll know what I mean. If you don't, it's probably for the best. Thankfully, it was at this point Fleur told me it was time to go to bed.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
The more I think about the current predicament State is in (and by extension, I am in) the more truly bizarre the legalities of the case get. The company suing State/Extra-Life is Belgian. State is hosted by a British company, and is registered in Britain, which surely means that its content must conform to UK Law, right? We have already determined that under UK Law, the user who posted the News item didn't commit any offense, because they referenced their source, and the copyrighted material was for solely informative and education use of reporting Current Affairs. UK Law states that this constitutes Fair Usage of copyrighted material, and that it can be used without permission.
This being the case, can the article, posted by someone in Britain, on a website registered and hosted in Britain then be subject to Belgian Law, where the above is not true? If to the best of their knowledge, the user has acted in good faith, and not knowingly infringed a copyright under the Law that they are immediately subject to, can they then be sued under the sovereign law of a country that they have absolutely no connection or relation to?
To say it's a legal grey area is being generous.
Under the European Union Copyright Directive there appear to be several provisions for exemption of copyright under Chapter II, Article 5, which surely supercede Belgian and UK Law that could easily apply in this case.
2. Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the reproduction right provided for in Article 2 in the following cases:
(a) in respect of reproductions on paper or any similar medium, effected by the use of any kind of photographic technique or by some other process having similar effects, with the exception of sheet music, provided that the rightholders receive fair compensation;
(b) in respect of reproductions on any medium made by a natural person for private use and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial, on condition that the rightholders receive fair compensation which takes account of the application or non-application of technological measures referred to in Article 6 to the work or subject-matter concerned;
(c) in respect of specific acts of reproduction made by publicly accessible libraries, educational establishments or museums, or by archives, which are not for direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage
3. Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the rights provided for in Articles 2 and 3 in the following cases:
(a) use for the sole purpose of illustration for teaching or scientific research, as long as the source, including the author's name, is indicated, unless this turns out to be impossible and to the extent justified by the non-commercial purpose to be achieved;
(b) uses, for the benefit of people with a disability, which are directly related to the disability and of a non-commercial nature, to the extent required by the specific disability;
(c) reproduction by the press, communication to the public or making available of published articles on current economic, political or religious topics or of broadcast works or other subject-matter of the same character, in cases where such use is not expressly reserved, and as long as the source, including the author's name, is indicated, or use of works or other subject-matter in connection with the reporting of current events, to the extent justified by the informatory purpose and as long as the source, including the author's name, is indicated, unless this turns out to be impossible;
(d) quotations for purposes such as criticism or review, provided that they relate to a work or other subject-matter which has already been lawfully made available to the public, that, unless this turns out to be impossible, the source, including the author's name, is indicated, and that their use is in accordance with fair practice, and to the extent required by the specific purpose;
(e) use for the purposes of public security or to ensure the proper performance or reporting of administrative, parliamentary or judicial proceedings;
(f) use of political speeches as well as extracts of public lectures or similar works or subject-matter to the extent justified by the informatory purpose and provided that the source, including the author's name, is indicated, except where this turns out to be impossible;
(g) use during religious celebrations or official celebrations organised by a public authority;
(h) use of works, such as works of architecture or sculpture, made to be located permanently in public places;
(i) incidental inclusion of a work or other subject-matter in other material;
(j) use for the purpose of advertising the public exhibition or sale of artistic works, to the extent necessary to promote the event, excluding any other commercial use;
(k) use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche;
(l) use in connection with the demonstration or repair of equipment;
(m) use of an artistic work in the form of a building or a drawing or plan of a building for the purposes of reconstructing the building;
(n) use by communication or making available, for the purpose of research or private study, to individual members of the public by dedicated terminals on the premises of establishments referred to in paragraph 2(c) of works and other subject-matter not subject to purchase or licensing terms which are contained in their collections;
(o) use in certain other cases of minor importance where exceptions or limitations already exist under national law, provided that they only concern analogue uses and do not affect the free circulation of goods and services within the Community, without prejudice to the other exceptions and limitations contained in this Article.
If this case ever did make it to court, I can see it being very protracted and very messy, which probably isn't in the best interests of either party concerned. From all the research I've done so far - it appears that Copyright Law, where it pertains to the Internet is a big, bad, bloody mess.
I just hope that we don't end up being a test case.
I'm learning more about Copyright Law now than I ever really wanted to know.
I got one of the most deeply unpleasant surprises of my life when I got home last night. No, we'd not been burgled - sitting on my doormat was a solicitor's letter from Belgium (of all places) citing Extra-Life for plagiarism of a news article.
To say I was mortified was an understatement - it's not every day you find out someone wants to sue you - or rather, the website you're the billing contact for.
Basically, one of the users on the forum did a simple cut-and-paste on a news item he thought came from a Public Domain source, fully and explicitly credited the source in the first line of the post and posted it in the News folder of the State forum. This post automatically got posted as a News item on the website, due to the little PHP wizard we have to do this kind of thing.
The copyright holder got wind of it - probably via an Internet Trawler bot that they use to ensure that their material isn't appearing where it shouldn't, and I have essentially a compensation demand for 1300 Euros sitting on my bedroom desk, which has to be paid before the 15th of November, or they'll take me to court.
Now, obviously I can't pay the settlement - not only do I not have £900 lying around idly to spare - I wasn't responsible for the reproduction of the article, and I don't think it's fair for me to be held responsible for every article, post or item on the website, because it's essentially an open forum. I'm just the sucker who gets sent the bandwidth bills. State isn't an organisation or company - it's a group of well meaning internet games geeks who like to have their own server.
I did the only sensible thing - I removed the offending article, as receiving the letter was the first indication to anyone using the website that a copyright had been infringed, and immediately posted a public and unreserved apology on the website.
This morning, I posted a formal written apology to the lawyers representing the publishing firm, fully explaining how the situation had arisen, and that how the individual user who posted the article had acted in good faith, and that there had been no intention of infringing a copyright, nor was there any intention to deprive the publishing firm revenue.
The legalities of this case are really rather murky - it's very difficult to find a precedent for this kind of situation - an internet forum being sued for a cut-and-paste? It seems ridiculous on the surface of it - but I can completely understand the company's stance, and the reason for sending the letter. However, I think it's a little unfair to simply demand money when we had no prior knowledge that an infringement was being committed. A simple warning would have sufficed.
Fingers crossed, it won't need to go to court, and that they will settle for the removal of the article and the apology, but if it does go to court, we have a good defense under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act of 1988 for Fair Use of copyrighted material used for Current Affairs reporting - which states that no copyright is infringed if the material is credited - which it was.
Even so - it's pretty fucking scary that a completely innocent cut-and-paste can turn around and bite you in the ass. There's nothing more to be done until the law firm replies, which may take a week or so - and unfortunately patience isn't my strong suit.
Friday, October 17, 2003
You probably need to have seen Full Metal Jacket to get that pun. Never mind. So, Halo then.
Played this for a couple of hours last night, and got to the first Warthog mission - Reunion Tour.
Impressions so far. The conversion seems truly terrible. I've got double the recommended spec, (P4 1.7GHz, with 256MB of PC800 RDRAM, a Soundblaster Audigy and a 128MB GF4 Ti4600) and every time things start to get a little busy - BAM! Frame rate goes through the floor. 30FPS my arse. 3FPS more like. Performance was helped somewhat by turning off the frame rate limiter and turning off the VSync, but it shouldn't struggle like this at 1280x1024. And it *really* stutters during loading.
Also, the sound is totally fucked up. The volume of firing the assault rifle fluctuates between unaudible and ear drum rupturingly loud. The audio in the cutscenes is all over the place - with huge gaps where presumably people should be talking, and you should be hearing background music, but no - just simple maddening silence and characters standing doing nothing, and no lipsync.
The controls likewise seem sluggish, even turning up the mouse sensitivity makes little difference to the turn rate, particularly when compounded by the frame rate problems, and the Warthog is practically uncontrollable with the mouse/keyboard setup. Why, oh why couldn't they have used a GTA style control model? Mouse steering is terrible. This is all a vestige from Halo's console roots, and if I can get it working, I may try it with my gamepad, as I can see that being the best control method, especially for the vehicles.
And the aiming reticle. It covers half the screen. What's the point of mouselook if you can't aim with precision? The cursor needs to be half the size it is to even make it something approaching practical.
After this comprehensive list of flaws, you're probably thinking I didn't enjoy anything at all.
Well, no. The game is surprisingly hard to put down. The level design thus far is pretty good - nice interplays between open spaces and tight, building environments and lots of intelligent placement of natural and artificial obstacles for use as cover.
And, boy, do you need that cover. I'm only playing on Normal, being, as I am, pretty crap, but even so - the AI is pretty spectacularly good. The Covenant retreat, panic, flank, co-ordinate attacks and act pretty much as you'd expect when attacking and taking fire.
Whilst the weapons don't feel fantastic, mainly due to the wooly aiming of the huge reticle, the shield system is great, and introduces a tactical edge to the combat - we're talking more Delta Force than Doom here. There's a real ebb and flow, as both sides attack and regroup, and it's truly exceptional stuff. Considering how challenging it is on Normal - I shudder to think how hard it is on Legendary.
Right now - I feel that it's a great game that's being ruined by technical flaws introduced by a sloppy conversion. On the Xbox, this may well be the greatest FPS ever - but on the PC, I can't help feeling a little disappointed.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
I've just succumbed to buying Halo for the PC. Which is doubly ironic, considering the diatribe I've just spouted about Microsoft being shit. I've been waiting for this game for 3 years. I've even avoided playing it on Xbox - well, not so much avoided but never taken the opportunity to play - I hope the wait has been worth it.
This is ridiculous. Microsoft have put out *another* warning about critical security flaws in their products. So much for "trustworthy computing". No wonder The Inquirer rumour mill is speaking of my fair employers dumping Microsoft for Linux. I'll believe it when I see it, but surely Microshaft has got to get it's act together soon. It's common knowledge that MS have been shipping buggy products for decades. Something really needs to be done - and it has to be done at the corporate level, because the average consumer doesn't like change is too stupid to realise that they could be getting a much better product.
When Tarantino made his new film Kill Bill, he should have made Mr B. Gates the protagonist of the title.... he's certainly going to be first up against the wall when I start my revolution.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Dammit, I've got lots to write about and no time to do it, so this is going to be a blog entry in rather clipped stylée.
Lots going on at the moment - I'm working on two projects at the moment, which has pretty much eradicated my surfing time at work. Hence, my involvement in State has pretty much dropped off to zero, though this will only be temporary until I leave my old project and bed in with my new one. The new project is good - and is presenting me with an opportunity to develop my Oracle and SQL skills, learn a new flavour of UNIX and start learning Delphi, Java and C++ in earnest. Should be fun. I'm testing the system at the moment, which would otherwise be as tedious as hell, except that it's all new to me.
I have *another* new manager (my 4th in the space of about 12 months), who I met today for my 3rd Quarter review. Seems like a nice guy, and I kind of browbeat him into making him more predisposed to sending me on the Project Management course I want to go on. Which is progress. I'm also in line to get a payrise following my promotion (and about time too) - it's only £1200, but it'll ease the pain of paying off the car. I'm hardly going to say no to another £100 a month (minus taxes) - but double that would have been nicer. Natch.
I also completed Baldur's Gate at the weekend with my Fighter/Druid character. By "completed" I in fact mean "got to the last battle and got mercilessly slaughtered". But hey, at least I've got to the end of the game. Which is progress.
I've imported the character into BGII and will try to continue her story regardless - though I also created a Kensai-Mage dual-class character (Dualled from Kensai at Level 8) and he could be more interesting to play. For once I've created a fighter-mage with a genuine reason for not wearing armour. (Since Kensai don't)
Once he goes past Level 9 in Mage (he's just about to hit Level 8 at the moment) I think a dual-long sword wielding Kensai Mage will kick some serious posterior. (What with having +++ in Long Sword and +++ in Two Weapon Style).
And I've not even updated you about what I thought of the other two Anime disks Mr Cobbett sent me. That will have to wait. I've got work to do.
Monday, October 13, 2003
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Telemarketeers are the bane of my life. They're annoying, intrusive and unwanted, and they pretty much hold you hostage in your own home. When the phone rings in my house, I want it to be someone I want to talk to, not some bloody cold-caller trying to flog me something.
Normally, I'm pretty well downright offensive towards cold-callers, or use my answering machine to agressive screen the buggers, but now, I hope I've found a more pro-active answer - The Telephone Preference Service - These chaps register your phone number against a list of numbers that specify that you don't want to receive cold calls, and pretty much makes it an offense for anyone to cold-call you if you're on the list. It takes 4 weeks for everything to filter through the system, but friends who've recommended it to me say that it has practically eradicated cold-calling for them. Which is great. They do a similar Junk Mail service, too which I might use to get rid of all the junk mail I receive for previous residents, though that's far less of a problem.
Fingers crossed, I can say goodbye to cold-calling scum companies who only pay the poor bastards who get my abuse minimum wage. We'll see in a few weeks.
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
I'm feeling rather under the weather at the moment - I've got a terrible chest infection that's kept me off work for the last two days, which isn't ideal, since I was meant to be starting on my new project with BAA today. I've spent most of the day wrapped up in bed trying to sleep off the worst of the effects, with the heater in the bedroom stuck up on Full. I'm hoping to get back to work tomorrow, if only to have a bit of a change of pace. Regardless of how much I need rest, spending 16 hours a day in bed isn't exactly thrilling - though I have been having some rather unusual dreams. I'm going to have a Strepsil and a Lemsip and get back to bed. It's cold out here.
Friday, October 03, 2003
I spent two hours in a private folder on State last night, conducting my interview with Dr Nusbacher. He's a fascinating bloke, and we had a very interesting and enjoyable chat. History was my best subject at GCSE, so it was great to speak to someone who's studied the subject a lot more, especially in such a specialisation that appeals to me.
So far reaction to the interview has been almost uniformly good to enthusiastic (a novelty as far as my pieces are concerned) - and the *really* good thing is that we've beaten all the usual suspects (PC Gamer, PC Format and PC Zone) to interviewing someone from Time Commanders. Yay for the Little Guy!
Not bad for my first journalistic interview ever, eh?
Thursday, October 02, 2003
I invited my friend Paul around last night for a frosty beverage, to play a little Black Hawk Down and for him to review my questions for Dr Nusbacher (the interview should be later tonight, fingers crossed!) and I cooked a nice curry for dinner. Here's the recipe, should you want to try it yourself:
Chicken, Lentil & Spinach Balti - Serves 3-4
500g chicken breasts - cut into 1in chunks
1 large onion - finely diced
6 large flat mushrooms - thickly sliced
1 tin of green lentils - drained
250g of spinach
Half a jar of Balti curry paste
200g of basmati rice
3 Cardamom pods
Onion Bhaji Nan Breads (one each)
Fry the chicken in some vegetable oil over a high heat for about five minutes, or until they start to brown, ensuring that the surfaces of all the chicken pieces appear cooked. Season well with salt and pepper. Then add the balti paste, frying until the chicken is thoroughly coated in the spices. Add a little water as necessary to prevent the paste burning to the bottom of the dish. Add the onions, and let them fry in the paste mixture until they take on colour, soften and lose their shape. Then add the sliced mushrooms, seasoning with a little more salt and pepper to draw the moisture out of the mushrooms. Fry until the mushrooms have taken on the colours and flavours of the balti sauce.
Add half of the spinach, and let it steam in the pan until it has wilted, before adding the rest of the spinach. Cook until all the spinach has wilted, and then add the lentils. Top up the sauce with enough water to prevent burning, and then simmer over a low to medium heat, stirring occasionally for another 10 minutes. Then put a teaspoon or so of turmeric powder into a pan, along with a tablespoon of cumin seeds, the cardamom pods and a little salt. Add the rice to this with enough boiling water to cover the rice to a depth of 1.5 centimetres. Boil the rice over a high heat, stirring frequently. Add some snipped coriander leaves to both the rice and the balti sauce approximately five minutes before the end of the cooking time (when roughly half of the water has been absorbed by the rice), and heat the Nan breads.
Serve immediately with chilled sparkling water or suitably frosty lager.
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
America's top chat show hosts and comedians on Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid to become Governor Of California:
Jay Leno: 'It's been reported that some of Arnold Schwarzenegger's opponents have been circulating naked pictures of Arnold on the internet. In a related story, Arnold is leading other candidates by 4in.'
Bill Maher: 'Bush is supporting Arnold, but a lot of Republicans are not, because he is actually quite liberal. Karl Rove [Bush's strategist] said if his father wasn't a Nazi, he wouldn't have any credibility with conservatives at all.'
David Letterman: 'President Bush has been silent on Schwarzenegger. Of course, he can't pronounce Schwarzenegger.'
Conan O'Brien: 'Apparently Arnold was inspired by President Bush, who proved you can be a successful politician in this country even if English is your second language.'
I played a bit of Multiplayer Delta Force: Black Hawk Down last night. It may surprise you to learn that other than a brief visit to a Counterstrike server three years ago, this was my first extended experience of online gaming. As most of you will know, I can't get broadband at home, so I was playing on a 56kps connection. With pings averaging between 650ms and 700ms. Which is Officially No Fun.
Particularly when you're on an American server (because it's the only one I could find playing vanilla deathmatch) where everyone else has broadband, and they're all online gaming veterans. However, I managed to aquit myself quite well in my final game of the evening and outscored a few other players, despite Lag literally the size of the Atlantic Ocean.
I can certainly see the appeal of online gaming - I had a few nice moments, such as ascending a ladder to a roof, to find someone who was already camping there with a sniper rifle, and unloading 30 rounds from my CAR-15 into his back. It was only afterwards that I realised I should have knifed him for extra points - because he didn't have a clue I was there.
I definitely think that I'll play it again - if I could get more playable pings, I reckon it'd be great fun, and I certainly need more practice to learn the maps and learn how to cope with the lag. Perhaps I'll see if anyone on State plays it, and try and get a regular game set up.
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
"Hand over your ward and no-one will be hurt. If you resist it shall be a waste of your life."
This is the line spoken by Sarevok at the start of Baldur's Gate, when you realise just how much trouble your character is in. It's also an indication of how Baldur's Gate will take over your life if you let it.
Baldur's Gate is a game of simple pleasures - character creation and customisation, exploration, adventure, magic, hitting kobolds with big swords,... I've been playing this game for roughly 20 hours over the weekend and the few days either side, finally settling down with a new character, rather than engaging in an automated dice rolling orgy of character creation (as is my usual wont on a Friday night).
I'm playing a Half-Elf Fighter-Druid called Gillian at the moment, and she's quite a good character, since she has a major flaw for a front-line fighter - a rather low constitution, so whilst she can really deal out major damage in combat, she can't stick in the thick of it for too long, which means you've got to really make the most of your party and apply proper combat tactics.
I've been really taking my time, and exploring the whole map before opening up Cloakwood, so she's now up to Level 5 Fighter/Level 5 Druid, which is getting towards being a pretty potent multi-class. Hopefully I'll be able to make it past the return to Candlekeep this time (I got stuck in the Catacombs last time through) and complete the game, before either importing the character into BGII or trying the Single Player Challenge - playing BG without a party. Apparently it can be done, so I might give it a go - probably as a dual/multi-class Fighter-Thief or Fighter-Mage, or perhaps a Fighter-Cleric.
This game might be old, but it's a good-un.
Monday, September 29, 2003
I'm feeling rather pleased with myself this morning - Dr Aryeh Nusbacher one of the historical consultants on Time Commanders (fast becoming my favourite TV show) has agreed to do an interview with me for State.
Excuse me whilst I w00t!!!!!!111!
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Pad Thai Noodles
2 portions of Thick Thread Egg Noodles
1 Blue Dragon Thai Noodle sauce
1 Tin of Mixed Stir Fry Vegetables
200g of King Prawns
Quick and simple this one: Boil the noodles in lightly salted water for 4 minutes, drain, and then set aside. Using the same pan, stir fry the vegetables for 2 minutes, and then add the prawns. Stir fry for a further 3 minutes so that all the ingredients are warmed through. Add the sauce, and thicken using a little tomato purée. Return the noodles to the pan and stir the ingredients through the noodles evenly.
Serve immediately with chilled sparkling water.
Remember that cheapo £45 Region 2 DVD player I purchased a few weeks back? Well, the deal just got even *better*.
Thanks to DAT500, proprietor of The Emporium, I found out how to turn my Region 2 DVD player into a Region 0 DVD player - i.e. it now ignores Region encoding and plays any DVD disk under the sun - thanks to a remote control hack that allows you to reset the read encoding. How good is that? Particularly considering the cheapest multi-region DVD player I can find on the net is £75, or £85 if you want a recognised brand.
So if you don't have a DVD player and would like to take advantage of the better featured imported disks, there aren't any excuses. A £45 Pacific DVD player from ASDA and this simple region hack using the remote control: Open, Clear, 1, 3, 6, 9, 0, Close.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
I've just played 5-a-side football for the first time in about 2 years. I'm absolutely bloody dead. If I hadn't spent the last 20 minutes in goal, I probably would have had a heart attack. I don't think I've done anything as physically taxing in a year.
Still, it was great fun, *and* we won. I'll have to do this more often - if I can keep it up once or twice a week, plus the swimming on Sundays, it'll help me lose a bit of the excess pork I'm packing and get a bit fitter. Which would be nice. And only at £3.30 an hour. Cheaper than a gym subscription,...
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
For once I'm not going to post about games (tempting though it is, now I've found a fix to get UFO: Enemy Unknown working again) and I'm not going to post about politics (tempting though it is, given the spectacular contents of Ali Campbell's diaries as revealed at the Hutton Inquiry) - no, I'm going to post about food instead.
I caught the last five minutes of Delia Smith's How To Cook between the end of the Channel Four News and a documentary about Jumbo Maneating Killer Squid on Channel Five last night. Delia drives my girlfriend up the wall. She can't stand the way Delia implies that her way of cooking things is the perfect way, and the implication that she's the best and that everyone else is crap. I have to agree that filming a series telling people how to cook things as simple as a fried egg is a tad condescending.
I'm a very keen cook myself, and I like to think I'm pretty good, though not to the same levels of Delia's soufflé-inflated ego. I'm certainly more of the "live to eat" school of thought rather than the "eat to live" school of thought. I like to eat well, drink well, and I invariably cook for fun - it's not like coming home and cooking is a chore - I find it's a way of destressing after work - hacking up defenseless vegetables with a 25cm cooks knife, and then making dinner. (*ba-dum!* *tssssh!*)
So, I'm going to start a new meme in my blog, where I tell you what I cooked for dinner the previous night, along with instructions on how to make it.
Welcome to Mad Iain's How To Cook! On tonight's menu is a Quorn chilli for two. The ingredients you need are as follows:
4 cloves of fresh garlic (finely sliced into batons)
1.5 inch of fresh ginger (finely sliced into batons)
1 medium red onion (finely sliced into half-rings)
4 large flat mushrooms (coarsely sliced)
1 leek (washed and shredded)
1 Ramiro sweet pepper (deseeded and thinly sliced)
1 tin of chopped red tomatoes
1 tin of red kidney beans (drained)
200g of Quorn mince
125g of basmati rice
3 Oxo beef stock cubes
Chilli Powder (to taste!)
Salt & Pepper
Fry the onion over a high heat in a little vegetable or groundnut oil for a couple of minutes until it starts to brown. Add the sliced garlic and ginger, and fry for further minute. Add the mushrooms, and season well with salt and pepper. Add a good dash of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan and prevent the food from sticking. Add the shredded leek and pepper and cook until the leek has wilted, adding more balsamic vinegar if necessary. Add the kidney beans, and after a couple of minutes the Quorn. Stir in the Quorn, crumbling in the Oxo cubes to coat the Quorn.
Once the mixture starts to thicken, add the chopped tomatoes, the basil, parsley and chilli, reducing the heat to low-medium, stirring ever few minutes. Cook for 20 minutes before boiling the rice in lightly salted water for 10-12 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Add some tomato purée a few minutes before the rice is ready and stir through the chilli sauce to add colour and sweetness.
Serve with chilled water, red wine, or a nice cold beer and enjoy!
Monday, September 22, 2003
I left two eBay auctions to their own devices over the weekend, and wasn't expecting to have any competition for one, and was expecting to get outbid on the other one. Bizarrely, the latter of the two, for Arx Fatalis, didn't get the last minute flurry of bids you normally expect on eBay, and I won the auction surprisingly easily with the bid I'd left on Friday. It was the other auction, for an old RPG called Septerra Core, that had all the excitement, when I was expecting to win it with just my opening bid of £1.99.
I'd put a maximum bid for £6.52 up, so that I wouldn't be paying more than a tenner for it, including postage, and low and behold, that's what it went for, as my competition went up to £6.50 within the last minute of the auction, but obviously didn't quite have time to pip me - leaving me to win the auction by just two pence! It's rare that I usually come out best on these kind of last minute bidding frenzies, and it's ironic that I wasn't even there to monitor the bids.
I'm expecting stiffer competition for the other game I'm bidding on, though - the inexplicably named Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. It's another RPG, which is very original and quite highly regarded, but seems to have disappeared from the shops. If I can win that one too, that'll be four games I'll have picked up this month for less than half price, as I picked up Delta Force: Black Hawk Down at the weekend for £15 off the RRP. Bargain.
Friday, September 19, 2003
As most State regulars will know, Rich Cobbett is a extremely nice man. So nice, in fact, that he's lent me 3 DVD's to initiate me into the world of Japanese Anime.
Anime is one of those many things that I've had a passing interest in, but never really gotten around to exploring. When someone mentions Anime, most people immediately tend to think "Akira" - which I saw years ago and quite liked - whereas an Anime Guru like Rich would tell you that Akira isn't only not really representative of Anime, it's also rather rubbish.
So, one evening I grabbed Rich on MSN and asked him what first got him into Anime, and if Akira was crap, what was good? The answer to the first question was surprisingly familiar - cartoon series like Ulysees 2332 and Cities Of Gold, which I just thought at the time were entertaining kids cartoons, when they're in fact Franco-Japanese collaborative Anime. (Or Anime inspired French cartoons, depending upon who you Google)
Using a set of favourite directors and cinema genres as a guide, Rich selected a few DVDs for me to try, and last night I finished watching the first of them, Cowboy Bebop, Episodes 1-5.
Cowboy Bebop's core themes are best described as the impossi-love child of Boba Fett, Bruce Lee and Sergio Leone. Sci-Fi Kung Fu bounty hunting with a Western twist. It sounds bizarre, but it really works. You know you're onto a winner when the opening title music is titled "Tank!"
It's real Kick! 'Splode! stuff, though this is A Good Thing. I have to admit that I was pretty astounded by the quality of the animation - the blend of CGI and hand-drawn animation is excellent, pretty seamless, and positively drips with atmosphere - the jumpgates piss all over those in Babylon 5 and the Roulette Wheel shaped orbital casino really tickled my fancy, being an ex-croupier.
The characters are all very solid, which is surprising, given the limited time given to character development, and the English dub is absolutely perfect - if you didn't know, you could hardly tell that it was originally drawn for a Japanese soundtrack. The stories are very action oriented, and the emphasis is more on style, rather than plot, but it's highly watchable stuff, with moments of real serene beauty.
It's a bit of a cliché to say that cartoons or animation are only for kids, but this gives the lie to it. Cowboy Bebop has a more cinematic feel than anything, and there are moments that are reminiscent of the kind of cinematography you'd expect to see in a Michael Mann or John Woo film - it's the kind of experience you can simply let wash over you for you to savour like a fine cognac.
I think I'll try an pick up the complete series on DVD off eBay next month, because having had a taster, I'd really like to see the whole series now. Highly recommended.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
What is George W. Bush on? No, Saddam Hussein wasn't behind 9/11. Yes, he had al-Qaida links.
I'm sorry? Just because an al-Qaida operative was captured in Baghdad doesn't automatically mean that Hussein's regime automatically had al-Qaida links. Al-Qaida operatives have been caught in Britain - does that mean Tony Blair is in Osama bin Laden's payroll? Get a fucking grip, man. As far as we know publically, Iraq didn't have an al-Qaida presence until *after* we invaded it. So it's been more of a War For More Terror rather than a war *on it*.
Former head of the UN Weapons Inspectorate, Hans Blix says that the Government overstretched it's case for war in Iraq, and that they probably destroyed all their Weapons of Mass Destruction years ago after the first Gulf War. His team of weapons inspectors searched Iraq for 5 months before the war. The US and UK teams have been searching Iraq for a further five months after the way, and what has been found, after nearly a year's worth of frenzied WMD hunting? Sweet FUCK ALL.
So, Tony, what's happened to all these weapons you were 100% sure were there, eh? Where's your justification? How much money are you pissing away in Iraq that could be spend building hospitals, schools and giving our public servants a decent wage? Billions? TENS of billions? How many soldiers need to die before you realise the US suckered you into a war that didn't need to be fought?
If you had a shred of decency, you'd come clean to the public and tender your resignation. Not that I expect you will. You'll let Geoff Hoon get crucified at the Hutton Inquiry and blame the Intelligence services for giving you bad intel. Just don't expect me to vote for you at the next election.
Monday, September 15, 2003
I was going to post this as an Editorial on State, but I thought it'd be unfair to pre-empt the conclusions to Nick's fine column.
Claims by teenage boys in Tennessee that they were acting out the Grand Theft Auto game when they shot at vehicles are threatening to put the US entertainment industry back on trial. One man was killed and a woman was badly hurt when William Buckner, 16, and his step-brother Joshua, 14, decided to relieve their boredom by opening fire on traffic on Interstate 40 with a .22-calibre rifle.
What's wrong with this statement? No, it's not that the boys were acting out a videogame. It's the fact that two teenage boys were out in public with a rifle, TOTALLY UNSUPERVISED.
From the same article: Last month, a 14-year-old boy in southern Ohio stabbed his aunt to death, possibly while sleepwalking. Just hours earlier, he had been playing a game called Diablo. It is "hugely significant," Mr Thompson said.
What's "hugely significant" is that in both these cases the children playing the games have been younger than the recommended age limit for both games. If the guardians of these children had prevented inappropriate material from falling into the hands of their wards, perhaps these tragedies wouldn't have occured. Perhaps, if they'd taken precautions to safeguard their firearms from the prying fingers of minors, we wouldn't emotionally immature kids rampaging around with guns.
It beggars belief sometimes, the ease with which lawyers and parents point the finger at videogames, TV or film, in order to explain the violence of teenagers - totally sidestepping their responsibility to make sure their kids are brought up emotionally balanced and with a firm grounding and concept of moral responsibility, but no, it's far easier to point the finger at games, TV and films they shouldn't be watching or playing anyway.
Why they don't have a parenting competency test is beyond me. You need a license to go fishing, own a TV and drive a car, but not to have children? That's what the lawyers should be campaigning for - preventing lives being ruined by people incapable of raising their children properly - not campaigning to ban a media for events attributed to being "inspired" by it's misuse by minors and maniacs.