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.

Byte: The First Casualty of War is Friendship

I've been replaying UFO: Enemy Unknown since they put the X-Com series on Steam last week. Tonight I suffered my first casualty. At the beginning of the game I tend to assign my best soldiers the heavy weapons: rocket launchers, heavy cannons and autocannons. So obviously, they're the ones I have most faith in to do most damage, and as regulars will already know, I name my soldiers after friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Richard was a bit miffed when he found out that he got wounded in my last game of Terror From The Deep. I've got worse news now, buddy... You got blown up by an alien grenade during a crash recovery of a Sectoid Terrorship. There wasn't even a body to take back for burial with full military honours. Sorry about that, old boy. There was nothing I could do... well, except reload, but that would be cheating. Rest assured I will make the alien scum pay!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bark: The Big Fizzle

Tomorrow is the big turn-on day for the Large Hadron Collider. Since very few people paid attention in school and actually have a grasp of Physics that surpasses your average fence-running squirrel, there's been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about how the LHC might create miniature black holes. Stephen Hawking puts the probability at about 1%, but that's not stopped the Doomsayers from predicting the End of the World.

But the funniest thing I've seen on the topic is this video, courtesy of Richard.

I don't want to say anything too libelous here, but, jeez, this guy shouldn't have skipped so many Science classes in school. I love the contention that Scientist = Freemason. Do you think I should bring this up if I ever get pulled over by the Police for speeding? Though they didn't tell me which Masonic lodge I belonged to when I picked up my Physics degree certificate... funny that.

The one of the best parts is where he tries to explain what a dimension is, and gets it all horribly wrong. So Earth and Space exist in two completely different dimensions, eh? Umm... NO. No they don't. It's a common misconception that people talk about "alternative dimensions" when in fact they mean "alternative realities". Dimensions are your reference system for existence, a co-ordinate system in which we are able to perceive four dimensions (length, height, depth - the three spatial dimensions - plus time). And the four dimensions we all know about might not actually be the whole story. Supersymmetry theory predicts as many as 11 dimensions. The maths gets too complicated for most mortals (including myself) to get their heads around, but it's a neat theory - as is superstring theory, both of which the LHC experiment will hopefully be able to shed some light on.

I also think it's terrific how he dismisses the micro-black hole End of the World theory, but for all the wrong reasons. Someone should explain to this guy how mass-energy equivalence works.

But the best bit of all is the wondrous blithering on about the Van Allen Belt. Basically, they are two doughnut-spaced volumes of energised particles that have been trapped in Earth's magnetosphere, just beyond geosynchronous orbit. They are certainly radioactive and would be damaging (even lethal) if you loitered around long enough in them, but they're not impenetrable by any means. I also love the way he doesn't explain how the LHC would punch a hole in them, either. Never mind the fact that entire accelerator is underground and doesn't have an emitter. And the less I say about "strange flesh" and black holes being "satanic", the better...

I thought we'd left this kind of monumental ignorance back in the Dark Ages, but apparently not. And now these cranks have access to the internet. Just goes to show you how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

I have my own predictions about what will happen tomorrow at Cern, and they're a little more mundane than The End of the Worldtm or the descent of the Nephilim sparking off Armageddon.

Specifically, absolutely nothing will happen. They're not even going to be starting experiments until later in the year, tomorrow they're just testing the accelerator and the detectors. And since these are the largest, most complicated and expensive machines devised in the entire history of Mankind, they're destined not to work first time. Seriously, this is a Physics experiment, and when have you ever known one of those to work first time? Certainly not in my (admittedly modest) academic career.

I can pretty much guarantee that something or other will break and then it will take them six months and another half a billion dollars to fix... Still, I hope it works, because the science behind it is impossibly cool.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bark: The Dark Knight

I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight tonight. Here's the short, spoiler-free version for those who haven't seen it yet: Absolutely bloody brilliant.

Now for the spoiler-filled analysis...

I think this probably rates as my favourite Batman film. Heck, beyond that, it rates as one of my favourite films from the last few years. I've been a fan of Christopher Nolan since Memento, and I did enjoy Batman Begins a lot when I saw it on DVD a few weeks back, but I wasn't quite prepared for how good The Dark Knight actually turned out to be.

There's been a lot of hype surrounding Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker, following his accidental death back in January, which is normally the kind of thing that would send my bullshit radar into hyperactive mode, but I have to say, having now seen the film, that all the hype is entirely justified. Ledger gives an edgy, uncomfortable performance of real dementation and menace best summed up by the early line "What does not kill you makes you... stranger." His Joker doesn't have Nicholson's bombast, rather a chilling, almost calculated madness: a measured, but extreme sociopathy, instead of a random, uncontrolled psychopathy. This will certainly be the role that Ledger will be most remembered for, not just because it was his final role (or rather the final role he completed filming), but because his presence, while arguably underused, totally permeates the film and gives it its rotten core. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. While Jack Nicholson's Joker was overblown and faintly ludicrous, this incarnation is much more believable as a real person, rather than a comic book stereotype. That's both credit to Ledger and the direction in which Christopher Nolan has taken the franchise.

I also really like Christian Bale in the role of Batman. He's well suited to playing the billionaire playboy and the brooding superhero. His Batman is more akin to the tortured version of the Tim Burton films than the flashy, camp Joel Schumacher Batmans, and again, the Bale Batman is a better rounded and more believable character.

As for the film itself, well, it's not quite perfect, it's maybe a good twenty minutes too long, but it's so densely plotted that it's difficult to know what you'd cut. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Heat (clearly a good thing in my opinion) in terms of pacing and the quality and depth of the cast, though obviously The Dark Knight has a lot more set pieces. I particularly enjoyed the opening bank heist, the abduction scene in Hong Kong and the interrogation scene, and the set piece where the Joker is trying to kill Harvey Dent in the armoured car is very nicely done. The cast is uniformly excellent (though I've never really seen the appeal of Maggie Gyllenhall and was quite pleased - if surprised - that they killed her off) and the overall pacing of the film is good.

There were a couple of big stand-out moments for me, and they all centred around the Joker. The first is the "magic trick" with the pencil when the Joker goes to speak to the criminal convocation. It's not done graphically at all, but the implication is there and pretty hideous. It really made me wince, and question how the film got a 12A certification. It's not the kind of thing you really want to let a young kid kid see. The "Why so serious?" speech and conclusion is likewise done non-graphically, but is pretty questionable for a 12A film. In a 15 certificate, fine, but imagine if you're a parent bringing an 8 or 9 year old to see the film and you had to explain to them what just happened... Other moments I liked were the Joker's conversation with Two Face in the hospital, his escape plan from the police station (especially the way he goaded the detective into fighting him so he could get out of the interrogation cell) and stand-off between the two booby-trapped ferries.

It will be interesting to see how the move the franchise on in the next film, since it's pretty much unimaginable to see anyone else in the role of the Joker now. Of course, they've still got plenty of other villains to play with, but it will be amazing if they manage to top The Dark Knight.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Byte: Oh, happy day

Spore just arrived with the lunchtime post. What is this? Spore AND Steam-powered UFO: Enemy Unknown IN THE SAME DAY??

I may just explode. This is the best day evar since Half-Life 2 and a brand new PC arrived at my door within two hours of each other.

Byte: Nothing will get me down today

My copy of Spore hasn't turned up yet. But I am not down, I am excited! I am thrilled! Why, you say? Because they've only just gone and put the entire X-Com collection on Steam!

Well, that made my week.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Byte: How *not* to make a first impression

I got my review copy (and I'm not going to dignify that backronym nonsense by typing it) of Stalker: Clear Sky yesterday. I installed it last night and gave it a quick run before work this morning. This is how it went:

Skip all the futile company logo movies... Okay, main menu...
Video options, sound options, invert mouse... new game... Sorted.
Hmm, that's a fairly ugly intro movie. Far too grainy and drab.
Blah, blah, blah, exposition, exposition... I might actually get to take control at some point...
Ah, here we go. Oh my word, what happened to the frame rate? And the anti-aliasing isn't even on.
Video menu... tone down the settings... okay, let's see.
Oh, that's novel. A black screen filled with multicoloured artifacts. There goes the rendering engine. I haven't seen a screen like this since I crashed my ZX Spectrum playing Turrican....
Oh, speaking of crashes, there goes Windows.
Restart game. Load from save. Oh my. It's a completely white screen now. Let's try that again... exit game. And there goes Windows again.
I think I'll wait for a patch...

The original Stalker was fairly flaky on my machine (bearing in mind that I can run something like Mass Effect at full whack with no issues at all on my rig), but this is way beyond that.

Early days, for sure, but this does not bode well for my review.

Bark: Insult and Injury

I went to the gym on Tuesday night for the first time in a couple of weeks. Big mistake. I overdid it on the cross-trainer and tore my left calf muscle. So now I can barely walk. Just as well I do a job that allows me to sit down all day then, huh? Except now I have a problem: it's past lunchtime and I'm hungry. There's nothing in the fridge, we're out of bread and I really don't fancy doing a quick shopping run, because of the roadworks that are handily placed between my flat and the supermarket... It's going to be a long afternoon.

Byte: Buffing Chrome

Google beat a retreat on their Chrome EULA. Thank goodness some people actually do read the small print.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Byte: Shiny Chrome

If you're a hardened tech-head like me, it won't have escaped your notice that Google have released the beta version of their browser, Chrome. If you don't know much about it, I suggest you read the comments thread on the BBC's first impressions article.

Obviously, coming from a large, wewanttotakeovertheworldinanevilcorporationykindofway corporation like Google, there are going to be some rather worrying things in the EULA - I particularly don't like the part which says:

"By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through, the services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the services and may be revoked for certain services as defined in the additional terms of those services." - essentially, "we can use whatever you post using the program how we like, and we don't need to pay you a penny... cheerskthx." Now, for most people that's not really an issue - and hell, Google already read my email to spam me with adverts and run the servers this blog is hosted on, but I'll be damned if I give them my photos to use in perpetuity, free of charge as well. So I won't be using Chrome for anything even mildly creative, but in terms of actual internet browsing, there's a lot to like.

It's not perfect yet by any means - when I was experimenting with it earlier today it was having trouble with Flash sites in particular (though obviously not with YouTube, since it falls under the Google Umbrella), and clearly no-one has done any tailoring for the browser yet, so there are a few formatting issues knocking around, but there are quite a few things that I thought were well implemented.

Firstly, the search/URL bar is rather nice - even if it is a clone of the Firefox 3 "Awesome Bar", and I really like the minimalism of the interface. I detest browsers that are 80% toolbar and 20% browsing pane, so Chrome's slender window frame is a joy. The "Most Visited" homepage is nice, though I prefer the version that Opera has, which allows you to pick your favourite favourites (so to speak) - Chrome does it rather more dynamically, which is cool from a functionality perspective, but I'm not so sure about the practicality of it yet. It might grow on me. The Incognito functionality (which hides cookies, searches and URLs from general view on your PC) is very nice if you don't want your wife/girlfriend/mother (delete as appropriate) to find out about your furry slash fiction habit (No. Just no.), and I like the caveat on the "what is Incognito mode?" page about how it's not a total safeguard for the privacy of your surfing habits and how you still need to be wary of people standing behind you... Someone at Google has a sense of humour.

So, a promising start for a beta version. My initial impressions are pretty good, though I won't be dumping Firefox just yet. However, I can see myself using it on my work machine for general surfing purposes, if only because most of the people in my office won't recognise the layout of the window yet... Though since I work from home three days a week, it's not that much of a problem to begin with.

Byte: The drought abates

I've just received the email telling me that my copy of Spore is in the post. I think that deserves a "yay".


Byte: In Space, no-one can hear you scream... how bad the level design is.

My Space Siege review is up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Byte: Back in the saddle

I finished writing my first game review since June last night. It's really been a lean year in terms of PC games worth writing about, but at least now the release schedule is starting to pick up and there are a few things coming out that I'm interested in, which I'm actually being asked to look at.

The subject of my latest review (which should be going up on Videogamer in the next few days) is Space Siege. The reviews so far have been fair to middling, and I don't think I'll be rocking any boats if I say that my review isn't going to buck the trend. I knocked off the game (seeing both endings) in a couple of nights solid play, and I have to say, it's an odd little game. As you'd expect from a Chris Taylor game, it's got quite a few interesting ideas but, unusually, it really fails to deliver on them in just about every area. Maybe it's because the studio was giving all their development love to the Xbox 360 version of Supreme Commander and Demigod. That said, it's strange how a game so flawed can still be so playable. While not up the standards of a genre classic, despite all the niggling problems with the design and script, it doesn't fall apart into an incoherent mess. It's the gaming equivalent of an electric blanket. Mechanically comforting, reassuring and unchallenging - it's fun in itself, but not in any way that pushes any boundaries at all.

One thing a lot of reviewers have picked up on is the control set. I was really going to beat up on that too, until I went out and acquired a copy of Dungeon Siege (£5 in my local PC World) and found out that it's precisely the same, though if anything, in Space Siege the controls are even more streamlined. Since I expect that the vast majority of people who buy Space Siege will have played at least one of the Dungeon Siege games, they should know what to expect from the controls, so I didn't criticise it nearly as harshly as I'd originally planned to. Anyway, I won't say more here, because that would mean you didn't have to read the full review, and where's the point in that? I'll link to the review when it's up.

Next up on the reviewing front is the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. prequel, Clear Sky. The original was a game I really tried hard to like, but never quite got on with. A bit like Oblivion, I could see the potential and the appeal, but it never quite gelled properly with me. I await to see what the expansion is like with some interest. I needed an excuse to have another go at the game, anyway. Beyond that, there's Spore (which I doubt I will be reviewing - one of the Videogamer staff writers is no doubt playing it as I type) and the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher, which I definitely will be reviewing. It's been a long time coming, but I'm looking forward to getting my grubby little paws on it, even if there is a certain irony to the possibility that one of my favourite games from last year could also turn out to be one of my favourite games from this year. Or it could be a sad indictment of the state of the PC games market right now... Anyway, I'll post links to the pieces as and when they are done.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Byte: On the move

This weekend I moved my Hunter Yonn from the Zenedar PvP server to Steamwheedle Cartel, which is an RP (role playing) server. Not because I want to particularly role play as a moonwalking, screecher owl-petting Night Elf with a crossbow, but because I've finally had enough of all the ganking that takes place on a PvP server.

It's not so bad at low levels, but once you get beyond level 60 and you're trying to quest in Outland, there's nothing worse than some level 70 frost mage swooping down on their flying mount and icing you in a couple of Frostbolts. Shareth may also be jumping ship fairly soon as well, as the Gnomies aren't really going anywhere as a Guild, and trying to do dailies on the Sunwell Isle when you haven't got Tier 5 Epic PvP gear is frequently an exercise in rapid, repeated death and frustration. At least Shareth already has her epic flappy mount, so doesn't need huge amounts of cash, but it would be nice to be able to grind cash and quest in peace. It would also be nice to be on a server where the trade chat isn't full of people doing "Anal [Rip]" spell-linking jokes. I use the term "joke" loosely...

RP servers are a little more strictly policed as to the level of off-topic chat, and from my initial forays so far, seem to be a little quieter (in terms of general chat level). I haven't tried partying up yet, so I can't speak for how easy it is to party up and do instances, but being able to quest in peace without being ganked is a strong lure, especially with Wrath of the Lich King waiting in the wings (I didn't get invited to the beta, dammit!). Of course, at £15 a throw, I'm not going to move all my characters off of PvP in one go (I have enough for a football team - that would get rather expensive). I'm going to wait until Licking comes out and see where all my journo-chums end up and crash that server with a couple of my more favoured characters.

I'm enjoying playing with my new(ish) Paladin and Warlock, but now that Yonn can quest without being repeatedly victimised in Outland, I may make a final push with him for level 70. I got Shareth to buy him his swift stormsaber and the requisite level of riding training, so though now he's out on his own, at least cash isn't going to be an issue until level 70, and then doing the Sunwell dailies shouldn't be as slow and tortuous as it was for Shareth. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the whole role playing thing, though. I might play Yonn as a deaf-mute. Or at least a mute, who solely communicates in the general game world using emotes and /me's to substitute for sign language. That could get quite fun...

Byte: Dev Humour

Did you know that the term "user" is an acronym? Ugly, Slow, Evil and Retarded.