Monday, December 18, 2006

Byte: Fuck it, Dude. Let's go bowling...

I've been playing Wii Bowling so much that my arms ache. If I keep this up, I'm going to end up with arms like Popeye. Before Fleur dragged me to bed at around 1am this morning, I'd not only managed to gain Pro skill level, but I scored my first 200 point game. I topped out at 221 points - landing five strikes in a row, and managing spares with just about everything else. If only real-life bowling was that easy.

I love the way you can add spin to the ball by twisting the controller just prior to release; handy for taking out those tricky pins at the back corners. I'm enjoying the tennis and the baseball too, though I remain to be convinced about the golf. Perhaps I should try it with the Wiimote sensor bar on top of the TV rather than underneath it, but it seems very fiddly when judging the strength of putts. When I'm trying to do soft, sub-2m putts, my strokes don't seem to register at all, or they just end up being way too strong and the ball flies to the other end of the green. Being quite tall doesn't really help either, I'm sure. I've still not tried the boxing yet, mainly on account that Fleur gives me funny enough looks when I'm bowling...

I decided to work in the office today, just so I can go into town at lunch to pick up a copy of Rayman Raving Rabbids... Speaking of which, look at the time!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Byte: Wii have arrived!

I didn't get much sleep last night, not just thanks to the best part of £400 going on my credit card yesterday to pay for my coupĂ©'s latest service and MOT (which included new front brake discs and pads), but mainly because I was too excited about the thought of my Wii turning up sometime today (and also the worry that it might not arrive before I flit off to France for Christmas).

I know that I shouldn't be this excited about a games console, but I can't help it. It arrived (much to my relief) around half ten this morning, and I've managed to get it set up, including the WiiConnect24 stuff, which cooperated with my wireless router fairly painlessly (which is more than can be said for my DS). So those of you that are inclined, my Wii friend code is 3788 8094 7387 1814. Feel free to post your code in the comments thread.

I've just had a quick go on Wii Sports, and the bowling is all kinds of awesome. Fleur's going to love it when she tries it tonight. Well, at least I hope she does... My top score so far is 135, which is better than I get in real life, curiously. I'll be this good in no time, I'm sure. Though my flat doesn't *quite* have the room for all the crazy moves. I've also had a quick game of baseball, too, which if anything was harder than the version I played in Leipzig. I still got a few homers, but it seems like the AI pitching has a bit more variety to it compared to what I played in the summer. The pitching is quite cool. I can get a 151kph fastball, but I haven't quite figured out how to throw curveballs yet. Still, practice makes perfect, I suppose. [Edit: It helps if you read the manual, dummy! - RTFM Ed]

Now I just need to go out and buy a copy of Rayman...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bark: Design a Space Mission

The Planetary Society is running a competition to design a space mission to put a tag on a near-Earth asteroid, which at 400m wide poses quite a big threat, if it should ever come down on a city. With a prize of $50,000, I'm sure it's going to attract quite a bit of attention, even if no-one ever decides to follow it up with an actual mission.

My prediction: the one with the coolest acronym will win. You don't get anywhere in Space Science without a cool acronym...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Byte: Wii have lift off!

I was just chatting with NTSC-UK's charlesr about the rather awesome WiiSaber plug-in someone has made for the Wii controller, when I decide to check my pre-order with Woolies. To my shock, and delight, the status had changed from "pre-order" (as it was last night) to "Ready to despatch".

It's at this point, I feel, that a "yay" is in order.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Byte: Epic Entertainment

With the Wii not turning up and with there being relatively little on my reviewing list at the moment, I've been spending most of my free time playing Hordes of the Underdark again. In my opinion, it's probably the best computerised AD&D game out there at the moment. I certainly prefer it to Neverwinter Nights 2, at any rate. It's probably only because I can play with obscenely powerful Epic level characters (my current favourite being an Elven Neutral Evil Wizard-Rogue-Pale Master), but it does have a very mature feel to it. Taking in some of the most iconic places in the Forgotten Realms (Waterdeep, Undermountain, the Underdark and the Hells of Cania) and dealing with themes as diverse as love, betrayal, ambition, heroism and treachery, plus some brilliant set pieces, there's certainly a lot to keep you interested over the course of the three chapters. It should come with a big "Not for beginners" label on the box, as it's quite hardcore (especially the initial dungeon crawl in Undermountain), but I've been having lots of fun with it, even on what must be my fifth replay by now. I certainly never get tired of seeing Deekin with Red Dragon Disciple wings. (Speaking of which, where on Faerun did they disappear to in NWN2?)

As for my Wii pre-order with Woolworths, I'm going to give them until Friday morning to update the status on my pre-order, and if it's not flagged as "ready for dispatch" by then, I'm going to have to cancel it. No way am I risking that they try to deliver my Wii when I'm off on holiday for Christmas in France and have some feckless Postie run off with it. And to be honest, I could actually do without the expense at the moment (despite the money coming through from gTM), as my car's going into the garage for a service and MOT on Friday, which will no doubt cost a small fortune as I've been driving for about 6 weeks on worn brakes. Though having said that, I'll probably end up buying one from the FNAC when I'm over there. Oh well.

Also in the name of cost-saving, I've decided not to renew my WoW subscription (that expired a couple of weeks ago) until The Burning Crusade comes out in January. I didn't think that there'd be much point in renewing and wasting a couple of week's worth of subscription fees, seeing as I'll be out of the country over Christmas and New Year with no access to my WoW account. So much for hitting Level 60 before the expansion pack comes out. I haven't *ding*ed since Shareth hit Level 53 over a month ago now. Not that I'm too bothered. I've always said that for me playing WoW was more about the journey than the destination. Though it's mildly worrying that I haven't seen either Fearx or Zinar when I've been online recently. Though for Fearx it's understandable, given that he's had a wee bairn in real life, so I guess WoW is the last thing on his mind at the moment...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Byte: Shiggy...

Wii have a problem...
A website dedicated to the carnage wrought by Wii-owners who are clearly TOO STUPID to own them. I especially like the broken TVs section. For their own safety and well being, these people should clearly give their Wiis to me.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bark: Cacophony

Between the thunderstorm, the raging gales, hail and the Army across the road firing off 155mm mobile artillery pieces, I'm finding it very hard to concentrate at the moment.

Rather than trying to fight fire with fire, I'm battling noise with noise, specifically, Mogwai.

Byte: Pissed off...

Sorry to make such an obvious Wii pun, but I'm annoyed. It doesn't look like my Wii pre-order from Woolworths is going to arrive tomorrow. It's doubly annoying, because after I pre-ordered, I told mon ami Cobbett that they were still guaranteeing pre-orders, so he ordered one an hour or so after I did, and he got a notification last night telling him that his Wii was "ready to dispatch".

How does that work, then?

I pre-order one first, but I get the standard "Nintendo haven't shipped all of our allocation, apologies for the delay" email, but Rich gets his? Something to do with the fact his surname begins with "C" and mine with "M", or that we don't live in the same locality? (South-West compared to South-East) You would like to think that if you're taking orders through a website, all the units would be allocated centrally. But from where I'm sitting, it doesn't look like it to me.

Woolworths are claiming that they should still be able to fulfil all their pre-orders by Christmas (which wouldn't be a disaster), but I still would have liked to have been able to boogie to Rayman Raving Rabbids tomorrow night into the early hours... And as a freelance games journalist looking to expand his portfolio, I should give them a nasty phone call and threaten to sue on grounds of loss of earnings if they don't GIVE ME MY WII, *NOW*...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bark: Engage brain before clicking send...

Just had a surreal moment at work. We're really busy doing a shedload of preparation for next year's reporting, and we had an email thread spiral out of control, being copied to half a dozen people. I mention to my team leader about how much it's doing my head in, trying to keep track of all these emails flying around every 15 minutes, so she sends out an email saying "Stop. Stop it now. Use the phone and don't clog up everyone's goddamn inbox." (Except not quite using those words, natch).

Five minutes later, a reply-to-all comes back saying "yeah, we really should be using the phone or instant messenger for this..."


Friday, December 01, 2006

Byte: Getting the press

Everyone in the mainstream press seems to be creaming their pants over Second Life at the moment. From my own company's Glorious Leader's plan to use it as a basis for a 3D intranet to replace corporate instant messaging and video/telephone conferencing, to the claims of a Second Life player that they're the first online gamer to have virtual assets worth more than one million dollars. Even The Economist has done an article on it.

The game does certainly does have some vociferous supporters, but everything I've read about virtual-to-real economy-based MMORPGs like Second Life or the lesser known Project Entropia leaves me with the impression that they would bore me senseless. Games should be oriented around having fun, not making money. And I'm not sure I like the idea of having virtual economies crossing over with the real world, either; because then some bright spark at the Treasury is going to think "Where's our piece of the action?" and start taxing transactions whenever you buy or sell something in the auction house in World of Warcraft. It's a slippery slope I don't think gamers should really risk falling down.

Okay, so you can argue that Second Life isn't really a "game" and that different rules should apply for MMORPGs where there is a designed tie-in from the real world economy to the virtual one, but I don't think that's going to cut much ice with the Treasury or the IRS in America when they're looking at the amount of (virtual) money being spent in online transactions, translating it to real money (because "unofficial" exchange rates do exist for MMORPG currencies such as those in Everquest and WoW) and then sticking on their rate of sales tax or VAT...

Would players just accept it as part of the cost of playing online? How would the government extract their cut from the system? How could such a ruling even be enforced? So many unanswered questions... This is one of the more interesting ways in which new technologies and gaming are muddying the boundaries between the real and the virtual world. How can we ensure that fun stays fun, instead of becoming yet another way for our governments to bolster their coffers?

I'll have to put some more thought into this. I'm sure there's a good feature just begging to be written on this subject...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bark: Britain is shit - Official

Britain, according to a survey into quality of life by The Economist, is the worst place to live in the EU. I don't find this terribly surprising myself, but it was reassuring to see that the place I intend to be my refuge from all the bad politics, social breakdown and lack of security (Norway) is third on the list. And yet (predominantly English) people still try to dissuade me from wanting to move over there... Now, there's nothing wrong with a bit of patriotism, but not to the point of blind devotion. Look, your rugby team is rubbish and you're not going to win The Ashes. Seriously. England's not that green or pleasant anymore, no matter what that hymn says.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Byte: Neverwinter Blights

One down, three to go. I stayed up late last night to finish off my Neverwinter Nights 2 review for Pro-G (which should go up on the site in the next day or two). On the whole, the verdict is positive, but I did have quite a few issues with it (most notably the waraxe-wielding weasel bug - I assure you, that's not a doctored screenshot) that prevented it from getting a really high score. There were quite a few things I did like, such as the way your character builds relationships within the party, how your past actions can give you a reputation that can help or hinder your progress with certain factions, and some of the changes of pace are nicely done - especially the Ember murders trial. The new races and classes are quite fun to play (particularly the Warlock class and the Aasimar and Drow races), but the game is hampered by some wayward quality control, an interface that feels like a step backwards from the original, a rogue cursor that never seems to want to select what you want it to, and the initial pacing is way too slow. My verdict? Good, but hardly a classic.

Shaping up to be a classic, however, is GTR 2; the review of which is finally starting to manifest itself in my head. It's probably a little too unforgiving for most players. If you want to get the best out of it, you really need a decent steering wheel controller for your PC, as an analogue pad just doesn't quite give hamfisted mutants like me enough finesse to coax the cars (some of which have a beastly 650-odd horsepower) into corners without understeering on the entry and oversteering on the exit. Steering help is available at the Novice skill level, but you really want to be playing at semi-pro or in full simulation mode to get the biggest sense of satisfaction out of playing it. I should have the review finished in the next day or two.

After that, I've got Medieval II to review (again - but retail code from Pro-G this time), which will no doubt require another dozen or so hours' play to take a new batch of screenshots. Speaking of Medieval II, the issue of gamesTM containing its review should be out in the next week or so...

And finally, I have to knock off a preview of UFO: Afterlight - the third game in ALTAR's reimagining of the X-Com franchise. Thanks to GTR 2 and NWN 2, I've not stuck a huge amount of time into this yet, but it's looking fairly promising. More on that later, no doubt.

Unfortunately, this huge backlog of writing has meant that I've not been able to devote any time towards reaching Level 60 with my main character in World of Warcraft. Shareth's still stuck at Level 53 and probably will remain there for a good few weeks yet. Especially if my Wii pre-order comes through. (Though I'm not exactly hopeful of that)

Ho well. Back to work, I suppose...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bark: Probably the most unhealthy sandwich in the world

I'm working from home today, so I've just come back from Sainsbury's on my lunch-time sandwich run. It may not be December yet, but they've got the Yuletide sandwiches out already; but for once, you're not going to here me complaining about the early onset of rampant Christmas commercialism.

Basically because the Turkey, sausage, bacon and cranberry club sandwich they've started putting on the shelves is absolutely smashing. Absolutely horrendously calorific and packed with fat and salt, but that undoubtedly explains why it tastes so good. Well worth trying, provided you're not a vegetarian. Or if you're trying to avoid a heart attack, you might want to steer clear as well...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Byte: So much to play, so little time

The constant danger of working in the office in Farnborough is that there's a GAME and PC World just over the road. So there's a constant temptation to have a look at what's new, or what's cheap and add another title to my ever-growing collection.

Today I managed to conjure up the willpower to avoid buying Farenheit, GT Legends (both £9.97 in PC World) and Football Manager 2007 (full price in GAME). Farenheit is one of those games (like Psychonauts and Darwinia) that I know I really should be buying, but simply wasn't enamoured enough with the demo to really be bothered. Even at a tenner, it's still a marginal purchase, because I know I'll probably play it for about three hours one evening, and then go back to playing World of Warcraft.

GT Legends is a little bit different, and was slightly harder to put back on the shelf. The main reason I didn't buy it was because I still haven't goddamn finished that GTR 2 review, and honestly, do I *really* need another driving game? At a tenner, it's a real tempter, but I probably wouldn't devote so much time to it.

Which just leaves Football Manager. This particular genre and I have, well... a troubled relationship to say the least. I haven't really enjoyed a football management game since Championship Manager 2, but I do like football, so I do put thought into picking up the latest effort from Sports Interactive from time to time. Thirty quid is a bit much to pay for something I'm probably going to end up not liking though, so it was never really going to make it to the till. I'm sure it's a fine game (a beautiful game, even?), but I barely have enough time to play the stuff I'm reviewing, let alone squeeze in a serious WoW habit and other games besides.

So I wisely left the games in the store and saved the money. Which I will no doubt spend on wine to drink while watching the Rugby tomorrow...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bark: Who said we couldn't eat all the pies?

You've got to love British eccentricity.

The World Pie-Eating Championship is in trouble with the healthy eating lobby, so they've had to change the contest from a three minute pie-chomping free-for-all to a one pie speed munch.

Some of the quotes are classic:

Dave Smyth, 48, from Hindley, won the first contest in 1992 when he ate four pies in three minutes.

He said: "This contest has always been about savouring as many pies as possible over a three-minute period, not sprinting through a few mouthfuls of a single pie.

"They've taken things too far this year: pies are supposed to be meat and potato and anything else just isn't normal."

Like having a pie-eating world championship is well adjusted...

Organiser Tony Callaghan, owner of Harry's Bar, indicated that the competition had to move with the times.

"I realise it may be controversial, but this is the way forward for pie-eating at this level," said Mr Callaghan.

"Pie-eating at this level"? What's that meant to mean? But wait, it gets worse.

"It will make for an exciting sporting spectacle"

I think someone's forgotten to take their medication...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bark: 30 days notice

As part of my post-holiday cashflow crisis financial restructuring drive (try saying that sentence when you're pissed), I finally got around to cancelling my mobile phone today.

Good grief, they make it difficult.

I suppose it's my fault for going with 3, as their attitude to customer service is pretty woeful. It's not "I want to cancel my phone." "Okay then." "Cheers, bye!", more "I want to cancel my phone." "This is what you can do to reduce the cost of your monthly bill." "I want to cancel my phone." "We have this special offer on monthly tariffs." "I want to cancel my phone." "You can move your phone to pay-as-you-go, but the top ups only last a month." "I want to cancel my phone." "Do you want to transfer your current number to another network, well..." "I want to cancel my phone." (And on and on and on, until they finally get the message).

It was like pulling teeth. You really have to be so rude to the call centre operator, otherwise you never get a word in edgeways and you're there all day, being sold something you don't want. But that's okay, because I like being rude to call centre operators. It's their fault for working in a call centre...

Now all I need to do tomorrow is cancel the *other* phone that 3 mis-sold me as an "upgrade" but neglected to tell me that they weren't going to transfer the number from my old phone to the new one. And gave me another 12 month contract, which expired in September. The reason I'm doing it tomorrow rather than today? So I stand a better chance of being rude to another operator, because after the "service" they've given me, I think I should be as rude to as many of their employees as possible, not just lumber it all on one poor guy sitting forlornly at a desk in a call centre in Mumbai.

So as of next month I will have reduced my monthly overheads by £55; which equates to a tank of diesel for the car. Whoopee. But I guess over the course of a year, it all adds up...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Byte: Photos

I suppose it was about time I did this. I've set up a Flickr account, so here it is, with a few of the more spectacular photos from my summer trip to Norway. I'll upload more later when I switch to the other PC.

Byte: Long in the tooth

Since the memory card on my phone has a spaz every time I try and connect to it using the supplied software suite and USB connection, I wasn't having much luck trying to get all the photos I'd taken on it off my phone somewhere useful where I might actually be able to do something with them; like look at them on a screen that's not so small it makes your eyes bleed. Finally, I've found a way of circumventing the woeful Sony Ericsson software suite and sending them direct from the phone to my PC's hard drive.

My new laptop has Bluetooth, which (until now) is something I've always thought of as being a bit useless. My phone also has Bluetooth, primarily so you can use one of those ghastly Lieutenant Uhura-style earpieces (that predictably has never come out of its box), so I thought that if I couldn't retrieve my photos via a hardwired connection, perhaps I'd have better luck wirelessly. Of course, my phone, being rubbish as it is, did allow my laptop to connect to it but wouldn't allow me to do a massed file transfer in a single job lot. No, instead I have to send the files over individually, which is progress of sorts, but since I've got over 130 photos on the phone, it's a tad labourious to send every single one. Still, I shouldn't complain. I'd almost given up all hope of ever getting the photos off my damn phone at all. Plus it's nice to have a fjord on my desktop. It beats the hell out of the standard backgrounds you get with Windows XP, anyway.

One of these days I'm going to have to set up a Flickr account so I can share all these photos with you...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Byte: A new era

Well, I had to wait nearly four hours for it today, but the new laptop is here. Slightly disappointingly, it doesn't have a proper GPU (it has one of these hideous Intel GPUs rather than the Radeon I was hoping for) and the CPU is an Intel Core Solo, rather than the Dual Core I thought I was going to get, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers. It's substantially better than my old T30, and shouldn't fall over whenever I wave a Brio query at it (though I still need to confirm that, since I have to set up all those ODBC connections again... *weeps*).

I'm going to head home now and find out just how many games I can risk clogging up the hard drive with, and what will run... wish me luck!

Byte: Now it's time to say goodbye

Just finishing up some late night file backup and transfer, as after nearly four years, it's time for my T30 laptop to be obsoleted and replaced by something a bit more modern.

My T30's been a faithful servant and lapdog over the years, but recently it's actually become more of an impediment to my productivity than an aid. Of course, I'm mainly interested in getting my new T60 purely from the perspective of seeing what games it's capable of running. As long as it can run Neverwinter Nights, Deus Ex and Jedi Academy, I think I'll be happy... Fingers crossed for a decent graphics card.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Byte: Ding!

I am now level 53. That is all.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Byte: I think I need a new hard drive

Neverwinter Nights 2 just arrived. It's a 6GB install. Which, added to the 10GB taken up by Medieval II, leaves me perilously short of storage space. I think I'm going to have to take a bludgeon to my Add or Remove Programs list and get rid of the space hungry games I don't play anymore. Auto Assault and Guild Wars are first on the culling list, I think. With WoW: Burning Crusade due out just before my birthday next year, I'm not likely to be playing them anytime soon. Oblivion too may also be consigned to... well, oblivion. Digitally, at least. I found that the lustre wears off quite quickly, and I don't find myself really motivated to play it again.

NWN2 arriving has actually put the skids under my plans to spend Saturday afternoon in Zul'Farrak... but that's okay, as I've been somewhat eagerly awaiting this. I've been rather concerned by initial reports that the game is quite buggy - there really seems to have been a worrying downturn in QA for PC games recently - but hopefully the 86MB patch I'm downloading for it right now will sort out most of the problems I saw when I played the game in Leipzig.

Expect my review to go on Pro-G sometime in the next week or two. Also in the pipeline are a (somewhat overdue) review of the wonderful GTR 2 and a preview of UFO: Afterlight. I'm a moderate fan of ALTAR's UFO series, and this looks to be the best yet, by quite a margin. The interface is much slicker and friendlier, plus there have been some interesting changes to the base management model. I haven't played it extensively yet (thanks to Medieval II - which I can now safely put aside before it eats my life completely - it's very, very good), but expect more details soon.

Bark: Natural selection in action

I know I shouldn't laugh at these kind of things, but this actually made me LOL.

A man suffered internal burns when he tried to launch a rocket from his bottom on Bonfire Night.

Paramedics found the 22-year-old bleeding, with a Black Cat Thunderbolt Rocket lodged inside him, when they attended the scene in Sunderland.

He suffered a scorched colon and is now recovering in hospital, where his condition is described as stable.

People fret about "Dumb Britain"; the dumbing down of TV and our education system, but it's clearly not a problem. Stupid people have and always will find hilarious and innovative methods of removing themselves from the gene pool...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bark: The Science of Wonder

There was another report on the radio today about how the uptake on science courses at university was dropping. So the government is giving out stop-gap funds to departments to keep them going until they find some way of getting student numbers back up again.

Of course, they don't have a clue about how to actually do it. But I do. Simply go to every 5 year old boy and show them pictures like this.

If that doesn't get them interested in hard science, nothing will...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bark: Something fishy

A great story on BBC News that I spotted last night. A businessman gets a letter from the council because people have been complaining that his shop smells of fish. He runs a fish and chip shop.

What did they expect it to smell of, roses? Freshly ground coffee?

Bark: Bushwhacker

America in 'It only took seven years for the penny to drop' shocker!

Michael Moore should be a happy man this morning.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bark: Thunderbirds are go!

Does anyone else think that the newly conceived "silent" aircraft, the SAX-40, looks rather reminiscent of Thunderbird 2?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Bark: Darth Nicoll

I was chatting with my friend Mark about meeting up in a fortnight for Game On, when he links me to his latest work. How goddamned cool is that? Make sure you check out the rest of his stuff on DeviantArt as well, because it's very, very good.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bark: Bert vs Ernie - EXTREME!

Had a super-crazy dream this morning in the 45 minutes between my girlfriend getting up and dragging myself out of bed. It was of Muppet-style puppets (I think it was actually Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street) wrestling WWE-style in a cage-match. Really going at it - with broken limbs, homophobic insults being shouted - the works.

I'd like to know where *that* one came from...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Byte: A job well done

A subscriber on the gamesTM Issue 50 feedback thread:

The review of Battlefield [2142] has saved me £40

My work here is done... From that statement, I think I can rest assured that the score I gave it when I submitted the review stood. I'll find out for sure tomorrow when I pick up my copy from Smiths.

I can't believe some of the scores that Battlefield 2142 is getting. 8/10 from EDGE? Where they even playing the same code? Actually, I know that PCG (and thereby the rest of Future) had the same code as I did - I was playing with Tom Francis when I was doing my review for gTM. Surely it's no coincidence that all the reader review scores for the game from Metacritic, Eurogamer to Gamerankings are all in the 5-7 out of 10 range. So why is the review average over 8/10? Especially when you've got people saying "this is nothing more than a $50 mod" yet still giving it 85%? The only reason I can think of is because the reviewers get to play it when the servers aren't so busy, and they're not being kicked off every ten minutes because DICE forgot their quality control. Again.

I truly hope you haven't bought this game, because it's so bug-ridden and desperately average, I couldn't wait to uninstall it from my system...

Byte: Ch-ch-ch-changes!

I've recently moved to the Blogger Beta, so I'm going through the process of upgrading my template and adding post labels, which will hopefully make the blog a bit more useable for all you dear readers (All three of you... one of whom being me), letting you find what you want to read a little more easily. So please bear in mind that the template may be a little untidy over the next few days as I play about with the new functionality. Since there are over 350 posts on this blog to date, it may take me a while to plough through them all and apply the appropriate labels. Though I was quite interested to see that there has been pretty much an even split between Bark and Byte posts. Given my predilection towards gaming and IT in general, I was expecting more of a Byte-bias. I guess I have more of a balanced personality than I thought!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Byte: Game On

As most of the people who read this should already know, the Game On exhibition is currently running at the Science Museum in Kensington (finishing at the tail end of February).

I'm trying to scrape up a Baldur's Gate-style party to go there with me on the 18th of November. Other than myself, I've got four people confirmed as being able to come, with another three or four people pencilled in as being interested, who will make it if they can. The Game On at the Barbican a couple of years back was excellent, and initial reports are that this one is just as good. So if you were planning on going to see the expo, do let me know if you can make it on the 18th, as it's far more fun going around these things in a group than on your own. And it's also a good excuse to get together in the pub for a couple of hours afterwards, too...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Byte: So you want to be badly paid, stressed and unappreciated? Really? Gosh.

There appears to be a rash of "So you want to be a games journalist?" articles infecting the blogosphere tonight, ranging from The Triforce's allegorical tale, to Kieron and Richard's somewhat more helpful guides.

This all appears to be a carefully orchestrated response to this feature detailing the blindingly obvious on Game Career Guide. (Probably one of the most useless websites in the world, incidentally)

It's somewhat stretching the imagination to call myself a videogames journalist, as that would imply I make a living from it, but I do write about games, and have been doing so for a fair while now for both the print and online press, so here's my two pence on the subject - while the bandwagon's here to be jumped on.

Firstly, remember that people write not because they want to, but because they *must*. This is why I was up until 3.30am on Friday night/Saturday morning coming up with a precis for an academic reference textbook on high-level videogame design. Normal people don't do this kind of thing. Writing is a disease... like a cancer of the soul: it consumes you - you don't do it out of choice. So if you want to become a games writer because you love games and you think it might be fun to write about them as well... forget it. 90% of the time writing isn't fun. Sitting behind your keyboard staring at a blank screen for a couple of hours because you can't find your first sentence is akin to Chinese Water Torture. Even if you're utterly mad about games, translating that passion from your brain into words on the page is no simple matter. And it should also be remembered that there's nothing like turning a hobby into a job to suck all the fun out of it, as critically analysing a game isn't as much fun as simply sitting down and playing it. Also remember that if you're a games journalist, at some point you're going to have to play shitty games you normally wouldn't touch with a barge pole. And getting the game free isn't much by way of compensation, if you're being subjected to the horrors of titles like MetalHeart: Replicants Rampage.

Secondly, games journalism isn't the glamorous profession you might (deludedly) think it is. It involves long hours, lots of stress around deadline and the pay isn't up to much. Why do you think I work as an IT Specialist? I might work long hours and get lots of stress in my job, but at least it pays three times as much as your average staff writer's post on a games mag... I'm lucky enough that I can indulge my urge to play games and my impulse to write without having to rely on them to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. The money I get from writing is a bonus - not a motivating factor, and I personally think that's the best way to do it.

There's a reason why most of these "So you want..." articles that have sprung up tonight are dripping with sarcasm or are outright off-putting. As Tim (whose fault this all is) recognises in his post on the subject, decent writers (never mind decent games writers) are few and far between, which is just as well, as there aren't that many jobs in print journalism to go around. If you truly want to break into games journalism, my advice would be don't read guides, no matter who's written them. Figure it out for yourself. If you don't have the persistence or tenacity to be able to do that, then you're wasting your time.

Richard Branson didn't read a "So you want to be a billionaire entrepreneur?" guide... he just went out and did it. If you want to be successful at anything - writing, business - you've got to be able to stand on your own two feet and think for yourself. Don't expect anything to be laid out on a plate for you.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bark: Choose ROFL

When things are going for you, they're *really* going for you.

Things got off to a bad start this week when I came down with flu and my eyelid flared up again, making me look like I'd gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson and sound like General Grievous from Revenge of the Sith.

I've also been waiting all week for that Medieval 2 review code to arrive, so as I'm in the office today, I called home to ask my girlfriend if I'd had any post. The answer was "kind of" - the Postman had left a note saying that I had a package, but that the sender hadn't paid the full amount of postage for it, so if I want to pick it up, I have to come to the local Post Office and pay the balance... Terrific!

But to cap it off, on Wednesday my counsellor binned the session I was due to have on Thursday night and essentially said that she couldn't help me. Which was great. Lost cause, don't even try. Fuck you, fuck you very much! So I guess I learnt a valuable lesson: don't ever rely on anyone else to help you, because you just end up getting let down and fucked over. So, you know what? If the world wants to reward people who are ruthless, heartless, self-serving bastards (because, face it, that's what the free market economy does) then I guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Life's too short to be miserable, so as my mate Chris used to say at Napoleon's - "Fuck 'em. Fuck 'em all!"

Given the choice between laughing and crying after the week I've had, I choose ROFL. Albeit a slightly maniacal and hysterical ROFL, but ROFL nonetheless...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Byte: WoW: Burning Crusade delayed

Firstly, I'm quite surprised that this would make the BBC News website.

Secondly, I'm actually mildly pleased, as it gives me more time to reach the current level cap before everyone charges off to reach the new one. I hit level 52 with my main character on Tuesday night, which was quite surprising, since I had only got to 51 the previous evening. It's amazing what you can do when you don't have your girlfriend enforcing a sleeping curfew... (she was visiting friends up in Lincoln at the beginning of the week)

So, only eight more levels to go, and about nine weeks to get them in. Will our plucky hero succeed? I'm surprised Shareth has made it this far, to be honest. Things got pretty sticky around level 40 when I seemed to be spending most of my time getting ganked in Stranglethorn Vale. Soloing your way to level 60 (which is what I've mostly been doing) is definitely the hard way of playing the game - it's taken me nearly two years to get to this point, which adds up to a solid fourteen days play - that's almost 350 hours. According to the stats put together by this fascinating site I've got about 150 hours until I can expect to hit level 60. So that's a tall order to get all those hours squeezed in between now and January, especially with all the other commitments on my free time. But I'll give it a good go anyway... Besides, I've always found playing Warcraft that it's more about having fun on the journey than reaching the destination at the end. So if I don't hit level 60 before Burning Crusade comes out, it's no big disaster.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bark: P-p-p-pick up a... pigeon?

Quite a sinister story on BBC News today. Now, I have eaten pigeon myself in France, and it was quite good, but personally, I wouldn't go so far as to eat one from a park in central London. And I'm pretty sure that pelicans shouldn't be eating them either.

A quote from the photographer:

It was kicking and flapping the whole way down.

Well, if you were being EATEN WHOLE, you would, wouldn't you? Brrr.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Byte: Not so much a foot in the door as a leg

Pleasingly, the work from gamesTM keeps coming. And now it's a review of something that actually stands a chance of getting a decent score. Which means not only will my bank manager be happy that I'm supplementing my income with more freelance cash, but I can be happy that I can play a brilliant game and GET PAID FOR IT. This review will pay for my Nintendo Wii. How's that for a happy thought?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bark: The road to recovery?

I had my first session with the counsellor the company found for me tonight. Quite a surreal experience. I wasn't really sure what to expect - certainly not miracles - but I'm a little unsure as to what we achieved tonight. I'm sure that's pretty normal, to be fair, as simply articulating how I'm feeling (or trying to, at least) took up most of the session. I even gave her the weblink to this blog, which I'm sure will raise a couple of eyebrows and give us a few things to talk about next week...

The written word is probably a more honest window into someone's mind than a spoken conversation because there are fewer boundaries to expression - it's just you, your thoughts and a keyboard.

A few interesting things did crop up in our conversation. Firstly that I'm rather disillusioned with Mankind as a species at the moment. As I alluded to here, I find it really pretty disgusting that not only can Mankind be utterly complicit with the systematic destruction of the environment it lives in the name of profit, but that governments can also prize their own possession of power over the service of the people that they govern. It's almost as if anything can be justified in the name of short-term gain: "I'm alright, Jack" as a governing principle - just let our grandkids clean up the mess. Not that this is any real surprise - the vested interests from institutions as diverse as churches, monarchies, governments and corporations have always opposed change and fought tooth and nail for the status quo. As long as they hold the money and the power, they're quite content to let the world burn, even going so far as to strike the match, from The Crusades to the second Gulf War. As George Bernard Shaw once said "The one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history." We keep making the same mistakes and paying the same price. It's a consequence of the selfishness of human nature - plus it's inherent drive and ambition: Take land, take resources, gain power and destroy anything that tries to get in the way. It's a principle abided by from Alexander the Great, through Genghis Khan to Hitler (and even the current US administration). But after over 4000 years of philosophical and scientific research, how can we still continue to make the same mistakes? I find it hard to accept that we've learnt so little.

I look at the world and see it as being badly broken; and having a good scientific brain, I want to analyse and fix it (undoubtedly a typically male response as well - "Let me get my spanner and screwdriver. We'll be done in a jiffy!"). Studying physics gives you the ability to assimilate information at the macro and micro scales: from the cosmological to the quantum. So you look at the world differently from other people, and this makes you more inclined to question it and want to figure out how things relate to each other. You look at a system, analyse it, see how it works, reduce it to its first principles, see how they work, analyse again and repeat.

I've done this with modern society and identified several major "components" in the way it is structured that directly contribute to the unrest and instability in the world we live in today. (Note: this is by no means a complete and exhaustive list)

1) Religion: Fundamentalist religion is probably the biggest cause of instability in the system (for want of a better word) that we call "The Earth". Religious belief promotes ignorance and intolerance, by demanding faith without critical reasoning and by pitching belief systems into conflict with one another. Christianity and Islam in particular also assert that people can live their lives according to the knowledge and values set out in texts written nearly two thousand years ago, when the structure of society was very different to today's, and our scientific understanding of the universe was much more limited. The whole concept that people should live according to such archaic and outdated codes of conduct is anathema to me. These books were written when their authors had no concept of mass communication, mass transit of large numbers of people across huge distances by air, land and sea, or that people from myriad diverse cultures could be crammed together living in huge metropolises containing millions of people. Now, being a liberal, I'm more than happy to allow people to believe what they want to believe. Some people do find religious faith a valueable force in their lives, and if it helps make them happy, fine. However, religious fundamentalism is dangerous because of its inflexibility - and when you have such a large, culturally diverse population crammed into large centres of population, such inflexibility creates intolerance, tension and inevitably results in violence. And when you have governments actively embracing religious fundamentalism, it results in only one thing: war.

2) Capitalism: The Western world holds up capitalism as some kind of paragon of economic and social virtue; claiming that in the capitalist system, anyone can become a wealthy and successful. Unfortunately, this simply isn't true. Capitalism is the single biggest pyramid scheme on the planet. The nature of capitalism requires that a huge workforce of cheap labour prop up the system so that you can pop down the high street and buy your Nike trainers for the price of a couple of month's salary of the people who made them. It's a system that has the richest 1% of the world's population earning nearly 100 times that of the bottom 20% combined, and this gap gets wider all the time, instead of narrowing. We have the technology and the resources now to ensure that no-one in the world has to live in poverty, but even in burgeoning economic states like India, you still have families living on less than a dollar a day. Politicians continually state that their main priority is "economic stability" so that they're "not risking peoples' mortgages", yet they still subscribe to a system that requires an ultimately unsustainable level of year on year growth to remain stable. The bottom always falls out of pyramid schemes eventually, but as long as the people at the top keep making money... to hell with the people at the bottom who get fucked over. Of course, realigning the world economy to a more equitable, meritocratic system would be no simple matter. I can't imagine many billionaires being pleased if they were told "sorry, there are a couple of billion people in Africa that need this money more than you do", but unless something is done to close the gap between the world's rich and poor, this again will lead to conflict.

3) Denial of Global Warming and fossil fuel dependance: This follows on from Capitalism, really. There are still governments out there that refuse to acknowledge that global warming is a problem, simply because they don't want to compromise their economic growth. It's also no coincidence that these governments also tend to be among the worst polluters. Despite all the evidence from environmental scientists that industrialisation is affecting our environment far more seriously than previously thought and that a tipping point on climate change (where irrevocable damage has been done) could be less than 10 years away, we still can't even agree on what should be done. Humanity is sticking its head in the sand and hoping that the problem will simply go away... and by the time it takes its head back out again, it'll find itself under three metres of water because all the glaciers and half the polar ice caps have melted. There are plenty of viable alternatives to fossil fuels out there, but (of course) no-one wants to fund the research because it's too expensive and will hit their bottom line. In other words, corporations will only try to save the world if there's money in it. As if profits will matter a damn when the environment is stuffed beyond repair...

4) Fear and loathing in the media: The news media has evolved rather worryingly in the last 15-20 years. It's become far more sensationalist, snappier, glossier and provokative. Not only that, the news has become almost exclusively dominated by negative reporting: murder, rape, child abduction, terrorism, war, religious tension. And when its not about promoting a climate of fear, suspicion and intolerance, it's covering which celebrity couple has just broken up, who's been voted off Big Brother, or something equally vacuous and irrelevant. News used to be about informing people. Now it's either there to scare us senseless, or distract us from the real issues that matter. Though again, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The news corporations have their own agenda in the ratings war - be the slickest, most controversial and you'll make the most money - and governments have long manipulated the media for their own ends. I don't even watch ITV News anymore - it's Fox News Lite - and the BBC is little better. Only Channel 4 News (and perhaps Newsnight) has any integrity or the semblance of balanced, in-depth, non-sensationalist reporting anymore. The rest needs to be taken with more seasoning than your daily recommended salt intake...

My counsellor suggested to me that perhaps part of the reason I was unhappy was because I saw this big picture, and that maybe problems as large as these cannot be solved. I thought that was quite an odd, even defeatist, statement. People said that Man would never fly, or that we would never get a man to walk on the surface of the Moon. I believe that any problem can be solved if there is enough will to do it. Clearly, in the case of flaws in a system this large, it would be unrealistic to think that I could fix them alone.

Perhaps I just need to find problems I can fix, things that will make me feel that I've made some tangible difference that matters, and then hope that some kind of Butterfly Effect occurs - by making one small, positive change to the system, given time it will influence larger, positive changes. I still don't know what I'm going to do yet, but I'm going to give it a lot of thought in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bark: Grrrrr! And Grrrrrr! Again!

Hmmm. It's not been such a good day. I got randomly shouted at and verbally abused during my lunchtime WoW session by a Level 60 Mage - all of 13 years old, probably, judging by how quickly he threw his dummy out of the pram by me DARING to QUEST in an area he was already in. So I told him to fuck off and stop being such a dipshit. Like being Level 60 means you have the right to claim the server as your personal playing ground... Fuck's sake. MMORPGs would be great if it weren't for the other people...

Actually, I take that back. A lot of the people are great: my long-term friends Zinar and Fearx especially, plus newer acquiantances, such as the superbly named Turbobavern. It's just the petulant idiots that bring the experience down. I can deal with the Level 60 Rogues who get a kick out of ganking level 20 alt-characters (that kind of behaviour is kind of expected, and Uther knows I'll bloody well gank mercilessly when Shareth finally hits the top of the level tree), but sheer outright rudeness from people who are meant to be on your own side... it drives me up the wall. And I don't think it's a coincidence that the idiots I meet on the server are Brits and the really nice people are from mainland Europe, either. Hell, if my French or German were better I wouldn't bloody well play on an English-speaking server at all. (Though that would unfortunately mean that I'd miss out on playing with all the lovely Scandinavians, who in my experience are all uniformly brilliant - why can't Blizzard do some Norwegian/Swedish/Danish servers?) I think I'm going to take a break from playing with my alts and put all my time into Shareth, my Druid. It'd be nice to get up to Level 60 before they raise the Level Cap with Burning Crusade. Though I reckon my chances of that happening are pretty slim. Oh, well.

That, however, wasn't the thing that *really* pissed me off today. I mentioned last week that I'd decided that I'd reached a point where I thought I needed to use the company's counselling service. Well, good as gold, the assistance program duly found me a counsellor, and gave me their contact details. I called last Thursday and left them a message (as I'd been told to do). Up until this morning, they still hadn't called me back to arrange an appointment. So I left another message just before lunch. And didn't get a peep out of them all day. Can you believe that? After getting past the mental block of actually admitting your problem is serious enough to seek help for, the FUCKING COUNSELLOR can't be arsed to return your calls! Do you ever get the impression that someone's got it in for you? I'm going to call the assistance program and get them to find me another counsellor, because that's so out of order.

I'm going into the office tomorrow so that I can have a chat with my manager and maybe arrange some time off, because trying to work when I'm having so much trouble keeping a thought straight in my head for more than 20 minutes clearly isn't working; and that's not fair on the project, as I'm about as productive as a plumber drinking a pot of tea at the moment. My sleeping and eating patterns are all screwed up and I'm running on a shorter fuse than a 5-second grenade... You can imagine that I'm not exactly great company at the moment. So beware if you pay a visit to my Defcon server in the next few evenings...

Byte: Stop that. Stop it, it's silly.

This is getting ridiculous now. IGN UK asked me this morning if I wanted a trip to Kiev next week to do a hands-on preview of STALKER for them. I had to decline on several grounds: a) I don't think my bank account could deal with another trip abroad at the moment, b) I don't have the holiday left to take the time off, c) I don't think I could mentally handle a deadline anyway, d) the THQ PR's are probably sick of the sight of me by now, and e) the multiplayer I got to have a blast on in Leipzig was shite, so I don't fancy a flight all the way out to Kiev to play an equally buggy singleplayer.

Besides, Kiev is in the Ukraine, so I don't want to risk being kidnapped, tortured and killed by the local Mafia after they've sent an unsolicited call girl to your hotel room and you've told her to piss off... There are scary people in Eastern Europe. I'd rather go to America again and be grilled by the Immigration Officials...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Byte: It's officially totally official

StarForce genuinely is Teh Shitz. I'd been wondering why my machine had become a little unstable and was randomly alt-tabbing out of full-screen applications or causing my optical mouse to go haywire, and I spent this lunchtime thinking about how it started.

I recalled that it started pretty much after I came back from Leipzig, which narrowed down the list of potential culprits very quickly. The preview code for Armed Assault had required me to install StarForce, and looking back, it was only after I installed that when I began to have problems. So I uninstalled the game (which is shaping up quite well, by the way - it's the same old hard-as-diamond Operation Flashpoint we all know and love, but with graphics that don't melt your eyeballs... well, not *quite* so badly, anyway) and immediately took a hatchet to my Device Manager to get rid of the (hidden) StarForce drivers, that despite being software, manifest themselves under "Non-Plug-'n'-Play" hardware devices in your System menu.

I've left the machine on all day, and it's not had a single glitch. Funny that...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bark: Lost Highway

Something tells me I shouldn't really be watching David Lynch when I'm feeling out of sorts, but WHAT THE FUCK WAS ALL THAT ABOUT THEN?

Answers on a postcard, please, to the usual address.

Bark: A rubbish burglar

If you're going to be a thief, then the one thing you might want to consider avoiding is leaving evidence of your crime. This basic concept, however, didn't occur to a man in Plymouth who decided that there was probably good money in stealing CCTV cameras...

Amazingly, this story turns out not to be an urban myth. I wouldn't normally post a link to The Sun, but the only other paper that covered the story online was the Daily Mail, and I do still have principles, you know. I will only stoop so low in my linkage...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bark: Making Sven look good

Is schadenfreude a sign of being a bad person? Because when I was driving to Sainsbury's to get lunch seeing a huge queue of cars travelling in the other carriageway being stuck behind a slow moving tractor made me laugh. Twice. Because I passed him once on the way to the supermarket and again on the way back to the flat.

Though it didn't make me laugh quite as much as this did. Richard Williams in The Guardian summed it up beautifully: "they [England's players] were trying to write sonnets with alphabet soup." Heh-heh-heh.

Bark: It's the 21st Century, so...

...why aren't we all living out here yet?

Byte: People who need to die #1-4

#1: The people who invented adverts for the internet.

#2: The people who invented pop-up adverts for the internet to suck even more of your precious bandwidth away and be even more intrusive to your web browsing.

#3: The people who invented pop-up adverts for the internet that circumvent your pop-up blocking software for when you try and get rid of the ads invented by the people to be killed for #2.

#4: The people who decided that the pop-up adverts from #3 *still* weren't intrusive and annoying enough, so then changed them so that clicking the "Close" link ACTUALLY OPENS THE ADVERTISED WEBSITE ANYWAY.

This may become a long-running series...

Byte: *snigger*

A recent South Park episode in the US takes a beautifully calculated snipe at World of Warcraft. It's a shame they didn't sneak in a Leroy Jenkins homage, but's still very, very funny.

Byte: Failed Videogame Pitches #2457

Massively Multiplayer Online Gurning

Using a combination of the technology from Garry's Mod for Half-Life 2 and Toribash, compete online in turn-based face-pulling battles, where the most grotesque visage wins. Extra points can be gained by using your facial muscles to rip off parts of your face and hurl them at your opponents.

(Suffice to say, I had a very bizarre dream last night. For those of you that have no idea what gurning is, well... these pictures say it all really.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bark: The Mother of all Thunderstorms

We had a spectacular thunderstorm this morning, that resulted in a power cut for about an hour. I'm hoping that it was just a coincidence and not some kind of omen that it happened immediately after I'd just rang the Employee Assistance Program's counselling service to make an appointment... It's not been a good week; my main WoW character Shareth (Night Elf Druid) hitting Level 50 notwithstanding.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bark: Tension in the household

[singing]1-0! 1-0! 1-0! 1-0![/singing]

Not often I get to crow about one of Scotland's football results. Especially when my girlfriend is French and she's used to her team reaching World Cup Finals...

In other news, I've just come back from watching Children of Men at the cinema. It's fucking brilliant. It's utterly bleak and relentless, but nontheless a must-see film. It's a shame Julianne Moore didn't have more to do, but Clive Owen holds the film together brilliantly. And watch out for Peter Mullan's cameo as Syd. He's hilarious. Top notch direction, too.

Byte: Advanced Defcon 101

I promise I'll shut up about Defcon soon. But first I wanted to share a few more advanced tactics that you can use to get ahead in games. Just don't use them against me, m'kay?

1) Effective Bomber Use: Don't place your airbases right on the doorstep of enemy territory. This is so that your bombers will arm their nukes before entering enemy anti-air cover. Also ensure that all bombers are in the air five minutes before Defcon 1 is declared.

2) Don't commit your carrier fleets too soon: Entering into fleet combat immediately upon Defcon 3 will needlessly lose you a lot of fleet capacity. You specifically want to protect your carriers, as they carry a potentially vital resource of nukes. If you positively *must* engage in fleet combat, make sure that you use battleship fleets as a screening force for your carriers, and prioritise the launch of carrier-based bombers over fighters. This will not only give you a significant advantage in neutralising the enemy fleet, but will also ensure that your bombers are already in the air moving towards strategic targets in preparation for Defcon 1. Where possible, keep your fleets within range of friendly anti-air cover or airbases, so that land-based fighters can intercept any hostile air forces, and also keep the anti-air systems of enemy battleships occupied and prevent them targeting your more precious bombers.

3) Use every last nuke: This may sound obvious, but you need to commit your bomber force early, and use all the nuke capacity stored at your airbases as quickly as possible. Airbases are more vulnerable to counter-attack than your missile silos, so it's important to use them quickly. If you use all the nuke reloads at one airbase and have spare bombers sitting on the ground, don't be afraid to transfer bombers from carriers or other airbases to places where spare nukes are lying around unused. They're better off in the air than on the ground.

4) Coordinate your attacks: If you're attacking a target where anti-air defences are still in place, you need to have a very high volume of nukes entering the airspace if you want to have any hope of hitting your targets. Try to time attacks so that all your nukes will enter the target area in as short a timescale as possible. If necessary, coordinate fighter incursions into enemy airspace to give the anti-air facilities too many targets to fire at, increasing the chances of your nukes leaking through.

5) Use intelligence gained from alliances to your advantage: It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. If you don't stab people in the back first, it's going to happen to you. There are winners and victims. Don't be a victim...

6) Timing is everything: If you don't get the timing of your attack right, you're going to lose. Defcon is a game of thermonuclear chicken. In general (but not always), he who twitches last, lives longest. When the hard rain starts to fall, (i.e. when you start detecting enemy launches), don't leave your counter-attack too long, otherwise your nukes will be met with a reception of withering air defence fire. Ideally, you want to get your nukes in the air as soon as you know that the enemy's silos have switched from air defence to launch mode. This gives you a much better chance of landing hits on enemy cities. Just make sure that you have a couple of silos still providing air defence cover between you and the incoming nukes to minimise your losses.

7) Play the percentages: Always keep a small reserve of nukes until the victory timer starts, and keep at least one silo close to your major city in air defence mode at all times.

8) Errors in asset placement will hurt you in the endgame: Ensure that you place your assets in mutually supportive positions. Don't leave major cities without air defence cover, and make sure you have airbases that can not only penetrate deeply into enemy territory, but also quickly defend your coastline, in the event of submarine attack.

9) Don't commit your submarine force into an unknown situation: You don't want to surface into the middle of an enemy fleet and lose all your subs before they've been able to launch a single nuke. Either keep a healthy distance between the submarine fleet and the coast when launching missiles, or use friendly air cover from carrier fleets to screen the attack.

10) Don't get hung up on trying to destroy enemy assets: While destroying enemy silos, airbases and radar stations does give you a strategic advantage, don't waste nukes from your silos trying to destroy them, unless you find them early in the game (between Defcon 3 and Defcon 1), when a first strike will reap the greatest rewards. Otherwise view them as targets of opportunity for your submarine and bomber forces. It's the number of hits of major population centres that will win you the game, not how many hardware assets you destroy. In general, you can probably afford to ignore them completely, unless taking one out (silos in particular) would leave an exploitable gap in your enemy's defences. If your first awareness of a missile silo is when it first starts launching missiles, it's not really worth trying to take out , as it will generally have launched all its nukes by the time your missiles get there (to be shot down by the silo in air defence mode). So save your destructive power for the civilian population.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Byte: Frying chickens in the barnyard!

Now that my Battlefield 2142 review is safely out of the way (no sneak previews, sorry), I can get back to the serious business of mutually assured destruction in Defcon.

I'm seriously loving Defcon at the moment. I tried out a six player Diplomacy game on Wednesday night and had a fantastic time. Despite the minimalist presentation and the abstract, almost soulless manner in which the game reports casualties, the game really has a ruthless human element to it.

The experience of playing other people beats the pants off playing the AI, as the CPU players tend to be a little predictable. Diplomacy games are probably the game's highlight, as everyone starts off on the same side, shares radar information and knowledge of silo locations, etc, before things inevitably degenerate into a worldwide thermonuclear conflict. The action started in my game on Wednesday when one of the players dropped from the server to be replaced by an AI. So we kicked the AI out of the alliance and beat the hell out of it. Then we steadily identified the remaining human players that had the weakest defenses (or had committed most of their nukes already), kicked them out of the alliance as well, leaving a three versus three: Europe, Russia (me) and Asia, versus Africa plus North and South America.

Then the player for Asia dropped from the server, leaving 2 vs 2, with one CPU player out on a limb and the other assisting my alliance. I consulted with my European counterpart and suggested "Let's let the AI do our dirty work for a while", to which he readily agreed. Once the Asian CPU committed all its nukes, Europe and I kicked it from our alliance, and we began the process of cleaning up; after about two, two and a half hours into the game. Europe and I were way out in front, having only lost about 6 million people each, having kept our silos on air defence mode for the entire game up until that point, and having gotten all of our kills using bombers and our submarines. I made my move when I saw Europe switching its silos to launch mode to execute an all out attack on Africa and South America. I quickly switched all my silos to attack mode, quit my alliance and jumped on my former ally. His response in the chat channel was succinct: "Bastard"

Unfortunately for me, I jumped too quickly and didn't jump high enough. None of my nukes made it through to London or Paris, meaning that my callous betrayal was mostly in vain. Europe quickly counter-attacked with the couple of dozen nukes he had left in reserve, levelling Moscow and half of my other cities, dumping me from 1st to 4th place in the final five minutes of the game. Still, it was fun, and I definitely think it's still a valid (if cruel) tactic. I call it the Late Endgame Betrayal, and will be trying out the tactic again, certainly, along with another tactic I've come up with called the Super-Betrayal: this is where you wait until your allies are launching nukes, and then quickly switch to the other alliance to give them vital intelligence as to silo placement and which cities they should counter-attack. There's even scope for a Double Super-Betrayal, where you switch alliances twice very quickly to gain the maximum amount of intelligence, but that might be a little too Machiavellian to try out on most servers.

I've just been idly playing a 3 player/6 nation Genocide match (no alliances) in Office Mode (6 hour limit real-time) against the CPU while I work, and I've gotten the victory timer to kick in after less than two hours. It's pretty fair to say that I'm winning pretty comprehensively. I've only lost two silos from my inital ground-based assets, and nearly half of my fleet is still intact. My score is one and a half times that of the player in second place and almost double that of the two AI players put together. So watch out if you play me on a Genocide match. I think I might be getting a little bit good at this...

Final Stats:

Me - Kills: 252.2m, Deaths: 65.5m, Collateral: 0.6m, Survivors: 134.4m, Score: 251
CPU 1 - Kills: 99.8m, Deaths: 157.4m, Collateral: 0.6m, Survivors: 42.6m, Score: 99
CPU 2 - Kills: 37.2m, Deaths: 167.7m, Collateral: 0.2m, Survivors: 32.3m, Score: 36

And I still had 28 nukes left...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bark: A great paradox

As a Bachelor of Science (Physics with Space Science & Technology, University of Leicester, 1997), I find this story deeply distressing.

Byte: A 21st Century spectator sport

This is not good. I've barely had the game a day, and already I'm dreaming about it. Defcon, that is. I had my first online game last night and came second out of three players. So I lost, basically... but it was an educational experience. i.e. never play as Africa.

I'm learning quite a lot from spectating the game as well. The game I'm spectating at the moment is a one player vs 5 CPU free-for-all, and it's utterly fascinating. I'm picking up a few tips that I'm going to try out online in the coming weeks. Namely, not to commit your naval forces too soon, and to try to leave a little more distance between the coast of the country your nuking and your subs. Otherwise, they just get wiped out by bombers before they can unleash their payload. Not only that, there's quite a lot to be learnt from observing the way the CPU players set out their assets at the beginning of the game. Getting your silos to be mutually supportive in their air defence capability, but not so close together that they're all easily discovered and counter-nuked is quite a tricky proposition. Which probably explains why everyone likes playing as Europe so much (because it's a small, easily defensible territory) and also why everybody specifically goes after it (because once they start mass launching, it's very vulnerable to counter-attack).

Defcon might not be so healthy for my megalomania complex ("If I can't rule the world, I'll destroy it! Muhahahahahahahah!"), but it's certainly a great game - perhaps even a contender for my game of the year. And given that you can download the demo off Steam for free, yet still join games hosted by players with the full version, there's no excuse for not trying it. So try it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Byte: Everybody dies

No, I'm not being depressive again, I am, of course, referring to Defcon, which I recently downloaded off Steam.

I had a game against the CPU at lunch (and won, comprehensively), and it's quite an interesting little game. Oddly hypnotic, in fact. Compelling, even. I also spectated a couple of games this afternoon whilst working, and the sheer minimalism of the game's presentation really works beautifully. It's genuinely reminiscent of the big board in Wargames in look, and the soundtrack has a nice '80s synth feel to it as well.

It's one of those games that you can just sit back and watch, which is why it's so cool that Introversion put in a spectator mode. I can imagine myself watching more games than I play. Though I'm looking forward to trying it out online (and probably getting murdered).

The game's mechanically very simple, but there's typically so much going on that it's a real management test. You've got to get things right in the early stages of a game, when placing your bases and silos, otherwise you're really going to struggle in the end-game.

So if you see a server called "Armageddon Man", come and give me some nuclear loving. The name comes from a little known Spectrum game in a similar global nuclear war setting that I was addicted to in my early teens. On a similar theme, you may also find me on a server called "Armageddon outta here"...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Byte: It pleases me...

I'm just putting the finishing touches on my Supreme Commander preview piece for Games TM, and as I was just using Google to make sure I had the correct definition for an acronym, I was most pleased to discover that a Google search for "supreme commander acu" returns this blog as the first hit. I don't think that's ever happened to me before... I don't think I've ever done a Google search for something that's ever brought back one of my own pages first that wasn't an intentional ego search.

So hurrah for Google for unintentionally boosting my currently fragile ego.

In other news, Battlefield 2142 is 'meh'. You heard it here first.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bark: In This World

The fruits of an insomniatic trawl of YouTube...

My work here is done. See you in the morning...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bark: Short circuits of the synapse

My managers at work got the surprise of a lifetime when I dumped all my angst on them this week (one of them described it as being "most out of character"), but they're both being terribly understanding with me about the ongoing existential crisis I'm going through. They're putting me in touch with all the support services (Occupational Health and IBM's Employee Assistance Programme), to help me work through all the thoughts buzzing around my brain that are preventing me from functioning like a good little corporate minion. Even taking some time off in sick leave has been mooted, though I'm a little ambivalent as to whether I want to take that or not.

I know that there's clearly something not right with me at the moment - you shouldn't walk around Sainsbury's calculating how many ways a shopping trolley could be used as a sociopathic outlet (like I did this lunchtime - for the record: at least half a dozen; ranging from simple obstruction and inconveniencing people, to actual use as a weapon) - and being able to recognise and admit that a problem is there is a huge step in itself, but getting over that inner reticence to actively seek help from other people is still presenting a bit of a barrier.

Part of it is a fear that these people are going to tell you "Just suck it up and get on with it, you pathetic shit, there's nothing wrong with you" - and that you've been wasting everyone's time; and the other part of the fear is that what's wrong with you is so serious that you've got to spend the rest of your life locked up in a loony bin, rocking back and forth all day against padded walls muttering distractedly "There's no place like home... there's no place like home." The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle, but knowing this rationally doesn't help. I'm not sure if I like the idea of being analysed, diagnosed, categorised and then packaged and labelled into a neat little compartment of illness (mental or otherwise). I've always hated doctors and hospitals, and I've always had the sneaking suspicion that we "discover" more illnesses not because medicine is getting more sophisticated, but because the way we structure modern society (pushing people closer and closer together, removing traditional cultural boundaries) is simply creating more pressures on the body and the mind and creating new ways for people to get ill...

Part of me doesn't want to know just how serious the problem is - but another part of me knows that unless I find out, the chances of actually getting well again are more limited. So this creates its own paralysis, which manifests itself as me not knowing what the hell I want to do anymore, not being able to keep a thought in my head for more than five minutes, not being able to deal with more than one thing at a time (which is perhaps the most worrying - one of the things I liked most about myself was my ability to multitask a heck of a lot better than Windows can...) and a crippling lethargy and lack of motivation to do *anything*.

I'm even losing the ability to write - I have two pieces to do for gamesTM in the next week or so - but the words aren't coming. Which is why I'm writing this... just to try and put some order back into my skull and sit behind my keyboard and have words, any words, flowing out of my mind and onto the screen again.

Though one good thing is coming out of this - my general apathy for life in general, and my lack of appetite in particular (I've eaten just two sandwiches in the last 72 hours) means that I'm losing weight at a rate of knots... So I may be going slightly/completely/utterly* mad, but at least I'm under 14 and a half stone for the first time in about three years. So hurrah for that.

Right. I'm off to kill people on a Battlefield 2142 server, so that I don't have to do it in real-life. (And who said videogames don't save lives?)

I will leave you with this, a quote from Robert Heinlein's To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which I'm reading at the moment. I'd not touched the book in weeks (it's not one of Heinlein's best, really), but by chance, this was the first paragraph I read after discussing my general dissatisfaction of life, the universe and everything with Fleur.

Happiness lies in being privileged to work hard for long hours in doing whatever you think is worth doing. One man may find happiness in supporting a wife and children. Another may find it in robbing banks. Still another may labour mightily for years in pursuing pure research with no discernible result. Note the individual and subjective nature of each case. No two are alike and there is no reason to expect them to be. Each man or woman must find for himself or herself that occupation in which hard work and long hours make him or her happy. Contrariwise, if you are look for shorter hours and longer vacations and early retirement, you are in the wrong job. Perhaps you need to take up bank robbing. Or geeking in a sideshow. Or even politics.

Kinda appropriate, huh? So if there's a sudden rash of perfectly planned bank robberies across Surrey in the next few weeks, I'd like to remind you that IT'S NOT ME...

*delete as appropriate

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bark: Word of the Day #297564981

The word for today is gnarly. No particular reason, other than it grabs me for some reason today.

Also, right now I'm listening to a track on Mogwai's new album (Mr. Beast) called Glasgow Mega Snake. I don't know why, but I just love the concept that there could be a Glasgow Mega Snake... In my mind's eye, it wouldn't be a huge constrictor like a python, or really venomous like a cobra, it'd simply go around threatening people with a broken bottle and shouting drunkenly "See eugh, Jimmy!", whilst scavenging half-eaten fish suppers out of rubbish bins at three o'clock in the morning.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bark: It's all going horribly wrong...

First Steve Irwin, and now this... It's not right. Someone, MAKE IT STOP.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bark: A disease of the soul

In The Brooklyn Follies, one of Paul Auster's characters describes writing as a disease, or "an influenza of the spirit"; when I read that on holiday this summer in Norway, it struck a real chord with me, and wondered if I'm not afflicted with a similar disease of the soul.

Perhaps I shouldn't have watched The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive last night, because maybe ignorance really is bliss. Far too much of what Stephen Fry and the other bipolars in the programme were describing felt far too familiar to me to be comfortable. I've always felt that my personality has had a manic depressive edge to it - my recent enthusiasm for wanting to grab hold of my life and do what I feel I want to do, offset by crushing ennui and the sensation that life simply spirals out of control (such as going way over my overdraft limit by having so many holidays crammed into such a short space of time, followed by the electric cooker deciding to stop working, just when I don't have the money to buy a new one).

I seem to be going through a bit of an existential crisis lately. Or maybe I'm just going slowly fucking insane. I really don't know what's wrong with me at the moment. I know I'm not happy with my life as it is right now, and I'm not happy with myself, either. I picked up a throat bug coming back from Seattle, and it's been lingering for over a week. When I'm not feeling well, I struggle to work up the enthusiasm to get out of bed. Today was a good case in point. Despite having a whole load of really important work to do - work which needs to be done quickly because my project manager is getting heat from his bosses about it - I couldn't muster the energy to scrape myself out of bed until well after lunchtime. Maybe it was because I was ill and not feeling well, or maybe because it was because I didn't care. I'm struggling to be able to tell the difference anymore.

Fleur's out tonight at a "Body Shop party" (that's where you look at cosmetics, not hammer out a wing panel on a Ford Escort), meaning that I have free reign to eat and drink what I like, but I couldn't even be bothered scraping up enough enthusiasm to get an essentially guilt-free Chinese takeaway, given that the cooker's on the blink (which, if you know my love for Chinese food, is incredible). I haven't eaten all day, and I really don't care.

I'm not even sure why I'm writing this. I'm not expecting answers or solutions - maybe I just want to express it - scream from the virtual rooftops just to let it out; like that scene in Garden State where Zach Braff, Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard are screaming into the abyss in the rain.

Maybe it's just a case of having an overly analytical mind and too much information. How can you *not* get depressed when you're told that the tipping point for climate change may be less than ten years away, and you've still got governments unable to admit that it's a problem at all? Perhaps that's just a natural reaction.

But is it natural to get the urge to break out an assault rifle and rampage with it around your local supermarket, just because you can't bear being in such a confined space with all that seething humanity? Is it natural to want to steer your car into a tree at 80 miles per hour, just because you're curious to know what it would feel like? Or is it natural to want to jump off a bridge into the Thames to see how long it would take you to drown, or to find out whether you'd really have a heart attack from hitting such a large mass of cold water?

Is it natural to wonder who would *really* care if you got hit by a bus, lightning or a meteorite first thing tomorrow morning? If I were to be utterly erased from existence tomorrow, who would it matter to? Offhand, I can think of maybe three people. Likewise, what would I leave behind? I'm not having kids, I'm not building some kind of dynasty here - all I have is what remains of the life I have to make some kind of mark that matters to me, and potentially to the world. I'm not having delusions of grandeur or chasing fame - I just want my life to have counted for *something* - something more tangible and important than having put a couple of cents on some massive, faceless corporation's share price.

Objectively, you might think I've got a good life. I have a secure job, a decent income, a home, a car, a stable relationship, and even a hobby that allows me to write freelance and make a bit of extra cash now and again. Compared to living in abject poverty in central Africa, even I can admit you've got a point. But subjectively, I know that this, ultimately, doesn't count for shit. We've got a world tearing itself apart over resources that are destroying the environment we all live in, the cost of living spiralling beyond affordability, governments that prize the possession of power over serving the very people that gave it to them, and religious leaders who can't even quote a centuries-old text without starting a holy war.

I'm torn between despair for the world and the megalomania of thinking that I could solve it all if only they'd put *me* in charge for a couple of years. Humanity has become a victim of its own success. Humanity's ingenuity managed to put it at the top of the natural food chain, but its conceit that it could do a better job than Nature will not only be the planet's undoing, but its own as well. Humans weren't evolved to live in such proximity, in such density, or in such diversity. And now we're paying the price. People fear what they don't understand, and by bringing such diversity into such close proximity (through technology - i.e. the internet, air travel, etc) it's little wonder that we live in a world of fear and intolerance. And I can only see there being one ending - and that's in flames, not humanity riding off into the sunset over the intergalactic horizon, like a techno-John Wayne...

Forgive me, I'm rambling. No, I'm not drunk, but I am working on it.

Maybe I'm insane. Maybe I need help. Or maybe I'm the only sane person in a world going mad. Who can tell the difference anymore? And does it really matter anymore, anyway?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Byte: An Unholy Trinity

It seems oddly appropriate, in the context of the discussion about the Pope's infallibility in the wake of him daring to make a quote from the 14th Century that didn't flatter Islam, that I should be confronted with the unholiest of trinities.

LEGO Star Wars II arrived in the post yesterday, along with my review copy of Company of Heroes. I also have lots of writing and other work to do. So do I work, liberate Normandy from Nazis, or save the galaxy from LEGOular evil? As you can see, it's no simple dilemma...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bark: Why don't you just start the march on Mecca now?


Gosh, it's just like playing Medieval: Total War, isn't it?
What next? Suicide bombers in the Vatican? Though I have to say it'd be interesting to see how the Swiss Guard handled them...

Bark: Great timing

Why do they have to relax the hand baggage rules on flights to the US just *after* I come back from there? Typical.

I suppose I should tell you about my trip to Seattle. I'm not going to talk about the game (Supreme Commander), given that there's an embargo on news about it until next month, but I can give you an insight into the mind of Chris Taylor (the creator of Supreme Commander and also of Total Annihilation and the Dungeon Siege games). He's undoubtedly one of the most charmingly bonkers men I've ever met. I was lucky enough to interview him for the best part of half an hour on Monday, and he's got a real passion about his games, with the clearly insane edge of someone who works far too hard. I kid you not, he almost ate my dictaphone at one point during the interview. It won't be an encounter I'm going to forget in a hurry, let me tell you. (Note to self: Just don't mention the hookers, midgets or cocaine... oh shit, too late.)

This was my first trip to America, and pretty much everything I'd been told about America turned out to be true. Firstly, it's just like the UK, only everything is about three times bigger - the cars, the roads, the hotel rooms, the food portions...

I also had a particularly fearsome Immigration Officer, who I'm sure was within a hair's breadth of having me red-carded and deported for claiming to be on holiday, yet seemingly having no idea of what I was on holiday to do. However, I guess I was deemed harmless enough to not be considered a threat. Despite the hair. Still, next time (if there *is* a next time) I'm going to take Tim Edwards' advice and get myself a Journalist's Visa to smooth relations...

The first night (on Saturday) we went to an Italian restaurant across the road from our hotel, where I was made aware of just how extreme the portion sizes in American restaurants are. The "half" portion of angel hair spaghetti with "shrimp" (i.e. King Prawns) and arrabbiata sauce could have resolved several famines in continental Africa. There must have been half a pack of spaghetti in that bowl. I barely made a dent in it before I had to admit defeat. Though at least I did eat all the shrimp...

Sunday we had the whole day to explore Seattle, do a bit of shopping (whereupon I bought myself a nice new 6 megapixel camera), before going to an improv theatre in the evening - the theatre itself being more infamous for its Gum Wall than the shows it puts on.

[Edit: One thing I forgot to mention about the improv club - the audience shouts out ideas to "inspire" the performers, and there were a couple of moments when the group I was in were shouting out suggestions that were funnier than the sketches themselves. Tim Edwards' revolutionary title for 'a novel that's never been written' - "Jesus Loves Beer" - set the tone for the night, and eventually won the prize for the best suggestion of the night. His reward was a supremely distasteful plastic bag full of plastic cockroaches and, bizarrely, miniature rubber chickens. Also memorable was when we were asked to come up with suggestions for an animal, which elicited a frenzied cry of "BADGER!" (Tim again), immediately (and seamlessly) followed by a very loudly hollered "MONKEY!"]

Seattle itself seemed like a nice enough city, but I'm not sure I'd want to do anything other than visit there. At least the tramps have style: one guy had "My father was killed by ninjas. Need money for karate lessons." written on his begging box.

Monday we spent pretty much the entire day at Gas Powered Games, engaging in a little multiplayer tournament and some skirmishing with the AI. The funniest moment of the day was when Andy (from PC Zone) accidentally trod on his Supreme Commander ACU with a Spiderbot in the final 4 way match of the press tournament. It was a very British defeat - humourous and humiliating in equal measure.

Tuesday and Wednesday pretty much melded into the same day, given that we were having an overnight flight back to the UK. We spent Tuesday morning in the Bellevue Mall, and it was just like the Westpoint Mall in Vice City - that hideously twee tinkling jingle music echoing in the background. I visited the LEGO store to take a look at all the Star Wars LEGO kits. They had just about everything, from A-Wings, B-Wings, and Jabba's sail barge to the Death Star itself, which comes in a box about as big as a house. I would have liked trying to explain that one away to customs... "No, I've nothing to declare!" In the end I came away with a couple of LEGO keyrings: the obligatory Boba Fett and a Stormtrooper, who's just the cutest. I also picked up Star Fox Command on DS for less than £20, which was a bit of a bargain. Especially since it's not going to be out in the UK for another couple of months. I also picked up another game on DS called Freedom Wings, which looks like a cross between Crimson Skies and the original MechWarrior, as it's got some kind of RPG and aircraft upgrade system. I haven't played it so much yet, so it's probably complete rubbish, but for $20 at an exchange rate of nearly 2 to 1, you can't complain, really.

Tuesday afternoon we visited the Seattle Museum of Flight, where I went a little mad with my new camera, taking all manner of photos of the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-14A Tomcat they had there. We also had a walk through President Kennedy's Air Force One (a converted Boeing 707) and the Concorde that they had there. Concorde is undoubtedly the pokiest aeroplane I've ever been in. But it used to fly at twice the speed of sound, so you can forgive it being cramped and just a little bit dingy.

I spent most of the flight back either trying to sleep or playing Star Fox, because BA had rolled out the worst selection of in-flight films ever, in the history of ever. The only thing marginally watchable was Mission Impossible III, which was utterly predictable and shit. The rest were just too dire to even bother trying to remember, let alone waste your life telling you about.

Getting back in the UK was simultaneously a relief and an aggravation: a relief to be back in my comfort zone, but an aggravation that we had to wait 20 minutes for a tow to our stand position, because our 747 ran out of momentum ten metres short. Also because I had to wait an Ice Age for my bag (though at least they didn't lose it, like they did with poor Tim's) and also because the council had dug up the entire centre of Woking since I left, making it impossible for me to find my bus back home (I ended up taking a taxi). Still, it's nice to be back...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bark: Oh, lord, no - not another useless internet quiz!

The Movie Of Your Life Is A Cult Classic

Quirky, offbeat, and even a little campy - your life appeals to a select few.
But if someone's obsessed with you, look out! Your fans are downright freaky.

Your best movie matches: Office Space, Showgirls, The Big Lebowski

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Byte: Sony White Elephant 3

It won't have escaped most people's notice that Sony have taken a leaf out of Nintendo's book and delayed the European launch of the PlayStation 3, thanks to production problems...

After the spectacular PS3 no-show at Leipzig, I can't help but feel that the PS3 is Sony's equivalent of the Millennium Dome. The one big selling point of the PS3 was that it was not just a games console, but also a next generation Blu-Ray DVD player, but who's going to get excited about a list of films like this on launch day? Constantine *AND* xXx? Sign me up! NOT.

Also, who's going to want to pay upwards of £425 for a next-gen console when both of their rivals cost less than half that? And have already been entrenched in the market for months (in the case of the Wii, assuming it gets released as planned) or over a year (in the case of the 360)? If the PS2 vs. Xbox battle taught us anything, it's that the Console War invariably is won by the side that hits the market first, not the side that has superior hardware. With Sony giving Microsoft a two Christmas period head-start, it's got to have a catalogue of seriously exceptional titles to regain all that lost ground - especially when you're going to pay a huge premium to be able to play them. Sony are staking a lot on brand loyalty - which I don't think necessarily applies to the modern videogames market. Gamers want good games, technology is a bonus - and I don't see anything in the PS3 line-up that makes me want to run out and pre-order one. Especially not at that price.

Even worse, news coverage this week suggests that the other supposed unique selling point of the PS3 - HDMI support for high defintion TV - may not even feature on the 20GB version of the PS3 at all, and that an HDMI cable will not be included with the 60GB version that does have the functionality, adding even more of an expense to the already prohibitive cost of the console.

My prediction is that the PS3 is going to bomb, big style; unless... unless Sony generate so much hype with their PR machine that in the months running up to next March everyone takes leave of their senses and somehow forget that £425 is a HUGE AMOUNT OF MONEY. It'll be interesting to see what the import crowd, such as the denizens of NTSC-UK, make of the PS3. I imagine there will be an equal mix of rabid fanboys and people wondering why the fuck they wasted so much money, before hawking it on eBay for a small fortune and a large profit...

Personally, I could care less either way, to be honest - I can't say I've ever been excited by any game on the PlayStation - certainly not enough to warrant buying one. The 360 doesn't really have enough games I'm interested in yet to really inspire me to acquire one, either. I'm going to be spending my pennies on a Wii.