Wednesday, March 31, 2004

My cup runneth over



I'm utterly spoilt for gaming options at the moment. UT2004 is dominating (DOMINATING!) my online gaming hours with the awesome Onslaught at the moment, with the occasional look-in from Halo, yesterday my offline gaming options got a lot more complicated.


I had originally planned on spending the evening on UT2004 playing Onslaught with Mr. Cobbett - a plan unfortunately kiboshed by Fleur having been accidentally locked in the Staff Room at her school by the caretaker when she was the last person in school - the resulting stress made the possibility of stretching the modem cable across the flat a dangerous one. If I'd been two minutes later finding Cliff (the caretaker) she would have in there all night, as he was just about to give his wife a lift to work...


With online gaming not a possibility, I had instead planned to spend the evening with Far Cry, which I've been very impressed with so far. I open the door and there's a mountain of mail for me - mostly utter crap - bank statement, ANOTHER company wanting me to take out a "GUARANTEED LOAN!" just before the interest rates go up, and some bumph from GAME, with vouchers I couldn't use in it. (They have a loyalty card scheme - surely they should know by now I don't have an Xbox or PS2. Stop sending me vouchers for them.)


The last package is more promising. It's got a London postmark and the letters "CDV" discreetly marked on the envelope. It's my long awaited review copy of Breed. YAY! I rush off to install it, as I've been looking forward to it for months. If you read my comments about the Beta Demo on State, you'll know that I was a little disappointed with it - the viewpoint lacked inertia, the weapons seemed to lack punch, and the AI seemed a bit flaky, of teammates and enemies both.


Well, Brat Designs have been busy. There's been a vast improvement across the board - you can *feel* the difference between controlling a lightly armoured Sniper and a power-suited Heavy Gunner. The weapons aren't super-generic pea-shooters anymore, and the AI is really rather decent. The Breed support each other, cover fire, and investigate downed comrades. Your squadmates report whenever they change weapon, reload and acknowledge all your instructions. They also seek cover, use protective formations, and are fairly decent shots, too. If one of your teammates stumbles infront of another one, they'll even shout "Get out of my way!".


The vehicles (which I've only used so far in the training mission) are nice, though the fighter is quite hard to control. They've also wisely ditched the Unreal Tournament announcer from the voiceover, to give a slightly more serious tone to the voiceacting - less A-Team and more Aliens. In fact, the overall feel shows that Brat Designs are huge sci-fi fans. The opening movie has a real Starship Troopers tone, and some of the vehicle design is very Aliens.


I've been pleasantly surprised an impressed so far. Expect a full review very soon.


I still had time to enjoy a really cool moment on Far Cry too. The best FPS since Half-Life? You know - I think it might be.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Out of touch



The BBC prove that they're seriously out of touch with public opinion. This is what they have to say about jetpacks.


"There's always the issue of whether you really need one."


Hello? HELLO? IT'S A JETPACK. HOW CAN YOU *NOT* NEED ONE?

Far Cry



You know me - never can resist a bargain, and yesterday I found two. The first was Far Cry in PC World for ?25. I was going to get GAME to price match it for me, but they didn't have any copies, because they'd only received half their pre-orders. GAME's loss was PC World's gain, naturally.


I played through the first mission last night (after what seemed to be the longest install and most incomprehensible intro movie in the history of civilisation) and my first impressions are very good. Graphically it's lovely, though to get a frame rate out of it, I needed to drop the resolution to 800x600, and keep the FSAA set to low, but it still looks great. The levels are huge, and the give you a lot of freedom to vary your approach to areas. I like the auto-adjust on the AI, which scales the difficulty to your actual ability, though it seems to me that pretty much annihilates the need for the four difficulty settings... Only played with two weapons so far, the Desert Eagle-a-like and the M4 carbine (which I'd used in the demo) and they're pretty solid, though I wish the zoomed "aimed" mode was through the iron sights like in Operation Flashpoint - why don't more games implement that? The buggy with the .50 cal on top is quite fun too. I managed a hit and run on a pair of grunts, which really showed off the physics system, which is also rather good, as you can push boxes off tables, knock things over, etc. It's also nice to be able to throw rocks to distract guards.


My second bargain of the day was driven by the purchase of Far Cry and also of UT2004. With the install for Far Cry weighing in at 4GB, and UT2004 being even more massive at 5.5GB, suddenly a quarter of my hard drive has disappeared. It's almost as bad as the old days when installing Mechwarrior 2 took up half of my 171MB hard drive on my P75. Fortunately, if talk is cheap, disk space is even cheaper. Thanks to a link courtesy of a loyal forumite on State, provided to me a week or two back, I now have a new 160GB Western Digital hard drive with an 8MB cache from these lovely people for just £74, including VAT and shipping. That's 46p a gigabyte. Or 0.00045p per megabyte. Considering that I paid roughly the same amount of money for a 4.3GB drive about five years ago, that's ridiculously good value. I should install it as a secondary hard drive towards the end of the week, meaning that I should be able to reinstall all my games again, with some room to spare. Yay!


I do love a bargain.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Land of the Clinically Obese



My fair homeland, which bought you The Deep Fried Mars Bar, further pushes back the boundaries of culinary excellence to bring you THE DEEP FRIED CHOCOLATE SANDWICH. My arteries are hardening just at the thought of it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Friday, March 19, 2004

A! D! S! L!



I'm online. At home. Which must mean I have the ADSL working. HURRAH! And within five minutes of being online, some bastard gave me the W32 Blaster Worm virus. YA-BOO! Thankfully, I had anticipated this, and bought Norton Internet Security 2004 earlier in the week. Which meant that the little worm lasted all of a couple of minutes. HURRAH!


I must say, I'm most impressed with the speed. A consistent 576Kbps. Sweet. Not had chance to install UT2004, but, the weekend is young!

Online Onslaught



I've just been out to lunch to purchase UT2004 and a high-speed internet phone lead to plug into the ADSL microfilter (since my old modem lead doesn't have the right connections anymore). I'm looking forward to some UT2004 Onslaught online tonight, depending upon how quickly I can get the ADSL set up. I spent another couple of hours on the UT2004 demo last night, mainly playing Onslaught, but a bit of Bombing Run as well, and upped the bot AI to Experienced (or whatever the 8th highest out of the 12 or so AI levels there are) and was still coping comfortably. I *love* the tank.


Playing with real people will be completely different, I expect. There will undoubtably be a whole range of people with varying abilities playing, and I hope to be somewhere in the middle, as I've not had a huge amount of online experience. Being there at the beginning just after the game has been released should level things out a little though.


If the weather continues to throw it down like this all weekend, it looks like I might be able to *really* abuse not only the ADSL line, but probably Fleur's patience as well!

Thursday, March 18, 2004

ADSL Excitement



Well, the modem came through the post on Tuesday - leaving with all the equipment I need to get online, but my ADSL isn't activated until tomorrow, which is a bit of a pain, but I suppose that's better than having the line activated but the modem going AWOL in the post.


I can't wait to get it installed, because I was playing the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo last night. Usually, I'm utterly cynical about franchise releases, but this blew me away. Whilst UT2k3 was simply UT with better graphics and a couple of new game modes, UT2k4 features a few more surprises. Firstly, the vehicles. Implementing vehicles in an online game is nothing new - Mobile Forces did it ages ago, and did it well too (worth a look if you can find it on budget) - but UT2k4 has taken them a level beyond anything I've played before. The buggy is excellent, with a chain plasma cannon, and Boudicca style chopping arms that you can spring out from the side of the vehicle to lop hapless pedestrians in half. Most satisfactory! The Goliath tank (couldn't you have come up with a better name, guys?) is well, a *tank*, with all the fun and mayhem which that implies. The Raptor is quite fun too, and really brings the third dimension into play.


There are a couple of new weapons, the sniper rifle makes a welcome return, and the mine layer is quite good, and all the favourites are still there - flak cannon (my personal favourite), shock rifle, link gun, etc.


However, it's not the vehicles nor the weapons that has me excited by this game. It's the new game modes. It's almost universally agreed that Bombing Run is one of the best things to happen to multiplayer gaming since Quake deathmatch, was the jewel in the crown of UT2k3. Well, they've topped it.


Onslaught is even better than Bombing Run. I've only played it with bots so far, and no doubt it'll be even better when I play it online with real people, but I spent about two hours happily blasting away on it. The premise is that each team has a power core - you defend your own, and attack the enemy's. It's not quite that simple, however, as the map is littered with power nodes that must also be constructed and defended. You have to hold a node in order to be able to attack the next one in the network, and that makes for frantic action, as you have multiple engagements across the map.


The maps are huge, which really brings the vehicles into play, and you can respawn at any power node you hold. It's ace. Skillo, even. Roll on Friday evening.

Monday, March 15, 2004

A funny thing happened on the way to the bank,...



I was in Guildford on Saturday with Fleur and my friend Michelle, who I used to work with in Sheffield at the casino. Michelle needed to pop to the bank, so off we toddle to the nearest Barclays. Whilst I'm waiting outside, I have a look around, pretty bored, because Fleur and Michelle are stood in a long queue.


I gaze over the road and see one of these.



I think "Mmmm, Ferrari 550!" and then I see who's sitting on the bonnet.



HOLY SHIT IT'S JODIE KIDD.

I'm stood there and I don't know what I should be drooling over - her or the car. Made my day, I tell you that.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Titanium Rhapsody



Sheer brilliance.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Exoskeleton



We're just one step away from Big Stompy Robots now.

Fat Pipe



I got my bonus this month, and since it's wiped out my overdraft with a considerable amount to spare, I've been having that money burning a hole in my pocket feeling. I've been considering getting an Alienware tower, because my current one is starting to get a little saggy now. I got a bit of a rude shock at the performance of Deus Ex: Invisible War at the weekend just gone. A 1.5GHz minimum spec? What's all that about? The game was designed for the Xbox, for goodness sake! However, I can't really justify it when there's still a new cooker that I need to buy to replace my current one, which is not only hideous, but about 20 years old.



However, I want to arrange the delivery date for the cooker to coincide with the second week of my Easter holiday in April, which means I can't order it *now* and sate that spending desire. Fleur wouldn't be impressed if I went and bought a widescreen TV either, so what on earth could I splurge on?


As I've probably ranted about before here, I've been rather frustrated by an inability to get broadband, because the flat is too far from the local telephone exchange. Well, I had a quick check on the BT website, and it now appears that they've extended the range of broadband signals from 5.5km to 6km, which neatly brings the flat into range! So, off I toddle to the Pipex website, who I've had recommended to me by several people, and sign up for their Solo2Go 512K broadband package, which costs just £18 to set up (as opposed to the £50-60 charged by everyone else) and includes the cost of the Modem plus the microfilters you need to separate the ADSL signal from the normal phone line.


It should be activated within the next couple of weeks, meaning that I'll have fast internet at home, and Fleur will still be able to use the phone when I'm online, so everybody wins. And at only £24 a month, it's hardly a drain on the old finances. I might even indulge in some online gaming now. Skillo!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Birdwatchers Get One In The Eye



Birdwatchers in Grimsby flock to see a rare American Robin - one of only a dozen or so ever seen in the country - only to see it get eaten by a sparrowhawk whilst they're setting up their cameras. I just think that's fantastic.



Almost as fantastic as the American Robin's genus name: Turdus migratorius


I can just picture those flocks of migrating turds now,....

Work Ethic



Friday, March 05, 2004

Anniversary



The Mad Iain Blog is one year old today. Who'd have thought it, eh?


One year on, I'm still a videogames obsessive, everyone is still yakking on about the illegality of the Iraq War, and you still can't get the media to stop printing stories about Princess bloody Diana.


The more things change, the more things stay the same,...

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Refuge



Since I'm little depressed at the moment, I have taken refuge in two of the things closest to my heart; KOTOR and a decent Merlot. I'm two thirds through my fourth full play through KOTOR, this time with an evil bitch Dark Side Scout/Jedi Guardian. I've found a few more side quests this time around - the Genohadaran assassin quest is quite good, and nets you a lot of nice gear that you can sell for really rather nice prices at the Yavin trading post.


A lot of the shine now has come off the game, on its fourth time through, as there are no real surprises anymore, but it's nice to explore a few more of the particularly nasty and cruel dialogue trees. It's still a highly enjoyable game, and I reckon I've probably devoted as much time to this now as I have with Baldurs Gate II, which is probably the highest compliment I can pay to a game. If you still haven't played this, I pity your poor, desolate, empty lives.


Since I was completely underwhelmed by your suggestions for new music a week or so back, I finally got around to taking some of the music advice a certain Mr Gillen gave me, oooh, a good year or two ago. For the first time, I saw a Mogwai CD (Happy Songs For Happy People - the irony of the CD's title is not lost on me at this point) in a shop for less than £16, so I picked it up, along with Different Class by Pulp and Mezzanine by Massive Attack (two albums I'd been after for a while, but wasn't going to necessarily go out of my way to get) in a 3 for 2 offer at the local VShop.


I'm sure most of you dear readers already have heard of Mogwai, but for those few of you who haven't, they're a Glaswegian band, whose genre of choice I lack the music knowledge to properly categorise. Suffice it to say, they don't let piddling little things like lyrics get in the way of their music. As a person who'd much rather listen to score than song, this pleases me. I was surprised by just how much I like them - I've been listening to the album almost constantly over the last few days. It's very good music for work. It's mainly electric guitar and synth, with real melody, soul and a passionate edge. One of the tracks reminded me a bit of the incidental music from Operation Flashpoint - which is no bad thing. One of the best albums I've bought in ages. I'll have to have a trawl on eBay or Amazon for some of their other stuff.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Safe Sex For Squirrels


Are Ananova as obsessed with squirrels as I am?

Diamond Blight



Remind me never to mix white cider with one of Budgen's takeaway Chicken Madras's again. It's the express route to Excretia Of Mass Destruction.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Royksoppage



I had to listen to Royksopp's Night Out (Track 7, Melody AM) THREE TIMES on the way into work this morning in order to improve my mood enough to face another day in the office. I'm pretty desperately unhappy with work at the moment. I'm being shat on consistently by my Project Manager, who expects me to be able to sysadmin 7 RS/6000 servers, maintain an NT/2000 network *as well* as doing database maintenance work, all without any of the training or handover that would allow me to do my job.


Her response to my request for training was "I'll think about it." which is Project Manager-speak for "It's not in the project plan, don't fucking hold your breath."


My Terms Of Reference come up at the end of the month, and unless I get a commitment that she's actually going to give me the necessary training to do the job I've been asked to do (not, I hasten to add, the job I joined the project to do) I'm outta there. There's no chuffing way that I'm going to stay on the project another 6-12 months under these conditions - I'd end up murdering half the project team.


It doesn't help that my "Team Leader" has all the leadership abilities of an unambitious lemming, arrives last in the office, leaves first and pulls more sickies than the rest of the team combined. And let's not get into the badly remunerated support work. (*£2* an hour for standby? On a weekend? PISS. OFF.) Fuck the bonus we're supposed to be getting at the end of April. If I was in this for the money, I wouldn't be working for IBM, would I? I'd much rather be in a project role I enjoy. Hell, at the moment, I'd rather be commuting to Manchester and back on a daily basis. Even working at the casino in Sheffield was better than this.


I'm off to whinge at my Career Development Manager. At least he listens.

Monday, March 01, 2004

30



Fleur hits the big Three-Oh today. Wish her a happy birthday, everyone.