Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Bark/Byte: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and all that jazz

Well, another new year beckons, and it looks like 2007 is going to be pretty much the same mix of CHILD DEATH, TERRORISM, INVASION, WAR and all that good stuff that was packed into 2006. And 2006's parting shot came as no great surprise. It takes quite a lot to get me to agree with The Vatican, but while I in no way condone the way Saddam Hussein ran Iraq, executing him for his undeniable crimes was a really fucking stupid thing to do. Not only on the grounds that there have been serious reservations about the impartiality of the court he was tried in (did anyone think that there was even the *slightest* possibility that he could have been found not guilty?), but the use of the death penalty is an immediate surrendering of the moral high ground. By killing a killer (even a mass murderer), you're bringing your whole system of justice down to their level. And Saddam Hussein dead is more dangerous than he was alive - because now you've got Shias gloating to Sunnis about his execution and Sunnis seeing him as a martyr. The violence in Iraq is only going to get worse (in the short to medium term) and you're just setting up a country already teetering on the edge for a full-scale sectarian war. So a big "well done" to everyone concerned. YOU FUCKING MUPPETS.

*sighs*

Okay, New Year... let's try to be positive...

At least I had a good holiday - mainly through eating very good food, drinking very good wine and trying to avoid as much of the news as possible. I also did some character sketching for a Forgotten Realms-based short story I want to write, read Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (which I enjoyed a heck of a lot more than Consider Phlebas) and otherwise did a lot of very little, plus caught up on quite a lot of sleep. We didn't get any snow, which was a shame, but Alsace was it's usual charming self and as ever, the vin chaud was rather delicious. I also met two new (and rather cute) cats, photos of which will be going on Flickr as soon as I can be bothered to download the photos to my PC.

New Year's Eve was spent at a house party held by a neighbour of our friends in Essex (Flo and Alex), where I occupied myself for most of the evening dealing Blackjack (the party had a "Casino Royale" theme) to people who were mainly drunk and didn't know the rules. So not much change from when I was working at Napoleon's in Sheffield really. Except that at least we weren't playing for real money and I could get drunk too. Paul (the chap who threw the party) was a bit flabbergasted to find out that I was actually an ex-croupier, so I think I'll be getting invited back next year to run the card table again. I'll have to take my blackjack shoe so we can have a proper 4 deck game. Though given that I was hammering everyone so badly on a 2 deck game (three blackjacks in a row at one point had people thinking I was pulling cards from my sleeves), people might not thank me for an even more authentic casino experience...

I picked up just one new game over Christmas and the New Year - SimBin's RACE (a World Touring Car Championship simulator) from Steam. It's not quite as good as GTR 2. The graphics engine isn't quite as sweet as GTR 2's - I've had quite a few rendering problems, especially at the Macau circuit and even in the menus, where parts of the interface keep disappearing when you're using the 1987 WTCC series cars. Hopefully these will get fixed in patches, but it's a little disappointing considering that the GTR 2 engine was so solid and smooth. At least the cars themselves are great to drive. Since they top out under 300bhp, they're a lot easier to control than the GT cars and are lots of fun to pitch into corners and powerslide around, as the handling is a lot more forgiving than in GTR 2. To get the best out of the game, you really need to drive using a manual gearbox, as the automatic gear change seems to be a little erratic with the timing of when it switches gears. If you want to make serious in-roads beyond Semi-Pro, you really need a steering wheel, and don't expect to be breaking any lap records in the Driver Duel mode without one, either, unless you're very, very good at setting up the car. The closest I can get to a lap record at the moment with my Xbox pad is within 4 seconds of Gabriele Tarquini's pole lap at Brno (probably my favourite track in the game), but I haven't quite finished with tuning my string and damper settings yet. Macau is a killer - I'm nearly 10 seconds off the pace there, and with the track being so long, it's a real bitch to get a good setup - I'm losing so much time in the corners at the moment. More experimentation required, methinks...

I also renewed my WoW subscription last night, where the first half of an hour of the evening was spent installing the 697MB patch that had pre-loaded in November just before my previous subscription expired. Then I had to re-spec my Druid, as Blizzard have tinkered with all the talents for the class. I decided to stick with the Feral kit, as it's so much better for soloing and PVP than the other kits. I've still got 100,000XP to go until my next level (54) so the chances of me hitting the cap before the expansion comes out are exactly zero. Fingers crossed I'll be able to get up to around level 55 so that I can at least go to Outland in relative safety. I spent most of last night exploring the Western Plaguelands and taking advantage of the newly expanded quest limit to take on a few more quests, so I can divide my time between Un'goro and Western Plaguelands. I particularly liked the Christmas content. I picked up some presents in Ironforge, one of which turns your mount into a red-nosed reindeer, which even Fleur thought was pretty funny. Only two weeks until Burning Crusade comes out - when I'm faced with a decision as to whether to really push Shareth to level 60 and beyond, or start off with a Blood Elf on another server. Knowing me, I'll probably do a bit of both. Add to this that there should be more games I want coming out on the Wii over the next few months, I think Shareth's going to be pretty lucky to hit level 60 by this time next year... still, as I keep telling myself, it's more about enjoying the journey than reaching the destination.

I'll save the inevitable and obligatory "Best and worst of 2006" post for another time - the disadvantage of not being on holiday anymore means that I actually have to do work again...
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