Friday, April 28, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Byte: Surely someone told them. They must have.

Suddenly I don't want a Nintendo Revolution anymore. Because it smells of Wii... Just too funny: When well-intentioned marketing executives attack!

Byte: I took the name a little bit too literally...

I got a review copy of Championship Manager 2006 through the post yesterday, and did my carpal tunnel all sorts of good by playing it after work until nearly midnight. I haven't always had a very good relationship with the Champ Man games, in fact, when I did a review of one of its older incarnations for State, I said that I'd rather use the CD as a drinks coaster than play the game.

This doesn't appear to be nearly so bad, though it still appears to have a lot of the same old problems. These manifest themselves particularly badly in the match engine (now in glorious Subbuteo figure 3D!), where you have defenders running away from the ball in the final third of the pitch, or neatly passing the ball to the opposing strikers in the six yard box. Now, I know that just about anyone who watches more than three episodes of Match of the Day per year probably fancies themselves as a bit of a football manager, but the game's still that hideous combination of too complex (so many management options, so little that actually makes any difference at all!) and completely unrealistic.

The temptation for a lot of players is to go straight for the glamour clubs, but I chose to manage the Championship team I came to support at university, Leicester City, as they're only mildly rubbish and will provide a bit more of a challenge than romping away to the Premiership title with Chelsea and Roman Abramovich's billions. In pre-season, they were true to form and couldn't beat an egg, thanks to absolutely no cutting edge infront of goal and a defence leakier than a Welsh supermarket's vegetable section, (leak... leek... oh, please yourselves...) even suffering a 4-1 drubbing by Birmingham, of all people, whose strikers couldn't hit the side of a barn at five paces. We couldn't even beat *Sunderland* in a friendly, for feck's sake.

With the limited transfer resources available, I get rid of our "star" player, Danny Tiatto (who went into a strop for me fining him after he got sent off), and spend the money on Paul Hartley from Hearts for a bit of creativity and flair in midfield and a youngish central defender from Reading (John Halls), to help plug the gaps at the back.

And suddenly we're the class side of the Championship, losing only one game in our first dozen competitive matches of the season. I have four players sent off in our first six matches, yet still manage to win every single one. By two clear goals. Umm, what? Things get back to "normal" when I sign an unknown Italian teenage striker on loan for the season, who promptly scores a hat-trick on his debut, then decides he's not going to score in the first team ever again.

I'll probably turn on the PC when I get home tonight, play half a dozen games with the exact same squad that's beaten everything put infront of it for the last three game months, and lose every single one. It's a still a game of bewildering inconsistency and random whim. Not only that, I'm positive that everything is worked out and predetermined from the start since the one draw I've had playing the game so far (with Sheffield Wednesday) was because the game was so uneventful that nothing happened to trigger the highlights, meaning the game was over before I had chance to put on substitutes...

It's still massively addictive, purely on the principle of running your favourite football club and seeing if you can do a better job than your current real-life managerial muppet, but I'm not convinced that the extra layers of complexity make any difference at all, and the visual match engine is essentially useless, because the flaws in it are exposed by the player avatars moving in ways completely at odds with those a genuine player would make in the same situation. It's still football as a spreadsheet, and I'm not sure that's good enough anymore. I'll see how things go over a couple of seasons, but I don't think this'll be coming out for a kick around once the review's out of the way.

Bark: On the ropes

Nothing quite like the smell of a government on the ropes. From Charles "Clueless" Clarke, to Patricia "Hapless" Hewitt and John "Two Shags" Prescott, Labour appears to be going into a self-destruction that would make the Conservative Party proud. It's been such a bad week that even Neil Kinnock got banned for speeding on the M4. Delicious. Is that a Musical Chairs theme I can hear in the background? Impending cabinet reshuffle alert!

Okay, I know it's a nothing post. I just wanted to make the "Two Shags" Prescott gag. I admit it...

In other news, I think I'm starting to get carpal tunnel syndrome. My right wrist and lower forearm have been aching constantly for about the last week. And before you start with the wanking jibes, I'm *left-handed*, okay? It's clearly mouse/keyboard-related. Constantly shoving a mouse around a desk and typing for 12+ hours a day is bound to catch up with you in the end. As my girlfriend would say, "Too much computer!"

It's at times like these I'm glad my Mum is a physiotherapist, and just by chance, my parents are coming down to stay with me for the Bank Holiday weekend, too. Hurrah for coincidental timing!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Byte: Technology's only good when it works

I'm having a bit of technical trouble at the moment. The first problem is with a database ID I need for work. I've been assigned the ID, but the password has gone missing somewhere between the ID being approved and the password being mailed to my first line manager. And without knowing the original password, I can't have it reset. Great. So I have either the option of whinging to the database administrators about it, or resubmitting my access request, neither of which are guaranteed to get swift results. Though given that the WorldWide Management Information team haven't been that forthcoming in telling me what I actually need the ID for, maybe there's no rush anyway...

I also seem to have angered the USB Gods, too. Not only does my Nintendo WiFi dongle refuse to work, my USB stick MP3 player seems to have given up the ghost as well. Every time I plug it into a USB port to try and swap over some tracks, it simply turns itself off. And what's the use of an MP3 player where you can't change the music? I went to the Packard Bell support site (it's one of their old AudioKeys), and the all the "support" they were able to give me was effectively "You're out of warranty - suck it up, sweetheart. Why don't you go to our online shop?"

I don't know why I bother sometimes.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Byte: I should have spent the money on Oblivion instead...

It gets worse. I trawl around on Google for answers to my dongle dilemma, and of the two solutions I've been able to find, the first is a registry hack that I can't do, because everything's already set up correctly, and the other one is to muck about with the internet sharing settings in the network list. I've tried that, and setting it to the recommended values just completely breaks my internet connection entirely: I can be connected to my wi-fi network, but the internet won't work, and without an active internet connection, you can't install the dongle software.

What a complete fucking waste of time and money...

Byte: I blame Tim Edwards

Nintendo's WiFi network hates me. After spending nearly half a dozen hours unsuccessfully trying to set up my DS to work with my wi-fi router, using auto-detect, using the manual set-up, even trying to manually assign IP addresses in the router settings themselves, I admitted defeat, and resigned myself to only being able to play online Mario Kart looking like a complete saddo in the pub.

Then Tim from PCG notices my Blathers quote on MSN Messenger, says "I want to come to your town!" and neatly persuades me to fork out nearly £30 on a Ninty WiFi dongle, to bypass the router problem. It arrives from Play yesterday, except we're dashing off to Essex for the weekend to see some friends. I get back tonight, after a horror trip around the M25 to install it, and... IT DOESN'T FUCKING WORK. It says that there's an internet connection sharing error and promptly bombs out of the installer, without so much as a by-your-leave. Like, DON'T TELL ME HOW TO FIX IT, OR ANYTHING!

So I go to the Nintendo Wi-Fi website, and not only is this problem not listed on the website, the online support form is knackered, too... Thanks Nintendo. So, Tim, I guess you won't be able to come to Crosston after all.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Byte: It's always worth checking...

I was just reading a thread in the PC folder of the NTSC-UK forums about ISPs, and it occured to me that I hadn't checked what my own ISP (Pipex) is offering at the moment, so off I toddle to their website. A quick poke around reveals that my phone line will now go up to 3MB, thanks to them upgrading their services (about a year ago, it was topping out a 1MB, and I'm sure you remember the pulaver I had getting that to work properly), and since I've been with them for more than 12 months, I'm eligible to upgrade my line to an uncapped 2MB service for free, and my monthly fee is only £1 a month more than my current 1MB deal. So upgrading's a no brainer, really. Just goes to show you should a eye on these things.

Still, I bet the bandwidth upgrade won't make Auto Assault run any bloody smoother. It's a fun enough MMOG, but boy, it has some technical problems...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Byte: I looted Caiger Mall and all I got was this lousy Brain Rot...

Dammit, I died again. A big zombie uprising in Ruddlebank, and I had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, plus I hadn't played with my main character for over a day, which is always asking for trouble. So my zombie is now heading East through the southern suburbs of Malton, looking for a nice cemetary to have a rest in, mauling any survivor stupid enough to be on the streets along the way.

My second Urban Dead character is currently residing in the famed Caiger Mall, with roughly another one and a half thousand survivors. It's quite cosy there, considering you're in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and he's putting his time to good use looting all the gun stores, stocking up on ammunition for a zombie hunting run. It's only a matter of time before Caiger gets sieged again, so I think I'm going to do a runner to a safer suburb...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Byte: Long Weekend Gaming

Other than my ongoing daily visits to Animal Crossing, two games have been occupying my time and thoughts over the long weekend, and both of them have a rather destructive bent.

The first is Auto Assault, which has already been mentioned in these ramblings. My Press Beta key appears to be valid for the full game, which was released last Friday, so I put in half a dozen or so hours into the game, trying out each race and class, and racking up about 20 levels across four characters. It's still got that edge of arcade frenzy from the Beta, but unfortunately still seems to have quite a few of the technical problems, too. I'm not entirely convinced by the quality of the netcode, and given that a post-apocalyptic environment isn't entirely conducive to eye-candy, the game world is visually quite flat. The special effects are still quite pretty, but it's not nearly as aesthetically interesting as something like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. Also, criminally, there's a little dial on the GUI that does a TIE-Fighter-esque power management thing, changing your power plant priorities to weapons, speed, or defense. The buttons are therefore labelled "Defense", "Speed" and "Defense". Yes, they cocked up the GUI. The last button should say "Offense", and even sets the power priority to the weapons properly. It's a blindingly obvious mistake in something that will be staring in the face of the player for practically the whole time they're playing, and was such a simple thing to correct between the final Beta and release. Except they didn't bother. Kind of makes you worry about what else they didn't fix... I'm going to play it more over the next week or so, and then you can expect a full review in the usual place.

The second game I've been playing over the weekend and the week or so before that is SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars. I've been pleasantly surprised by it so far, as normally when you get given something to review that's hyped to be a cross-genre hybrid, it usually turns out to be either anything but a hybrid, or a complete and utter mess of styles. SpellForce 2 actually seems to be a genuine hybrid, though it's more akin to RPG than RTS. The RTS elements are thankfully quite light - no more complicated than something like Starcraft (or perhaps more relevantly, Warcraft III) - and don't outweigh the amount of time you can spend questing. The story's little more than traditional fantasy fare, with a token good Dark Elf in a ridiculously impractical Battle Bikini, but it looks great and is interesting to play. If you're a fan of Warcraft III or the hack-n-slash variety of RPGs, then I think it's well worth a punt when it hits retail at the end of the week. Fingers crossed, I should have my review finished and up by then.

Bark: And it only took nine years...

I was just checking my online banking statement, and I was rather pleasantly surprised to see that I've finished off paying my Student Loan. Only NINE YEARS after I graduated, and that was only with a student debt of less than five grand. (I ran a tight monetary ship when I was at uni. I had to: I didn't have any.) Granted, I did defer payments for about three years, but still, that's a long time to be paying off a loan. I shudder to think what it would be like if I'd come out of university with the kind of debt level most students do currently. You'd be ready to retire by the time you've paid it all off.

So goodbye, Student Debt! Now I can put that £85 a month to much more worthwhile use. Like paying off my non-Student Debt. Wait a second...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Byte: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

I've just finished writing my Animal Crossing: Wild World review for Pro-G, and I have to say, it's probably the game I've found the hardest to review. It's the Hotel California of videogames; hence the strap line. It's one of those titles that gets under your skin. You can stop playing it, but it never truly leaves you, because you know that whilst the DS is turned off, weeds are growing in your garden, Blathers is craving more exhibits and secretly snoozing in the foyer of the museum, Tom Nook is planning your next house expansion and mortgage, and your neighbours are wondering where the hell you got to.

It's a game world that you can easily lose yourself in, and of all the videogames I've ever played, nothing has ever made me form attachments to NPCs like this has. I use the line in the review that Animal Crossing is "not so much a game as a way of life". That's how I feel about it, and I can understand when Charles from NTSC-UK tells me that he knows people on his forum that have played Animal Crossing on the Gamecube EVERY DAY since it came out in 2001. All those Animal Crossing threads on State are forgiven now. I UNDERSTAND. Four years late, as usual, but you should know that's par for the course with me by now. I'm glad I never did get around to banning people for posting Animal Crossing threads now...

The other thing of note that happened today: I had my first mountain bike ride of the year. Well, after spending nearly an hour stripping the front brake to bits and replacing the threaded bolt on the handlebar assembly that maintains the tension in the brake cable, anyway. Just as well I hadn't quite gotten around to chucking out my old bike, as I filtched the replacement parts off that, since the bolt had stripped its thread, leaving my front brake flapping around like a goose on acid, making it a little bit dangerous to ride.

Once that was done, I did my usual five mile cross-country ride, which may have been a little bit ambitious, given that I hadn't pedalled a wheel in around five months and my calorific regime in the meantime would probably rival that of a Sumo wrestler's. Still, the fact that I'm sitting here typing means that I AM NOT DEAD, which is quite an achievement, I feel. That bloody hill doesn't get any easier, though. Nearly a mile uphill at 1 in 5, steepening to 1 in 3 for the last hundred and fifty metres or so. I almost was getting outrun by gastropods over the final twenty metres, but I'm proud to say that I didn't stop or get off and push. So there may be hope for me yet...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Byte: My router broke the internet

Interesting tech story on BBC News that says some D-Link networking products may be harming the internet's ability to keep accurate time. And what kind of wireless router do I have? A D-Link one, naturally. Whoops.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bark: Female Logic

My girlfriend got back from France today. So impressed she was with me not trashing the flat, she told me "You're going on a diet." Thanks for waiting for all of 5 seconds after you got back after 10 days apart to tell me, sweetheart.

And then what does she do? She shows me the kilo and a half of full fat French cheese and the other kilo of Swiss chocolate she's brought back with her from France for me... Okay. I'm not even trying to figure out the logic behind that one.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bark: Bioclock-shock

I don't know what I've done, but I've completely fucked up my bioclock. I seem to be running on San Diego time again, just like when I was working as a croupier. So drastic action has been called for. In an attempt to reset my body clock to something more reasonably approximating Greenwich Mean Time, I'm pulling an all-nighter, and actually utilising the time to do some work-work (i.e. work for my proper day job, rather than spending time pissing about on the internet or playing games).

To keep me company during the long, cold, dark night, I've ripped the soundtracks off the game disks of the original Grand Theft Auto and its expansion, Grand Theft Auto: London. Since it's almost impossible to get the actual games working under Windows XP, I figured that since the soundtracks on the disks are in ISO format, I might as well rip them to MP3 and still get some mileage out of the disks. It's been a long time since I've listened to the soundtracks, so I was a little taken aback by the sheer quality of some of the tracks. Some of the tracks for the original GTA soundtrack by Craig Conner are outstanding, my favourites being the Head Radio tracks in particular.

I know I'm perpetually about a decade behind the times when it comes to hip music, but I think practically all of the stuff on the original GTA soundtrack is one hell of a lot better than most of the generic shit you'll find in the charts today. Whether that's an indictment of my taste in music or the standard of current songwriting, I don't know. I'll let you decide that one. I'll just get back to listening to The Ballad of Chapped Lip Calquhoun and the Germanic techno-classic Lagerstar as I wait for the sun to come up...

"Menfolk find their women scary, 'cause they were so big and hairy..."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bark: Sauron Holmes

Had a very strange dream this morning. I say "this morning" because after I finished watching Green Wing, I stayed up until around 5am playing World of Warcraft, which even for a Friday night, is late for me. You can tell my girlfriend's off at her parents for the week, can't you?

Anyway, a dream that started out as a simple recreation of a session of Guild Wars in my head turned into a full-blown Sherlock Holmes-style murder mystery, but staying in the fantasy setting. Very, very bizarre... I think I should get an early night, tonight.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Byte: If something smells, it's probably the Butz.

I'm well into the fourth episode of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on DS at the moment, and I have to say, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a game this much. It's not just the fact that this is one of those rare games that I've actually had to fork out my own precious money on, rather than rely on a free review copy, but I've really found it very, very difficult to put down.

I'm not even a fan of the adventure game genre, but this has absolutely capivated me, from start to finish. There's just something about the writing, the characters and the plotting that's just a joy. There are some wonderful one-liners in the script (such as the one above in the post heading) and some great references, including a TV kid's show director who speaks in L33T, and how a fan of The Steel Samurai should testify in one of the cases because the Steel Samurai's motto is "For Great Justice!" (See: All Your Base Are Belong To Us)

The use of recurring characters is great, and there's a real sense of continuity between cases, thanks to an intricate backstory, and there are so many twists and turns in the court scenes, most of them will take you by surprise, even though you're meant to be running the show as the defense council. It's also a bonus to be able to use the microphone on the DS to yell "OBJECTION!" or "HOLD IT!" at a witness when you take issue with their testimony. Though you should probably best save that particular piece of functionality for when you're playing the game on crowded train, or in a particularly packed pub.

The only problem I really see with the game is a lack of replay value. The first case is quite short, and is essentially a tutorial, taking around an hour, giving you an idea of how to conduct cases in the courtroom. The other cases take a couple of hours each, so that still gives you around 10 hours gameplay, which is okay value, when you consider the quality of the writing. It's a close call between an 8 and a 9 out of 10 from me. I should the game completed by tomorrow or Thursday, so I should have a review ready by the end of the week.

I'm also rather enjoying Animal Crossing. It's one of those insidously addictive games. Very subtle. Not an in-your-face-raaaaaaaaaggggghhhhhhhhh-give-me-adrenalin kind of game, but a simple, slow-burner, that entices you back day after day, because it runs in real-time. Because every day there's another fossil to dig up, bugs or fish to catch for the Museum curator, and there's more gossip to exchange with your neighbours.

I've almost paid off my mortgage to Tom Nook now (only 6000 bells to go), and I'm ransacking the garden of Angus (the Scottish cow - you can tell he's Scottish, because he goes "macmoo") to bolster my own garden, in anticipation of the Garden Festival competition on Sunday. Angus has been giving me attitude about how he's going to win and how my garden is rubbish, which I feel gives me ample justification to sabotage his efforts. He's a rude little bugger. I think you can probably expect more Animal Crossing anecdotes from now on. Batten down the hatches!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Byte: Urban Fool

Nice April Fool's joke in Urban Dead today.

"A vampire bit you for 4 damage. They drained 1 pint of blood."

After reading the link above (which was a nice touch, as the "A vampire" hotlink makes it look like there's actually a player called "A vampire") and I laugh like a drain for a minute or two, I go back to the Cityscape, and find that indeed no, I've not lost 4 hit points. I've lost THREE. The cheeky buggers. I wonder how many people that killed...

Byte: 19,600 Bells? For that? I think I'm going to cry.

I have seen the True Face of Evil, and it goes by the name of... TOM NOOK!