Friday, March 28, 2003

Here be Dragons

Back to Baldur's Gate II last night, having finally got past The Underdark, I'm clearing up all the unfinished quests from Chapter Two out before I head back to Athkatla to sort out Bodhi. I took on Firkraag, a rather nasty red dragon in the Umar Hills, and crikey, what a tough battle that was! Both Imoen and Viconia got killed (thankfully ressurrected by Jahiera's Harper's Call) and everyone else took quite a lot of damage, too. Not really worth it for the miserly 64,000 experience points. Still, I'm now the proud owner of a lovely set of Red Dragon Plate, one of the best armours in the game. Shame I don't have a Paladin in my party to take advantage of the Caromsyr, though.

I also sorted out the Shade Lord/Amaunator quest, to get my Ranger's cabin. I tried sorting out the Shadow Dragon too, but he was simply too tough, and immune to most of the magic my spellcasters threw at it. So I reloaded and chickened out of that one. I'll come back when I'm at a slightly higher level, methinks!

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Operation Piss Off The Planet

God bless The Onion.

Sheryl Crow Unsuccessful; War On Iraq Begins

WASHINGTON, DC—In spite of recording artist Sheryl Crow's strong protestations, including the wearing of a "No War" guitar strap, the U.S. went to war with Iraq last week. "Making the decision to go to war is never easy, but it's that much harder when you know Sheryl Crow disapproves," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said at a press conference Monday. "It is this administration's sincerest hope that it can one day regain the support and trust of the woman behind such hits as 'All I Wanna Do' and 'Soak Up The Sun.'" Fleischer issued similar apologies to Martin Sheen, Janeane Garofalo, and Nelly.

I'm resisting the temptation to Warblog today, as I'm simply too disgusted and depressed to write anything about it without lapsing into catatonic emotional withdrawl.

So I'm going to write about games instead.

I've finally gotten past the Get Priboi level on Project IGI, after about 20 attempts. IGI is a superb game, but fuck, it's hard. It's not without it's fair share of flaws either, respawning enemies, die-learn enemy placement-retry gameplay and cut 'n' paste internal architecture the chief culprits amongst them. Fortunately, the balance of the weapons is great, the graphics still aren't too shabby and the AI is fairly good, despite the way Russian guards shout "HEY!" in english at you to tip you off you've been spotted before trying to riddle your carcass with hot lead. The expansiveness of the level design is a joy too, and there's only really the Border Crossing level I'm (stuck on) now that could only really be described as linear, which is only thanks to the judicious use of a minefield. So despite the flaws and the high difficulty level, IGI keeps drawing me back. It's got real character and soul, and that I'll fucking beat you next time compulsiveness. Well worth a tenner of anyone's money.

In keeping with the spirit of current events and my mood gaming, I reinstalled Operation Flashpoint this week.

Playing this for about four hours on Tuesday night really makes you feel for the guys over in the Gulf. I must have been shot, grenaded or blown up by tanks about a dozen times. Much in the same way directors say you don't make war films, you make anti-war films, Flashpoint is the videogame analogy of that. It's not just a soldier sim or wargame, it's perhaps the singlemost potent anti-war game ever made.

War is hell, says the cliché, but this makes you realise it's true. War is brutal, bloody, ruthless and unforgiving - and so is this. War's the worst thing a man can do to his fellow man. Naturally, Flashpoint is utterly captivating stuff. If you've never played it, go out and buy the Game Of The Year edition, and get a taster of what "Our Boys" are experiencing in the Gulf, and remember that they don't have the advantage of external cameras, variable sensitivity mouselooks, save games and reloads.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Collateral Damage

After all the friendly fire, the first big instance of collateral damage has finally occurred. This is discounting the attack on a bus near the Syrian border. Also an 'uprising' in Basra, so far unconfirmed by independent sources, convieniently started at UK prime time yesterday, taking the focus off the stalling of the advance on Baghdad, caused by sandstorms. A transparent piece of propaganda? We won't know for sure for another couple of days. Given that journalistic integrity has been thrown out of the window by embedding their reporters with US and UK army units, you can be sure that we are only told what the military and the government wants us to know. I believe we may actually be getting a clearer picture on the situation from the reporters in Baghdad, under the eyes of the Iraqi information ministry. With independent information on the situation extremely hard to come by, given the risk to reporters not embedded with coalition troops, the real story of the war will not come out until it is actually over, and the charge of the war reporting so far being more like Big Brother: Iraq can certainly be justified.

I want to write more, but it's simply too depressing.

Monday, March 24, 2003

What they don't want you to see

Friday, March 21, 2003

A Classic

Someone took the meaning of the phrase Cat Scan a little too literally. I was reminded about this earlier today by a friend, and thought I'd share it with you. I'm magnanimous like that.

Crossing The Line

This goes beyond jingoism to an offensive and unjustifiable defamation of character. I've always thought that Rupert Murdoch was an unscrupulous bastard, but The Sun's latest attack on Jacques Chirac, no doubt ordered by the great man himself, is completely out of line and nowhere near the truth. What if I were to publish a paper denouncing Tony Blair as George W. Bush's whore?

I hope The Sun gets it's arse sued off.

Operation Oily Residue

More from Michael Moore. Probably as best a place to keep informed about the Iraq conflict as anywhere.

The Yanks have brought out the big guns. Those B-52's will arrive in Baghdad around dusk, and probably put on one hell of a light show. Maybe we will see some shock and awe after all.

Honorable Mention

My copy of PC Gamer arrived yesterday. A week late. Not had chance to read it yet, since I had my French class last night, but I did notice that I got a special mention for submitting a vitriol-fuelled Uncensored review of Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries. Thanks guys. That's my warm fuzzy for the month.

I might be getting Freelancer at lunch, since I noticed Jim, vicious red crab of literature and former PCG staff writer cum freelancer, loved the pants off it. (90%)

I've been after a worthy successor to Elite for years. This might be it.

Battle Royale

So, battle is joined. Predictably, the first Allied Casualties of the war weren't due to Iraqi fire, but faulty equipment. Well, the first casualties we've been told about, anyway. I suspect we won't see any reports of Special Forces casualties until after the war is over, and they have been operating in Iraq for months. As I predicted, the Iraqis have started to torch their own oilfields, partly as a tactic to obscure satellite imagery, but mainly to piss off the Americans. Unsurprisingly, practically the very first objective secured in the war was an oil facility on the Al Faw peninsula. Donald Rumsfeld said that it was a crime for that regime to be destroying the riches of the Iraqi people, meaning of course 'don't torch the oil wells, they're the only reason we're here!'.

With media coverage being filtered both my the UK and US Defence Ministries, plus the Iraqi Information Ministry, it's hard to know whenever you're getting a representative picture of what's really happening, but it appears that the promised shock and awe tactics are on hold, whilst US Intelligence tries to assess what really happened in the aftermath of the command bunker bombing Wednesday night. There's also another good reason to hold back on the shock and awe - it would undoubtably lead to heavy civilian casualties, which is polictically unacceptable, for obvious reasons. With resistance so far being reported as being light I think that the use of cruise missiles and air support will likewise not scale up to shock and awe levels. Not unless Coalition troops start taking casualties when they engage the Republican Guard, who will no doubt seek to draw the fighting into the cities, that is.

I await developments over the next few days with a fair amount of concern and tredipation.

Alien Sex

This brightened my morning. Whatever drugs rock stars take these days, they must be better than what they had in the '60s.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Unstable 2

I think Jamie got the better deal. I attempted to play a bit more Unreal 2 last night, only to be completely stymied by a cutscene that just keeps crashing. I'd only just finished the tippy-tappy spider level, drooled a bit more over Aida during the briefing, and went off to do the living planet level. And I can't get it started. It's all the more annoying since I have to sit through several minutes of Loading - Initializing - Stand By screens to find out if it's going to fall over in the pre-level cutscene. If the patch doesn't fix it, I'm going to be most annoyed. Either that, or I'm going to see if you can use a development code to skip the level, just to get past it.

I'm similarly stuck on a level halfway through Project IGI. Not due to any bugs, just through sheer difficulty. Brilliant game, but fucking hard. I've been trying to beat the Get Priboi mission for about 4 weeks now. I think I'm going to have to resort to using a walkthrough. Since you can't SAVE or CHEAT.

Succinct Protest

Blog Around The Block

Doing my daily blog check - and Jamie has given me perhaps the most ringing endorsement of my blog yet:

I see so many people - when I log onto Blogger, even just the guys on State - do interesting things with their blogs. Jim Rossignol writes weekly short stories, Darren has both a normal blog with actual content and his Hacked Blog fiction, while Iain just talks crap.

Arf. Cheers, mate.

Lazarii, aka Mr BRILLIANT! on State, on the other hand is a deeply fucked up individual. Click that link if you have the stomach for it. You don't get to see poetry on jizz every day. Thankfully.

You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

The Second Gulf War has begun. The Americans kicked things off with a small targetted strike referred to as a decapitation exercise aimed at communications centres and at Saddam Hussein himself. The aim was to stop the war pretty much as soon as it started, but seems to have failed. World Opinion also seems deeply divided - this is not a popular war internationally, and the war hasn't even really begun in earnest.

One thing is certain - things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. I expect airstrikes to commence fully tonight, followed by ground troops within 24 hours of the start of the airstrikes.

One thing that is uncertain is how much resistance the Iraqi army will put up. Analysts predict that the conscript divisions will probably surrender before or very soon after ground troops go in, whereas the Republican Guard will put up more of a fight, and the Special Republican Guard, the closest thing Iraq has to elite troops may fight to the last man, and try to draw the allies into street fighting in Baghdad, where the US and UK's air power will effectively be neutralised by the risk of civilian casualties. I'm certainly not expecting a 'quick and clean' campaign, much as I hope I'm wrong, but this could get very messy indeed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


Conflicting reports from the Kuwait-Iraq frontline suggest that hostilities are going to commence within 24 hours as US troops move into the demilitarized zone in Kuwait. Not that hostilities haven't already been started weeks ago. The 'softening up' of the No Fly Zones have not solely targetted threats to US air power, but have targetted communications bunkers that would co-ordinate Iraqi ground forces, which is well outside the official mandate of what the US and UK said they would be used for. They simply have formalized hostilities yet.

Ironically, troop movements are being compromised by a sandstorm in the area that's reduced visibility down to a few metres. Perhaps someone upstairs is trying to tell them something?

Ape Escape

Michael Moore has gone understandably apeshit. I got this on his mailing list today

Monday, March 17th, 2003

George W. Bush

Washington, DC

Dear Governor Bush:

So today is what you call "the moment of truth," the day that "France and the

rest of world have to show their cards on the table." I'm glad to hear that this

day has finally arrived. Because, I gotta tell ya, having survived 440 days of

your lying and conniving, I wasn't sure if I could take much more. So I'm glad

to hear that today is Truth Day, 'cause I got a few truths I would like to share

with you:

1. There is virtually NO ONE in America (talk radio nutters and Fox News aside)

who is gung-ho to go to war. Trust me on this one. Walk out of the White House

and on to any street in America and try to find five people who are PASSIONATE

about wanting to kill Iraqis. YOU WON'T FIND THEM! Why? 'Cause NO Iraqis have

ever come here and killed any of us! No Iraqi has even threatened to do that.

You see, this is how we average Americans think: If a certain so-and-so is not

perceived as a threat to our lives, then, believe it or not, we don't want to

kill him! Funny how that works!

2. The majority of Americans -- the ones who never elected you -- are not fooled

by your weapons of mass distraction. We know what the real issues are that

affect our daily lives -- and none of them begin with I or end in Q. Here's what

threatens us: two and a half million jobs lost since you took office, the stock

market having become a cruel joke, no one knowing if their retirement funds are

going to be there, gas now costs two dollars a gallon -- the list goes on and

on. Bombing Iraq will not make any of this go away. Only you need to go away for

3. As Bill Maher said last week, how bad do you have to suck to lose a

popularity contest with Saddam Hussein? The whole world is against you, Mr.

Bush. Count your fellow Americans among them.

4. The Pope has said this war is wrong, that it is a SIN. The Pope! But even

worse, the Dixie Chicks have now come out against you! How bad does it have to

get before you realize that you are an army of one on this war? Of course, this

is a war you personally won't have to fight. Just like when you went AWOL while

the poor were shipped to Vietnam in your place.

5. Of the 535 members of Congress, only ONE (Sen. Johnson of South Dakota) has

an enlisted son or daughter in the armed forces! If you really want to stand up

for America, please send your twin daughters over to Kuwait right now and let

them don their chemical warfare suits. And let's see every member of Congress

with a child of military age also sacrifice their kids for this war effort.

What's that you say? You don't THINK so? Well, hey, guess what -- we don't think

so either!

6. Finally, we love France. Yes, they have pulled some royal screw-ups. Yes,

some of them can be pretty damn annoying. But have you forgotten we wouldn't

even have this country known as America if it weren't for the French? That it

was their help in the Revolutionary War that won it for us? That it was France

who gave us our Statue of Liberty, a Frenchman who built the Chevrolet, and a

pair of French brothers who invented the movies? And now they are doing what

only a good friend can do -- tell you the truth about yourself, straight, no

b.s. Quit pissing on the French and thank them for getting it right for once.

You know, you really should have traveled more (like once) before you took over.

Your ignorance of the world has not only made you look stupid, it has painted

you into a corner you can't get out of.

Well, cheer up -- there IS good news. If you do go through with this war, more

than likely it will be over soon because I'm guessing there aren't a lot of

Iraqis willing to lay down their lives to protect Saddam Hussein. After you

"win" the war, you will enjoy a huge bump in the popularity polls as everyone

loves a winner -- and who doesn't like to see a good ass-whoopin' every now and

then (especially when it 's some third world ass!). And just like with

Afghanistan, we'll forget about what happens to a country after we bomb it

'cause that is just too complex! So try your best to ride this victory all the

way to next year's election. Of course, that's still a long ways away, so we'll

all get to have a good hardy-har-har while we watch the economy sink even

further down the toilet!

But, hey, who knows -- maybe you'll find Osama a few days before the election!

See, start thinking like THAT! Keep hope alive! Kill Iraqis -- they got our



Michael Moore

Can't say much fairer than that, really.

The government won the vote on Iraq last night, despite a major revolt. John Reid claims that it was a 'democratic decision'. I don't think so. Did my MP vote to reflect my beliefs on war in Iraq? Did yours? When over 50% of the population do not support war, or are at the very least unconvinced of its legality, how can a vote of 412 to 149 reflect the democratically held views of the electorate? Simple - they don't. Yet now the government is asking the public to back a decision strong-armed through parliament with the help of the Opposition - showing how woefully out of touch Iain Duncan Smith is with the public.

So we're going to war - I wonder how things will turn out when body bags start coming back from Iraq. Politicians make the decisions, but it's always the servicemen who pay the price.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Die Puny Humans!

Everyone probably knows about this by now, but this is the blog of Warren Ellis, comic writer extraordinaire, and provider of the story for Hostile Waters, one of the most criminally undersold games in the history of man. Ellis seems to be a little like me, an information junkie and a little bit bonkers. Enjoy.

Short Thrift

Oh dear. Clare Short has just blown all her credability out of the water. After threatening to resign, she had to back it up, and she's bottled it. Perhaps her principles weren't so high and mighty after all. Robin Cook however, delivered a devestating broadside to Tony Blair, in a speech that got an unprecedented round of applause from Commons MPs. I never thought I'd say this, but well done Robin. The vote tonight in the Commons will probably be a close one, and if Blair loses it, all hell will break loose within government.

If the Commons fails to back action in Iraq, I suspect that British forces will go in anyway following an unprovoked attack on our forces or something equally fatuous. However, since the Conservatives are backing the government, that's pretty unlikely. It would be a pleasant surprise if it went the other way though. I wonder just how many Labour back benchers will rebel.

Bush continues to play the self-defense card, and gave Saddam a 48-hour ultimatum to get out of Iraq. As I predicted, war by the end of the week then. Airstrikes will probably start on friday.

Frosty Reception

In other news, I have the day off today, to take delivery of my new fridge. I sit here with a glass of cognac, typing happily away, in anticipation of a shiny new fridge that won't need the ice box defrosting every week, and of the opportunity to play lots more Planescape Torment and perhaps some Deus Ex after I'm done surfing. And it's even sunny and warm. Life is good, even if the world is going to shit.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Cooking on oil

Robin Cook, bless him, has resigned from Government over it's handling of Iraq, which has surely got to be an embarassment to Tony Blair, whilst not a big setback in itself, as war is going to be declared within days now that plans to table a second resolution have been abandoned. Clare Short will probably follow suit within the next day or two.

The US have ordered UN Weapons Inspectors out of Iraq for their own safety, and signals the imminent commencement of airstrikes against Iraq.

Bush is expected to announce tonight that war will only be avoided if Saddam Hussein flees Iraq, which we all know isn't going to happen. Jack Straw will also make a statement at the Commons tonight along similar lines. Will Blair allow the Commons to vote on whenever UK forces will participate in a unilateralist war on Iraq? I don't think he will - there's too much risk of him losing, and this may have been why Cook walked.

Today is a bad day for freedom and democracy.

Moment Of Truth

Bush and Blair effectively held the UN to ransom yesterday. The effective message was we're going to war anyway, back us or be irrelevant. The way Bush blamed the French for the move to war was typically cynical of the American Administration, shifting blame away from themselves to the only country willing to speak out for a peaceful solution. They're giving the Security Council 24 hours to reach an agreement to go to war, and there's no way in hell that the French, Russians and the Chinese will go for it. Bush and Blair have sounded the death knell of the Security Council and of the authority of the UN.

Bush has paved the way for America to get involved in any conflict it likes, without the authorisation of the UN. The US administration is no longer the world's policeman, it's a corporate thug, pursuing the interests of it's paymasters. Bush's friends in the oil industry have decreed that Iraq's oil needs liberating, and Bush has resolved to liberate it, under the pretense of disarming Saddam Hussein. The truth is under the UN, Saddam is disarming. But the US and the UK are declaring war anyway.

I can't see this as anything other than a play for economic resources, and I fully expect Saddam to employ the scorched earth policy he did in the last Gulf War. This conflict will not be restricted to Iraq - it will not be clean and it will not be quick - it will widen and potentially engulf the Middle East. If Saddam Hussein does possess any weapons of mass destruction, they will be used, probably against Iran, Kuwait and Israel.

Hussein knows that this is a war he cannot win, miltarily at least - his aim will be to inflame tensions and become a martyr. And I think he stands every chance of succeeding.

We will be at war by the end of this week - as I write the first shots are already being fired by Allied airplanes in the Iraqi no-fly zones, it's just not officially a war yet. We're going to see a country devestated on a political whim, not in the interests of world peace. The Arabs will not take this lying down either, and I expect that terrorist attacks on the UK and the US by Islamic extremist groups will increase, and some will be successful. This, of course, plays into the hands of Bush's administration, vindicating the need for their War On Terror, paving the way for intervention after intervention, until we're all waving Stars and Stripes.

Our only hope is that the peoples of Britain and America will recognise the political expediency of this action, and it's illegality under the UN Charter, and get Bush and Blair out on their ear. Though I believe that the chances of either of them being prosecuted for war crimes are remote at best. What is more likely is that the UK government might actually have a fit of conscience, and several key member's Tony Blair's cabinet will walk out. Provided they have the balls to do so - not exactly a sure bet where politicians are concerned. If there aren't severak high line resignations by the end of week, it will simply confirm my worst fears - that we've stopped living in a democracy.

Friday, March 14, 2003

It's Just Not Cricket

They should commentate on the cricket like this on Channel 4.

Free Press

When the rest of the world agrees that you're wrong, you're probably wrong. Shame that Bush and Blair don't see it though.

Diplomacy's Last Gasp

The US seem to be ready to abandon the UN and go it alone with Blair pulling Britain's armed forces behind them, and is moving more firepower into the Gulf with which to reduce Iraq to smoking rubble. Bush has relented on calling a vote this week, in a last gasp of diplomatic brinksmanship, (as Saddam prepares to announce what has happened to all their VX nerve gas) but war seems inevitable at this point, and there's little the UN or the UK Parliament can do to stop it.
I fear the political fallout from this one will make Vietnam look like trivial.

The jingoism of The Sun reached fever pitch today - with a Spot the difference between Saddam Hussein and Jacques Chirac on the front cover, with the obvious and totally fatuous implication that Chirac is the greater threat to democracy and world peace. The real villain of the piece isn't even mentioned - George W. Bush. What's unfortunate is that the majority of brainless plebs that read the Sun will take it at face value.
The media have a responsibility to report matters as serious as this with an even hand, and papers like the Sun leaping onto the bandwagon as a mouthpiece for war, defies reason and logic.

The Bush administration are the ones forcing the pace, and insisting on quick action, when popular and reasoned opinion does not agree with the need for immediate and punitive action. Chirac, Putin and Schroeder are simply reflecting the majority of opinion in the world, by insisting that the UN Weapons Inspectorate are given sufficient freedom and power to do their job. For Jack Straw and Iain 'In Deep Shit' Duncan-Smith to say that the French are to blame for forcing war is complete bullshit. Resolution 1441 doesn't authorise or require military action to see it is enforced. The fact of the matter is that the US and UK governments have spent billions of taxpayer's money preparing their armed forces for war, and they don't want to see it wasted, and that they have to initiate a war in the next week, before the desert temperature makes armoured vehicular combat uncomfortably impractical.

Meanwhile, the Israelis continue to wreak havoc, not only killing more suspected members of Islamic Jihad in a Palestinian refugee camp, but slaughtering two entirely innocent Israelis in a clearly marked car, who worked as security guards at a local research establishment.
Check out the picture below to observe the Israeli Army's inherent restrained use of force.

The Guardian reports that not only were the two men not given much of a warning, but those warnings were shouted in Arabic, a language neither man spoke. Israeli soldiers being trigger-happy and having a casual disregard for human life? Surely not!

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Midnight Revelations

I always seem to do my best thinking when I'm about to fall asleep. Consequently, I have all these great ideas, fall asleep, and can't remember them in the morning. I'm sure I've lost a fortune in all that lost intellectual capital.

However, last night I had a bit of a revelation. No, not a vision of Aida's breasts, but the nature of the influence of my real life on the kind of games I play.

I've always been a mood gamer - I need to be in a certain mood to feel like playing a game. Last night I finally figured out the pattern, after analysing my current obsession with Planescape Torment.

I'm feeling a little professional restlessness at the moment - I have a meeting with my manager next week, I'm having a project Terms of Reference review this week, and I've decided to shift projects within the company by the end of September this year. I'm in professional flux - in need of realignment and focussing. I need to rediscover my ambition and passion for the IT Business. Hence, I'm playing Planescape. It's the perfect videogame representation of my current state of mind. A man with no memory or concept of what he is doing, engaging in a journey of self-discovery to find his place in the world.

When I've had a bad day, or I'm really angry with something or someone, I'll play an FPS, venting aggression. When I'm sick of the way petty politicians find ways to ruin the lives of ordinary people, I'll play Civ III or Supremacy - because I know I can do a better job of running things. When I'm feeling good and in control, I'll play Haegemonia or X-Com.
Each game has a particular niche in my psyche. It probably explains why I rarely finish games - my state of mind or mood isn't constant enough for a game to rigidly hold my attention for the time required to complete the game.

Does this sound familiar, or is it just me?

Generic Shooter 2

My plans to play Planescape last night were unexpectedly turned on their head thanks to my friend Jamie who I'd traded my copy of System Shock 2 with for Unreal 2. When I got home, a suspiciously DVD-sized package with Scottish stamps was waiting on the doormat, so I rushed off to install it, after making dinner (one of my trademark chillies).

I had, of course, heard all the horror stories about how bad it was, and how PC Zone had sold out big time to get the exclusive - naturally I wanted to see if they were right, but I wasn't going to fork out £35 to find out. Since I'd never really gotten into SS2, and never play it anymore - hearing that Jamie was after a copy, I negotiated a trade. I'm not sure yet who got the better deal - only time will tell.

I only managed to get in an hour or two on the game last night, and rather frustratingly, it seemed like half of that was watching fairly banal cutscenes and immersion smashing loading screens. The loading times are absolutely glacial. Understandable perhaps, given the quality of the textures, but nonetheless no less irksome.

Unreal 2 is pretty - you have to give it that - the new Unreal engine, given a P4 processor and a GeForce 4 Ti4600 looks positively gorgeous, and the frame rate doesn't suffer too much even at high detail in 1024x768 resolution. For looks the game can't be faulted, and this is exemplified by the lovely Aida.

The rendering of Aida is a triumph of modern 3D modelling. Her breasts alone give entirely new meaning to the phrase *bump mapping*. Thankfully, the developers have at least attempted to give her some personality beyond her anti-aliased arse. Aida has a bitter and cynical edge to her, and her sarcasm and cynicism is a refreshing move away from type for a character who's essentially just there to provide a bit of eye-candy. She even has a nice voice, too.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast rather let the side down - Issak is a bit of a clichéd hard-bitten-recovering-addict personality, and is totally unexceptional - nothing we've not seen before - and Ne'Ban is the classic outsider-trying-to-fit-in-but-making-a-complete-hash-of-it type. And the protagonist himself, Dalton, is the wronged-hero-striving-for-redemption. At least he's not the usual All White All American Hero. Nice to see a developer going for a bit of ethnic diversity in it's main characters.

After sitting through half a dozen loading screens and a couple of cutscenes, we finally get to the action - such as it is. The level design thus far is solid, if uninspired, lacking the grandeur of some of the UT2003 levels. The weapons too, aren't great - the aptly named Popgun is as throughly useless as most other pistols in FPS games, bar the fact this one doesn't run out of ammo. The CAR assault rifle is nice, though the alternate fire lacks punch, and the grenade launcher, like the one in AvP, is too dangerous to use at close quarters, and too unwieldy and imprecise to aim at medium range. Why did they bother, then? The alien shock lance is a barely disguised UT Shock Rifle, only lacking the power and accuracy.

Fingers crossed things will pick up later - I particularly want to get my hands on the flamethrower.

Thus far I'm a couple of levels in - having retrieved the first artifact from the Sanctuary mining base - and I've only met two types of enemy; Izarian grunts and the odd Skaarj. Again, not very impressive, though I did have a nice Aliens-style moment when I was playing hide-and-seek under the floor of the reactor control room with a Skaarj above me.

Unfortunately, there haven't been enough moments like that for a couple of hours play, and the rest of the combat feels lightweight and not especially tactical. What's annoying is seeing the Skaarj leap and roll about, avoiding fire, when you can't do the same thing, lumbering about like a flat-footed elephant. I'll have to try enabling the UT style dodging, but since Dalton's movement rate is so slow, (the running pace is more like walking, and the walking pace is more like crawling) I wonder what difference it'll really make.

The jury is still out on this one - I need to get further into the game to really pass a final judgment - but everything so far points to a highly polished, yet utterly uninspiring experience. It's not a bad game by any means, but it fails to be exceptional in any way, bar the sumptuous graphics engine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Mother Of All Bombs

The USA demonstrated its moral authority to go on a global crusade to get rid of weapons of mass destruction by testing - yes, you guessed it! - a weapon of mass destruction. A nine and a half tonne Fuel-Air-Explosive bomb. FAE weapons are the closest thing you can get to a nuclear weapon without using plutonium. FAE's are catastrophically powerful weapons that are easily 10 times more devestating than a so-called dumb iron or fragmentation bomb of equivalent weight. This is because they explode above ground, directing their explosive pressure downwards, not outwards from a pinpoint groundburst, like a standard bomb, vastly increasing their area of effect.

The effect of using one of these anywhere near a population centre, let alone *in* one, would be nothing short of calamatous. The USA is making the fallacious assumption that might makes right and abusing it's position as the lone superpower to get whatever the fuck it wants, regardless of the consequences to the rest of the world. From where I'm sitting, it's the disarmament the USA that the UN should be considering, not the disarmament of Iraq.

Bush's administration lacks the responsibility to wield the power it has, and only possesses it thanks to the dubious legality of the result of the Florida State election in 2000.

If one of these weapons gets dropped on an Iraqi city and kills thousands of civilians, will George W. Bush be indicted for war crimes? The words *not*, *bloody* and *likely* spring to mind. Where's a presidential assassin when you need one, eh?

Society of Sensation

More Planescape Torment. How ironic that a game called Torment is actually one of the most thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable games I've played in years. I spent another couple of hours on this last night, almost entirely in the Sensate Festhall, soaking up the sensations (and the experience points) in the lecture halls and Sensorium.
Was rather taken aback by one of the sensory stones - appropriately called Supernatural Lust - giving you the sensatory experience of deflowering a succubus. The Longing stone where you learn more about your relationship with Deionarra is captivatingly written too - you get totally shook up when you discover just what a bastard your previous incarnation was. I missed that the first time around. It's great to get halfway through a game, replay it and discover so much more the second time around. Planescape just gets better and better - I particularly like just ragging Morte about having no body.

I think I'm going to play this through to completion before I touch Sub Command - or anything else for that matter.

Freedom Folly

This is just fucking stupid.

Rumsfeld Ruminates

The war plan is in tatters as Donald Rumsfeld says that the US will strike Iraq without the UK if necessary. Talk of a rift is hastily denied by both Rummy and Geoff Hoon, whilst the US rejects a 45 day deadline for disarmament proposed by the wavering states on the Security Council. So, war by the end of next week then?
Meanwhile, BP and Shell hold talks with the government to ensure they get a piece of the Iraq pie. Don't worry, the war's not about oil, it's about principle. Allegedly.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Forced Feedback

Thanks to my mate Rich pointing me in the direction of these lovely people you can now shout at me if I say something mad and wrong.

Don't be shy now.

All Ahead Standard

I like submarines. One of my favourite games of all time is Silent Hunter, a WWII submarine simulator where you serve in the Pacific fleet submarine arm, commanding boats from the lowly P-Class up to the mighty Gato-class. I've had my eye on this for quite a while now, and I bought it this lunchtime after I discovered EA have stopped production and distribution of it, so I snapped up one of the last remaining copies of it in my local PC World. Jason Bradbury really liked it when he reviewed it for PC Gamer, and Gamespy gave it 89%, so I reckon it's worth a try.
I'm expecting a hardcore sim experience, rather than adrenalin-coursing eye candy, which is precisely what I want. Silent Hunter was the perfect Lazy Sunday Afternoon game, so I hope this will be just as good. Expect damage reports to be posted soon. Provided I can tear myself away from Planescape, of course.

The Rotten Heart Of Government

Tony Blair didn't sack Clare Short last night for her comments on his pact of insanity with Bush - which certainly reveals that Blair has totally lost grip of his party, his government and the Iraq situation. The interview with Trevor MacDonald showed that Blair has totally lost the plot regarding public opinion too, and that any pretenses of Prime Ministerial authority have been destroyed. Did he fail to sack Short because he didn't want to create a martyr for the anti-war movement, or because, at heart, he knows that she's right?
Clare Short is without doubt a very capable minister, and her word carries a lot of weight within the civil service. I'll be interested to see if there's further public dissent from high-ranking Labour party members in next week or so.

Kofi Annan finally threw his hand in too - and came up with aces for the anti-war camp - basically saying that if the US and the UK ignore a veto on the second resolution, which everyone predicts they will - despite the fact both Russia and France have said they will veto a second resolution authorising war, then that war would be illegal under international law and would break the UN Charter. Perhaps this will make the American administration take a step back. At least a vote on a second resolution has been delayed until it can be made more palatable to the French and the Russians.

Magnificent Monbiot

At least there's one person called George who talks sense.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Wayward Ronin

Only two more pages to go in the Saga of the Cardboard Tube Samurai. I anticipate he'll meet with a grisly death. Such is the fate of a samurai with no master.

Don't trust the skull!

Thanks to a manual installation tip I read on the PC Gamer Forum to stop me needing to change CDs every five minutes, I've got right back into Planescape: Torment. I spent a few hours on it last night, and it's truly superb. The characterisation is excellent, and for once the conversation is an end in itself, rather than something to break up the hack and slash. I must get around to finishing it this time.

Now completely changing the subject;
A politician with scruples. A rare thing indeed. I like Clare Short. It's rare to see a politician who will make a stand based on principle, rather than personal gain, but I question what her resignation from government would achieve. It would remove her influence on policy, and leave the warmongers to do what they like. I admire her willingness to put pressure on Tony Blair's pandering to Bush, but a resignation would lose them nothing, and lose her everything. She would be better off calling for a vote of no confidence in Tony Blair's leadership - if she's willing to throw away her political career on this issue, she might as well do it in style.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

The failure of anti-capitalism

Not content with having spent £23,000 on a new car, I've just bought a new fridge. This is because the door on the ice box has broken on my current one, and I can't be arsed defrosting it every two weeks.

So I've succumbed to the evils of consumerism and capitalism yet again. But hey, this fridge is in sexy silver, not your old common garden boring white. Rampant consumerism is okay in my book as long as what you spend your money on looks cool. *coughs*

Had a fairly slow weekend - visiting some friends up in Biggleswade, a small town on the A1 just past Stevenage. Fairly unremarkable place, only notable for ridiculously named towns around it, including the sublimely named Moggerhanger.
The downside of socialising with Fleur's friends on weekends is that she always arranges them on Grand Prix weekends, so that I miss them. Not only that, I missed the Six Nations this weekend too, so I don't even know if my fair Scotland managed to trounce the Welsh. A quick look at BBC Sport tells me that they did. w00t!

Mum won't be pleased - Leeds lost in the FA Cup. Ooops. Rob will be gutted too, he's a Wednesday supporter.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Arboreal Anarchy

Good news for squirrels.

It's this just fantastic?

I love this quote from the woman who trained the squirrel:
"It's kinda like training a husband," she says. "You have to give them a lot of love and affection and tell them the same thing over and over again."

Only in America.

Blix Blitz

UN Weapons inspectors' report undermines the case for war.

This is getting dangerous now. If America and Britain attack Iraq, as expected, within the next week or two they're going to do it almost certainly without UN backing, and this risks not only making an irrelevance of the UN and the Security Council, but represents the breakdown of International Law and a re-emergence of Imperialism.

The impact upon the Middle East could be catastrophic, and could even enflame the Holy War that Osama Bin Laden tried to incite on 9/11. Either Bush and Blair are blind to the risks of unilateral action against Iraq or they simply don't care. I envisage many consequences of an American-led attack against Iraq, and none of them are pretty. Blair says history will be my judge, but I fear that the judgment has already been made, and Blair lacks the balls to back out of an ill-advised, unwanted and unnecessary war, lest he provoke the wrath of the neo-Imperialist giant he is trailing like a slobbering month old puppy.

Parapox paradox

Bad news for squirrels.

Rushing headlong, out of control

We took another step closer to World War III yesterday.

US Marines made an unauthorised incursion into the Kuwait-Iraq demilitarised zone to cut three access points in an electric fence to give tanks easy entry into Iraq, and George W. Bush and Tony Blair moved the goalposts yet again, stating that military action is going to happen regardless of support from the UN Security Council. This is whilst experts in International Law state that any pre-emptive attack on Iraq would be illegal.

It's been obvious for months that Bush is desperate to wage war on Iraq, and will do so without clear evidence of Iraq's support of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and/or possession of weapons of mass destruction or international support for military action. The claims by The coalition of the willing that not using force against Saddam Hussein to ensure he disarms and that allowing the UN weapons inspectors to do their job constitutes appeasement of Saddam's regime are disingenuous at best.

With US spy satellites, U2 spy planes and E3 AWACS airborne radars monitoring every move on the ground in Iraq, and UN weapons inspectors conducting searches based upon this intelligence for weapons of mass destruction, what threat can Iraq possibly cause? Particularly since they have agreed to dismantle the only rockets capable of delivering biological, chemical or nuclear warheads any significant distance beyond the Iraqi border?

Are we suddenly now saying that the billions of dollars spent by the US and the UK on the Intelligence services no longer provide enough information to safeguard the UK and the US? Are we saying that the border controls and sanctions that have killed 500,000 Iraqi children over the last 10 years can no longer safeguard the West from biological or chemical material leaving Iraq?

Or are Bush and Blair desperately grasping at straws, begging, borrowing and bribing for support for a war of convienience and profiligacy?

How can we honestly enter a war to disarm a country when it was us who were all too willing to provide Hussein with the arms we're disarming when it suited our foreign policy?

How can we claim the moral high ground on weapons of mass destruction when the Pentagon is begging Congress to allow them to build smaller more tactically usable nuclear weapons in violation of the UN non-proliferation charters the US is publically seeking to enforce on Iraq?

And this doesn't even touch on the Palestinian question. Israel has been violating UN resolutions, such as 242, detailing the requirement for Israel to remove settlers and forces from Palestinian lands, for decades. Yet the West isn't threatening Israel with force to tow the UN line. In fact, it's done nothing to prevent Israel violate UN resolutions left right and centre, and treat the Palestinians as if they had no human rights.

By ignoring the real threats to world peace, Israel and North Korea, Bush and Blair are committing political suicide by liberating Iraq's oil from an evil and oppressive regime,... oh sorry, I mean people, and they don't care if they take the rest of us with them.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Who's the bastard in black?

I tried out the Championship Manager 4 Beta demo last night. My relationship with CM is a complex one. Football is something that I enjoy watching, and whilst I have very little actual ability at the game in question, I do have a very good idea of how it should be played. CM is undoubtably the best researched, in-depth football management game there is. Unfortunately, it's rubbish. Well, inconsistent and unrealistic at the very least. Soul-suckingly addictive, yet hair-tearingly frustrating, CM is a life eater and life breaker all in one innocent looking package.

Take my team, Leicester, whom I nominally support having gone to university there, not the greatest team in the world, but currently riding high in the upper echelons of Division One. I take command, sign a couple of decent players, but keep the same core team that is currently doing so well in real life, and employ the same attacking 4-4-2 tactics.

My first league game is a crushing 3-0 victory over Reading, a semi-decent team, currently in third position of Division One. Okay, this is starting well. Next game, A nil-nil away draw at Sheffield United, which is fair enough, these are the guys that are in the FA Cup quarter finals. Next game, an improbable 2-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, a team who are on Route One to the Second Division and can't score a goal to save their lives. It's made all the more infuriating when your pre-season training has gone so well. And there's still the old That's his first goal of the season!/first goal for his club! chestnut whenever someone scroes against you. Completely against the run of play. And they've only had one shot on target to your 30, and you lose 1-0. Grrr.

So, no change in the results the game throws up, but what about the engine?

Well, the new match engine is a big improvement, and it's in GLORIOUS 2D!!!! w00t!!!

Granted, it does make a big difference to just looking at a vast ream of stats, but the match commentary at times doesn't seem capable of keeping up with the 2D Pitch engine, and it makes AI glitches even more obvious when you get unrealistic player positionings, or blatently stupid wasting of possession. It also makes it obvious that the tactical choices you make aren't represented in the match engine - choose a short passing game and 70% of the passes you see in the 2D engine are 50 yard hoofs with all the accuracy of an IRA mortar.

Still, I have to reserve judgment somewhat, as this is a Beta, and it would be unfair to make a sweeping statement, but I'm going to make one anyway. Heh.

CM4 is more of the same we've come to expect from Championship Manager, with more tactical options, more man-management and media interaction, and a more realistic financial management model. And a slightly prettier front end.

I may decide it's worth the risk purchasing the finished game, as it's one of those games you can spend a lifetime with, but I hope that they do iron out some of the mind-boggling inconsistences before the final version hits the streets. Otherwise I'll just end up with another silver tea-cup coaster.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Publish Or Perish

Welcome to my blog.

I first became aware of the blogging phenomenon about a year ago. I'm not quite sure why it's taken me so long to actually get with it, as I do enjoy writing a lot, anything from short stories to journalistic articles on videogames, so I suppose writing a diary or blog was the next logical step.

Whereas a diary is usually a very private thing, a blog is a very public way of recording your innermost thoughts. I suppose it's only the anonymity provided by the internet that allows people the inner security to do this kind of thing, or perhaps telling complete strangers what's going on in your head represents some sort of catharis.

Whatever the reason, I've decided it's about the right time to enter the fray. I anticipate that most of my entries here won't go into personal details or issues I have with specific people, but will provide an outlet for all my frustrations about the world, its politics and its idiosyncracies and stupidities.

If you're reading this, you've probably clicked on my sig from State and will already know why I'm Mad (and occasionally Wrong). Hence, I'm not going to bother with the tedious introductions. If you've come here by other means, however, please do check out the forum to see where (and why) I spend 90% of my online time there.

Stay tuned for updates,....