Archive for September, 2006

More XBox360 stuff

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Okay, played a couple more games since the last post:

Rockstar’s Table Tennis is pretty much the best hitting-a-ball-backwards-and-forwards-over-a-net game I’ve played since Virtua Tennis. And given that, having played VT to the point of almost insanity whilst we were doing the PC version, I still rate VT as pretty much the best sports game ever, that’s saying something. It’s perhaps a little less accessible than VT – the controls are a little overwhelming at first – but it’s got the same surprising depth to it given the apparent simplicity of the game mechanic. Each opponent has a distinct play style with their own weakness to exploit – and in turn, they will exploit weaknesses in your own play style. Graphically, obviously, it’s lovely, and there’s some really lovely touches in the animation (like the movement of the players’ clothes, and their facial expressions – the Japanese girl is irritatingly smug and self-satisfied when she wins a point). But ultimately, it’s that punching-the-air sense of satisfaction you get when you win smash home the ball to win after a 45-shot rally that really makes the game. Brilliant.

I downloaded the demo of Prey and had a quick run through. Mini-rant: Games developers, there are colours other than black and dark red; please use them as it otherwise means your games are impossible to play during the hours of daylight. Prey opens with probably the best choreographed intro ever – after a minute or so of chit-chat and beating up hicks in a bar, the emergency broadcast system suddenly comes in on the TV talking about “lights in the sky”, the jukebox kicks in and starts playing “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and all hell breaks loose as a massive alien spacecraft appears overhead, rips the roof off and starts beaming all the contents of the bar on board. It’s a shame, therefore, that after this it turns into a fairly typical first-person shooter, albeit one with a couple of nice twists – the ability to leave your own body and solve puzzles in the “spirit world”, and the playful manipulation of the level geometry by use of portals and gravity operating in directions you wouldn’t normally expect. Probably worth picking up, but I don’t think it’s a full-pricer.

The demo of F.E.A.R., on the other hand, left me a bit cold. It just didn’t click. Apparently, it’s hugely terrifying and atmospheric and that, but the demo is pure FPS-in-a-warehouse by numbers: the only terrifying thing in the demo is just how spectacularly derivative it all is. Disappointing.

Another disappointing demo was – and I’m going to get crucified for this – Lego Star Wars II. I’m sure it’s just because the demo just dumps you in a level without explaining what’s going on or telling you what you should be doing, but… well, it looks nice, sure, but it didn’t really grab me particularly, and I seem to have missed what everyone else in the world loves so deeply about it.

On the other hand, the Kameo demo – which didn’t receive the best reviews in the world on release and was a game I was hugely sceptical about – turned out to be really rather good. First, it looks really, really good: yes, it’s all uber-bright primary colours and cartoony design and it’s a bit cheesy, bit I defy anyone to watch it for a few moments without going “Okay, alright, it does look really bloody nice.” Obviously, looks aren’t everything, so it also helps that it’s a decent, solid platform adventure – it’s not going to set the world on fire in terms of originality or anything, but it does what it sets out to do well, and looks very pretty whilst it does it, and that’s good enough for me, and it being £19.99 in the Game sale was enough to secure a purchase. Lovely.

Genetic manipulation for fun and profit

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Hypoallergenic kittens. You’ll note that, although they claim they’ve achieved their results through what is basically a selective breeding programme, they don’t tell you what they did with all the many hundreds and thousands of non-hypoallergenic kittens they will have invariably produced during the selective breeding process. Somewhere, in a river close to their office, are a very large number of brown burlap sacks.

“Allerca – We kill kittens so you don’t have to sneeze so much”

New toy

Monday, September 25th, 2006

I finally gave in to peer pressure and bought myself an XBox 360. Behold the glory of my GamerCard(tm):


So, anyway, what’s it like? Very impressive, actually. I got Project Gotham Racing 3 with it, which is much the same as PGR2, except slightly prettier, but that’s no big surprise; I haven’t had a chance to look at Rockstar’s Table Tennis or Amped 3 yet, which are also littering up my game pile. So, the games are basically just prettied up versions of last gen games – no real surprise there – but that’s not what impressed me. There’s two big deals for me:

First, XBox Live is really very, very good indeed. Being able to download demos and movies of games from the console dashboard is a neat trick. The friends list (complete with little alerts that tell you when people come online) is great, the in-game achievements lends an extra level of interest to games that might otherwise less engaging games: all the stuff that PGR2 did so right with XBox Live has been carried over into XBox Live itself and integrated into the service. In addition, the ability to buy small arcade-style games over-the-air is cute, too, especially when these games are as compulsive as Geometry Wars.

The other big deal for me is Media Center Extender – I built myself a new PC a couple of months back, initially basically just to play World of Warcraft at more than 3fps, but because Windows Media Center Edition was only a few quid more than XP Home, I got that and a TV card a couple of weeks later, and I’ve been raving about it to everyone who knows me ever since. The one big problem I’ve had, though, has been getting stuff off the PC so I can watch it on my telly – a 19″ CRT is nice enough but my bedroom lacks a sofa and a nice widescreen telly is much better for watching TV anyway. I tried burning stuff to DVD (shelling out for Adobe Premiere Elements so I could edit the video and everything), but it just took far too long and didn’t deal at all well with the corrupted video that inevitably results from just dumping the received DVB-T stream to disc.

So, the fact that my XBox 360 can just stream stuff straight over the network from my PC, and provides full Media Center functionality right there in my living room is nothing short of magical: all that fancy pausing live TV and timeshifting stuff is now a practical thing to do from my living room – plus I can bore people with slideshows of my photos from the comfort of my sofa, play them music without having to plug my iPod into the hifi, and all the rest.

Okay, the thing’s far from perfect: it’s noisy, and load times are pretty awful for DVD-based games (there’s a hard disc, but it’s not used for caching data like it was on the original XBox, which is a shame). Plus, PGR3 has a tendency to hang inexplicably if there’s a network problem whilst trying to upload scores. But these are relatively minor problems compared to the general awesomeness of the rest of the system.

Right, next on the list: HD-TV…


Sunday, September 24th, 2006

So, yeah. I was going to keep updating during the gig, except I sort of got so caught up in it all shortly after the first chord and forgot to update any more. They were very, very good indeed.

Incidentally, Mogwai were mostly survivable without earplugs, except from about 2/3 of the way through their last song, “We’re no dead”, when I swear they set of a fricking nuclear bomb onstage and everyone’s eardrums exploded. And then they kept that volume level up for the next 10 minutes or so until the end of the gig.

Mogwai are intense. Awesome, magnificent and very, very intense.

Pictures here and movies here.


Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Fortunately, I’d read about Mogwai’s live show before I came tonight, so I made sure to pack a pair of earplugs. I didn’t expect to need them, and first impressions on entering the Academy didn’t give me any reason to suspect I might – some post-rock/metal playing on the house PA, but nothing too earbleeding.

And then the support act started. Holy. Shit. You know those sonic weapons they talk about on the news? Well, it turns out they double up as Mogwai’s PA.

This all wouldn’t be so bad if the support act – Kid606 – was actually worth listening to. But he’s, uh, not. Just because you can push white noise and sub-60hz white noise through some speakers at building-destroying levels over an 808 drum beat running at 250bpm, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a good idea to do so. Maybe I’m just getting old. Anyway, he’s finished now. So that’s good.

I think they just played some Sunn 0))). Either that or one of the techs forgot to turn a guitar back down after tuning it and left it feeding back for 5 minutes, but that wouldn’t explain the ‘vocals’, such as they are.

“Say a little prayer”? What?

Ah, here come the band. Hurrah!

They are magnificent.

Russel Brand

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Apparently, having previously taken drugs, a stupid hairstyle, a legion of vacuous Big Brother-obsessed media student fans and having sex with a lot of groupies and being a wilfully self-absorbed and ignorant cock – and shouting about it – is all you need to be a comedian these days.

Oh, but he refers to his penis as his “dingle-dangle” or something, and that’s obviously hilarious.

Go away, you tedious and offensive little man. The world was better without you.

I can see for miles

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

Stood on Formby beach today: looking south, I could see the North Wales coast and the mountains of Snowdonia behind them. Looking north, I could see Blackpool tower and the crest of the tallest part of the Pepsi Max Big One.

Nothing greatly profound to say about that, other than that I thought it was cool.

I think the worship band had actually practised this morning.

Gaming quote of the decade

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

Seriously, art direction accomplishes more than all the bump-maps and bloom lighting in the world.

I will have 2 Wiis before I have 1 PS3 AKA How Nintendo got their groove back – a little reactionary, perhaps, but some good points. Especially that quote what I quoted above.

That Mitchell and Webb Look

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

Best TV comedy in ages. Utter genius.

…and yes, it’s basically the same as the Radio 4 show they did, but that’s no bad thing because that was basically the best radio comedy in ages, too; and the sketches have been translated to TV really, really well. Okay, the Sir Digby Chicken Caesar sketch was a little weak, but the rest of the show was head and shoulders above pretty much everything else I’ve seen since, well, Peep Show.

And now Mock The Week has come on. Unfortunately, I can’t watch panel shows now, ever since Rob Brydon’s Anually Retentive. As a comedy series, it perhaps wasn’t as strong as it promised, but as a deconstruction of formulaic, derivative TV it was interesting. The upshot has been, however, that I can’t watch a panel show now without thinking about all the backstage/dressing room/production office bitching and backstabbing from Anually Retentive. Which kind of spoils it.

Anyway, for now: 4, 97, 34.8, 1, 1, 1 – that’s Numberwang!

Nintendo still love me and still want me to be happy

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

9:46 am: Bill Trinen is showing off the “Mii” channel, which lets you create your cartoon-like avatar to represent yourself within games. To
demonstrate the flexibility of the Mii character-creation utility–which lets you pick hair styles, skin color, facial features, and so on–Trinen is creating a rather, uh, loose interpretation of Samuel L. Jackson. After finishing the Mii, he’s got it running around with pretty accurate Mii versions of Iwata and Miyamoto.
9:50 am: The second component of the Mii concept is transporting your Miis elsewhere, since they’re stored on your remote. Head to a friend’s house, play tennis with your controller, and you’ll see your Mii pop right up in the game.

I love you, Nintendo.