Monday, January 31, 2005

Bark: No frame rate required

Fed up of saggy frame rates and the constant need to upgrade your PC to play the latest games? Well, fear not, for salvation is at hand!

Doom: The Board Game

No, really. Personally, I think I'd rather pull out my own teeth with a pair of pliers.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Bark: Someone Keeps Stealing My Letters...

The new Best Thing Ever.

One of the simple joys in life is rearranging magnetic letters on the front of a fridge. Now imagine doing it with another 60 or 80 people on the same (virtual) fridge. The result is extraordinary.

Just watching what happens without dragging a single letter is fascinating - as there is a multitude of different behaviours on show. Firstly, you have the people crying out for attention, simply wanting to spell their name, or a word with special meaning for them. Next, you have the Tourettes sufferers or the simply purile, who try and spell out as many profanities as possible (especially the four letter variety, because they're easy to make before someone nicks one of your letters). The most creative are the artists, who try and rearrange the letters into simple shapes, like star constellations, or who mix and match letters of different colours to create nice patterns. Then you have the tesselators, who like to arrange all the instances of the same letter DIRECTLY over one another, so that they just appear as a single letter. Another behaviour on display is downright pettiness - that spoil-sport attitude, where people just randomly pluck letters away from other people to prevent them from making words.

My favourite behaviour, however, has to be the hoarders. This plainly obsessive-compulsive behaviour manifests itself in several forms. First is the tidying instinct - grouping all the letters together in one place (typically the top left corner of the screen), then there's my favourite, the colour hoarders, who drag all the letters of a particular colour into a single pile. You can occasionally see people working in teams to make sure that all the letters of that colour get hoarded, or people will split up and take a different colour each, so that after a minute or two, the whole set of letters is grouped nicely into discrete colour coded piles.

It's fun just watching the behaviours on show evolve. Just one person starting to hoard letters can either cause a mass rebellion with people trying to stop the hoarder, or can start a chain reaction of similar co-operative behaviour. It's an obsessive-compulsive's paradise (or personal vision of Hell, depending upon how you look at it). I'm sure a trained psychologist would have a field day analysing all the different patterns of letter movement. It's a shame you can't log all the different moves made by individual users and play them back in movie file - it'd be interesting to analyse how their behaviour changes according to what other people on the screen are doing.

Have a go, and see how many of the behaviour types you can spot...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Bark: Thought for the day

Do personal trainers ever have off-days?

You've got to wonder if they ever do, because all of the ones you ever get to see are some of the most sickeningly positive and motivated people you're ever likely to meet. Do they ever get up in the morning and think: "No, I really can't be fucked today. I'm going to sit around drinking beer, eating chocolate and watch TV all day." I'd really be curious to find out... answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Bark: War on Terra

Over the last couple of weeks I've been having a very interesting discussion on a forum I frequent about climate change, sparked by this article on the unusual phenomenon of global dimming.

It's a doubly concerning subject now, since a paper is due to be published today that reports that we may be less than 10 years from doing irrepairable damage to the climate. When you think of all the money being thrown away on the "War On Terror" - billions upon billions of dollars (Bush asked for another $80 billion today) - doesn't it suddenly become fairly fucking obvious that as a race we need to stop bickering and concentrate on the one thing that will likely kill us all, no matter what our colour, race, creed or religion?

For the last 20 years and more, scientists have been warning of the dangers of global warming, yet the politicians have done nothing - barring appeasing the Energy Lobby and ensuring that we burn more fossil fuel year on year. Now it seems that this isn't a problem we can simply leave for the grand-kids to clean up. If nothing radical is done NOW, climate change may be something that will come back to haunt people within my lifetime, let alone before today's babies think about having children of their own.

With extreme weather becoming more and more frequent, such as with the Boscastle and Carlisle floodings within the last 6 months alone, it should be obvious even to non-rabid environmentalists that the $300 billion or so spent to date waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few years perhaps could have been used a little more wisely...

The War On Terror does nothing to safeguard our future. It simply fosters division and hatred, whilst securing the supply of more yet oil, which the petrol-hungry average American SUV driver can burn into CO2 at 15 miles per gallon, further endangering us all.

The undeniably tragic deaths of just over 3,000 people on the 11th of September 2001 sparked it into unprecedented action against an insidious foe that cannot be eradicated through force of arms. The USA is not so much a sleeping giant, as a dinosaur - it lumbered ineffectually into action in pure stimulous-response. Yet the consequences of waiting until the first catastrophy brought about by global warming could cost far more lives than those lost on 9/11.

With countries like the Maldives, the Netherlands and Bangladesh having their populations living mostly either below sea level, or just a metre or two above sea level, the effects of global warming could be calamatous. Yet, if like 9/11, we ignore the warning signs and react to the problem like a dinosaur, will it be too late? Will we simply join them as an evolutionary dead end, waiting to be dug up in a few hundred million years?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Byte: Invisible War

In the almost post-coital lull after Half-Life 2 and Vampire Bloodlines, I've been trawling back through my collection for games to play; games which I've bought but never really played enough to do them justice.

At the top of the queue was Deus Ex: Invisible War. The prequel still rates of one of my very favourite games, but Invisible War didn't really grab me. Principally because that even when it came out, it was one of the most desperately UGLY games I've ever seen. This was a consequence of the co-development of the game for the Xbox. The lighting effects are pretty spectacular, but they come at the consequence of the texture quality and poly count. Ion Storm's vision of the future seems to be a dystopian grey, and it may well be an accurate one, but that hardly makes the game the most welcoming and accessible in the world.

It's a shame, because once you get past the hideous exterior, and the somewhat lacklustre introduction, Invisible War is actually a very decent game. There's a lot more ambiguity than in the prequel, which is good, because if the first Deus Ex was lacking something, it was the ability to take sides, and I always felt that it forced you to ally with the NSF too early.

Here, you have three separate factions; the Omar, the Order and the WTO; all of whom are vying for your loyalty in the post-Collapse Deus Ex world - the Collapse being the outcome of J.C. Denton's actions in the original Deus Ex. The Omar are perhaps the most straightforward and self-serving of the three factions. Cyborgs, and technology fetishists, the Omar are only interested in finding new technological and biological advances that will allow them to live in hostile environments.

The Order, on the other hand, are much more enigmatic, and harder to fathom. Claiming to "promote balance" and taking on the mantle of the fallen religions, you can't help feeling that the Order has a not altogether noble agenda, and is also the faction most prone to splits. The opening carnage of your escape from the Tarsus Academy is due to an overzealous attack from one of the Order's captains.

The final faction is the WTO - the World Trade Organisation; the one organisation of the pre-Collapse world strong enough to survive the Collapse brought about by J.C. Denton's actions. Having invested in the reconstruction of the world's cities (forming safe "enclaves"for the elite) the WTO seeks to promote stability through economic growth, and by regulating the markets.

These three factions all want you to do certain tasks for them - and you have to pick and choose your loyalties, because working for one faction will preclude you for working for the others - the WTO and the Order have a particularly adversarial relationship. This makes your choices carry a little more weight than in its predecessor, as unlike other RPGs, you can't please all the factions all of the time. A good case in point is finding a pilot to ferry you around.

You can either free a smuggler from WTO custody, and have her fly you around for free, or pay a pilot to take you around, after liberating his jet from a local crime lord. The former will cost you less money in the long run, but make you very unpopular with the WTO, whereas the latter will make you popular with the Order, but cost you money to go from place to place. So do you go for long-term poverty or short-term gain? The price of which is either ingratiating yourself with one faction, or making an enemy of another...

It'll be interesting to see how these loyalty choices take effect later in the game...

Friday, January 07, 2005

Byte: Ones to watch in 2005

After my recent (and out of character) acquisition of an Xbox, I've now got double the number of titles to look out for. It doesn't look like this year will rival 2004 in terms of the number of titles of exceptional quality, but there are still a few gems I'm waiting impatiently for. Here are my tips for 2005:

Knights Of The Old Republic 2 (PC - Obsidian): Given that the PC and Xbox releases are simultaneous in the UK, I've plumped for the PC version. The reviews of the Xbox version have been rather complimentary so far, and given that Obsidian are essentially Black Isle, I expect the story and writing to be corking. Initial reports are that it lacks the outright grandeur of KOTOR, but takes an Empire Strikes Back approach to being a sequel - with a much less clear cut and darker tone. Given that I've stuck over 300 hours into the original - I expect this to eat a similar amount of my time.

Jade Empire (Xbox - Bioware): I've been watching the promo videos of this at lunch. It's best described as KOTOR meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Bioware are one of my favourite developers, and I've had my eye on this for a couple of years now. It goes to show something about the development times for new games these days that when I first heard about it, I was disappointed that it wasn't scheduled to hit the PC, Now, two years down the line, I've got an Xbox, and it's my second-most anticipated title of the year.

Lego Star Wars (Xbox - LucasArts): A multiformat title, this one, but I think the control method is going to be better suited to a console than a PC, so I'm going to go for the Xbox version here - in the hope that you can also play co-operatively; an option that's probably not going to be available on the PC. Higher resolutions aren't everything you know. I just like the aesthetic look of this game - and it should just be fun, throwaway action - perfect for a late Friday night when you're brain dead after a week at work.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (PC - THQ): One of the more ambitious FPS games announced for release this year. They're touting it as the FPS Holy Grail of a non-linear shooter, and I'm interested to see how they're going to be able to maintain the momentum of the game without a conventional level/mission based structure.

Black & White 2 (PC - Lionhead): I loved the concept (if not the execution) of the first one. Rumour has it that they're going to remove a lot of the tedious village micromanagement, and concentrate on the creatures and conquest of enemy villages. I'll be waiting to see reviews of this before I rush out to buy it, though. Peter Molyneaux is one of the finest gaming brains in the business, but his mouth often makes promises his brain can't follow through on. (See Fable).

GTA: San Andreas (PC - Rockstar): I'm a big fan of the GTA games - especially Vice City - and the PC versions have historically been the best, so I'll be grabbing this for the PC - though perhaps not at full price. The 90's LA Gangsta setting doesn't quite appeal as much to me as Vice City did, but regardless, it's still worth getting.

Bloodrayne 2 (PC/Xbox - Majesco): A bit of a guilty pleasure, this one. I really enjoyed the trashiness of the prequel, and the PC demo was a giggle. It doesn't have a UK release confirmed yet, so this may end up being an import. Think Prince Of Persia meets Durham Red, and you're not far off.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Bark: People Are Scum

If it weren't bad enough that 140,000+ people get wiped out within the space of a couple of hours by a natural disaster, some people are determined to make a profit from it. Fucking sick bastards. There are no words to express how disgusted I am about people who're capable of doing this.