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!