Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Why can't we all just... get along? State somehow manages to self-destruct yet again at the slightest provocation. Perhaps this time we can actually have a rational discussion about moderation and stop all the whinging once and for all.
Friday, August 27, 2004
Last night I finally got around to installing the USB 2 card that's been sitting in my game box idly for the last six months, meaning that my PC can now run both my ADSL modem, USB keyboard plus my gamepad and Force Feedback joystick simultaneously. The return of my gamepad meant that I could finally install Need For Speed: Underground which I bought on budget a couple of months ago.
You know you're getting old and crumbly and that you're no longer in the target market of a game when you don't know any of the bands on the soundtrack, and all the music makes your ears bleed. Even so, I stuck in four hours on it last night and turned my Peugeot 206 from a stock lanecrawler into the hottest of hot-hatches. The "Underground" road race structure works well, and with 111 race stages (some of which are 3 race tournaments, rather than one-off races) there's plenty of stuff to work through. (Plus the Quick Race mode, for unlimited fun) The difficulty builds up steadily, as you earn the money to upgrade your car, steadily unlocking better body kits, decals, engines and so on. There's lots to tinker with, and the graphics engine means that you can really create some stunning cars. Handling physics is great, and you can feel the improvement in the handling of the cars when you install improvements.
With the motion blur turned on, there's a fantastic sense of speed, too - it's pretty hard keeping your nerve when chucking yourself through blind corners at 120mph, not knowing if there's traffic on the other side of the turn. The problem with illegal street races (as in Underground) is that you have to deal with the law-abiding traffic. As you progress up the street race ladder, the density of traffic steadily increases, making things much trickier. You need to experiment with your line when learning the courses, to find out the two or three quickest ways of negotiating corners, in case you find a bus parking on the apex. I had a few sweary moments (much to Fleur's consternation - she doesn't like it when I swear at games) when the game seemed to deliberately put cars in my way when I had a 5 second lead, stalling my progress. It's somewhat frustrating, but most of the time it's your fault - particularly when you hit a tree on the last corner of the last lap - so it all just adds to that "I'll fucking beat you!" motivation.
It's also really motivating to know that winning more races will give you the money to trade-in your hot-hatch for a Fast And Furious special, sticking in Nitro and heavily uprated engines. It definitely seems like a game worth persisting with. Its probably the best racing game I've played since Colin McRae 2, though they're not really comparable, and to be fair, I've not really played that many racing games since Colin McRae 2 either. It's got star quality, though. Good production values, a shiny graphics engine, decent physics (but no damage model), a great variety of race types and a rewarding race structure, though perhaps it punishes mistakes a little bit too harshly. It's also perfect for playing in short bursts or dedicating a whole evening to (a bit like Vice City, in that respect) - definitely worth investing a tenner in. The only problem is multiplayer. Underground would be *storming* in multiplayer, but EA have decided, in all their wisdom, to restrict multiplayer to their subscription service. You can't even set up a LAN game, which is madness. It's probably hurt the sales of the title (I certainly wasn't expecting to see it on budget so soon) and perhaps it'll be something EA will redress in the impending sequel.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Didn't get much gaming done over the weekend, on account that I was up in Harpham visiting my parents, who've both had their birthdays in the last week or so. Mum was very pleased with the Chinese cleaver I'd bought her in Soho, and Dad was likewise thrilled with his bottle of LBV Port (now that he's a "Wine Consultant" - which means I've now got a very cheap source of Chateauneuf du Pape). I took them to York on Saturday, where we had a lovely Chinese buffet and did some shopping. We even saw the Red Arrows, as the North Yorkshire Airshow was on a few miles down the road, and they went over the city once or twice.
I managed to pick up some bargains in HMV. Insomnia (watching it again at the weekend, Robin Williams doesn't actually feel so much out of place as he did when I saw it at the cinema - very odd, perhaps it's the small screen effect) and Road To Perdition were added to my ever increasing DVD collection, and I added another game to my collection too. Well, not so much added, as re-added.
My friend Florence will no doubt be totally mortified, but I bought Beyond Good & Evil again. I bought it a while back in Chelmsford when seeing Flo and Alex, but promptly lent it to Flo, since I was busy with Joint Ops at the time. Well, that's another "loan" that's going to turn into a "gift"... though Flo, I *will* want Jedi Academy back at some point. :-)
I'm not really sure why I bought it again - it was only a tenner, and the guys on State had been waxing lyrical about it again, so I just had a very strong compulsion to play it. You know what? It's really, really good. BG&E just does so many of the little things right, it's an absolute joy to play. The graphics are lovely without grinding your PC to a total standstill at 1280x1024, the sound is excellent, with some of the best voice-acting I've heard for ages, and the characters have real personality and, well... *character*. The character designers have also done a very good job. Jade is the total anti-thesis to Lara Croft or Bloodrayne. She's a very understated character - nothing stands out too much, apart from the green lipstick and her eyes. The developers have managed to make her identifiably feminine (and even the teensiest bit alluring) without resorting to "LOOK! THESE ARE BREASTS!" (See the Bloodrayne screenshot, below). Jade is athletic, inquisitive, intelligent and playful (I was gobsmacked when she called Pey'j "An old fart" - I thought "You can't say that!"), far more appealing that Lara Croft's "Breasts! And guns! Did I mention I have BREASTS?"
The game's an action-adventure, but it feels more like an RPG at times, with lots of character interaction plus some very well realised combat, which was unjustly critised in PC Zone for being simplistic and not having enough weapons (It's not Max Payne, you morons!) and a Deus Ex-esque conspiracy theory storyline. The game world is exquisitely realised, and there is a real feeling of consistency. The save game system is handled especially well. You can only save the game at MDisk terminals (which are dotted around the maps) and the game auto-loads at the point immediately before initiating combat if you die in a battle (rather than making you plough through the game again from your last save point) which can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending upon your point of view (though I tend to think it's good). The eternal videogame problem of having HUGE inventories disappearing into thin air when not in use is cleverly solved by literally having it dissolve into thin air with a natty digitising pouch that sucks items TRON style into a electronic storage unit. It's simple, brilliant, and utterly consistent with the game world's technology. I daresay we'll see more games stealing the idea. The interface is very natural, and again, flows consistently with the game world. The world itself is beautifully realised, with wildlife, shiny water, boats, hovercraft, hovercars, and planes all buzzing about. The Pedestrian Areas in the city have just enough people in them, not too sparse, and not overpopulated for the area you're given to play in, either. The game feels like it's had a lot of effort and thought put into the design - everything just seems *right*.
However, the thing that's grabbed me the most is the camera. Not the 3D camera (though that too is well implemented) Jade's camera. Jade, you see, is an all-action reporter and freelance photographer. At the beginning of the game, your lighthouse has just had it's power supply cut off, and you need to earn some cash. Your main source of income, therefore, isn't from bashing monsters, it's from taking photos. Your first job (and this isn't a spoiler, really) is to take photographs of all the different types of lifeforms on the planet for the Science Centre. You use the camera from a first-person perspective, and you need to make sure that you have everything well framed and focussed to take a good enough photograph to get paid for. So you wander around happily taking photos of the local wildlife, and then you realise that the different kinds of people are lifeforms too, so you take photos of them too. Then when you're in combat, you realise that the thing's you're fighting are lifeforms, so you have to take photos of them, too. The game's constantly surprising you, as you ease into the universe and discover the terms upon which you're playing.
Even Pey'j, the SPACE PIG, isn't nearly as annoying as I feared. This is down to some top notch voice acting, and the fact that the character has been written well. He's almost endearing. However, it's the introduction of Double-H that will give you the biggest laugh of the first few hours. The game has nice tips of the hat everywhere - locations called Black Isle, West Wing (you can tell the influences on the developers here) and Double-H (who, like Minsc from Baldur's Gate) has taken one too many blows to the head, and has lost some of his memory, after you rescue him. He can't remember his name initially, and says "Double-H, Triple-X, whatever." (Triple-X, of course, being a WWF wrestler) He's kind of Minsc Meets Buzz Lightyear, and is a bit of a tragi-comic character, and is played for laughs, but in a way that makes you feel sympathetic to him. When Double-H uses his head, it's not to think, it's to smash through things.
All in all, I'm surprised at just how much I've enjoyed it so far,(Adventure isn't a genre I normally get on with) and will definitely make the effort to try and complete it. BG&E has real style, polish, sass and class. It's not revolutionary by any means, but I think it deserves a smigen more than the 84% PCG gave it.
In other news, some of the State people went to visit Pat in Amsterdam over the weekend. Poor old Aanand made the mistake of falling asleep before everyone else - whilst they were still drunk and had a camera. Ooops. Still, it could've been worse. He could've had his eyebrows shaved.
Friday, August 20, 2004
I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for Bloodrayne. Whilst I'm not holding out any hopes for the movie being any good, Bloodrayne 2 looks as though it could be as entertaining as the first game. The screenshots seem to imply that they've taken a leaf out of Prince Of Persia's book and given Rayne a more extensive acrobatic repertoire, as well as making the engine a whole lot shinier and sexier, plus upping the gore co-efficient.
It's not going to be a Half-Life 2 beater by any stretch of the imagination, but I await the demo with trembling loins.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
What the hell is going on in the world? I've won my third eBay auction in a row! First Oni, then the Master Chief (who is now majestically on sniper overwatch on top of my monitor at work) and now the complete series of Cowboy Bebop on DVD! Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining or anything, but I'm not usually this successful, and these three items in particular I'd been after for months. Actually, where Cowboy Bebop is concerned, I've been after that for about a year, after Mr Cobbett kindly lent the first four episodes to me. Everyone now - da-da da-da da-da-da-da dahhh!
The much vaunted XP Service Pack 2 has managed to break just about everything ever released, including lots of Microsoft's own products, such as Office. I have to admit that even I'm staggered by the epic amount of incompetence being shown here - "No, we don't need to be able to run C-based programs that use memory heaps! Who uses malloc()'s these days, anyway?" Ummm, *everyone*?
Add to this a firewall (enabled as standard) that has the full range of configuration from "On" to "Off", which will block ALL internet traffic from non-standard Windows programs, requiring you to manually reconfigure your ports to get them working again if the security pop-up doesn't re-enable everything successfully, unless you disable the firewall, negating the entire point of including it in the first place.
Microsoft, I'm humbled by your commitment to the quality and ease of use of your products. And your Quality Assurance processes are second to none.
I don't know about you, but I'm going to be waiting for Service Pack 2a.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Do you remember, the jingle used to go? Oh-a-oh! You were the first one! Oh-a-oh! You were the last one! I've been playing *far* too much Vice City over the weekend. Despite the fact I've got my MP3 player blasting at my ears as I type, I still can't get the soundtrack out of my head. Anyway, speaking of videos, go here and download the teaser video. I'm a huge Starship Troopers fan, and this looks like it could be a hit. Another, slightly more disturbing video can be found here. It's not titled "Uncomfortable moments in Gaming" for nothing. Link provided by (i.e. stolen from) the redoubtable Mr. Cobbett.
Friday, August 13, 2004
... but still probably the best Flash game on the Internet. I showed this to Charles, my team leader at work, as he'd never seen it, and 'pwned' him mightily, despite the fact I've not played it in about two years.
Bilbana is a fantastic little Shockwave Flash game that allows you to create a Scalectrix track (unfortunately with a fairly limited playing area) and race either with a friend or play against a pretty decent AI. Great fun.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
We've all heard of George W. Bushisms, the classic this week being
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
But unless you watch the news pretty closely over the last week, you've probably never heard of Porter Goss George Bush's pick to be next Director of the CIA. Not only is Goss a leading Republican (itself a bit of a taboo when appointing CIA Directors - they're meant to be apolitical) but he was also interviewed for Farenheit 9/11 by two of Michael Moore's producers. Interestingly, Goss never asked who these producers worked for, so some of his comments that didn't make it into the film make seriously interesting reading.
"I couldn't get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified,"
"I don't have the language skills. I, you know, my language skills were romance languages and stuff. We're looking for Arabists today. I don't have the cultural background probably,"
"And I certainly don't have the technical skills, uh, as my children remind me every day: 'Dad you got to get better on your computer.' Uh, so, the things that you need to have, I don't have."
The White House's response? That Goss is "the most qualified man for the job."
Okayyyy. Keep taking the tablets, George.
Physics, as we all know, is fun. Particularly if it means chucking hapless ragdolls down stairs in order to do them as much damage as possible. Well, the chaps that brought us the Stair and Truck Dismount games have just released a beta of their all-new ragdoll torture game, Dismount Levels.
The idea is that you throw the ragdoll around a platform game style maze, collecting yellow blocks and trying to reach an exit. It's rather hard to control and get used to, but it's surprisingly good fun, especially since you can turn the ragdoll into a veritable whirling dervish of thrashing limbs with quick, violent drag and drops. You can even effect the flight of the doll in mid-air. At only 1.1MB, it's well worth a download. It even includes a level editor.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
It seems that State's insidious takeover of Future Publishing is starting to manifest itself beyond PC Gamer. The lovely Dan Gril has asked me to do an interview for PC Format. Not to conduct it, you understand, but be *subject* of it. Which is a first. Naturally, it's an interview about State, rather than *me*, but being a total glory-publicity-whore, I said yes anyway, since I'm still the closest thing to being Head Of State. Expect me to take the entirety of credit for it's success and popularity.
Just kidding. I'm quite interested in seeing what questions Dan will ask. I'm assured that they're going to be suitably pretentious. Should be a useful piece of outright advertising for us, in any case.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Which song would they be?
This question occurred to me when I recently cut A Night At The Opera from CD onto my laptop at work, mainly because whenever I listen to Seaside Rendevous, it reminds me of Avv. Why? He'll probably take great offense to this, but because I think it's probably the *gayest* song ever written, but like Avv, it always makes me smile and feel happy that it's in the world due to it's sheer cleverness.
In an effort to systematically alienate most of my other friends on the forum, I've decided to put in a little thought and select other Queen songs that describe them best, from my own warped and twisted perspective. Apologies in advance for those I've missed/couldn't find an appropriate song for. Remember, don't get mad - it's just a little fun!
Paul(SCC) - not Stone Cold Crazy, as his forum nick would have you believe, but Innuendo
Patricia - Dragon Attack (she's *so* going to kill me for that!)
Oskar - Heaven For Everyone
Super Foul Egg - Death On Two Legs
Always Black - Good Company
Quinns - All Dead, All Dead (because of all the fallen Zangband heroes, obviously)
Tim Edwards - Play The Game
Richard Cobbett - difficult one this, but has to be Under Pressure, what with all those dealines...
Kieron Gillen - The Prophet's Song
John Walker - Let Me Entertain You
DAT500 - what else other than Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll?
Dazmeister - The Fairy Fellar's Masterstroke (just because I know it'll *really* annoy him...)
Mr Day - The Loser In The End (I'll 'pwn' you on a UT2004 server one day, I swear)
Mr Spoon - Is This The World We Created? (in homage of your super webskillz)
Jamie(MPK) - Tenement Funster
Razerbug - Who Needs You?
Bobsy - In The Lap Of The Gods (tenuous Baldur's Gate link there)
Owen - Bohemian Rhapsody
And of course, I had to pick something for myself, and it could only be I'm In Love With My Car...
I got an e-mail today informing me that the Master Chief figure I won on eBay just before going on holiday is now in the post and should be sniping my workmates from the top of my monitor by the end of the week. Hurrah for videogame merchandising!
Olly, of course, will take great delight in putting him in compromising situations with Jon's improbably large collection of stuffed toys. Whatever will Cortana think?
Monday, August 09, 2004
Time to reintroduce one of my blogging memes - haute cuisine for gamers. I made this for myself yesterday, and polished off the leftovers tonight. It's fast becoming one of my favourite dishes. My almost-Mother-in-Law would be proud.
To (generously!) serve two people, you will need:
One casserole dish (preferably Le Creuset, for added French authenticity, but ceramic will do, provided it can still be used on the hob)
400g of beef (the best cut you can afford), cut into 2cm dice
400g of potatoes (a firm fleshed variety like Maris Piper), peeled and cut in half
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 large courgette, thickly sliced
1 red onion, thickly sliced
4 large, flat mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 large glass of red wine (a robust grape, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon)
Salt and pepper
Garlic (either a good measure of garlic paste or 2 decent sized cloves)
Chilli powder (but not much!)
What to do:
Prepare the meat and vegetables as described above. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade. Seal the beef using a high heat in the pan, with the garlic and a little oil (if the beef is especially lean), seasoning well with salt and pepper. Add the onion and mushrooms, and fry off for a couple of minutes until they start to brown. Then add the carrots and parsnips, for a further couple of minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Add the courgette and let the vegetables fry/stream for another minute or two. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, and let any caramelised flavours seep back into the meat. Add the chopped tomatoes and herbs, plus the chilli powder (no more than 1 teaspoon), letting the liquid come to a simmer before finally adding the potatoes, evenly stacking them around the casserole dish. Cover the dish to seal in all the moisture and the flavour, and then put it in the oven, leaving it to cook for an hour.
Serve accompanied with a nice glass of red wine.
According to the people who've played it on State, Doom 3 is a total turkey. A pretty turkey, but a turkey nonetheless. Unfortunately, this doesn't surprise me very much. Unlike the other two big sequels of the year (Half-Life 2 and The Sims 2) I've had doubts about just what Doom 3 was trying to do. It clearly wanted to be Doom but with 'teh pretty', yet by building the game in such a high polygon, insanely textured environment, it appears that the game no longer has the arcade feel and massed enemies that made Doom special in the first place. Like Unreal 2, it's simply a very pretty (but exceedingly dark) shooter that does nothing we haven't seen before. Except perhaps taking the novel step of preventing you from seeing the enemies trying to shoot you, unless you care to ditch your weapon and use the flashlight. Disappointing.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Here I sit, at half one in the morning, idly listening to tunes on my new MP3 player. Ecoute - and read the lyrics of one of the finest cover versions ever made - Moby's version of Joy Division's New Dawn Fades - which I'm listening to right now as I post.
A change of speed, a change of style.
A change of scene, with no regrets,
A chance to watch, admire the distance,
Still occupied, though you forget.
Different colours, different shades,
Over each mistakes were made.
I took the blame.
Directionless so plain to see,
A loaded gun won't set you free.
So you say.
We'll share a drink and step outside,
An angry voice and one who cried,
'We'll give you everything and more,
The strain's too much, can't take much more.'
Oh, I've walked on water, run through fire,
Can't seem to feel it anymore.
It was me, waiting for me,
Hoping for something more,
Me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Gratuitous C-3PO quote +1, yet somehow appropriate. I forgot to mention that another thing I wrote whilst I was on holiday was the first 20 pages or so of a sci-fi short story that has been knocking around in my head for at least a couple of years. I hope to finish it in the next few weeks, and will post it for download in .txt and .doc format on the State webspace when it's done. A little advanced warning, though - not for kids - it's going to feature some very explicit "adult" themes, the reasons for which will be apparent when you read the story - I wouldn't want to spoil it now, bien sur... Needless to say, this story forms the basis for a series of short stories I plan to write over the next year or so. Linkage will be provided at the appropriate time.
Well, me-sa back!
I flew back from my fortnight's holiday in my Alsacian writer's retreat (i.e. staying rent-free at Fleur's parents) this afternoon, arriving some thirty minutes early, having arrived a net fifteen minutes after I left Basel, accounting for time differences. I was off the plane and through Passport Control within ten minutes, looking forward to the inevitable hour wait for my bags to arrive, when, hark! Incredibly, the baggage belt for my plane was announced within about five minutes, and doubly miraculously, my (only) bag was third off the plane and onto the belt. Yes, THIRD! This is too good to be true, I think to myself, if the taxi driver is on time, I'll be home by 2pm! Plane touchdown at 1.10pm, in the baggage hall by half-past, this couldn't be any better!
AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER... is there any sign of my taxi driver? Like fuck is there. Whenever I travel alone back from France the same thing happens - I get stiffed by my taxi firm. It's 3pm, I can't be arsed waiting anymore, and I'll be damned if I'm going to give £30 to a bastard who's kept me waiting at least an hour over the time I'd have expected him to be there. So I trot downstairs to the Bus stops and take the RailAir to Woking Train Station. It takes half an hour just to get out of the bloody airport, but at least I'm moving. Another half hour, and I'm stood at the taxi rank at Woking Train Station, sliding into the leather seats of a Peugeot 406 HDi, and finally within sight of home. I don't get home until nearly 4.30pm, but at least I've saved myself nearly a tenner on the Airport Taxi fare. Not much of a compensation for two lost hours, but enough to buy my beer for tonight.
Other than the debacle of the trip home, my holiday was relaxing as well as productive. I managed to write seven articles, including two Videogame Theory columns, a new Devil's Advocate that gives Max Payne a conceptual kicking, plus a reworking of my Star Wars: Supremacy 4000 word Opus Magnus, a slightly slimmer "concept" piece that recounts the tale of an Empire-side game of Supremacy in the style of Darth Vader Meets Bridget Jones's Diary. I think it's very edgy and very funny, but I'm horribly biased. It should be going up on the State website fairly soon.
Other than that, I managed to pick up DVDs of The Hudsucker Proxy (an American Import bought in a Swiss bookshop, of all places) and Barton Fink (a French Region 2 Special Edition, which thankfully has an English Soundtrack), a Moby CD (The Play B-sides CD), and in Heathrow on the way out, a 512MB Packard Bell Audiokey MP3 player (hence the post title) which I've only now had the PC equipment to test out.
An MP3 player has been on my "Want!" list for a while now, though I'd been holding out until I saw a 512MB USB player for less than £150, and this one, with the reduction in price due to no VAT in the airport, was only £115. I know that for a few quid extra I could probably bought a 4GB one, but my music collection isn't THAT extensive - and the whole point of getting a Flash based one is to put just a couple of hours of music on it based upon my mood - and really take advantage of the Plug 'n' Play, allowing Fleur to drag and drop tracks onto it when she goes running.
I can get about 150 WMA tracks onto it, which is just about right, both for my attention span and the diversity of my music collection, and the headphones have a nice strap and seem to be of decent enough quality. I'll have to go out tomorrow and get myself a supply of AAA Duracell Extra, as I can see it coming in handy when I'm writing, and maybe even at work. It's even quite sexy, to boot. Not quite as sexy as an iPod, perhaps, but even so, it's probably my best purchase of the trip - the two bottles of very fine claret at purchased at RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP French supermarket prices not withstanding.