Friday, April 23, 2010

New toy alert ...

I defected to the Dark Side ...

I've been a long time PC gaming nut, with my first one being a 486 based machine bought in 1994. That's back when system memory on a PC was smaller than the mp3 tune I'm listening to right now.

I've been disenchanted with the PC gaming world for a little while now. Rampant piracy has led to the best games migrating over to console. There's also the huge variety of hardware out there that gets in the way of what games PCs do get being stable. Stable is being able to run it for half an hour without it dying on you, or just even being able to complete the game. There's a game called Vampire Bloodlines which couldn't be completed out of the box due to bugs. Don't get me started on the Championship Manager/Football Manager series, a lot of those should not have been put on the market in the state they were released in. So many bugs it was ridiculous. Getting through a month of game time was an achievement.

Gone for the Xbox 360 with bundled Forza motorsport plus Final Fantasy XIII :-) Procrastination has helped, is cost me £20 less than if I'd gone for it last week.

Result !

First impressions. Hmm, glad I went for the shop nearer the car park. Thing weighs a tonne. Was having grave concerns that the plastic bag wouldn't survive the distance to the car.

Box contents : Xbox 360 Elite (250GB hard disc). Yellow/White/Red link up lead, power pack, 2 controllers with AA batteries, headset wot plugs into controller, FF XIII front that I have to figure out how to put on, SCART adaptor, network cable. No HDMI lead as expected but I've used my spare to act as hookup. No sense not going for max quality if it's available :-)

Games : Forza 3 and FF XIII. This is the reason I went Xbox in the end, dismissing Playstation 3. Good bundle of games that I'd play. The PS3 had game bundles but costing £60+ more for games I wasn't bothered about. Same goes for the Wii - nice console, shame about the games.

Set up is pretty easy. I looked at the book but there's really no need. You just hook it up and let it go. You could be playing games quite quickly, although a little imagination is needed for the Gamertag, your unique identifier. Emphasis being on "unique".

Not been on it that much yet. I tried Forza first - takes a little getting used to the control system, although it does make sense. Triggers for brake and throttle and a mini-joystick for steering. It's a bit savage and imprecise compared to a car but I don't think I'll be spending £££ on a separate wheel. Don't think I have to :-) I was winning races by the end of the session.

I used hunger as a motivation again ... Friday is bacon sarnie day, plus meetings meant I ate lunch in town at about 3pm. Which meant I wanted to leave dinner until after 8pm as a decent gap from lunch. Which got me just about enough Forza to get me hooked before my tummy attempted to leap up and strangle me. Driving games have definitely improved out of sight since Need For Speed 3 on my early PCs.

Heh heh heh - I feel the tug of Xbox again.

Few things I'll be looking to get for it :

Play & Charge pack. The wireless controllers come with 2x AA batteries (Duracell!). They won't last forever, hence the Play & Charge pack.
Improved network bits. There's currently a long lead hidden away that I'll use to connect up the Xbox. It's not good to have trailing leads across the floor, so I'll be looking into Ethernet Powerplug adaptors (a tip from a mate). Should be cheaper than the wireless Xbox adaptor and without the latency that wireless introduces.
Better sound. I have a widget I'll be picking up tomorrow morning that will hopefully give me a surround sound link.

I feel the Need. The Need. For Speed.

Back to Forza ! Or mebbe the Anime Girls of Final Fantasy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Felt a rant coming on

Back to work again and one thing that means is ... being exposed to Bristol traffic.

It's not a long trip into work (5 miles by the preferred route) but it can really bug ya. I have a few options as to what route I take in but they all have a few things in common :

Choke points.

You have your choke point on the roundabout that goes to the motorway (I go the other way). When that blocks, the traffic files back quite a distance. There's the choke point by the station which is caused by all the morons who rat run. That makes the traffic back up to another roundabout. And finally, there's the choke point on the roundabout by work. Gotta admit, smart sequencing of the lights means the last choke point isn't so bad.

What does make me swear in frustration though is that the choke points don't get identified properly ... Traffic will form at one point but it's being caused by inadequate roads a little further down the road. The planners we have around here don't seem to recognise that. They'll make changes in one place that will get made irrelevant by what happens 400 yards down the road. Like changes to the roundabout that goes to the motorway - the choke isn't there, it's in the next roundabout.

Traffic lights. That's what causes it. There's one of those crazy theories that says that traffic must stop at lights instead of going straight through. Bit of explanation there ... You get your green, you accelerate up to cruise at the speed limit and as you're coming towards the next lights, they'll start to turn red. It's not a luck thing, it's planned through timed sequences.

That's the crazy theory. All that stop start isn't good for keeping the traffic moving, to say nothing of making Green People bite their nails with the inefficiency of slowing down and speeding up.

(Muahaha - betcha never expected to see me pulling out the Green Eco friendly argument !)

So we see the roads being "improved" around here, good in theory but rubbish in practice because they target the wrong place to "improve" or they just plain get the plans wrong. One other not so crazy theory is that traffic planners don't drive.

And I haven't even started on the drivers !

Yellow hatched boxes are there for a reason. I think. Aren't they parking places ? They seem to be ...


Gotta do another admission there, I think I need to get that Xbox 360 so I can play Forza 3 to exorcise some of my own Demon Horned Driver Syndrome :-) What can I say ? I like driving fast :-) Or rather, I like going round corners way too quick.

More rant ! Darn election campaign. There's other stuff going on in the world people ... Although yet another admission there is that I'm currently watching the leaders debate seeing if one of the party leaders will earn my vote. And after 10 minutes, one of them definitely is earning a vote. Who is it ? Can't tell you. Muahaha ! We'll see who wins come the election.

Work is another thing that's causing the stress thing at the moment. We're currently figuring out the optimal way of managing things, which involves coordinating the efforts of a number of different organisations is various places around the country. A thinning budget means we can't do all the travel we'd like to do. There's no substitute for having eyes on the ground when it comes to saying if a product is up to the quality expected.

Wait. That's not quite right. By having quality people embedded in those locations, you can substitute their eyes for your's. Just gotta trust them to know what to look at. Which we do ! They're a good bunch of people and they give us the confidence to know that they're keeping a sharp eye out for us.

However, it's still better to look someone in the eye when you're talking to them instead of hearing crackly voice on the spiderphone. Work's going fine at the moment. We've got flexible enough management that they trust us to solve our own problems, without solutions being imposed from above. Figuring out how to work within the limits causes a bit of headscratch but it's nothing we can't handle.

It's a challenge, challenges make life worth living.

Oh - work also gets me around some wonderful people, including people like the Snow Queen and Sunshine. Even better now in my new desk is that I get a grin from them on their way past - previously I'd have my back to where everyone walks by. There's also the Rose with her quiet authority, the Dodgem Demon and her eternal sense of fun. Curious to see if the Princess will ever let her guard down, seen a few chinks in that armour but it always goes up again quickly.

Cos my role has changed, I won't see as much of the Angel and Lady P as before but they're another pair who can really brighten up the day with a big grin. And finally the Little Canteen Girl who has a gifted touch with those teacakes.

Bacon sarnie day tomorrow ! Always good to finish a post on something to look forward to.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Work gets money buys toys

That's a mantra I've gone by for a little while now ...

Back to work yesterday, to be honest I coulda probably had a shorter break and saved some of the leave for later. I get bored easy and that bored almost translated into buying stuff again. Managed to conquer the world again (Civ 4) and then went on to conquering the galaxy (Moo2) :

Peace Through Superior Firepower

That's definitely the Civ4 way, although it's a little unfair on the AI when you have your PowerGamer Human going up against the game with the human having tactics optimised through experience. In Civilisation, you win or lose the game depending on how quickly you can expand early. If your enemies leave you alone for long enough, a headstart can never be caught up. The computer definitely has problems with player optimised tactics in Moo2, although that's partly down to the player knowing how to best set up the ships. The AI goes a bit too much All Rounder instead of MaxMin.

MaxMin is a gamer term, where your side is put to the maximum in some aspects but crippled in others. An example would be Thrud the Barbarian (Conan is too smart!), where he's a mountain o' muscle with a peanut for a brain. A character like that in roleplaying can be fun because Playing Dumb can be a hell of a laugh. The problem comes when the character isn't roleplayed properly, like when the stats say the guy can barely read or write but the player has him solving crossword puzzles and other assorted mysteries.

I'm a supporter of powergaming, an adventurer will always try and be the best they can possibly be. A mage will want to destroy everything before him, a fighter will want to be the best with weapons and a healer will want to be as effective as possible at keeping their friends alive. That's powergaming, echoing an adventurer's desire to be the best they can be. Roleplaying powergaming is when you accept the weaknesses of the character as well as bringing out the strengths. Minmaxing takes powergaming a little too far, by ignoring those weaknesses.

I've digressed again by going into talking gaming !

Working gets money buys toys :

I'm dangerously close to spending money again ... PC gaming seems to be dying out. It's been a while coming, stats like 1 in 10 of games in the Far East being legal (the rest are pirated) get the attention of the publishers after a while. It leads to draconian anti-copy methods being introduced which only achieve a less satisfactory gaming experience. It's actually less hassle to play the pirate copy than the legally bought copy. (Lol - I'm going by what I hear there !)

The item I'll likely acquire is an Xbox 360, which will mean a dedicated PC gamer defecting over to the consoles ... It won't happen for a bit though, as I've just started a Dragon Age campaign in an attempt to finally work my way through that game. The PC is still an excellent gaming platform, mouse and keyboard make an excellent control method. They don't handle driving games that well though and I've missed playing a decent one of those since being addicted to racing the cops in Need For Speed Hot Pursuit many years ago.

Why an Xbox ? I'm intrigued by the Wii's control method but I just can't see any games for that platform which I'd be interested in playing. Playstation 3 is superior but more expensive (I may have to check that assumption again when the time comes). Xbox holds a middle ground where I'd go for Final Fantasy XIII (I'm a sucker for RPGs) and Forza 3 as starters.

Thoughts of defecting are probably being initiated by the failure of trying to do PC gaming on the telly. PC games are engineered towards you being 2-3 feet from the screen, being on the sofa 6 feet away doesn't work, plus having keyboard and mouse on your lap in front of telly isn't that comfy.

So - no toys yet. Toys later. Probably after I save Ferelden from the blight :-)

PS Managed to get iTunes up to 1693 different tracks listened to over the past 4 weeks, a total of 4.7 days of music.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Branching out a little

Not been writing much here lately (bit of blog block and a case of Warstorm addiction on Facebook !) but I have been continuing an editor role on the Eve alliance's newsletter.

It's been renamed the Voice of Volt and the latest issue is available for download here (linky to Volt's forums). Various real life things have meant that as time has gone on, some of the previous authors and editors have had to scale back their activity. Into the gap comes me (under the guise of Keela Danne) and a mate from work (ingame name Luth Curmal) who spend a lot of our lunchtimes talking Eve as we stroll around the site.

I'm not so much in game in Eve at the moment (think I still have traces of "Does Not Play Well With Others" going) but I still keep up with the Eve guys and the Violence Reborn (Warcraft) people via forums. Even if I do get that Does Not Play Well With Others which makes me avoid gaming with people, the forums (particularly VR) are a great reminder of how fun online gaming can be at its best.

It's not so much the going around in groups and beating things up - that can actually get quite tiresome very quickly if things aren't going well. No, it's the times when you can sit back, have a natter and see all the crazy stuff come out in chat. It helps to have a good game under there too. Warcraft was a very strong game but they have effectively reset the game every time they do an update. The fun disappears when you know all the frustration that goes into working for in game rewards is made null and void by the next expansion. An expansion you have to pay for.

Eve is different there. It has expanded over the years, with new facets being added to the game and facets that didn't work well being reworked. Like the territory system being completely reworked. It didn't change the map overnight (like Warcraft does) but the theory behind it (haven't seen it in practice) should have gotten rid of one of the more unpopular aspects of Eve, which is Starbase warfare. That said, I haven't been keeping up with the Eve galactic influence map so I haven't been tracking how often territory changes hands.

Doh - I been digressing again. Of the newsletter linked above, I wrote the Ship Previews section, started the Merchandise store part and did the proof reading. (Something sadly went amiss with the formatting, we'll look into that for next month ...)

Have a read, although I don't know how accessible it is for non gamers ...

Easter time - I'm currently enjoying a week off work, which has been coming for a little while now. I tend to throw myself into things, including the odd bit of banging head against wall when I'm trying to figure out things like New Job.

Main theme for this week is rest, relaxation, wiping out what I have recorded on the V+ cable TV box and trying to keep control on what I eat. Think I'm managing the diet reasonably well, although the 3 Easter eggs devoured so far probably don't agree. Haven't lost any weight mind, which is probably something to do with not exercising much. I have my new boots :-) A pair of Karrimor KSB reduced to £30. Need to break 'em in before Snowdon in under a month.

Cor blimey, this was supposed to be a quick, snappy "Newsletter Be Here" post and it's gone Wall Of Text again ...