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.