Thursday, December 18, 2008

Byte: Why didn't I think of this before?

I was chatting earlier with my chum Neal, about his plans to hook up his Spectrum to his big screen LCD TV, when I suddenly had a bit of a brainstorm. My own LCD TV, all thirty-two inches of widescreen goodness of it, has a VGA port. And my laptop has a DVI port to hook up to an external monitor... I think you can see where this is going.

Now, since I happen to have bought a new monitor for my desktop PC in the last week or two, I had a spare VGA cable lurking around the house, plus a DVI-to-VGA dongle, which got made redundant, since I now use a DVI-only cable to hook up my PC to my monitor. So five minutes of fiddling later... and I've got my laptop hooked up to the TV and I'm playing WoW.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Byte: Mass Effect - revisited

I've been replaying Mass Effect quite heavily since I bought my shiny new widescreen monitor. I rolled a new Adept character (opting for Sniper Rifles, rather than Assault Rifles as my bonus feat, in order to not make the combat such a walkover), and unusually for me, chose a male avatar so I could replay the Ashley romance, since it's the most interesting one. I've got about a third to halfway through the main quest with my new character (named Buck, after one of my favourite characters in Band of Brothers), a despite a few weird clipping problems with the Matriarch Benezia fight on Noveria (that was fun having to repeat that four times because my character kept getting put inside walls during the cutscenes in the middle of the fight) and a few graphics driver problems (nVidia, the way it's meant to be played, my arse!), I've been having a lot of fun with it. Adepts totally kick bottom, especially when you're chucking out biotic singularities that suck up enemies like a black hole and rip them to pieces in mid air. I'm playing through the game with Ashley and Tali, which gives me a specialist in each talent tree, rather than going for a hybrid approach. Tali is surprising useful in combat, thanks to her ability to hack hostile AI characters, amazingly high personal shield strength (if you pump lots of points into Electronics and her class skill) and she's bloody lethal with a decent shotgun. At anything beyond level 20, she's at least as good as Wrex at dealing damage, and with a high decryption skill as well, you can really hoover up all the artifacts and locked goody chests without any real problems at all.

I think Mass Effect probably goes down as my favourite single-player game of this year (Trials 2 does run it close, however), though it would be nice if Bioware could sort out all the driver issues, because having to reboot my machine every two hours played is a bit of a swine. Though that is an improvement over about a week ago, since I've now removed the faulty graphics card and switched my mobo over from SLI mode to single card mode in the BIOS, which means that the PC doesn't take an Ice Age to POST and the whole system is a lot more stable now. Still, I'm disappointed that Bioware's post-release support seems to have taken a huge downturn since they got assimilated by EA. Not only have they released just one patch in six months since the game was released, I can't even find a link to the patch on the official website, and had to download it through a gamer site instead. I hope this isn't going to set a trend for their future releases. I'm not holding my breath though, since EA's general attitude to post-release support seems to be "we have your money, why should we give a fuck?", which is about as enlightened as their approach to DRM - that is, not very fucking enlightened at all. Way to garner customer loyalty, EA!

Bark: A worrying development

If the CD I bought yesterday is anything to go by, I appear to be turning into my Dad.


My only consolation is that at least my Dad doesn't like Iggy Pop.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Byte: Official Approval

I just found out today that Blizzard liked my Wrath of the Lich King review enough to link to it (the post dated 09/12/2008 'More Wrath of the Lich King reviews'). I approve of their approval of my approval. They also linked to it on the European WoW site as well (see the General News section), and the review is currently second in the top games list on Videogamer, so hopefully it's getting lots of hits. And maybe some of the people following the link are actually reading the review and not just looking at the score. I live in hope, anyway...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bark: White & Nerdy

What would we do without Youtube, eh?

Is it wrong to like parodies more than the original version?

Watch out for the brief cameo by Seth Green, the Star Wars Kid reference and the awesome moves by Donny Osmond (POP! POP!) in the whiteboard cuts.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Byte: Now in glorious widescreen

My new monitor arrived just after lunchtime today. Gosh, it's really rather gorgeous.

The colour, brightness, response time and contrast all dwarf that of my old monitor, and there isn't a single dead pixel. You could say I'm rather pleased. Even Fleur likes it, since it's shinier and sexier than the old boring beige one I had (speaking of which, submit your pleas to give it a good home here).

I've tested it out with quite a few of my games to see how my PC handles the higher resolution and the good news is that it copes with World of Warcraft, Trials 2, Mass Effect, Call of Duty: World at War, GTR Evolution, Far Cry 2 and The Witcher: Enhanced Edition without any noticeable frame rate drops. Even UFO: Enemy Unknown looks pretty awesome on it - amazing, considering it's upscaling all the way up from 320x240.

So I would definitely recommend one, if you're in the market for a new monitor.

Byte: It was only a matter of time

You Scored as Dr Gaius Baltar

You have betrayed humanity, for a blonde. However you'd rather people learnt to just get past that. After all, you never meant wipe out the human race. Luckily you are cleverer than everyone else, so no one will ever know. Even though they look at you with suspicion behind their eyes.

Dr Gaius Baltar

Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)

Tom Zarek

Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)

Number 6

Commander William Adama

President Laura Roslin

CPO Galen Tyrol

Col. Saul Tigh

Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo)

I scored as Baltar on a tiebreaker. You've got to admit it's not such a surprising result. Take the test here.

Byte: Pessimists are rarely disappointed

Well, it seems like the DRM thing is the least of GTA 4's problems.

You've got to say it's a pretty poor effort to ship a game in a state like this. Broken or non-existent textures, insanely prohibitive hardware requirements, compulsory add-on software that is seemingly incompatible with the actual game itself and the fact that the release code actually appears to be in a much worse state than the review code that was sent out... I'm staying well clear of this heap of badly optimised code. (And that's me being nice about it)

I'd say it's all part of an elaborate plot to make us all stop playing games on PCs and buy consoles, but I don't credit Microsoft with that much intelligence. And let's be honest, it would be a really fucking stupid way of going about it, too.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Byte: HAVE IT!

I need to stop using the internet. I gave into temptation and bought that Samsung widescreen monitor I saw on Tuesday. Checking back through my ebuyer order history, this monitor is half the price of my current one - a 19" LG L1915S, though admittedly I did buy that over three and a half years ago. Still, it's pretty amazing that you can get such a good monitor for that price (throwing in an extra tenner for next day delivery).


Byte: Grand Theft DRM Shitstorm 4

Further proof that the GTA series peaked at Vice City and has been plummeting down a slope to shittiness ever since.

I've already talked at length about why I don't particularly give a monkey's peanut crunch about GTA 4. However, not really caring a damn about the game itself seems to pale in comparison these days to DRM concerns, and Rockstar have played a blinder here.

How does FORCING YOUR OWN PAYING CUSTOMERS to install programs they don't necessarily want AND CAN'T REMOVE (short of reinstalling the operating system) offset not having installation limits (as Microsoft's Games For Windows community manager would have you believe)? Erm, it doesn't. I'd rather have a limited number of installs than be dictated to as to supplementary programs I don't want being installed on my machine so that play a game. And I certainly don't want to be told that I must install that crap, and then even if I uninstall the game, it can't be removed. Why don't you just tell me what times of the day I can play as well?

FUCK THAT. That's not "protecting your investment", that's treating paying customers like criminals. How does discouraging people from buying your game protect your investment? It doesn't, because it's costing you more sales than piracy, you idiots.
If developers do start abandoning PC gaming because it's "dying", the reason is not going to be piracy. It's because developers and publishers aren't listening to their customers and are trying to dictate to the market. And markets tend to get a little uppity with companies that try to do that. Right now, most PC developers are giving people more reasons to not buy their game than buy it. And how is that possibly a sustainable business strategy?

People like Valve and Stardock realise that the best thing you can do is keep customers on your side. People like Ubisoft, EA and Rockstar would do well to heed their example.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Byte: The overly obvious annual round-up post

It was about this time last year when I did a round-up of my favourite games of the year, so now that pretty much all the major titles of 2008 have hit the streets, now seems like a good time to post my thoughts on the must-have titles of the year.

So, the usual rules apply, no particular order or preference for format, though just to make things easier for me to write, I'll probably write in vaguely chronological order, and I expect this to be a mostly PC-exclusive list, since it's not really been a stellar year in terms of Wii and DS releases.

First up is: Off-Road Velociraptor Safari
An agreeably bonkers browser game, this was my favoured work-avoidance strategy for the first few months of this year. There's not really much you can say about it, at least if you wanted to sound vaguely clever about it. You thrash around in a jeep, doing stunts, running over velociraptors and trying to tag and catch them. That's pretty much it. But it's amazing fun.

This game gave rise to one of the more worrying trends to come out of videogaming this year - that being a resurgence in the popularity of Rick Astley - but I'm not going to hold that against it. Obviously, this game is only going to be as good as your music collection, but it's such a simple idea executed so brilliantly, it's an instant PC classic in my eyes.

Sins of a Solar Empire
Deservedly one of the best selling PC games this year, Sins is a real-time strategy carried out on the scale of a 4X turn-based strategy. Ambitious, well-executed, if a bit graphically dowdy, Sins makes Supreme Commander look small. This game just needs a Star Wars: Supremacy total conversion mod and then I can die happy.

Mass Effect
It took a while to come out on the PC, but it was worth the wait. A better interface, better graphics, reduced texture pop-in and controllable minions, this rates as not only one of the better console-to-PC conversions of recent years, but also arguably the best single-player RPG on the PC to come out since Knights of the Old Republic. It also has one of the greatest female NPCs ever put in a game. Sassy, deeply flawed and pretty darned sexy, Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams comes in a notch above Bastila Shan as far as I'm concerned. And I never thought that Bastila would get usurped in my geek affections.

Mario Kart Wii
Okay, it might just be Mario Kart AGAIN, but by golly, it's terrific fun, especially in multiplayer.

Family Ski
Yes, you did read that right. There's not much to it, admittedly, but it's just such a lovely, genteel game. It's so nice to play a game for once where you're not pre-occupied with murdering people. And it's a great excuse to crack out the Wii Fit board.

I really need to play this much more, because it's just so good on so many levels. It's a better RPG than Zelda, the Celestial Brush controls are perfect for the Wii and the game is aesthetically amazing. If you have a Wii and don't have this game, you are no longer my friend. Assuming you were to begin with. In any case, GET OUT.

Trials 2: Special Edition
PHYSICS! PHYSICS! That is all.

GTR Evolution
Speaking of PHYSICS! The graphics engine looks a bit ropey now, but in terms of track and car modelling, this is still the dog's bollocks. You've not lived until you've gone into the Karussel on the Nordschliefe in a Koenigsegg CCX on your roof.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Did you seriously think I wasn't going to mention this? My personal game of the year, by several miles.

The Biggest Disappointment of the Year
Unfortunately, given all the lofty predictions I made about it this time last year, has to rate as Spore. It was a wonderful concept, as you'd expect from Will Wright, and the creature creator really caught the imagination of a lot of people, but as a game, it was... lacking.

The Most Unsurprising Disappointment of the Year
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I think a lot of people decided they were going to uncritically cum all over this because it's not World of Warcraft, when in truth the game's PvE content was so lame it made Korean MMORPGs look sophisticated and had a graphical style that seemed to forget the whole concept of fantasy. People may talk up the PvP aspect of the game, but if I want to play Capture the Flag, well, that's what I have Unreal Tournament for. This one was always destined to end in tears, methinks.

The Biggest 'Meh' of the Year
This is a joint award for GTA 4 and Fallout 3. Yeah, yeah, just not fussed. An honorable mention in this category goes to Far Cry 2, which I bought, played for less than an hour and promptly forgot in favour of World of Warcraft. I suppose Left 4 Dead could go in here, too, but that's more deserving of a 'For fuck's sake, are we not done with zombies yet?' category... I'm so over online shooters.

Byte: Goddamn you, internets!

Why must you tempt me so with such sleek, shiny, electrical goodness? WHY? WHY?!?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Byte: Not again

You should know by now that I can't resist a good internet quiz. Or even a bad one.

You are pure evil, and hate personified. You don't care anything about your fellow man, and are guided only by your desire to rule over your inferiors, i.e. everybody but you. 'Mercy,' you ask, prior to grinding an enemy beneath your mighty heel, 'What is mercy?'

Take the quiz!

Hmm, I'm definitely veering from True Neutral down to Neutral Evil these days.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bark: Shameful confessions

I was in London yesterday, having a reunion with some old friends I first met on the original PC Gamer forum on Delphi, and while I was killing some time waiting for them to arrive in the HMV at the Trocadero Centre in Piccadilly, I picked up a few CDs - the first album by the Traveling Wilburys, which I'd been meaning to acquire for the best part of two decades now, American Caesar by my sanity-keeper du jour, Iggy Pop, and indulging my emo side, I picked up the Emotion 98.3 soundtrack from GTA: Vice City.

One of the tracks on this album happens to be the first single I ever bought: Crockett's Theme by Jan Hammer. Yes, I am a child of the 1980's. I am only slightly ashamed.

So, readers, what was your slightly shameful first single?

Bark: Angry Non-Internet Man

I'm a bit pissed off right now, as when I popped out to do a quick bit of shopping, I had to spend twenty minutes cleaning up the car in the rain, because some imbecile with a mental age of five decided it would be HILARIOUS to cover my car with toilet roll.

Thanks very much, you fuckwit. If I ever find out how you are, say goodbye to your kneecaps.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Byte: Correcting an oversight

I haven't blogged about World of Warcraft now for, oh, hours, so it's about time I corrected that.

How fortunate then that Videogamer should have just happened to publish my Wrath of the Lich King review, featuring not only some of my finest fanboy rambling, but some of my own screenshots as well, rather than the generic publicity shots. The keener-eyed of you will notice that they've previously made an appearance on my Flickr page, but I specifically asked to use some of my own shots, as they're a damn sight easier to caption. AND YES, I DO KNOW WHERE THE 'HIDE INTERFACE' BUTTON IS. I just don't use it so that people can tell I've actually played the game. Because, you know, there are some nutcases out there who think games journalists just read the press release and make it up from there. The mind boggles, really. What are they taking? And where the hell can I find some?

And if anyone is stupid enough to take umbrage with my score, please bear in mind that I've got a /played stat rapidly approaching 60 DAYS logged on World of Warcraft over the last four years, with at least a couple of days logged on every character class in the game (barring the Death Knight, which I've taken from level 55 to level 62 in the course of about 12 hours play). So I think I know the game as well as anyone, thankyouverymuchkeepyourconspiracytheoriestoyourself.

The game's terrific. If I'm not still playing it this time next year, I'll be very surprised. Something pretty epic will have to come out in order to stop me playing it. And no, crazy "all games journalism is corrupt!" conspiracy people, Blizzard haven't paid me to say that either. Though if anyone from Blizzard is reading, I'll have my Aston Martin DBS in pearlescent blue, please. Because if anyone's going to try and buy my opinion, fucking hell, I'm not going to sell myself cheap...

Bark: You've got to admit it's ingenious

Italian police discover that the Mafia have invented a .22 caliber handgun that looks like a mobile phone. Admittedly, it only holds 4 rounds and a .22 caliber bullet doesn't exactly have much stopping power, but when you think of the range it's going to be used at, it's enough.

"You're under arrest, mafioso!"
"Let me just call my lawyer..."
*gets out gun-phone*

Ingenious, but ever so slightly evil. Still, it would discourage mobile phone theft if people thought you might be able to shoot them with it. I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing these on the streets of London...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Byte: Wait, it gets better!

I finally got around to cracking the top off my PC today to swap over my graphics cards to see if there was a reason the SLI has stopped working on my rig, and it would appear that one of my video cards is borked. It's not an issue with the slots on the motherboard, because the card that was working in PCI-E Slot 1 now works in PCI-E Slot 2, and the card which I moved to Slot 1 is definitely not being detected and just gives me a blank signal when I try to use it.

So that leaves me in a bit of a quandary. Do I just buy an identical graphics card to get the SLI working properly again, buy two new cards to upgrade and find someone to give my one functional card a good home? And if I upgrade, should I upgrade my CPU to the fastest the motherboard can handle as well? Or should I just say to hell with it all and just buy an entirely new PC? (Intel i7 quad-core 2.66GHz, 6GB DDR3 RAM, 64-bit Vista and a 1024MB GeForce 9800 GT is the kind of spec I'm thinking of)

The first options are certainly cheaper, but the last one is definitely the most tempting. Oh boy. Who'd be a PC gamer, eh?

Byte: Yahtzee sings

If you've not watched it already, you should check out this week's Zero Punctuation. Not for the actual review itself, but the post-review snippet of Yahtzee's lyrics to the Deus Ex theme. Very, very funny stuff.

Bark: Balderdash and piffle

This is one of the more bizarre news stories to catch my eye this week.

I've been watching Formula One for over twenty years now (and for some strange reason, still enjoy it), but moving over from a points to a medal system strikes me as plain bonkers. Surely the whole point of having a championship with multiple races means that the guy who should be crowned champion is the most consistent throughout the year?

As Gilles Villeneuve once said "to finish first, first you must finish". Moving over to a winner-takes-all system means that drivers will be encouraged to drive much more aggressively and will probably cause a lot more crashes. Is it right that a driver could win the championship even if he doesn't finish half of the races? Surely that's worse than someone driving consistently and scoring podiums throughout the entire season and winning the championship on points even if they haven't won as many races as other drivers. Or worse, if Bernie's medal system was imposed, what about seasons where you have one car that's vastly superior to everyone else on the grid. You could have the championship done and dusted by the mid-point of the season, and that would be terrible for Formula 1.

In a way, I can understand where Bernie's coming from on the overtaking issue. He says that he wants to encourage overtaking and make races more exciting to watch. I wouldn't disagree with that sentiment, but if you want to encourage drivers to overtake, then I don't think the system proposed by Ecclestone will work, because it only rewards the teams who inherently have the best cars anyway and leaves the back end of the grid with nothing to fight for.

So how about this: keep the points system as it is, but add in point bonuses for overtaking and penalties for being overtaken. Say, a 1 point bonus for every two positions gained over your grid position at the end of the race and a similar penalty for places lost (but cap the penalties so that people can't lose more than 5 points per race and never get a negative sum total for the season tally). This won't harm the teams who would be at the back of the grid anyway, but encourages the mid-table teams to really push to overtake the guys at the front and will also compel teams to improve their reliability to avoid DNFs (since they would be horribly punishing). It should also make the competition much closer over the course of the season and result in exactly the kind of grandstand finishes to races and seasons that everyone wants to see.

I think my idea is much better. But then I would, wouldn't I?

Bark: When all else fails...

Iggy Pop.

I love the way he's not even attempting to lip sync properly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bark: An irrational response

I'm really feeling out of sorts lately. I've been working from home for the last few weeks and it's sending me around the twist. Okay, try and make sense of this if you can...

I have a pretty low opinion of people. Not individuals, let's be quite clear about that: I have friends, and there are lots of individual people I like - but people as a group, as a species, as a society, people suck. Call it misanthropy, sociopathy, I've got a pretty bad case. If I could get rid of the human race, or at least chuck away all the systems of governance, economy and morality that people like to wrap themselves in, I'd do it in a second and replace it with something that's, well, more humane.

So why would I react with depression when I'm isolated from the society I can't stand and only interact with the people I actually like? What the fuck is that about?

Bark: A vaguely directioned plea

Can whoever I lent my copy of A Clockwork Orange to remind me of who you are, please? It's been at least six months now and I can't remember for the life of me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bark: Breaking Barriers

I've pretty much resigned myself to not getting anywhere near the 50,000 word count for NaNoWriMo. That's not stopping me from continuing to write however, because I'm really enjoying the process of sitting down and telling a story. I can't vouch for the quality of it as yet, but once I get past the 10,000 mark, I'll probably let people read what I have so far and get some feedback; but assuming my perfectionist streak isn't failing me, I think what I've written is getting on for half decent.

The story has taken a bit of a different tone from what I originally planned: it's gone more contemporary/real world compared to the alternative worlds/sci-fi I was aiming for when I first had the idea for the book, but that's fine. I'm not sure if it's because the plot is more suited to a contemporary theme than a sci-fi one, or because I'm only six and a half thousand words in and it's only now that the story is really starting to take shape.

I'm a little frustrated that I can't simply write faster. I have a good idea of where I'm going to take the plot and most of the characters, so I'm not even remotely blocked - I just can't let go of my urge to edit and revise as I go for quality, context and accuracy (all those hours self-editing my journalistic writings are coming back to bite me on the bum in that regard - old habits die hard), so rather than writing 1500 words a night, I'm only managing 400-500. So with ten days to go until NaNoWriMo ends, I'll be clocking in somewhere around the 10k mark, assuming I lose the odd night's writing to gaming and other (more social) commitments. Which is pretty weak, but still, that's ten thousand more words of fiction than I had a month ago - and I've got no-one to blame but myself for not writing more, really. Though it is a case of bad timing that NaNoWriMo this year should clash with the release of a WoW expansion and one of the busiest social calendars for weekend commitments I've had since the summer.

The words are starting to flow a little faster now that I've introduced the majority of my main characters, and I'm just about to start writing the first big plot event, which should be a lot of fun to write, since I'm trying to inject a fair bit of humour into the narrative and there are going to be quite a few absurd things going on. I'm really enjoying trying to breathe life into my characters, and it's interesting learning how to speak with other peoples' voices, as it were. All my characters take on aspects of their personalities from me and/or people I know well, and my main character, Max, is obviously the closest thing to an author insertion - though he's clearly a more successful, nicer version of me, but he has one exceedingly large character flaw that I don't - though to say more than that would be a huge spoiler. Assuming the finished story ever sees the light of day, that is. I haven't made any direct character insertions into the story, but quite a few of my friends ought to see bits of themselves in some of the characters (and hopefully take it as the compliment it's meant to be) - provided I've done my job as a writer well enough, anyway.

I'm relieved to have finally made it beyond the 5,000 barrier, since I was beginning to get a little paranoid about it - especially knowing that a lot of people wiped past it in two or three days, not weeks. I've been trying to console myself that the stuff I've done must be of better quality, but having never seriously attempted to write long-form fiction before, I don't suppose there are any guarantees of that, either. I'm hoping to make it past the 10k mark as soon as possible, and I have most of Saturday and Sunday to write, so I'm hopeful I can really push up my word count over the weekend. I do have a Wrath of the Lich King review to write as well, though, which is a little bit of a bummer. Though at least I'm hoping I should be able to knock that off relatively quickly - reviews are proving to be much easier to write than fiction. As are blog posts...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Byte: Blatant Link Post

It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I'm playing Wrath of the Lich King a lot right now. I'm not going to talk about it in any great depth here, mainly because I'm going to be writing a review of it in the next week or so, and I might as well save all my words for that instead.

I will, however, tell you that I've gotten around to posting my first set of WotLK screenies on my Flickr account.


Follow the rest of my WoW photoset to see the journey I've been enjoying with my spangly new Death Knight, Devorgilla, over the last week or so. I'll be posting more shots of Sharéth's adventures in the Howling Fjord and the Borean Tundra in Northrend a little later. Sharéth is now up to level 72 and has shed most of the Rare armour she'd been using for the last year. I did find it a little galling that one of the very first quest rewards in Borean Tundra replaced the Staff of Natural Fury I blew a huge amount of gold on in the auction house about six months ago. It was one of my few epics, and to have it superseded by a quest reward Green within half an hour of getting to Northrend was rather distressing. I still haven't been able to bring myself to vendor it. It's lurking in the bank with all the other kit I have replaced with the new leatherworking recipes until I can face parting with it. That is, when I desperately need every gold I have to pay for the Cold Weather flying training at level 77... It's going to be a long time before I get to that point, though, as I've still got to see most of the new map areas and I still have to do any of the new instances. That's my task for this week, and I'm jolly well looking forward to it, too.

Of course, it should also come as no surprise that due to the Lich King's siren call that I'm 20,000 words behind my NaNoWriMo target word count... whoops.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bark: Quantum of Stupor

I was mildly disappointed by the new Bond yesterday. It's not a terrible film by any means, but it's a long way off being as good as Casino Royale. I suppose that was always going to be a hard act to follow, but despite really good performances from Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, the film just fails to truly spark.

There are some nice set pieces, but they're ruined by some ADHD cutting: some of the shot lengths are of the order of less than a second and it really makes it hard to follow what's going on. The plot, even for a Bond film, isn't up to much either and it has the least threatening villain since Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies. And the less said about the awful opening credit theme the better...

Overall then: B- must try harder.

I'm still looking forward to the next one, though.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bark: You've got to admire the irony

Plenty of people get killed by their spouses. But not when the spouse is already dead...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Byte: An achievement worthy of the name

I can call myself a proper World of Warcraft player now - I have two level 70s.

Fasten your seatbelts

Right, now that's safely out of the way, I can spend more time on my book... well, in theory.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Byte: Conflicted

I'm so conflicted right now. I really ought to be spending my free time writing my NaNoWriMo book, but Yonn is now level 69 and within five or six hours' play of hitting 70. I haven't done any of the Nagrand or Shadowmoon Valley quests yet, since I've been doing my levelling in Terokkar Forest, Blades Edge Mountains and Netherstorm, so I reckon one solid night or two knocking off all the Nagrand quests should go most of the way to tipping me over the level cap. I'm really enjoying playing with Yonn at the moment, and I've even started getting some nice gear for him, through a combination of questing and the auction house. Last night I bought him some shoulder pads that would make the guys from Gears of War feel slightly inadequate.

I know I should be writing, and I'm really enjoying that process as well - even if it's more NaNoWriSlo than NaNoWriMo at the moment - but with the Lich King about to invade at the end of this week, I really want to get Yonn up to level 70 so I can take him and Sharéth to Northrend as quickly as possible. So much to do, so little time. I suppose I'll just have to give up sleep for the next three weeks...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Bark/Byte: Full speed ahead, Mr Cohen!

(For those of you who don't get the reference)

Last night was spent doing two things. Firstly, getting my Hunter, Yonn, up to a mighty level 68, questing in Blade's Edge Mountains. He and his devilsaur, Brian (yes, I went there), are proving to be a formidable team. One of the quests in Blades Edge requires you to knock off some ogre clan leaders; each of whom being protected by a pair of hard-as-nails Elite bodyguards. Bearing in mind that Yonn and Brian were only level 67 at this point, and the bodyguards were level 66 Elites (meaning that they had roughly 26,000 hit points EACH - the new patch actually allows you to see how many hitpoints a selected mob has now, rather than a percentage figure), being able to knock them both off simultaneously is pretty freaking spectacular. Of course, it required the judicious usage of Freezing Traps to be able to concentrate on one of the Elites at a time, Mend Pet to top up Brian's health bar, plenty of arrows and the odd Feigned Death, but we were never really at serious risk of wiping. Things get even more impressive with normal mobs: taking five at once is barely even mildly taxing. More than that and you'd struggle to cope with the aggro management, but still, being outnumbered 5-2 and coming away with nary a scratch is awesome. I should be able to get Yonn up to level 70 before too long - hopefully before Lich King goes live in a week. The thought of having two level 70 characters is almost mind boggling, but it's tantalisingly within reach now.

The second thing I did last night was stay up late to do a bit more writing on my NaNoWriMo book. I've been struggling a little at the tail end of this week to keep up momentum (especially with WoW screeching like a banshee in the corner, clamouring for attention) so I took a little time out last night to fully plan my timeline to give me a much clearer idea of where the plot is going. My timeline is still a little rough around the edges, but that's okay, considering that this is just a first draft after all. And it should help me pick up the pace over the weekend and hopefully surge over the 10k mark during the next week. I still don't think I'm going to get anywhere near the 50k target by the end of the month, but I'm hoping that at least having a more solid idea of where my story is headed and what my characters are like will make the whole thing a lot easier to write, and the words will start flowing more easily. He says, crossing his fingers...

Bark: Quote of the day

God save us from imbeciles.
You've gotta love Silvio Berlusconi.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bark: File under HOW AWESOME IS THAT??

Ladies and gentlemen, THE DARTH VADER TOASTER.

Props to Neal for the heads-up.

Bark: Progress Report

Or rather, a lack of progress report. NaNoWriMo is not exactly proceeding to schedule. I'm only averaging a pitiful 500 words a day so far, meaning that I'd need three months, rather than 30 days to hit the 50,000 word target. However, I'm not going to beat myself up too much about it, because I'm pretty pleased with what I have written so far, and after letting Fleur read the first 1200 words or so earlier in the week, she said she liked it, which is reassuring considering that she's one of the most overly-critical people in the entire world.

I know she's biased, since she's shagging the author and all, but if Fleur finds the premise interesting and wants to read more, I must be onto something worth pursuing.

Regardless of whether I hit the 50k target at the end of the month or not (and right now it doesn't look likely, unless the floodgates really start to open in the next couple of weeks), I'm definitely going to finish the story, since it would be a shame to put in all that effort and not have at least a short story to show for it.

The biggest problem I have at the moment is not that I don't know where the story's going, but that my Inner Editor and Grammar Nazi refuse to be oppressed. And they're really slowing me down. I know it's only meant to be a first draft and everything, but I'm simply not wired in a way that will let me leave malformed sentences or misspelt words alone. They offend me too much. Still, I'm hoping to pick up the pace a little and at least get over the halfway mark. I'm over the biggest hump of getting the story started and visualising the characters in my head. Now I just have to do horrible, evil things to them and see where the story takes them...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Byte: Give this woman a TV show

I was most surprised (but pleased) to see this pop up on the BBC News website a day or two back.

I know Ellie passably well from a couple of press trips I've been on, and though I've not spoken to her for ages, I can think of no-one who would be more capable of taking videogames to a mainstream TV audience. She's one of the most popular games journalists amongst games journalists, and rightly so, not simply because she's a lady who likes games, but because she's a terrific writer, intelligent and knowledgeable, too. And she can also out-drink a Shield Dwarf, which, as we all know, is the one overriding talent necessary for a career in games journalism. (I jest. OR DO I??)

We should all pester the BBC to give her a TV show on videogames. It'd be brilliant. And it would help keep Iain Lee off the TV. That's what I call a win-win.

Bark: Thank goodness for that

Obama wins. America officially not as stupid as it's looked over the last eight years, after all.

Though a part of me can't help but remain cynical. Would it be really insensitive of me to start running a book on when he's going to get assassinated?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Bark: NaNoWriMo is go-go-go

It has begun. See you in a month.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bark: One last thing...

If you were tempted to see Burn After Reading, the latest film by the Coens, don't bother. It's shite. Easily their worst film, and yes, I've seen Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers.

The film only has one moment of any real note, and that's where George Clooney caps Brad Pitt in the forehead from point blank range. Other than that, it's beyond lame. Go see the new Bond instead.

Bark: The calm before the... more calm.

I am going to apologise in advance: things are probably going to get awfully quiet around here for the next 30 days, because as of midnight tonight, I will officially be writing my book for NaNoWriMo, so I won't really have much time to waste wordage here.

So please bear with me for a little while, should things fall silent or descend into shameless link-blogging for the next month. Normal service (that is, me blithering on incoherently about World of Warcraft) shall be resumed shortly.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Byte: Finally something to commend

Now that my "free"* month with Warhammer Online has expired, I think I finally found something nice to say about it. The uninstaller's fantastic. 16GB dumped straight off the hard drive in three seconds flat. Nice work.

*it's not "free", you pay the first month's subscription as part of buying the game. I do wish people would stop referring it as being the "free" month. It vexes me.

Byte: Easy mode on

Well. Respeccing to Beast Master was one of the best decisions I've made in WoW recently. Yonn has zipped up from level 64 to level 66 in two evenings play (that's nearly ONE MILLION experience points, context-fans!). I can take down Elites my level with impunity and even if a quest says that 2 players are recommended, I can still solo it with ease. Yonn might just make it to 70 in the next fortnight if we keep on going like this. I can barely process the possibility that I might get two characters up to level 70. Just getting one character up to 70 is achievement enough, if only for the sheer amount of time invested, but two? That's getting pretty serious.

I've got nearly ten days logged on Yonn right now, with four levels to go (averaging 4-6 hours, rested, so probably another day's play to 70), though that's nothing compared to Sharéth - I have over 33 days logged on with her, but "only" 10 of those are at level 70, so you can see the massive difference between levelling time for a first and second character. And also how they sped up the levelling time from 1-60 a few patches back, but I digress. A lot of the time saved is simply knowing where you have to go and what to kill to finish the quests. So I reckon, NaNoWriMo notwithstanding, that I should have Yonn up to level 70 before Lich King comes out. Though probably not long before it comes out, which means that I'm not going to have much time to take advantage of quest rewards being money instead of experience at the level cap, so getting Yonn his flappy mount might take a wee while. I suppose it depends how quickly they throw money at you in Northrend.

Which leaves me with a bit of a quandary, really. If I do get Yonn up to 70 in time for Lich King, which character am I going to take to Northrend first? Sharéth is technically my main character, but Yonn has the crappier gear, so he will benefit the most from the first couple of levels in Northrend, in terms of equipment. I guess I'll burn that bridge when I get to it...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Byte: I am the Beast Master!

None of my other characters even got a look-in last night. I was too busy playing with Yonn and his Devilsaur. I haven't gotten around to naming him yet, since I'm struggling to come up with an appropriate name. Damien or (Dan) Quayle are the obvious choices (recall that Bill Hicks always used to say that Dan Quayle was the Devil), but I'm reluctant to use them, because Damien is a) a bit too obvious and b) the name of my lady's Dad, so that might not go down too well, and Quayle... I wouldn't want people to think I was a Republican, since the irony might not be immediately apparent to some people. I could name him after *my* Dad, since that would be appropriate for a big, lumbering dinosaur, and having a Devilsaur called Brian would just be too funny. I don't get the players who call their Hunter pets Killaraptorx or something similarly stupid. I'd go for something utterly banal, incongruous or ironic every time. It's like calling a tortoise Fluffy - the cognitive dissonance makes it interesting.

Anyway, I levelled my net from 59 to 62 during the course of the evening and put on three-quarters of a level on Yonn (64-65) in the space of a few hours, which I thought was pretty impressive. It's the pet that does most of the DPS now, rather than the super-duper damage shots you get with the Marksmanship spec, so you burn through a lot more ammo as a Beast Master, but there are certain advantages. If you stick on Aspect of the Viper, you recover mana as you fight, meaning that as long as you use Mend Pet to top up the health of your pet, you can handle crowds of three or four mobs with no problem at all (Aspect of the Viper means that you never generate more threat than your pet, since the mana recovery is offset by a damage penalty) and taking down Elites (possible, but a struggle with a Marksmanship spec) is absolute child's play, since your pet generates all the threat, takes all the aggro and using Mend Pet means that he can stay there pretty much all day. Even better, Devilsaurs have a Heart of the Phoenix talent, which gives them an instant 100% health resurrection should you be negligent enough to let them be killed. Never mind crowd control, these things could do riot control.

Compared to a Marksmanship spec, playing Beast Master is almost like a different class, since you don't have to worry so much about your threat management. You just send in the pet, point and shoot. Using Aspect of the Viper means that you never run out of mana, meaning your pet never runs out of health, so you can literally keep going until you run out of ammo (or time to play, whichever comes first), so if anything it's a better levelling spec than Marksmanship.

I should get Yonn up to level 65 tonight, plus another level or two for my pet. With a bit of luck, he might make level 70 before Lich King comes out, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that. Still, this seems like a vindication for having stuck with a Hunter for so long. I've always enjoyed playing with one, but the additions for the class in this patch really give Hunters a cool factor they've been missing compared to some other classes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008



It's quite interesting playing as a Beast Master spec Hunter. Very different from the Marksmanship spec. You don't get the critical hits in four figures like you do with Marksmanship, but boy, does having an exotic pet PWN. I almost died trying to tame the damn thing (a level 55 elite with a fear effect and a knockback attack hits pretty hard when you're utterly defenseless trying to do the tame), but I think it was worth the respec. I think I'm going to be playing with my Hunter a lot more in the next few weeks...

Byte: Attack of the Zombies

I've been playing rather a lot of WoW of late, given the impending arrival of Wrath of the Lich King, and I've also been enjoying the Hallow's End content and the attack of the plague zombies, which herald the resurgence of Arthas's power.

Firstly, Hallow's End - I got Sharéth (I had to add an accent to her name when I moved her to Steamwheedle Cartel a couple of weeks ago - I've invested far too much time in the character over the last four years to even contemplate renaming her to something totally different) to party up for a trip to the Scarlet Monastery in order to really sort out the Headless Horseman, and came out of the deal with three epic rings, one of which is good for tanking in Dire Bear form, the other two being nice little caster rings for when I'm acting as a healer in an instance. So, definitely worth the trip, even if no-one got one of the Harry Potter-style flying broomstick mounts. I've got a couple of the normal "slow and steady" (read "crappy") broomsticks, but sadly they're pretty useless for anything other than screenshot opportunities. The dailies putting out the fires in Goldshire have been quite fun, not to mention an easy source of cash, and the Trick or Treat achievements where you have to visit the inns around the game world is literally money for old rope. I've earned well over 100 gold just from sightseeing for an hour or two. Sharéth is doing pretty well for money right now, actually, despite the fact that I blew 1000 gold on the (totally superfluous) Shattered Sun courtesy title a few days ago, as I've been making hay with the Sunwell Isle dailies now that I don't have to worry about being ganked, and I will probably try and do a bit of rep grinding in Auchindoun over the next couple of weeks so I can finally knock off the final stage of my Epic Flight Form quest chain. Though what I'm really looking forward to is the opening night of Northrend when the new expansion goes live. The opening of the Dark Portal was epic, so I'm expecting a similar kind of party atmosphere to be going on when the boats finally dock in Stormwind Harbour.

I'm trying to get my Hunter, Yonn, up as close to level 70 as I can before Lich King goes live, and last night I got him up to level 64, meaning that he can realistically quest in most of Outland now, especially since being on an RP server means that you only have the NPC mobs to worry about. I've pretty much abandoned Zenedar now and will be forsaking it entirely once Lich King comes out. PvP servers were fun when everyone was just starting out and the playing field was rather more level. Now they're just playgrounds for the small-minded sadists who seem to have nothing better to do than try to spoil other people's fun. I don't have a couple of hundred hours to spend in PvP battlegrounds getting all the top tier PvP armour, and I'm even less inclined to play Capture the Flag in an RPG when there are perfectly good games like Team Fortress 2 or Unreal Tournament which are far better cut out for that kind of thing. Getting all my characters off of PvP servers has undoubtedly been one of the best decisions I've made all year. A costly decision, at £15 a pop, but worth every copper.

I've even made decent progress with my Mage, who I had to rename, post-server jump. The newly-dubbed Kaeleigh is now up to level 44 and is rather enjoying the free re-spec to Frost she got with the latest patch. At level 44, I don't think that a Frost Mage quite packs the same punch as a Fire spec in single combat, but Frost Magi certainly do better in terms of crowd control.

One of the new additions this patch is the Inscription profession, which allows you to create scrolls and glyphs, the latter of which enhance abilities of your spells. Most of them are ludicrously overpriced, meaning that I'm probably going to swap over one of my characters over from Alchemy to Inscription instead (since Herbalism is the feeder profession for both) and create my own glyphs rather than buy the top tier stuff from the auction house. Though I almost did buy the Glyph of the Penguin for my Mage. It makes the Polymorph spell turn things into penguins rather than sheep, so is only really there for the funnies, as far as I can tell, but I was still tempted to get it just for the screenshot opportunities. Even if they were selling for over 10 gold in the auction house...

Some of the glyphs are a lot more useful, though. I got a couple of good ones for my Druid - the Glyph of Rake (which stops people from running off when their health gets low - something that was really missing from a Cat form practitioner's arsenal), the Glyph of the Wild (which halves the mana cost of the main Druid buff) and the Glyph of Thorns (which increases the buff length of the Thorns spell from 10 minutes to 60 minutes). I also got a nice Glyph for my Hunter, which makes the Freezing Trap slow down the movement speed of the trapped mob after it expires. I bought most of them on the cheap (a gold or so each) so I think I'm doing quite well - though obviously not as well as if I'd made them for myself.

Speaking of hunters, I think I may have missed a trick on the respec, because even though the top talent on the Marksmanship spec is awesome (the Chimera shot), I think I may have to respec to Beast Master instead, because there are people tromping around with Devilsaurs from Un'Goro Crater and Core Hounds, for fuck's sake. Barney, my Screecher Owl pet might be pretty cool, BUT IT'S NOT A FECKING DINOSAUR. And I think I mucked up my DPS with the new armour I got at level 64 last night, so I might as well switch over and go Devilsaur hunting.

There's one big addition in the patch that's not playable yet: Death Knights - though you can see the symbol for the class on the character creation screens. I'm not quite sure whether I will jump straight into trying out the class or not, or whether I will be taking Sharéth and Yonn up the level treadmill to 80. I suspect, knowing my lack of concentration skills, that I will undoubtedly do a little of both. So, lots to look forward to, though I am a little concerned that the release of Lich King is right in the middle of NaNoWriMo. This doesn't bode well for my word count...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Byte: Virtual crime, real-world consequences.

I think this deserves a ride on the ROFLcopter.

Byte: The Great DRM Debate

I picked up Far Cry 2 for my PC yesterday (I've only played about 40 minutes worth, so I won't go into the game yet), and when I installed it my anti-virus protection flagged up a warning - it thinks SecuROM is a trojan. The Prosecution rests, mi'lud.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Byte: The calm before the storm

In an hour or two, Videogamer are going to be posting an extended version of my Warhammer Online polemic as a "second opinion" comment piece, since I'm one of the few critics actually willing to call the game out so emphatically for having terrible PvE content (and a few other things besides). If, by chance, you've followed the link from the article to here, before you start with the flames (and be nice - abusive comments will not be moderated kindly) I'd like to state at this point that I knew WAR was PvP/RvR biased before I bought the game. And I'd like to stress that as well. This wasn't a freebie, I paid good money to play the game, so I'm entitled to my opinion. The fact that I knew WAR was heavily balanced towards player-versus-player does nothing to change the fact that the PvE sucks. Anyone who thinks differently is either a) deluded or b) Korean. The PvE in WAR is RUBBISH, bordering on atrocious. WoW's PvE content doesn't just grind it to dust underneath its boot, it sweeps it up into a little box afterward and throws it into the fire.

If you love WAR with all your little black heart, I'm happy for you, really. It's just not the type of MMORPG I like to play, and I think it's the duty of any journalist to put information out there that might stop people who've only read the "WAR makes WoW look shit" stuff from getting the wrong impression about the game and wasting their money. I will be the first to say that WAR does PvP better than WoW. But not all WoW players like to PvP. I know I don't, and out of WoW's 10+ millions of subscribers, I bet a fair percentage of those don't bother with PvP either. So if they were going to buy WAR without knowing that the PvE is not even close to that which you find in WoW in terms of coherence or quality, that's a lot of money being thrown down the toilet that could have better been spent on other games they would enjoy.

Also note that I'm not saying that all the reviews are wrong and only my opinion is right. My opinion of the game is formed based on my innate preference for what I look for in an MMORPG. It's simply that what I looked for did not match what other reviewers were looking for, hence we've drawn different conclusions. I bought the game full well knowing that I probably wasn't going to like it. But I bought it anyway because I was willing to be proved wrong, and also because it's rather unfair to criticise something without actually having experienced it for yourself (a lesson half the internet needs to learn, I think). I just didn't expect the PvP bias to be so pronounced, nor the PvE and game world itself to be so lacklustre. And call me crazy, but I think people need to be told this, because firstly, it's the truth, and secondly, because if people are only seeing the press that says WAR is the only genuine competitor to WoW, they're going to buy it and find out that on at least one very large level, it's not. This can undermine trust in the whole system of games journalism - and even if I don't depend on it for a penny of my income, I don't want that.

I'm going to clad myself in ceramic tiles now and wait for the flames (or crushing indifference) of the internet to descend.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bark: One good link deserves another

Courtesy of beemoh, Brokers With Hands on their Faces.

It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that our pensions are going down the toilet with their bonuses...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bark: Serendipitous Happenstance

I had a really awesome day today. It started in a very unusual way. Today my lady, her padawan learner Ginnie (long story, don't ask) and I were headed into London, so the girls could do some shopping and I could do a bit of drawing with my buddy Mark and catch up with a couple of other friends. As we're buying our tickets at Woking station, I notice a guy standing quite near us having a cigarette. Normally, I wouldn't even give this kind of thing a second glance, except this time, I'm struck by something familiar...

A closer inspection reveals that this gentleman was, in fact, my old housemate from Leicester University, Neal, whom I haven't seen or heard hide nor hair of for no less than a decade. He didn't recognise me at first, since ten years is a very long time, and I've changed quite radically over the years (I've acquired glasses and put on a fair bit of weight), but after that initial shock of having an old friend you've not seen for years literally walk off the street back into your life, we struck up a conversation, found that we were sharing the same train into London and had a chat about what the heck we'd been up to for the last decade or so.

It turns out that Neal had been living just 20 minutes down the road from me for the last 6 years (also doing IT work, but for a different company) and that I'd probably passed him a hundred times while overtaking the commuter bus on the way into Farnborough and never known it. On the way into London we had a nice chat about the futility of DIY and home ownership, the virtues of old school arcade games like Defender and Robotron, and the corporate treadmill. It's one of the signs of a really strong sense of friendship when you can sit down with someone you've not seen in years and pick up from exactly where you left off as though it was yesterday. I was totally stoked to see Neal again, because he was probably the one person from my university days that I regretted most not keeping in touch with - not just because of our devotion to Sir Clive and his wondrous Spectrum - because we always got on well (not always something guaranteed when you share a student house) and had a lot of fun times at uni. So I give him my email and phone number and head off to do our separate things in London.

The girls head off to Camden while I hook up with Mark and do some terrible drawings of Egyptian and Greek sculptures in the British Museum, including a horrible, mutilated interpretation of a distressed horse's nostril (no, really) from one of the Parthenon sculptures. I really need to work on my proportions and spacial relationships when I'm sketching. As a slightly random aside, I muse to Mark that the British Museum is one of the most ironically named, since virtually nothing inside it is of British origin. It's mostly filled with antiquities from much more ancient cultures, such as the Mesopotamians, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, which the British stole at the height of their imperial power. It's a museum that should have a subtitle. The British Museum: Stolen in the Name of the Empire.

Unfortunately, Mark has to toddle off to do some work around 4pm, though that nicely dovetails with Paul and Chris turning up, with whom I decamp to a pub in Leicester Square, to have a couple of beers, while discussing the US election, the credit crunch and some of the sheer dunderheadness of modern macro-economics, with its derivatives, credit default swaps, securitisations and short selling. We concluded that economists all needed to be put up against the wall and shot, and that we should abandon money and replace it with leaves from trees, Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy style.

Then when the time came to go home, who should we bump into on the train? Neal again. I think that the statistical probability of this rates up there alongside winning the lottery. Maybe not the jackpot, but one of the top prizes surely. When you think about it, we could have gone ANYWHERE after leaving university. But instead, we both happened to be working in the same town (albeit for different companies), live less than 10 miles from each other and ended up taking two trains going to the same place on the same day, without either of us having foreknowledge that we would be there. As Harry Hill would say, what are the chances of that happening? And as Han Solo would say, don't tell me the odds - I don't care, I'm just glad that it did happen.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Byte: There is only poor

So, mindful that I've only got a few days left on my initial 30 day Warhammer Online subscription, I fire it up, trying to find some possible reason why I'd want to fork out a monthly fee to play it instead of World of Warcraft.

After waiting the inevitable five minutes for it to patch, the game loads, I skip the intro movie and I'm presented with the equally inevitable Terms and Conditions splash screen. I go to click the Yeah, whatever button and... it crashes.


Now, where did I put that uninstall button?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bark: What have I done?

I've signed up for this year's NaNoWriMo. I think I better get to work on my plot outline...

Byte: So much for checking my WoW-mail...

The size of the final Burning Crusade patch to get the client ready for the release of Wrath of the Lich King next month? 1.62GB. This might take some time...

Still, at least this means I get a free respec when I can finally log in again. I'd been meaning to swap Kalandra over to a Frost spec for a while now.

Byte: Evolution, not Revolution

My GTR Evolution review has gone up on today.

I really liked it loads - it's got one of the best virtual Nordschliefe's ever - prettier and even more unforgiving that the version in Forza Motorsport. I set my fastest ever lap time on it a week or so back in an F3000 single-seater: 6 minutes 34.6 seconds. That's pretty darned good, considering the track is 13 miles long (an average speed of near-as-dammit 120mph). And that was with a few scruffy corners, as well. The track's so awesome to drive, it's worth buying the game just for that alone.

Though I hope they upgrade the graphics engine for the next release. It's the only thing holding it back from a 9/10.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bark: Renounciation

I'm temporarily renouncing alcohol, because I seriously need some healthier addictions right now. Left to my own devices on Saturday I got through no less than seven pints of lager and a bottle of wine, which is pretty excessive, even for me. With everything happening right now (the general worldwide capitalist democracy is falling apart thing, work being the dull, but financially remunerating time-sink that it is) I've been getting quite depressed lately and the beer isn't exactly helping. In fact, I'm fairly sure that it's contributing rather significantly to my immune system being in the (metaphorical) toilet, me not being able to sleep (despite being constantly tired), my attention span being around the Planck Time and otherwise feeling generally pretty sorry for myself.

So I'm giving up the sherberts for a couple of weeks to see what difference it will make. The alternative seems to be dyeing my hair green, finding some white face paint and stalking the local neighbourhood with my ninjaken and collection of cooking knives until I find the nearest armed response unit... as fun as that might be, it's a little on the dangerous side for a coward like me. Well, you know the saying: "There are old heroes and bold heroes, but there are no old, bold heroes." Heroes die. Cowards live to run away another day. If that's not a mantra worth living by, I don't know what is...

So, yes. Suggestions for non-chemical, non-habit-forming addictions to the usual address, please. Alternatively, the email of a good psychotherapist will do.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bark: Compulsory viewing

If you've not been watching Amazon with Bruce Parry lately, (what a) shame on you. Parry is a terrific presenter, like Michael Palin in his self-effacing, mildly whimsical, but insightful style, only rather more macho. You wouldn't get Michael Palin hunting caimans (illegally) on the Amazon or jumping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty river (though Palin did write a song about that).

The series has been terrific so far, with Parry doing just about everything from taking psychotropic drugs in tribal rituals to playing football in drag (and being sent off in the process). Very entertaining, and hugely informative - undoubtedly one of the best things on TV at the moment.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Byte: WAR! Huh? What's all the fuss about?

I've been playing a fair bit of Warhammer Online over the weekend and, well, you know all those Warhammer Online Angry Internet Men who get inordinately annoyed if people call WAR a WoW-clone? They're actually right. It's no World Of Warcraft. It's nowhere near as good.

Firstly, it's laggy as hell - I've not found a server that doesn't feel like wading through three feet of treacle. Secondly, a frame rate would be nice. The game doesn't even look that good: textures are gritty and drab, the polycount hardly rivals Crysis and it's not really going overboard on the special effects, either - so why the hell is the frame rate so poor? Thirdly, the animation is risible. With WoW I'm used to combat animations where staff thrusts don't sync properly with the actual hit rolls, but with WAR it's even laggier, and the less said about the ranged weapon animations the better. The Witch Elves' throwing knives are invariably totally invisible (the animation doesn't fire at all) and the arrow animation for the High Elf Shadow Warrior is beyond hilarious - the arrow arcs twenty feet up into the air before coming back down onto the target, even if he's only standing eight feet away. I know I only have a degree in Physics, but I'm fairly sure that arrows don't fly like that... Fourthly, queues. Server queues, RvR queues... I waited an hour to get into the Khaine's Embrace battleground, only for the whole thing to be over in five minutes, because the team balance was so poor, we (Destruction) had no healers at all and the Order side were roughly 50% healers (on average about 3 or 4 levels above our players, too). How annoying is that?

Beyond that, the game is totally grind-tastic, and the much-vaunted Public Quest system, while fairly neat, has a couple of flaws as well. Namely, unless you want to get totally screwed over by the loot rolls after you finish the third stage of the quest, you have to wait in the PQ area and grind through all three stages. Which, depending on how many players filter through the area, could take an hour or more. Oh, and I really don't like the interface. Surely it won't be long before half of it is modded out of existence.

There are a couple of things I like - the Tome of Knowledge is good, if mostly superfluous, and the way you can mark quest objectives with the general area you need to be in on the map is useful, and if you just want to play something where you can watch a dark elf run around in her bra and knickers, there's surely no finer game - but I'm not convinced by the game world yet. It's too compartmentalised by far - almost reminiscent of RF Online in that way - at least with WoW you have quest mobs intermingling and spreading over a larger general area. I'm also not that keen on the art style, either. It doesn't grab you by the lapels and shake you shouting "this is awesome, look at me!" Most of the opening map areas in WoW have a sense of wonder about them that transcends the polycount. WAR on the other hand isn't that vibrant and feels dull by comparison.

It's still early days, of course, but there hasn't really been anything I've seen so far that would convince me to subscribe. I'm going to stick with it for a while yet - I've still got to see a capital city yet, and I'm told that's where things start to get impressive - but I don't think that this is my kind of MMORPG. Still, it fills in the time until Wrath of the Lich King comes out, so that's okay.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Byte: How Not To Make A Second Impression

With my Enhanced Edition of my Witcher review neatly out of the way (I'll link when it goes up, probably at some point next week), I tried again to get started with Warhammer Online. Regular readers will know that my first attempt did not exactly go swimmingly.

Today though, at least I was able to register an account and activate my CD Key. All systems stop, here's an 821MB patch to download before you can even get started. To be fair, at least the patch didn't take too long to download - about an hour on my 2MB broadband. So I start up, watch the intro movie (which appears to have been cut down to be more kiddie friendly than the original - the fire mage doesn't get run-through the chest by the Black Orc, for example), create a Dark Elf Sorceress on Karak Hirn so I can hopefully spend my first 30 days with the Rock Paper Snotling crowd, and... the server goes down before I can even take my first quest...


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Bark: Introduce a Little Anarchy

If you're the kind of guy (or gal) (or non-gender-specific cypher/hermaphrodite) who likes film soundtracks, you need to buy this album. Really. I'm not crazy. No. No, I'm not.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bark: Meltdown Monday

Wow. Well, I wasn't expecting that.

Personally, I'm delighted. I don't see why ordinary taxpayers should have to bail out the greedy idiots who built empires based on massive levels of debt and unregulated risks. Could this be the beginning of the end for the capitalist free market? I doubt it, but I would bloody well hope so. And as an extra bonus tonight, it's causing the oil price to plummet, which is great news for people like me and bad news for oil-men like George W. Bush (not to mention OPEC).

This kind of backlash and collapse was inevitable: you can't build a sustainable economic system that requires larger and larger profits every year for companies to be viable in the eyes of the stock market. Where do they think this money is going to come from? This kind of model is inherently inflationary to the point where eventually the cost of living gets so high that people can't afford to keep a roof over their head or put food on the table - hence why the financial markets in the US in particular are disintegrating right now. Corporations have become so focussed on keeping the stock market happy and driving up their profits that they've forgotten that the real purpose of business is to provide a service, and if people can't afford to buy that service, you have no business and fucking deserve to go under. That's what's so disgusting about all the bail outs of the credit crunch. The little guy gets screwed bailing out the failures and never gets to see anything back. But the people who drove these institutions into the ground get golden parachute pay-offs - here, have a couple of million and get to fuck. You think, shit, I'm in the wrong line of work, if only I could get paid for fucking up like that!

Let the banks burn. Fuck the greedy bastards, they've been lining their pockets with our cash for years. Maybe this time they'll learn from their mistakes and build a system that doesn't prey on vulnerability and thrive on greed, and actually rebuild the market into something that's fairer and sustainable in the long term.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Byte: Warhammer Online: Age of Reloading

So, not only does WAR have the slowest game install of just about anything I've played in recent memory, their frakking website won't connect to the registration database, meaning that even after you've spent thirty or forty minutes installing 15-odd gig from two DVDs, you can't even play the game... and that's before we even get to the point of running up the client and downloading the inevitable patch. And what's worse is that they have the temerity to blame your internet connection for the error.

This is not a good start. And this is not a review copy or anything. I spent actual money from my own pocket on this. Not impressed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bark: Dead Man Talking

I'm fascinated and appalled by politics in equal measure. I think it's the duty of everyone to be interested in politics, because if you don't show any interest, get informed and get out and vote, you basically lose any right you have to whinge about whichever bunch of incompetent reprobates are currently forming your government. Today sees Gordon "Dour" Brown fighting for his political life at the Labour Party Conference.

I'm a bit schizophrenic about this guy, really. Firstly, you have to admire his drive and ambition - the ruthlessness with which he's relentlessly pursued the top job in British politics. But, contrariwise, he's shown himself to not be up to the job in just about every way: lack of vision, lack of judgment, lack of charisma... it must be utterly galling to have devoted your life to the pursuit of the one job you so desperately, desperately want, only to find out that once you have it, you totally suck at it. That's irony so delicious Gordon Ramsay could put it on his dessert menu at Claridge's.

The Labour party is dead in the water right now. They may talk about polls being one thing and elections being another, but this country has being going down the toilet for years now - they can't just blame it on economic turbulence (the new "it's not our fault" catch-all of our time). I love the way that governments still blame the previous administration for all societal ills - you know, it's not like they didn't have ELEVEN YEARS to fix it...

The worst thing though, is that even if we vote out Labour at the next election, what alternative do we have? The Tories? David Cameron is a slimy fucking cipher. What is it about modern society that wants our political leaders to look and act like fucking game show hosts? Tony Blair, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and Nicolas Sarkosy in France, they're all cut from the same bolt of vapid cloth flannel, which they use to buff the turds of their crappy little ideas and ideals until they shine under to media spotlight.

I also love the way politicians talk about "change", and then they immediately do the same old shit that the last government did, just with a different sticker on the box. Or, if they do change things, it's from bad to worse. Whenever I hear politicians blithering on about change, I'm always brought back to this eeriely prophetic piece of satire by The Onion that was written when Dubya was first elected.

Brown was saying today that the current economic climate meant that it was "no time for a novice". Like all your fucking "experience" didn't help get us into this mess in the first place. And the thing that really makes me laugh is the line about being "the rock of stability upon which people can stand", well Gordon, we've always known you've got a heart of stone so you're halfway there already.

Man, I should stop listening to Bill Hicks albums. I'm just about outta hope for the human race here....

Bark: Idiots

And this year's winners of the Most Ironic Darwin Award are... the South African couple mown down on a train track while trying to add to the gene pool.

No further comment necessary.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bark: Weight penalty

My arms hurt. The pain was worth it, though, because I went karting at the weekend for a friend's birthday. I got to put some of those driving madskillz I gained through all those hours spent on playing racing simulators into practice, and I did pretty well, all told. I didn't utterly blow the rest of the party (there were 11 of us driving), and narrowly missed out on a podium. Not because I'm a slower driver than they are, but mainly because I'm a huge, 15 stone Scottish bull, and the guys who came ahead of me were a good three or four stone lighter than me. I was only 0.4 of a second off the quickest lap time, and when you consider I had around 20 kilos on the fastest guy, I was pretty competitive.

In case you're wondering why I'm blathering on about why being a fat pig is bad for motor racing, well, when was the last time you saw a porky Formula One driver? Weight and racing cars (or karts) do not mix. It's a simple equation: F = ma, where F is the force of the engine, m is the combined mass of the driver and car, and a is the acceleration. F is constant for all the karts, since they all have the same 160cc engines, which means that the acceleration of the kart is dependent upon the weight of the driver/car combination. Obviously, the weight of the kart is going to be consistent across everyone who's racing as well, so it's the weight of the driver which makes the difference here. It was worst when we all had to stop after someone span out or hit the barrier and the race director had to put the red lights on to stop everyone while the marshals sorted them out. I lost so much time on the re-starts, because I wasn't able to accelerate from a standstill so quickly as everyone else, so I had to really make the most of being rather braver (or stupider) in the corners and using the one advantage a heavier weight did give me, better roadholding around the hairpins, meaning I could take them slightly faster than everyone else.

It was brilliant fun, and I really ought to do it more often, but driving a kart really does bring home how much you get spoiled by driving cars with power steering. With a kart you're directly hooked up to the wheels, and you have to steer with brute strength alone. After about 10 minutes of vibration and violent changes of direction, it's all you can do to hold onto the wheel anymore. On the last couple of laps in the 15 minute sessions, you're almost begging for them to throw the chequered flag because your forearms and wrists ache so much. When I got into the car on the drive home I was all like "oooh, the wheel turns! steering doesn't hurt! wow!"

I'm going to try and persuade my project manager to take us for a corporate day to Buckmore Park next time we go on a team-building jolly. I'm not sure if that one will fly, but if you don't ask, you don't get.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bark: Apocalypse Delayed

I told you it wouldn't work.

Byte: A veritable hive of activity

Well, I'm a busy little bee at the moment. Not only is work its usual charming self, but after a wait of what seems like years, the review copies are finally starting to flow again. My S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky review went up yesterday, but there's no rest for the wicked, since that simply prompted the arrival of my "your eyes only" press copy of The Witcher Enhanced Edition, which has to be the loveliest, shiniest games package I've ever seen. As if that wasn't enough to keep me busy, I also picked up GTR Evolution from Steam, which I want to review, because it's easily one of the best racing simulators in years, and it has the added bonus of an immaculate recreation of the Nurburgring Nordschleife.

The 'ring has been my favourite race track since I first played Project Gotham Racing 2, and this version of the Nordschleife is incredible: running at 70+ frames a second, the corners flow towards you with almost supernatural speed, giving you the full sense of its thrilling, horrifying majesty - driving it you can understand why Sir Jackie Stewart dubbed it The Green Hell. Though for me, being able to drive it at speed in safe simulation, it's more like asphalt heaven.

Also arriving today was The Force Unleashed, on Wii, though that's not a review copy - I got this purely because I'm a Star Wars fanboy, and even though the reviews for the Wii version haven't been terrific, it's still worth a punt, if only for the control system. Basically, I'm not interested in playing a Jedi/Sith game these days unless you can thrash your arms about like an epileptic octopus when you're fighting with a lightsaber. I'll be playing that a little later tonight after I put a little time into The Witchier. The Enhanced Edition certainly appears to be enhanced across the board. Even the intro movie (which was already spectacular) has been revamped and extended, but it's the reduced level loading times and the improved inventory that have caught my eye so far. I've only played through the prologue and a little of chapter one so far in my replay thus far, but already the script shows some dramatic signs of improvement, and some of the voiceover work is much better as well: Leo, the sacrificial lamb of the prologue, sounds much more like a fledgling warrior and less of a whiny little kid this time around. The Witcher was one of my favourite games from last year, so it will be nice to see how it stands up now, the best part of a year later. Expect to see a review going up in the next week or so.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bark: The House of Cards collapses

The US Financial Market goes into meltdown.

Am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that we've got all these banking institutions going broke? The banks are supposed to be repositories that hold pretty much all of the world's wealth, yet they're all in debt? To each other? Where does all the money actually go?

It just strikes me as an exercise is moving numbers from one spreadsheet to another (something I know rather a lot about, considering it's my job in the management reporting team I'm part of). None of this money actually seems to exist - it's all credit being shifted around from one column in some database to another, and now, finally, the system is beginning to collapse under its own weight. The whole financial market has spent the last few years making money by simply creating products that shift risk around the system from one institution to another in a recursive loop, with the risks and liabilities getting larger and larger, which was fine while the proles can keep taking out credit and spend like good little consumers, but the minute things start to get squiffy, OHMYGODITSDISASTER.

Isn't it amazing, how we trumpet capitalist democracy as the ideal economic and government model for the entire world, when events show it to be so incredibly fragile that the merest sign of market instability causes the entire system to shake apart. Of course, some clever dick dealers (fucking rapacious, opportunist sharks that they are) will just use this as an opportunity to prey on the weaknesses of the vulnerable institutions and make money from the fire sales as the companies going under sell off their remaining assets. Greed is good? For years it was the motto of the world financial system. Now, it doesn't look so clever from where I'm sitting...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Byte: A Kindly Warning

Do not play Trials 2 after a few beers. I can guarantee you that after an hour's play you will want to smash your PC into little pieces.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Byte: Funny old game

One of the nastiest things in the early part of UFO: Enemy Unknown is when you have managed to shoot down a Sectoid Terrorship before it reaches its target and you have to do a recovery mission on it. Admittedly, it's better to do it that way than actually let them do the terrorism, but tackling a Sectoid Terrorship in any circumstances is a pretty hideous proposition. This is mainly because of the Cyberdiscs: evil, damnably accurate miniature UFOs, which have the nasty habit of blowing up everything within a 20 yard radius when you kill them. And there can be anything between one and six of them on the ship. Nice.

But the worst thing about recovering a Sectoid Terror Ship in the early part of the game is the Sectoid Leader. You see, Sectoid Leaders have psionic attacks, and until you capture and research one (and can then consequently research Psionic Laboratories), you have absolutely no idea of which soldiers under your command might be vulnerable to psionic attack. So you've got to take the ship as quickly as you can and nail the leader, otherwise it can mind control parts of your squad, meaning that you have to electro-pod them into submission (assuming you have a medikit to revive them again - since if they don't wake up again before the mission ends, they get counted as an alien and you lose the soldier), ignore them, try to get out of their line of sight and hope they don't throw a grenade at you (though I tend to get all my soldiers to dump their grenades as soon as I discover it's a Sectoid Terrorship - I've learnt the lesson of the badness of having people keep hold of them when they can be mind controlled the hard way), or you have to shoot them yourself, on the principle that it's better to lose one soldier than five.

It's a horrible sound, that squeeee! of a psionic panic or mind control attempt, but it can occasionally make me inadvertently smile, basically because my soldiers are all named after people I know, and I've got a very twisted sense of humour. Like so:
Dan Griliopoulos is under alien control
"Huh... You know, I always suspected. Must be something to do with that premature greyness..."
Richard Cobbett has gone berserk
"Tsk. Well that's not out of character at all. What set him off this time? Has Uwe Boll bought the rights to make a System Shock film?"
Mark Kelly has panicked
"Bloody pansy."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bark: Money-grabbing fuckwits

Cartels are such a wonderful thing. The biggest one of the lot, OPEC, decided that the price of oil dropping below $100 a barrel yesterday, for the first time in months, is obviously not lining their pockets thickly enough. So what have they done? Cut production to prop up the price.

Did it not occur to them that the reason demand for oil has plummeted worldwide is because no-one can afford to buy the stuff anymore? And if people can't afford to use and fill up their car now, how is restricting supply to keep the price high going to help? It's not like the price of a barrel of oil has ever really been representative of the actual cost of getting it out of the ground and distributing it - recall that oil prices were less than a quarter of what they are now before we blundered into Iraq and destabilised the biggest oil producing region in the world. I have also never grasped quite why the price of natural gas should be connected to that of oil, either, given that they're essentially two completely separate supply chains. It's like linking the price of tomatoes to the price of apples.

The truth of the matter is this: pretty much everyone but the rich are getting financially squeezed by the high price of oil, because it has such an inflationary effect to the whole of the economy. The price of oil drives fuel and food costs, and if you're given the choice between using your car or being able to afford to eat this week, I'm pretty sure most people are going to take the food option and leave the car parked up.

I understand they've got a finite resource and they want to make as much money as they can while they still have it (good old capitalism, eh?), but OPEC's greed is pricing themselves out of their only market. I'm no expert in economic theory, but even I know that if you want to make money, it helps if people can actually afford to buy your product. OPEC are lucky in the respect that they've literally got the world over a barrel - the economy needs oil irrespective of whether the average man on the street can afford to fuel up their car or not, but I do hope consumers leave the car at home more often, tell OPEC to go fuck themselves and teach them a lesson in consumerism - a product is only worth something if you can sell it.