Monday, October 31, 2005

Bark: Crisis averted!

I had a fun lunchtime today, persuading my electricity company that it's not physically possible for a one bedroom flat to run up a £1000 electricity bill, regardless of how cock-eyed a story they concoct about underestimated bills over the last year. Looking at the bill itself and the cover-letter explaining the sudden appearance of eleven thousand kW/h on my bill, the logic just didn't track through. I had to go back two years to find a bill with a daytime energy reading of around 1500 (the initial charge point for this bill), not one year since the last confirmed reading a year ago (which they admitted themselves in the cover letter was closer to 8000).

So, I ring them up (managing to remain cheerfully civil, incredibly) and explain this to them, take a complete set of meter readings, and it appears that there's something wrong with the electricity meter. (No shit, Sherlock!) There are three rates on an electricity meter, daytime energy, nighttime energy and so-called stored energy. It appears that the units that should have been logged to the stored energy rate (at around 2p per kW/h) were in fact being recorded against the daytime energy rate (at 8.25p per kW/h), vastly inflating my bill.

We make an appointment to replace the electricity meter, and they freeze my account until the meter is replaced, I can provide them with a new set of readings and they can revise my bill.

Phew!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bark: Southern Electric are bastards

I get home from a weekend away, and what do I find on my doormat? My DVD of Revenge of the Sith, and what mysteriously looks like an electricity bill. The first is good, obviously, the second not so good.

I open the latter of the two, and BOOM! ONE THOUSAND AND TWENTY-SIX POUNDS, THIRTY-FOUR PENCE. What. The. Fuck! They've made a processing error in a meter reading, and I'm being charged the difference. 11602 units at 8.25p a time. Great. I think I'm going to be making a few angry phone calls tomorrow morning...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Byte: Expensive habit

I thought I spent too much on videogames... well, my outlay is nothing compared to the $100,000 a player just spent on a virtual space station in the MMORPG Project Entropia.

I haven't quite decided yet whether this is an instance of a rampantly entrepreneurial spirit or simply lunacy. Project Entropia is unlike most MMORPGs in that rather than having a virtual economy, Project Entropia uses real money. In order to get Project Entropia Dollars (the cash used in-game) you need to stump up *real* cash. So all commodities bought in the game are worth money in the real world and can be sold on to other players for a real world profit. Interestingly, there is no fee to get ahold of the game client, nor are there any monthly subscription fees, so I wonder where they make their money...

In fact, I wonder how the game economy manages to work at all. Since the pool of money resident in the game no doubt entirely resides within player community and the amount of cash the 300,000 or so players have pumped into the game, could this be the first example of a videogame pyramid scheme? I'll have to email the developers and see if I can arrange an interview with them to see how they plan on sustaining the game's economy over the long term.

$100,000 dollars is a lot of money to fork out for anything, let alone a virtual space station. Okay, sure, the owner has 1000 apartments on the space station he can now let out, has full hunting and mining taxation rights, plus 100 lease deeds for the space station shopping mall, and so on, but can this really be worth that much money? You've also got to hope that the game server isn't hosted on a flood plain or something. Imagine the litigation if the server suddenly got wiped out, and 300,000 players started hammering the developer's door down because they wanted their money back...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Byte: Year of the Strategy

It's funny how things in the game industry go in cycles. Last year was dominated by First Person Shooters: Halo 2, Far Cry, Doom 3, Half-Life 2. This year, on the other hand, has produced an absolute bumper crop of brilliant strategy games: Civilisation 4, Rome: Barbarian Invasion, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, Rebelstar: Tactical Command, Warhammer 40k: Winter Assault and UFO: Aftershock, to name but a few.

Strategy games have fallen out of my favour over the last couple of years. They're generally a bit too time consuming to just be dipped into when the mood takes you. I never thought that I'd see some genuinely good strategy games on a handheld, either, but both Advance Wars and Rebelstar put paid to that idea. They're quite different games, in that Rebelstar is purely tactical and all about the combat, whilst Advance Wars has a strategic edge with the unit production and the importance of terrain, controlling cities, and the like. Both can be picked up and put down relatively easily, since they're mission-based, not spawling epics in the Civilisation mode, where it's that much harder to define discrete sections of play, leading inevitably to ATTIQS (After This Turn I'll Quit Syndrome). It's still easy to get carried away, though, and I almost howled in frustration when I forgot to save mid-mission in Advance Wars and my DS's battery gave out...

Both Rebelstar and Advance Wars are surprisingly sophisticated strategies, so it would be a mistake to dismiss them as "kids' stuff" just because they're on GBA and DS. Rebelstar has some very unforgiving mission objectives and is a real challenge, whilst Advance Wars's AI is really quite evil. The tightly packed maps on both games mean that you need to take great care with your unit deployment and learn the movement ranges of all the enemy units, lest you make a schoolboy error and the AI swoops in for the kill.

They've both rekindled my enthusiasm for the turn-based strategy, which is great, given that UFO: Aftershock is now on the streets (fingers crossed, I'll be getting review code this week) and Civilisation IV is just around the corner. So to hell with shiny corridor shooters like Quake IV and FEAR - Super Strategize Me!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bark: Zombie worms

Great little story on the BBC science pages today.

A group of UK and Swedish scientists have discovered a species of worm that live on dead whale skeletons. Their scientific genus name is wonderfully descriptive: Osedax mucofloris - or, should you prefer the English translation, "bone-eating snot-flower".



You can kind of see their point, can't you?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Byte: Oh, stop. Stop it now. It's just too funny.

The war of words between Penny Arcade and Jack Thompson just stepped up a notch today. Jack faxed the Seattle Chief of Police today, asking him to shut down the site and company for running "a campaign of harassment" against him, going so far to call them a "little extortion factory".

WHAT FUCKING PLANET IS THIS GUY ON?

The language of his letter has so much spin that if it was a Shane Warne delivery it would move 60 inches between the pitch of the ball and the stumps. I think even a neo-conservative version of Alister Campbell would baulk at calling the GTA games "murder simulators". That's a description as biased as it is inaccurate, and undoubtedly the description of someone who's never played the game.

I applaud Gabe and Tycho for taking a stand against him - I was just saying this morning to Dan Gril of Official Xbox 360 Magazine that it's up to gamers to take the moral high ground in the media argument back from these overwhelmingly biased, headline hunting people pursuing an agenda that wants to stamp out free speech in our lives, art and entertainment. Given that "liberty" and "liberal" have the same roots in Latin (from "liberum" - free, independent, unrestricted), I do find it curious that the US media will shout about the former until it's blue in the face, but regard anyone showing signs of being the latter with the same sort of suspicision as your average Islamic Terrorist...

The real reason behind Thompson's complaint to the Seattle Police is an obvious one. He's losing the battle, especially in the worldwide gaming media. I only hope that the Seattle constabulary have the sense to throw out his complaint on its arse and slap him on the wrists for wasting police time. As far as the general gaming community is concerned, his credibility is holed beneath the waterline, but he still has the ear of important people in the US Senate and media. This has to change.

Penny Arcade seem more than willing to pursue this to its inevitable conclusion - a date in court most likely - and kudos to them for standing up against this litigious bully. If someone had labelled my website or company a "little extortion factory", they'd be on the wrong end of a libel or slander action - especially if I'd just donated $10,000 to charity and ran a charity that encouraged gamers to make donations of money and toys to children's hospitals (to the tune of around $500,000 so far).

I mean, that's a criminal racket, isn't it? And giving toys to sick kids sounds *exactly* like the kind of action a dangerously unbalanced gamer who's been playing murder simulators for hundreds of hours would do, doesn't it?

If you're a gamer, and you care about having the freedom to have the videogames you want to play, then we can't just sit by and let smear campaigns against our favourite entertainment industry carried out by self-serving publicity seekers happen. Time to stand up, be counted and get the real facts about gaming out there.

I don't know about you, but I'm writing a letter to the Daily Mail.

Byte: Buy their goddamn t-shirt!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bark: And with that, someone's morning just came to a crunching stop...

Working in the office for the first time in a few weeks, necessitating a trip down the M3 to Hursley. The weather was pretty evil this morning, to paraphrase an infamous weather forecast - the 'f' in fog - and I've hit the motorway about 5 minutes later than I would have ideally liked, so I know that things are going to get hairy around Basingstoke.

True to form, about a mile and a half from the junction, I see that things are beginning to stack up, so I head for the outside lane, where things get sluggish, but usually don't slow down so much that you're crawling. Not today, it would seem - the whole carriageway is grinding to a halt, so I pop on the hazard warning lights to stop people climbing all over my boot as I drop down to a gentle halt.

I see that people are bailing out of the inside lane, so I conclude that there's been an accident while the queuing has started for the Basingstoke junction. A huge lorry is straddling both inside lanes, and as I creep past at 10mph, I see that there are two wrecked cars in front of it. Well, one and a half cars, really. A 4x4 or one of those 7 seater people carriers (something like a Verso, I think - I didn't look at it long enough to be certain) has rear-ended a BMW 3-series at speed, and the front of the Verso's nose is literally about an inch away from the central pillar that delineates the gap between the front and the rear doors. There's just nothing left of the rear end of the Beamer at all - other than the debris strewn all over the carriageway.

I couldn't see any damage on the rear end of the people carrier, so I don't know to what extent the truck was involved; perhaps it was trying to avoid the accident and ended up straddling the two inner lanes. The two cars were lined up front to back almost perfectly as well, so it didn't look like the second car had been shunted into the first one. What scared me was the amount of damage to the BMW - if there was anyone in the rear seats at the time of the accident, they would have been a goner. For that amount of damage to be done, the Verso must have gone into the back of the Beamer with about a 50mph speed difference. Nasty stuff, and if I'd been a minute or two earlier on the M3 than I had been (i.e. when I would have liked to have been), I might have been caught up right in the middle of it. Funny how fate works sometimes.

It looks like there was a fatality in the crash, so this goes down as another close call... And I was mainlining PGR 2 in the time leading up to that little incident too. Perhaps if more people played racing games, they'd have a much better judgment of speed and distance, not follow cars on motorways quite so closely, and things like this wouldn't happen. Virtually all RTA's on motorways can be put down to people not leaving enough of a gap infront of them. Speed isn't necessarily the problem - it's people not leaving themselves enough time to react if someone needs to make a significant change in speed.

When I was making this trip five times a week, I would see incidents like this *almost* happen practically daily; all because people want to cut a minute or two off their journey time. And they still don't learn. It's a shame people need to let statistics catch up with them and have accidents before they realise that bombing up and down Her Majesty's motorways like a maniac, sure in their belief that they've got faster reactions than a fly and better brakes than a Formula One car, isn't really a good idea...

[Edit: Trust the BBC to update their news page and completely contradict what you've written. It would appear that the lorry wasn't such an innocent party in the crash after all, and maybe it did shunt the car after all - it would certainly go a long way towards explaining the extent of the damage if the other car had a lorry's momentum behind it. Though it's incredible that the Verso (or whatever it was) hardly seemed to have much damage to it at all. Just shows the difference in body strength between a people carrier and a normal saloon car. Frightening.]

Byte: De-licious!

You may remember Jack Thompson's offer to pay the favourite charity of Take 2's CEO $10,000 dollars if someone made a game based on his proposal?

Well, Jack made a slight semantic error in his proposal. He doesn't have the depth of knowledge in videogames to realise that not all games are rendered in ultra-violent, realistic 3D. So a few enterprising bedroom coders have taken up the challenge and produced a few text adventures based on his game idea.

http://www.technical-difficulties.com/osaki/

http://walkingfish.com/modestvideogame/

http://home.cwru.edu/%7Etss9/zorkthompson.swf

http://creepyguywas.shijyou.com/goldenrule.html

The first one is the closest to letter of Jack's proposal, as the producers are actually distributing it and selling it (for 50 cents) via their website, and they all definitely qualify as games. The text adventure is one of the oldest, and arguably purest, forms of videogame. I hope Thompson's prepared to put his money where his mouth is and doesn't try and weasel out of donating the money to charity on a technicality. That wouldn't be like a lawyer at all, would it?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Byte: Project Xbox Racing

Since I'm watching the Chinese Grand Prix qualifying at moment, now seems like a fine time to recount how I've been giving my Xbox racing games a bit of a run out last night and this afternoon.

I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Forza Motorsport; mainly due to my heavy-handedness and the inability to be as super-precise with a gamepad as you need to be for the physics and the handling model. I still can't get within three minutes of my best time around the Nurburgring on Forza compared to PGR 2 because of the stupid time penalty system and the way the level of simulation makes it so difficult to lay the power down on the tarmac. Getting the fastest lap times with the slowest cars just makes a complete mockery of the system, really.

So Forza's very much taking the back burner and I'm playing Need For Speed: Underground and Project Gotham Racing 2. NFSU is just a bit of gaming fluff, really, as it has absolutely no damage model at all and the handling model is fairly benign. The real joy is the modding of the cars and ducking in and out of the traffic during the racing. Things only really start getting interesting once you start unlocking all the performance upgrades, but the game's got a very nice structure and maintains a consistent challenge level.

I spent most of the afternoon on PGR2, which, ironically, I'm a whole lot better at now thanks to the increased throttle control playing Forza has helped me develop. I can do nearly all of the Speed Camera challenges on Platinum now (and those I can't I'm only 1mph short of - I'll get there in the end, even without a wheel), and I can do some corking laps around the Nurburgring now, though it's hard to keep your concentration around the whole lap, given that it's 13 miles long, especially if you're driving something like an Enzo Ferrari that's got over 650 horsepower. I reckon I can get the Enzo around there in about 6m30s, if I can keep it on the black stuff. Unfortunately, there are so many corners that it's almost inevitable you'll miss at least one apex or leap a kerb - most annoyingly, usually the fast kinks leading up to the first chicane after the starting straight, or the mini-carousel right at the end of the lap. Brilliant fun though. I think I'll post this now and go do another half a dozen laps...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Byte: Whoops!

Crusading anti-videogames Florida Lawyer Jack Thompson's deranged hyperbolic rhetoric has pissed off the influential National Institute on Media and the Family; so much so that they've gone to great pains to distance themselves from him, even copying in the likes of Hillary Clinton who recently jumped on the Fuck Violent Videogames bandwagon.

Let the backlash begin!

Bark: The Disunited Kingdom of America

World famous budget videogames reviewer, adventure games enthusiast, freelance wordsmith and God Botherer, John Walker, has used the opportunity of a trip to the USA to usurp their wayward political system and install himself as Monarch.

By virtue of simply answering the call on his blog, I have now been granted the Dukedom of Montana, under the name of my lesser known alias, Iain Someone. I do have prior experience in running State affairs, so I have no doubt that I can probably do a better job than most career politicians, and that being in charge of the 4th largest US State should pose no real problems at all. I fully intend to abuse my position by spending most of my time hunting dinosaur fossils in the Montana Badlands, syphoning away State funds into Swiss Bank accounts for my own personal gain, and commissioning the companies of friends of mine to construct a lavish mansion in several thousand hectares of some of the most beautiful countryside the continent of North America has to offer, whilst completely ignoring the trival concerns of my insignificant subjects.

All hail King John!

Bark: Close Encounters

I watched UFOs: The Secret Evidence on Channel Four tonight. It was quite compelling viewing, and nice to have a program looking to give an objective and non-sensationalist view of the UFO phenomenon. It ended up hedging its bets a little at the end, declining to side completely on the very convincing argument that UFOs can be explained by misinformation from the CIA to cover for clandestine aviation projects, and still leaving the door open to an extra-terrestrial explanation - for some cases, at least.

There wasn't too much in the program that I didn't already know, as I was fairly deep into the whole UFO scene in the latter part of the 1990's. There were a couple of interesting things in there, though - the Ion Wind Lifter in particular looks fantastic. In case you don't have a clue what one of those this, take a look at this video. It certainly makes the whole Belgian Triangle incident a whole lot more interesting, anyway.



I don't think that it's a coincidence that the whole UFO phenomenon has died a death in the media and the general public conscience since the advent of The War On Terror. The CIA doesn't exactly need to find fanciful stories to try and scare the public to death and blind them to what they're doing behind the scenes in Black Programmes. Shame, really, because behind all the abduction and cattle mutilation horror stories, the UFO phenomenon's really about mankind's aspirations to reach the stars, and in this day and age, we really need something positive to keep hoping for...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Byte: When will this guy learn to shut up?

You've got to love crusading anti-videogames lawyer Jack Thompson. He's made the generous proposal to donate $10,000 to charity if someone makes a game based on his "cutting" satire of violent videogames.

It won't happen, obviously, because if you read through his proposal, it's utter shite - it wouldn't make a good game, plain and simple, and there's no reason why a game developer or publisher would spend the time and money making the game when all he'd do would be turn around and denounce it as yet another violent influence on American youth. When Gabe from Penny Arcade pointed out that $10k is peanuts compared to the half a million dollars his Child's Play charity (which garners donations from compassionately-minded gamers across the world) has raised for children's hospitals in the US, dear old Jack phoned him up and screamed at him that Gabe would "regret it" if he contacted him again. Such a charming man. Thompson's favourite target, Take 2 (publisher of the GTA series) should just donate a whole load of cash to charity as a good-faith response and make him look like an idiot.

Not that he needs much help in that. Thompson's a laughing stock within the videogames community, but also a living example of how if you misguidely shout completely biased information based on utterly fatuous evidence loudly and incoherently for long enough, eventually the media (and thereby politicians) will sit up and take notice. Sometimes I think that paedophiles and murderers get better press than gamers. I think it's time that we gamers started taking back the mainstream media, before the videogame censorship bandwagon has had too many people leap on it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bark: Robo-Crazy!

Some nutter in Japan has finally done it - they've created a working, if somewhat rudimentary, BattleMech. You've got to wonder just how much that cost...

Bark: The cool things you discover by accident

I've been having a gmail exchange with someone who responded to my rather scathing Black & White 2 review - quite civilly, surprisingly - whereupon I happen to mention that I gave similar criticism to Vampire Bloodlines for hitting retail when it really shouldn't have.

The all-powerful Google scannerwotsits pick up on the keyword "Vampire" in the text of my email, and produce the following, and rather wonderful, advertising link:

The Vampire Name Generator.

The Great Archives determine you to have gone by the identity:
Zedkiel Vigée-Lebrun

Known in some parts of the world as:
Hermes of Vermin

The Great Archives Record:
Feeds upon the creatures shunned by man.


Awesome. Just call me Zedkiel from now on, okay?

Byte: Rome, Paper, Scissors

My mountain of review code just keeps getting higher and higher. I was very pleasantly surprised on Saturday morning to find a copy of Black & White 2 plop into my letterbox. I've plugged practically all of my free time into it since (hence the lack of activity around here), and if you'll care to click the link, you can see just how enthusiastic my response wasn't...
Oh, Mr Molyneux... can you at least *try* and make a game where your vision doesn't exceed your team's ability? Just once? And for the love of Grud, hire a decent scriptwriter! The review's somewhat of an epic by my recent standards (at a tad over 2000 words), but I enjoyed writing it more than I enjoyed playing the game. It's a shame, because conceptually, Black & White is a killer idea, but when the gameplay's as badly broken it is in B&W 2, it's really hard to find positive things to say.

It's not a terrible game, borderline 6-7 by Pro-G's scoring system (with me erring on the side of a 7 because I'm a graphics whore), but it's essentially the same game (with the same flaws) as the prequel, and that doesn't score a 9/10 four years down the line. The element of surprise and wonder has been lost: it's harder to see past the flaws this time because neither the core game concept, nor the flaws are new. The addition of army-based tactical combat is a good idea, but again, great concept, shame about the execution. I summed it up in the review as being "Rome, Paper, Scissors", because it'd like to be Rome: Total War, but it's so half-baked that you might as well be playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. Bigger Army + Creature = Victoly. Disappointing.

If you're micro-management friendly, you might get a kick out of it, but don't expect anything revolutionarily good.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bark: Chas and Dave would be horrified

I was most amused to hear on Five Live this morning that the posters for the new Wallace and Gromit film, The Curse of The Were-Rabbit, will be unable to use the word "Rabbit" on the island of Portland, because a local superstition forbids the use of the word rabbit.

Somehow, "The Curse of The Were-Underground Mutton" doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Byte: Foxy Engine Allows Resell

I tried out the FEAR single player demo last night and guess what? I don't like it.

The 3D engine is great and will probably be resold on by Monolith for several small fortunes, but unfortunately, as the game itself goes, it's Max Payne, the FPS. I'm undoubtably going to annoy Craig Pearson from PCG, but here's a short quote from his review in this month's magazine, where he concludes what to do when being hunted down by a couple of teams of soldiers, which succinctly articulates my problem with it:

So here I am, trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea: what do I do? The answer is simple: quicksave.


That set the alarm bells ringing when I read it last week, and when I played the SP demo last night, my fears (no pun intended) were realised. The game is built around the quicksave. Instead of keeping the action flowing, it's broken up into discrete, scripted chunks of 20 or 30 seconds with encounters of just a couple of people at a time, and between each section, like Max Payne, you're encouraged to quicksave because the AI's ruthlessly good. The AI (even on Moderate difficulty) can nail you from 50 yards in complete blackout conditions. I know they're meant to be cloned super-soldiers, but that's a bit much. What is the developer's answer? You guessed it, your "heightened reflexes", which is bullet-time under another name. Personally, I was sick of bullet-time by the time I'd finished playing the Max Payne demo. Four years on, it's still NOT COOL. Fancy that. The game just feels stop-start-stop-start. It doesn't build up any rhythm at all, and because of the AI, it's practically impossible to play from end to end without using the quicksave.

On Medium difficulty, I played Half-Life 2 through without touching the quicksave once. With FEAR, if you try that you'll go mad within hours, because one of the half-dozen or so engagements between checkpoints is cast-iron guaranteed to fuck you over, and you'll be replaying sections again and AGAIN and *AGAIN*. This isn't like Halo where you have a rechargeable shield and can make it through a level with just a single block of health left. Once you start losing armour, you're painfully vulnerable and can be finished off with a single well-placed shot. Given that the AI is so accurate, the likehood of that shot eventually coming your way is 100%. So, your only solution is quicksave: replay each encounter losing as little health and armour as possible. The modern FPS - papering over gameplay cracks using technology!

Another problem is the weapons set. Oh look, the MP5. AGAIN. Oh look, the SPAS-12 shotgun. AGAIN. Oh look, duel-wielded improbably powerful pistols. AGAIN. 10mm Penetrator? What's that? Oh, it's a railgun. AGAIN. Is anyone else ready to start sobbing?

Credit where credit's due, the game engine is outstanding. It gave my Athlon 64 rig trouble at 1024x768, though that might just be because the demo isn't completely performance optimised. The lighting and dynamic shadow effects must rate amongst the best I've seen, and, as I've already alluded to, the AI is excellent: not a Half-Life revolutionary leap, but a step onwards and upwards.

This may be an unfair criticism, based solely on a demo, but again to use Craig P's words in his PCG review:

FEAR never upped the ante. It stayed almost exactly the same from start to finish.


If the demo is representative of the full game, and (by rights) it should be, then I agree with him. Unfortunately, the game's been designed as a sure bet and it doesn't take risks; and it doesn't push any boundaries beyond the running temperature of your GPU. Despite playing the demo for a couple of hours solid last night, I only had *one* standout moment. That's right, just one. A soldier had knocked over a metal rack, and was using it as cover as he crawled forward underneath it. I saw him and lobbed a grenade as he was trapped under the rack: direct hit. The grenade explodes and he's just a red smear on the floor. A smile inducing moment, to be sure, but that was it. The rest simply wasn't enough fun.

I'm filing this one with Doom 3 under "Great engine, shame about the game." I'm sure it'll sell by the warehouseful, but I won't be spending any of my gaming budget on it...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Bark: The Future arrives at last

This is more like it. We may not be striding out on the planitia of Mars or have our lightsabers yet, but someone is finally trying to bring us a little bit of The Future today, by putting our expertise in rocketry to good use: Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the Rocket Racing League.

Move over Formula One. And about time too!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Byte: Veni, Vidi, Peachy

My review copy of Rome:Total War Barbarian Invasion arrived this morning. Even though I really rather liked Rome: Total War, Barbarian Invasion isn't really something I probably would have gone out to buy, though I'm certainly more than pleased to add it to my collection. Keep your eyes peeled for a full review in the next couple of weeks.

The keener-eyed of you will have seen the UFO: Aftershock preview that went up on Pro-G last Friday. I was stunned on Saturday evening to find in my staff e-mail some unsolicited feedback, congratulating me on writing a nice piece. As thanks to my new friend Olav for his very kind words, I'm going to pimp his strategy gaming website.

It's been a good weekend in all - we had friends over from Frankfurt to stay with us, so we popped into London on Saturday, where I picked up Thief: Deadly Shadows on Xbrick for £6.99 and a copy of Advance Wars: Dual Strike for DS. I don't really know why, but I think I'm far more likely to play Thief on Xbox than on PC. I never really got on with the first two Thief games - I love the idea of them, but lack the patience to really play them properly. With the 3rd person mode, Deadly Shadows seems more like a console game to me, and the analogue movement speed makes far more sense on a gamepad than on a keyboard. I'm losing out on the aiming accuracy of the mouse and the higher resolution of the PC, but I don't think it matters so much with a game like Thief. I'm betting that the conversion to the console to make the game more accessible will result in me playing this Thief game more than I played the other two put together.

I haven't had much chance to play Advance Wars yet. I've only had a brief flirtation with the War Room and play the first couple of (tutorial) missions of the Campaign. It looks great, though and has quite sophisticated unit modelling - with ammunition, terrain movement restrictions, terrain defence modifications and fuel all being taken into consideration. The script for the somewhat nominal campaign story is quite amusing too. It looks like a lot of fun - and I'll have to try and press-gang my team leader into doing a little multiplayer with me, too. I should be reviewing this sometime in the next few weeks, too, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Finally, I went to the cinema yesterday for the first time in months. I saw A History Of Violence by David Cronenburg, starring Viggo "Aragorn" Mortensen and Ed "Failure is not an option!" Harris. I've never been the greatest fan of Cronenburg's stuff, but this was great. It's a nice length, tightly focussed, is very well shot and has some outstanding performances. Mortensen is great as Tom/Joey, Harris just oozes menace and Ashton Holmes is very impressive as Mortensen's teenage son. It's definitely something you should consider seeing, if you're stuck for something to see.