Friday, July 27, 2007

Bark: I never thought I'd say this about a Michael Bay film

...but, Transformers is awesome.

I suppose I should caveat that a little. Transformers is awesome, for a brainless summer blockbuster. The special effects and set pieces are nothing short of genuine brilliance, and while the script is hardly Oscar-winning material, it does have quite a bit of humour and the cast does pretty well with the clunkier bits. The characterisation is pretty weak, surprisingly even for the Transformers themselves, who (if anything) are a tad underused. However, and I cannot state this enough, as a cinematic spectacle, the action scenes are incredible.

The climatic end battle is absolutely stunning, especially when you've got Jazz, Ratchet and Ironhide taking on Devastator and Blackout. They've got serious Robot Fu. I was a little disappointed that they didn't do a little more with Megatron and Starscream; their whole relationship is glossed over in a single line and they're not in the film that much, which is a shame. My favourite Transformer in the film is probably Frenzy, as he's an evil little fucker, but also used for a bit of comic relief and he steals quite a few scenes.

They worked the relationship between Bumblebee and Sam pretty well, particularly the way Bumblebee gives hints to Sam about what he should do to woo Mikaela (the particularly foxy Megan Fox) via the car radio. Having the original voice actor for Optimus Prime is really a bonus, too, as it helps long-term fanboys like me have some sense of continuity and feel a little less like their childhood is being trampled upon. In all honesty, it's a heck of a lot less cheesy than the cartoon movie. And yes, I realise I must now be burnt at the stake as a heretic for saying that...

Overall then, it's definitely worth seeing. Leave your higher brain functions at the door and gawp at the big robots doing awesome things on the big screen. You won't regret it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bark: Art In Action

I spent the day in Oxfordshire today at an art fair I would probably have never even discovered the existence of if it weren't for my friend Mark. He's been involved with the festival for quite a few years now, and was running the printmaking tent this year. Being a volunteer, he had access to a couple of free tickets, which he very generously donated to my girlfriend and I, since we're both fairly artistically inclined (or at least artistically sympathetic).

And holy crap, we had a wonderful day there today. As you might expect, I took quite a few photos. We're definitely going back next year (assuming that the horrible weather this year didn't make it financially inviable for them to come back next year), because it's an incredibly inspiring place.

Three artists particularly caught my eye.

The first was Christopher Wiles, who was in the Drawing Tent. He was displaying a few of his portraits, which were done using a frankly amazing method: he was doing the portraits essentially in monochrome raster graphics. In other words, dividing a source picture up into a grid and then recreating it using a fibre-tipped pen, hand-shading each 'pixel' on the canvass. So when you consider that his canvasses are over six feet tall and three or four feet wide in some cases, you can imagine how labour-intensive this gets when each 'pixel' is about 5mmx5mm square... Absolutely mine blowing.

The second was in the Ceramics Tent; a lady called Lisa Ellul. She makes some wonderfully exquisite bowls using multilayered tubes of very thin clay. Without doubt, they were one of the most beautiful things on show in the entire fair. Check out her website here.

The third artist I really liked was Quek Kiat Sing - a lovely lady from Singapore who specialises in Chinese ink brush art. I had a nice chat with her about ink brushing technique, as I've tried using them in the past and found them to be very unforgiving to work with. She gave me a few useful tips, such as using water to wet the paper first to blend the density of the ink first, rather than inking the paper directly first and then trying to blend out. So I'll be having an experiment with that later, no doubt wasting a lot of paper...

So despite the weather over the weekend turning the place into something of a quagmire (and poor old Mark was in the unenviable position of having one of the squishiest tents), everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves. We're definitely going to go back next year (and hopefully the weather might decide to conform more closely to what we've normally come to expect from late July...) and perhaps even try to persuade Fleur's parents to come over for it as well, because they'd FLIP for it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bark: KABOOM! *rumble*

In the middle of an awesome thunderstorm at the moment. It's absolutely HAMMERING down with rain and I can see the flashes of lightning reflecting off the paint on the walls, most of them are so close.

I heard on the radio this morning that apparently they're expecting double the normal rainfall for July to fall in some places today. So much for summer, eh? Personally, I'm glad I live on the *top* of a hill. I bet there's going to be quite a bit of localised flooding today. Driving conditions were pretty awful this morning when I dropped Fleur off at work this morning. I wouldn't want to be making any long trips today, that's for sure.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Byte: Umm, how does that work?

A typical lunchtime in the life of a compulsive gamer when they're in the middle of the summer videogame release lull:

1) You go out of the office at lunch to buy some postage stamps.

2) You go into your local GAME to kill some time in your lunch hour.

3) You buy a copy of Warcraft III, even though you don't like RTS games.

4) You buy some sushi for lunch in Sainsbury's and go back to the office.

5) You sit down at your desk, suddenly remembering you haven't bought any damned stamps...

I wish they'd hurry up and release Bioshock, then things like this wouldn't happen.

Bark: When reporters become the story

I'd say that I've got a fairly healthy distrust of the news media. Because I'm naturally a very curious person, or even an information-junkie, I like to have more than one point of reference when I find out things. So in my bookmarks I have at least six news agencies to look at, rather than just relying on one, in order to get a broader picture of what's really going on. Of course, all this means is that I simply confirm my suspicion that everyone just simply cut-and-pastes their news reports from Reuters...

One trend that appears to be increasing is when news agencies start reporting on themselves rather than reporting the news. Take the recent furore over telephone phone-ins at the BBC or the Queen photo session 'scandal'.

Does anyone really care? I pretty sure that the only people whose 'trust in the BBC will be shaken' are the kind of people who are stupid enough to take part in telephone phone-ins or take whatever the media says at face value to begin with. i.e. the people who don't have the capacity for independent, rational thought.

Is that being mean? Perhaps, but there are far more important things to spend precious minutes of a 30 minute evening newscast on than whether a BBC researcher posed as a contestant in a TV phone-in. You know... important things, like global warming, genocide in Darfur, poverty and exploitation in Asia, industrial pollution killing off huge swathes of life in the Gulf of Mexico, the invention of a genuinely intelligent and useful bionic hand...

The BBC aren't alone in the self-reporting stakes, either. Channel 4 and ITN are just as bad - all this prattling on about how good or how bad a job they're doing, public apologies, hand-wringing or back-slapping - it's not relevant. It's not important. It's self-promotion by another means, and it annoys the hell out of me. The job of a journalist is to report news, not make it. Even worse is the growing trend of "citizen journalism" - most news agencies seem to want the public to do all the hard work of reporting for them. "Send in photos, send in videos from your mobile phones! Then we don't actually have to do any work at all anymore!"

No wonder most news journalists these days have a poorer reputation than politicians and 'no-win-no-fee' lawyers... whatever happened to good, old investigative journalism, eh? Like most people's social skills or sense of polite etiquette, it got killed by the mobile phone, it seems...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Byte: The joy of stats

As I alluded to last week, I've been using Google Analytics over the last couple of months to basically see if there's anyone out there with discerning enough taste to be reading the drivel I bash out on a disturbingly regular basis. (I think that's got both the self-depreciation and the disingenuous user-flattery safely out of the way in one sentence - Self-referential Ed)

Part of me didn't want to see the cold hard numbers of just how few people read the site - like putting a webcounter up on your homepage and never seeing it get into three figures - but since Google Analytics is free and it didn't entail doing a huge amount of work to get it working (and because Google already know enough about me to be able to steal my identity if they really wanted to), I thought what the hell... and it's quite interesting, really.

I've been looking back at the keywords people have been arriving at the blog using, and given the content I post, I usually can see the logic behind how they got here. Most of the keywords are games-related, the most popular keywords specifically relating to either DEFCON or World of Warcraft. A few are picking up on my recent DIY woes with shower pumps and water isolating valves, which is also fairly logical. Some are even verging on the tragic, such as "g15 macro angst": I know I'm a fairly angsty person myself, but gaming keyboard macros aren't really high up on my angst list... Others are just so plain bizarre I can't even divine how a keyword search would bring back my blog, such as: "what's the difference a hoggy and submarine". Umm, I have no idea. And why would you even want to know?

A few are amusing, like: "windows media player shuffle is shit" - I couldn't agree more. However, others are just plain disturbing. So disturbing I don't even want to know why they searched for it in the first place. Examples of which being: "bastard fittings" (what the fuck is that? being measured up for a specially tailored bastard suit?), "predator ii don't give a shit" (uhhh, double-WTF?), "fake kiddie" (ewwwwwwww! I *really* don't want to know), "richard cobbett" (just kidding, Rich! just kidding!), and finally, I have a special message for the person who searched on "twi'lek breasts cock" - YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF.


Why am I surrounded by incompetents? You would have thought that if all your job entailed was filling up vending machines, you would at least take enough pride in your work to be able to put in the bottles of fizzy pop upright, so they don't get stuck in the delivery mechanism, causing the machine to go out of order, causing me to have to eat my brie and bacon baguette WITHOUT MY LUNCHTIME BOTTLE OF PEPSI MAX. I can't even buy a bottle from the canteen, because they cost 10p more than THE EXACT SAME THING FROM THE VENDING MACHINE and they're not even chilled, because the fridge is broken and it will take six months for the catering subcontractor to bother to arrange for it to be repaired. Seriously - I was chatting to one of the canteen staff, and it took the company NINE MONTHS to replace one of the canteen ovens. You know, what they're supposed to COOK ALL THE HOT MEALS WITH...

What's the world coming to when even a cold bottle of fizzy pop is too much to ask for?

Byte: Irrationalisation

I've come up with new word for your dictionaries.

: Noun. 1) The mental process of finding excuses or reasons to still do things that you know you shouldn't really be doing. 2) Rationalising using broken logic.

- Related forms: irrationalise (verb)

This is something I think all World of Warcraft players have to do once they reach the level cap. I know I spent the entirety of last night doing it...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Byte: The Completist's Curse

I was playing more WoW last night, being highly productive and doing fabulously interesting things. Yes, I was raising my Fishing skill...

Fishing has got to be the single most tedious thing you can do for so little reward in WoW. But Fishing is my only secondary skill that I hadn't raised to Artisan or beyond (barring Riding of course, but I need another four and a half thousand gold to be able to do that). And like any good completist, it pains me to have a skill lagging behind the others. All my other secondary skills and professions are beyond the 350 mark now, so having Fishing lingering behind at a paltry 216 skill was really a poor show.

Of course, you need to do a quest that has you flitting around both continents of Azeroth to be able to get the Artisan Fishing Training as a reward, so the whole thing took pretty much all night. Though at least I did get to mercilessly gank a couple of mid-40s Hordies in Strangethorn Vale around the arena who were making a nuisance of themselves with the local level 30 Alliance twinks. Nice to be the big fish in the pond for once...

The only reason I want to get my fishing skill past 300 at all is so that I can catch Furious Crawdads which I can then boil to top out the last dozen or so points of my Cooking Skill. And you can only catch those if you've topped out your Fishing skill. So the game isn't designed to ensnare obsessive-compulsive completists with number fetishes at all. Daaaamn.

Bark: Jerk-o-matic

I've just had one of those cringing Homer Simpson "D'oh!" moments.

I get a phone call first thing this morning, and we have the usual small talk; he asks how I'm doing, and I give my usual early morning weary "Uh... I'm alive", to which he chuckles sportingly.

I say 'sportingly', because no sooner have we finished the conversation and put the phone down, I remember his comment about it being "his first day back at work" - after compassionate leave for a family bereavement... D'OH!

I am such a jerk. I really should stop watching House. He's a bad influence.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Byte: Puzzle Quest

I picked up Puzzle Quest on DS a week or two back because I saw that it'd gotten quite a bit of good press.

It's essentially Zookeeper meets an early edition of Zelda. If that sounds like a weird concept, it is, kinda. You've got a retro-style top-down RPG where you explore the map of the game world, along with an equally archetypal "yeah, right, make me care.." story with a thankfully skippable narrative, linked together by Zookeeper-style turn-based battles whenever you meet enemies. The RPG part allows you to choose a character class (Knight, Warrior, Mage or Druid), with the battles allowing to gain experience and money, with which you level up and buy gear from the local shops to grant you bonuses in the battles. It's quite an elegant design and dangerously compulsive to boot. The story, as such, is utter bunkum, but mildly diverting nonetheless.

The battles are obviously the meat of the game, and it's very interesting to play a Zookeeper/Bejeweled-style 3-or-more-match-'em-up game without a time limit. Instead, it's more like chess, as you're trying to anticipate moves ahead to prevent your opponent from matching up mana blocks that can either power up their spells or do you direct damage on the next turn. So there's a very tactical level to the game; you can almost play a game of denial of resources, where you're trying to starve the opposing player of the mana they need for their spells and abilities, or you can just go straight for the jugular and try and kill them off as quickly as possible.

It's a struggle to fight your natural instinct to make moves as quickly as you see them, because if you rush, you can miss matching four or more blocks, which gives you an extra turn - all the more valuable if you're trying to build up your mana for a spell attack. At higher levels especially, you really need to consider your moves more carefully, because the AI blatantly cheats and strings together combos as if it had foreknowledge of what's going to drop into the spaces it has cleared with its move (which it clearly does). You can tell it has foreknowledge of what's going to drop down because if you wait over a move long enough, the game will give you a pointer to the "suggested" block you should move. It's telling that more often than not this isn't a pointer to the best block you can move that particular turn. It's a pointer to the block that will give the AI an effective free shot at you the next turn...

For this reason alone, I've taken to NEVER, EVER moving the block the game recommends as a suggested move. I HAVE YOUR NUMBER, MR. MACHINE. I KNOW YOUR GAME. The only time I ever do the recommended move is if it matches four blocks or more to give me a free turn. And even then, I view it with total suspicion. Never trust a helpful machine. They're after your brains and your women... I know, I've seen Demon Seed.

At £15 on Play, it's well worth picking up, especially if you loved the addictiveness of Zookeeper and would like to try it with a novel twist.

Byte: Warriors are rubbish

Seriously, I don't know why I bother. I've got a Warrior alt on my WoW server, and frankly, she's rubbish. Warriors can't solo, their crit rate is terrible (at least when you're used to 30%-plus as a high level Feral Druid), they're desperately limited in PvP (especially one-on-one) and I've pretty much hit the wall in terms of Mining and Blacksmithing. I was only playing with her last night because I've got another 4600 gold to scrape up before I can afford my Epic Flying Mount, and that's too hideous to contemplate at the moment...

So I think Karrina is either going to get summarily deleted, or will just continue to languish at level 34, like she has for the last six months or more. Yonn, my Hunter, is far more interesting to play. Plus, ph34r Yonn's animal companion! He may look sweet and harmless there, but he'll have your spleen. For breakfast. With HP Sauce.

I just wish that my alts weren't in the 30-40 level wilderness. There must be so many people who've abandoned WoW accounts because the game just makes it so hard to get from level 30 to 40. The quest areas all suck, and it's tough to grind through levels, because you'll still get people ganking in places like Stranglethorn Vale and Duskwood. Desolace is a bit quieter, but as the name implies, it's deathly dull graphically. When Blizzard release the next expansion pack (as I'm sure they will, sooner or later) they desperately need to introduce another couple of mid-level areas, because it's such a disincentive to starting new characters, having to trawl through all those dire quests until things start getting interesting again post-level 40. I suppose I just grind a few mid-level instances, like the Scarlet Monastery or Gnomeregan, but I rarely have the time for that these days. Perhaps a better plan would just be to solo them with Shareth and give Yonn any good loot. Though then he wouldn't get any of the experience points, so it's almost back to square one... actually - soloing a few of Azeroth instances sounds like a plan. It probably wouldn't be as lucrative as grinding Primal Water in Skettis, or Primal Fire in Shadowmoon Valley, but at least you can't get ganked in an instance... and fully twinking out Yonn would be a bonus.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bark: Dumbing down

I really shouldn't get so annoyed about these things.

What's wrong with this story?

Well, I'll tell you, otherwise we could be here forever waiting for someone to post in the comments. Specifically, it's the headline:
Tank rampage crushes phone masts
That and the link to the video:
Tank on rampage

If you watch the video, the "tank" is a clearly identifiable M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier, or APC. Clearly, NOT A TANK. Tanks and APCs may both be armoured vehicles, but they are very distinct from each other. Tanks are solely designed to blow shit up, whereas an APC is more multipurpose. Its primary role is transporting troops in and out of combat, and its secondary role is blowing shit up. Simply, APCs are not tanks. And that kind of dumbing down, a sweeping generalisation to pigeonhole things together under a label where they don't really belong, well, it annoys me. If you're going to generalise, call it an AFV, or Armoured Fighting Vehicle. A tank may be an AFV, but that does not mean that all AFVs are tanks. So either the journalists are being lazy and just lumping everything with armour and tracks under the label "tank", or they're so ignorant that they don't know the difference to begin with. I'm not sure which is more worrying.

And this isn't limited to the BBC, either. Of all the other news agency links on the story page, only the Jerusalem Post correctly calls the vehicle an APC in its headline. Say what you like about the Israelis, but at least they know their tanks from their APCs...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bark: The icing on the cake

What *could* possibly happen?

Well, the delivery guys could refuse to fit my new washer-dryer because my kitchen is so old that it doesn't have an electrical appliance isolation switch, and it's against their regulations to fit an appliance in those circumstances (because they're trying to indemnify their parent company from being sued if the appliance happens to catch fire and burn your house down).

So they unpackaged the new washer-dryer, removed the old one and left me to fit it. Though at least the people I bought the machine off rang me up no more than 15 minutes after the delivery chaps left to refund me the installation charge part of the delivery fee. Which was as unexpected as it was welcome.

The new machine is happily chuntering through its installation wash (i.e. no detergent, no clothes) and the kitchen floor is still reassuringly dry. Thank goodness that's all over...

Bark: Plumbers are cunts

I hate being right all the time.

Still, it wouldn't be Friday the 13th without at least *one* unmitigated disaster.

The charming gentleman who fitted the washing machine I'm having replaced sometime this afternoon left me with a nice present when I tried to disconnect the pipes from the back of the washing machine. If you've never done this kind of thing, the plumbing behind a washing machine is fairly simple. You typically have three pipes that connect from the washing machine to the water system. One is the waste pipe, where all the water that drains out of the machine goes. The other two are the hot and cold water input pipes that fill the machine. These usually have little right angle isolating ball valves on them, so that you can disconnect the washing machine without having to turn off the mains water.

Mine were no different, so I thought, "oh, this will be easy". Fatal fucking mistake. This is because the cunt of the plumber who'd done the original connection had removed the screw from the handle of the ball valve on the cold pipe. Meaning that you could twist the plastic handle all you liked - without the screw (which simply don't go missing on their own) the handle didn't have enough purchase to shut off the valve. And when I tried to shut off the valve directly using a spanner, the little metal spar that the handle would be screwed onto simply broke off, because it had gotten so old and weak. Which was precisely one of the things my Dad had warned me might happen.

So great, thinks I, now I have to replace the entire isolation valve. A quick trip to Homebase to pick one up later, I shut off the water supply and use a couple of adjustable spanners to remove the valve. Wait, it gets BETTER!

Not content with hobbling the handle of the isolation valve, this cunt has soldered the valve's olive to the pipe, leaving me with about 10mm of pipe to try and fit the new valve onto. The alarm bells are starting to clatter in my mind now, but I give it a try and put on a small twist of water pressure from the mains stopcock to test the seal. The predictable happens. FOOOM! The new valve catapults off the end of the pipe, and by the time I get the water turned off again, the kitchen is a couple of millimetres deep in water. PERFECT.

Another quick trip out to the local supermarket to get half a dozen rolls of kitchen paper to mop up the mess later, and I'm REALLY hacked off. Appropriately, out comes the hacksaw, to cut the end off the pipe to remove the fused on olive. Of course, cramped under the kitchen worktop, there's barely any room to move, so I end up putting a very deep cut into the end of my left thumb while I'm hacksawing off the end of the pipe, because I'm having to use a very unorthodox grip on the saw. Which does WONDERS for my mood, as you can imagine.

I finally get the little bit of piping cut off to free up the end of the pipe and create a clean seal. I sand it all down so that I can fit the new valve's olive on the pipe and then fit all the various bits of the valve together, which compared to the rest of the procedure, turned out to be fairly simple. I test the integrity of the seal again (this time remembering which direction you have to turn the stopcock in to stop the flow of water in case of disaster...) - phew, no leaks or water-jet-propelled pieces of plumbing.

Now all they have to do is deliver the new machine, fit it and then take away the old one... I mean, what could POSSIBLY HAPPEN??

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Byte: WANT!


(Courtesy of the ever eagle-eyed Nintendophile, Oskar)

Bark: Oh, what fun!

I've got to disconnect my (broken) washing machine tonight, in anticipation of having my new one delivered tomorrow. So not only am I having a new washer-dryer delivered on FRIDAY THE 13TH (not a bad omen at all, surely!), I'm probably going to spend the evening mopping up water after accidentally flooding the kitchen.

At least I get to work from home tomorrow because they haven't told me what time it's being delivered yet. I might be ankle deep in water by that point, but it's still better than being in the office...

Bark: Quote of the day

"We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."
A British Army spokesman in Basra.

Personally, I'm disappointed. It would have been a much better story if we *had*...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Byte: Spike!

I think I should make up a follow-up post about my recent exploits on X-Com: Terror From The Deep, following the huge traffic spike (I say "huge"; I mean with respect to my normal traffic levels - i.e. a couple of visitors a day) resulting from Richard's horror at hearing the news that he'd been shot by aliens. (And yes, this back-linking is a blatant attempt to form an infinite feedback loop on my traffic stats)

I suppose the follow-up is mainly in response to Richard's suggestion that having an X-Com squad full of PC Gamer writers might be a little creepy. Which gives me an excellent excuse to post this picture:

Now *that's* creepy.

Seriously though, I guess it might be seen as being a bit strange, though in my defense I do tend to only name X-Com soldiers after people I've actually known for quite a long time (either via a forum, MSN, or indeed real-life); so while I might have a Tim Edwards or Richard Cobbett, I wouldn't have a Ste Curran or Craig Pearson, say - as I don't personally know them. For you to make it into one of my games of X-Com, you've got to be someone I know pretty well and think highly of - I wouldn't name soldiers after people I don't like (well, there was that one time, but that's another story entirely*), or even real world figures/celebrities (no squads named after footballers, actors, etc) - though in the endgame, where you have so many soldiers that I run out of friends to name them after, I do name them after my favourite characters from films (Vincent Hanna from Heat, say). So really, it's pretty much a form of flattery that I would name a soldier after you. Okay, perhaps not *quite* as flattering as having a High School or Space Centre named after you, but a compliment nonetheless.

I always found the ability to rename squad members in the X-Com games to be a huge hook to keep you involved in the game. Naming soldiers after friends, colleagues and other acquaintances really helps you form an almost emotional bond with the poor little poorly rendered sprites - I'm going to want to make sure a soldier named after one of my best friends is not going to get killed on a mission a whole lot more than a generic "Jane Hill". It's even more important when you consider that the longer you keep soldiers around, the more their stats improve, so keeping your soldiers alive as long as possible becomes a top priority and you really feel a loss if a soldier's death is unavoidable, even with multiple end of turn reloads (which is pretty much cheating, really). I still have a save game entitled "OMG they killed Tim!", which pretty much summed up my feelings when I lost the Tim E soldier a couple of nights ago. He was one of my best marksmen. Damned Aquatoid bastards...

Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing too much, but it really does hurt even when a "virtual" friend gets bumped off in game. So much so that I've even been known to "resurrect" friends who've been killed off earlier in the game. In one of my longer games of UFO: Enemy Unknown, where I was in "Survival" mode, i.e. trying to keep the game going as long as possible before doing the final mission to Cydonia, I think I got to a fourth incarnation of my own soldier avatar after about 18 months of game time. So no doubt Tim will be back fighting the alien menace as soon as I can afford to buy another Triton to get a third combat squad up and running.

In the meantime, my current X-Com soldier is also injured, laid up for 24 days after getting three "fatal" wounds (i.e. ones that sap your health points) in the left arm. Those bloody Xarquids are bastard good shots.

Last night I also dug out my X-Com Collector's Edition so I could reinstall Enemy Unknown, remembering that you have to download the DirectDraw fix so that the graphics don't smear themselves all over the screen if you try to run it under XP. Good times ahead. As long as you don't get shot by aliens, that is...

*(suffice to say it was someone who annoyed me on State and I sent him into an alien base alone, armed only with a pistol. An *unloaded* pistol... Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.)

Byte: All kinds of awesome

One of the mods on NTSC-UK, EvilBoris, has a new project.

Having started to run out of shelving space, naturally he decided to put some more shelves in his living room. However, just going to the nearest MFI or Ikea would be too boring, so instead he's making a set of shelves using hand-made MDF Tetris blocks.

How goddamned cool is that?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Byte: The old ones are the best

I've recently started replaying X-Com: Terror From The Deep, thanks to the continued good game drought on PC. It was the review of UFO: Extraterrestrials in this month's PC Gamer that tipped me over the edge. They basically said that it's a straight X-Com clone, with better graphics, but without the charm, so you were better off getting Terror From The Deep off Steam, since it works out with tax around $6 - a staggering £3.

So that's what I did. I have, of course, played Terror From The Deep before. In fact, if you look in my huge CD softcase of videogames goodness, you'll find two copies of it (an original budget release dating back at least 8 years that I picked up when I was living in Sheffield, and a copy of it in the X-Com Collector's Edition pack, which is a good six or seven years old). So why buy it a third time? Well, it's worth paying £3 just so you can play it without needing the CD in the drive.

I've been a fan of the X-Com series for as long as I've played PC games. In fact, I actually skipped watching the pilot episode of The X-Files on BBC 2 (which I *really* wanted to watch) because I was too busy playing UFO: Enemy Unknown (a.k.a. X-Com: UFO Defense, if you're from North America) on my older brother's Pentium 75. Why watch alien conspiracies on TV when you can take part in your own, eh? So it may be surprising for you to learn that while I absolutely adored UFO: Enemy Unknown, I never really got on that well with Terror From The Deep.

Like most sequels of that era, it simply reskinned the game and made it a lot harder. I think the first time I tried out an alien base assault, I lost my entire squad because I ran out of ammunition and everyone got picked off on the retreat back to the Triton sub. Well, that and everyone got molecular controlled and went beserk, too. The reduced clip sizes for the weapons in Terror From The Deep make the game much harder, as you can't use auto-shots on everything you see - you have to use aimed or snap shots to conserve ammo. The aliens are also much more accurate than in Enemy Unknown, meaning that you have to make those snap shots count. There are also more species of alien that can mind control, or hit your soldiers with hallucinogenics, making them panic, go crazy or outright attack your other squad members. Which is all kinds of fun, as you might expect. Especially on three-stage ship terrorisms or alien base attacks...

I am getting to grips with it this time, however. And enjoying it lots, which is a bonus. I think the major reason for that is because while I completed Enemy Unknown a good half a dozen times, I didn't complete Terror From The Deep, so I'm still discovering new things about the game. And that's where the fun really lies: not just with the tactical battles (which you need to be much more tactically aware in than in Enemy Unknown), but with discovering new things about the alien threat as you research new artifacts and species. The research tree branches a little bit more unpredictably than the research tree in Enemy Unknown, so it's often something really obscure that you need to research before you get to be able to research something you're really after (such as the Molecular Control Laboratories, which I discovered the pre-requisite to last night). I think there's something really magical about discovering something in a game for the very first time. It's what can make videogames so much more rewarding than simply sitting down and watching TV - the feeling that you've achieved something, even when you're being entertained.

So yeah, in short, it's really fucking good. I do have some bad news, though. Tim Edwards is dead. He was tragically, yet heroically, killed while singlehandedly storming an Aquatoid Cruiser. (Which may explain why he never updates his blog) His brave sacrifice will never be forgotten. Richard Cobbett was also grievously wounded by a Xarquid while infiltrating a Gillman Battleship. Though at least he can put his feet up (or what's left of them, anyway) for a month while he recovers... (This is why the UFO: After... series was never as good as X-Com - they didn't let you rename soldiers after friends and acquaintances properly.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Byte: The irony is just killing me

An executive at EA has just trashed the games industry in an interview to the Wall Street Journal. He's been quoted as saying:
"We're boring people to death... For the most part, the industry has been rinse-and-repeat. There's been lots of product that looked like last year's product, that looked a lot like the year before."

And who, exactly, have been the driving force behind the yearly rinse-and-repeat franchise model of making videogames? You guessed it! It only took you ten (fifteen?) years of FIFA, Madden, Need For Speed, NBA and NHL clones to realise, huh? Still, hey, at least you made a shitload of money in the meantime...

And people are surprised when they hear that the Wii is massively outselling the PS3. Easy to play, innovative games vs. rinse-and-repeat with extra graphical conditioner - I know which ones I'm buying.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bark: Isn't going to airports two days after a terrorist attack just THE BEST?

Answer: Not really, no.

If I see any terrorists today (you know... Mercedes or Jeep drivers) I am going to PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE. (Assuming they don't have a gun, naturally)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Bark: No-one said terrorists were smart

I got home from doing some shopping in Guildford yesterday (where I bought the first two series of House on DVD for a grand total of £30) to find the attack on Glasgow Airport plastered hysterically over the news.

The first thing that struck me was the utter ineptitude of the attack. Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but when you build car bombs, isn't the idea that they should actually blow up? Secondly, if you're a terrorist, the idea is that you should go after soft targets. So why the fuck did they attack Glasgow Airport? The "airport" part, fine. I can understand why you'd want to attack an airport, but in Glasgow?

I'm Glaswegian myself, so I know that Glasgow's hard-edged reputation is well-earned. The paternal side of my extended family still reside in a fairly deprived area of Glasgow. When we were last there, for my Grandmother's funeral, the car we drove up in had its window smashed and car stereo nicked within an hour, because the resident thieves knew that it wasn't "local"... So of all the places in the UK, Glasgow is not somewhere you'd really want to stage a botched terrorist attack, because the locals are more likely to punch you in the face than run away screaming. As the stupid bastards found out yesterday.

You've got to feel sorry for them really. They get all pumped up and psyched about being martyrs, only to fuck it up completely. Surely the shame of that will keep them out of paradise forever. It also seems to disprove Dan McNinja's theory that they can't catch you if you're on fire. Though maybe ninjas aren't Glaswegian, or they simply don't have pepper spray...