Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Google Chrome

The Internet is Googles business, it started life as a web page indexer and search engine and has since expanded into dozens of other services in the web domain including email, personal organisation, video, instant messaging, VoIP, Office applications, picture hosting, blog hosting, web page construction, book scanning and a shit load more.

We're talking about a load of services hosted 'in the cloud' on Google servers and accessed via a web browser. This takes the imperative off the ability of the users computer to execute processes and places it on the Internet browsers ability to handle web-based programming languages and standards. Such reliance on 3rd party software vendors effectively ties the potential of Googles services to that of the browser running them.

Perhaps then it should be of little surprise that Google have joined in the infamous 'browser wars' with a product of their own dubbed Google Chrome. Introducing their own browser to the fray allows Google to ensure that the browser is optimised for their services thereby producing the best experience for their users for those services.

Technologically Chrome has a lot going on under the hood. Chrome is an Open Source project that brings together a multitude of open source components both Google developed (Chromium) and 3rd party developed (including Apple and Mozilla). For most of us the precise goings on are unimportant, what’s important is how Chrome impacts our day-to-day web use and how it compares to other browsers.

The measure of a browser essentially comes down to four basic elements: Speed, Security, Stability and Usability.

Speed

Chrome is the fastest browser currently available and every milestone update to the program increases its speed. For example, when Google Chrome initially hit the market it was the fastest browser available, version 4, currently in development, is said to be 400% faster than that – so that's pretty fast. In terms of usability the speed difference between Chrome and something like Firefox is barely perceptible, but between Chrome and Opera is very noticeable indeed.

The speed of Internet browsing comes down to two major bottlenecks, the speed/quality of your connection and the ability of your browser to render the page. With the advent of JavaScript as the web programmers language of choice the quality of the browsers JavaScript engine has become paramount to Browser speed. Chrome has pretty much maintained a consistent lead in this regard since its initial release.

Bottom line on speed is that across the same good quality connection Chrome will load pages faster.

Security

Security in Chrome comes in two flavours, one is a standard blacklist that warns of known malicious sites, the other is to allocate tabs into their own processes. This is quite a complex system that is supposed to prevent malware installing or from tabs interacting with each other unduly. No browser is airtight on the security front and vulnerabilities are constantly identified and fixed, but Chrome certainly performs better than most in this regard. A Chrome user can feel more confident their browsing is protected than an Internet Explorer user.

Stability

The stability of Chrome owes much to the same process architecture that contributes to its security. As each tab is in effect its own process if something goes tits up in one tab it only affects that tab and not the entire browser. The downside to this behaviour is that Chrome may take up more memory tab-for-tab than other browsers. This may concern people on older systems with limited RAM and running a busy Chrome browser may impact the multi-tasking of the rest of the system, however modern systems typically come with 2-4GB of RAM which should leave plenty of overhead even when running a dozen tabs or more.

Usability

On the usability stakes Google have run with the “simpler is better” philosophy. They’ve put a lot of effort in to minimising the interface while maximising the feature set.

The interface - is the most simple of any of the other browsers out there right now. By default there are only three bars on the screen at any one time, the tab bar, the address bar and an optional Bookmarks bar which you can pop in and out with ctrl+B – effectively allowing you only two bars on the interface. There is a status bar at the bottom left of the screen, but this only appears during page loads or when you hover over a link thus further increasing the screens retail space during general browsing. The amount of screen space is further enhanced by having the tab bar placed on top of the address/tool bar and placing it tight against what we historically call the title bar (contains the close/max/min buttons and tells you what the program is), if I compare this with other browsers the amount of space between the title bar and the closest functional part of the interface is larger. But even better than that, when the Chrome pane is maximised the tabs actually sit on top of the title bar thus the interface only takes up one bar of space rather than 2 – note that I say maximised and not full screen mode, when full screened chrome removes all UI elements except scroll bars.

Aside from the space they take up the the bars are very spartan affairs, the only browser controls are back/forward, a combined reload/stop and a home button, you have an address box (with built-in bookmarker, naturally) while all the functions normally provided by the entire menu bar are reduced right down to two drop down menus accessed from the extreme right of the address bar.

The ultimate effect is a very clean looking browser with an absolute maximum of actual browsing area, which is a great concept to have.

Although Chrome bears an exceedingly simple interface this hasn’t come at the cost of usability. In fact over the last few days of use I have found Chrome to be incredibly usable. A lot of that comes down to the sheer speed and stability of the program, but it also comes down to the fact that everything works so well.

Extensibility - Many users, particularly Firefox users who have come to rely on the myriad of add-ons available for that platform may view Chrome with some scepticism, “sure it’s fast, but can it jump through hoops too?” Well the answer is yes, it can, but right now the number of hoops is quite small. Chrome has Extension capabilities, but for now they’re very much still in development and you’ll need to be using the very latest developer preview builds of Chrome ver 4 to find any worth while. Additionally Google haven’t opened up their Extensions website to the general public yet, only extension developers are permitted access to upload their extensions at present. Presumably it’ll go live prior to the Stable release of Chrome 4. In the mean time there are 3rd party sites offering Extensions for download.

The concept of Extensions in the future is great, but the reality for now is that most of them are lacking in capability compared to their Firefox cousins and not all (hardly any in all probability) of your FF add-ons will have a Chrome counterpart just yet. Extensions in Chrome are in their infancy, and Google themselves need to work on improving their Extension engine (as indicated by this blog post from the Xmarks people), but it’s all a step in the right direction.

So far I’ve found a mere handful of extensions worth using. Mouse Gestures is a must for any browser in my opinion, and there is a Chrome extension that adds this functionality. I find it a bit less tight than the native gestures function in Opera or the FireFox add-ons I’ve used, but it’s usable and as an early build it’s pretty decent. The only negative side is that it doesn’t work on non-http tabs, therefore it can’t be used to generate a new tab on the extensions tab for example.

Chrome has a version of AdBlock+, although it doesn’t work quite like the FF version. Rather than ubiquitously block all ads users are required to block individual elements. Confusingly there is still the subscription dialogue, it just doesn’t appear to do anything. Presumably it’s a work in progress and full functionality will be introduced later – but right now AdBlock+ for Chrome is a bit useless.

One extension I feel works very well in Chrome is FlashBlock. It’s roughly equivalent to NoScript, but makes it easier to identify blocked elements on the page although it doesn’t appear to have any way to remember which elements shouldn’t be blocked in future. Again, another work in progress.

The only other extensions I have worthy of note are related to Google Reader, one adds an icon in the address bar that allows you to add feeds detected on the page to Google Reader while the other notifies you how many unread feeds you have.

Final Thoughts

Chrome is a very impressive browser, certainly a worthy alternative to most of the other browsers on the market. Ultimately whether this suits you or not will depend on your tastes, I would definitely recommend taking this for a test run at the very least.

Even if Chrome doesn’t suit you now it may be worth keeping an eye on, in a years time the Extension framework should be mature enough to rival FireFox.

freedoms_stain, browsing faster than you do, out.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Dragon Age Origins: First Impressions

Now that I've got a few hours of Dragon Age Origins under my belt I feel reasonably well placed to pass some comment on it, so here we go!
 
Character Creator
 
Bioware took the prudent step of releasing a Character Creator tool prior to the full release of the game, this lets you (unsurprisingly) create a character! It's a nifty thing that gives you the opportunity to jump right into the game once you've got it rather than pissing around with the creation process first - which can take a while if like me you like to piss around with these sorts of things.
 
The character creator also gives you a gander at the skill trees for the various classes, so if you're the sort who likes to plan this sort of shit out in advance this is a good place to start for a prospective DAO player.
 
The choices aren't complicated, sex, race (Human, Elf, Dwarf), class (Warrior, Mage, Rogue base classes, these can be altered to specialised versions as you progress) and Origin. The Origins available to you will depend on your race and/or class, there are six possible origins in total and the Origin you choose will determine the starting point of the game and how other characters in the world will react to you - for example there is a bit of racial tension between Men and the Dalish Elves. The six different origin stories give the game a potential replay value of 6x. That's a lot of RPGing.
 
After that it's a fairly standard build-a-face and assign a few stat points affair. Unfortunately the only part of your appearance you can customise is the head, so if you were planning on a mega-boobied warrior vixen then you're going to have to abandon that plan as all boobies are one size only.
 
My first playthrough character is Tessa, a Dalish Elf. Tessa is (roughly) modelled after my Fallout3 character who is also called Tessa, is a chick and has red hair. I'm actually kinda warming to the idea of creating a version of Tessa for every game I have to create a charater for. Anyhoo she looks like this:
 

 
That image is a bit shit actually. I think I'll upload another one later with better colour, maybe add some of my other creations too.
 
This Tessa was originally a human female, but I decided to go with the Dalish Elf because I thought the Elf race bonuses suited a Rogue better.
 
Controls
 
One thing I'll say about the controls is this: There are a lot of them. In actual fact you could get by with using the mouse and the spacebar alone, but you will spend more time clicking things than actually playing if you don't get to grips with at least some of the keyboard controls.
 
The array of controls is actually rather dizzying and there aren't actually enough buttons on the gaming side of my Merc-Stealth gaming keyboard to map everything on there. After a few hours of playing I've figured out which things I need close to hand (or finger) most often and which things I can live with using the mouse for so I've been able to customise a bit. There's a Mass Effect profile in the Z-Engine, so hopefully a DAO one will turn up that might work better than my cobbled together version.
 
Bottom line, there are a lot of controls, but if you're in to RPGs this will be nothing new to you and you'll either adapt to them or adapt them to you.
 
This game is out on consoles, I honestly cannot see how it's going to work...
 
Story
 
With the six different origins the story starts and plays out a bit differently for each. The central storyline is that there is a "Blight" going on - a resurgence of creatures known as "Darkspawn" who come from underground and like to get their kill on on the surface at periodic intervals. There is a caste called "The Gray Wardens" whose call and duty it is to combat The Blight. Whatever origin story you follow your character will end up joining the Gray Wardens and fight against The Blight.
 
To say any more would introduce spoilers so I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say that there is enough plot-twist and intrigue in the first few hours to keep you playing.
 
Graphics/Style
 
The game has been in production for a good long while, therefore it might not stand up graphically to other games that began development more recently or on newer technology, but the game still looks fairly decent. It's certainly not ugly.
 
The style is very medieval Europe - I love it. How DAO looks is to me how sword and sorcery RPGs should look. The characters are clad in suitable armour, the weapons are believable (for the most part), the castles are suitably grand while remaining within the realms of architectural possibility and the dung encrusted hovels of the commoners really look like they probably smell like pig shit. Awesome! The characters themselves are of realistic proportion, the musclebound Gray Warden Alastair resembles an Athelete than belongs on a Football team rather than some sort of gym-dwelling muscle sack that is typical of the genre, and so far there has not been a single female character with a bust that suggests back strain.
 
Where the game excels (to me) is in faces, which are animated pretty well. Where it fails is hair, which often looks like more thready than hairy. One of the worst aspects of the hair are braids which appear so rigid they could have sticks embedded in them.
 
The game also kind of fails at movement. Nothing looks very natural and it's tempting to believe every character in the game has suffered recent painful anal trauma. This isn't really a fair criticism though as the majority of games still can't seem to get the movement of living things down, although there have been some games in the last few years that have made decent inroads on that front - Ass Creed springs to mind.
 
Combat
 
The system employed here is quite strange to me. It's sort of a mix between RTS and Turn-based combat. When an enemy or enemies is/are encountered your character(s) will automatically engage based on the combat rules laid out for them in their individual Tactics manual - if that sounds strange then the Gambit system in FFXII is comparable. However the player can intervene at any time and direct their charaters to move, heal or use specific skills or attacks. One of the things I'm finding hardest to get used to is the fact that I can pause the action (that's the action, not the game) to analyse the situation and direct things in a more appropriate manner.
 
Another thing that I might not quite be getting is the tactical aspect. In most situations so far the appropriate tactic has been a matter of targetting one enemy at a time, letting my entire party lay in to them until they're dead and moving on to the next one aaaaand repeat. But I've also noticed that this approach becomes less and less effective as the level and number of enemies increases. There was one part early on where I could see a number of enemies round a corner, I moved my guys into a room with one entrance, sent one archer out to attract their attention then retreated back into the room. The bad guys could only come at me one at a time so I beat them easily whereas 4 vs 9 out in the open I'd probably have gotten bummed.
 
Later in the same level you have to fight an Ogre. I attempted the swarm approach and I had my ass handed to me - the Ogre is extremely powerful and has an attack that will knock over and damage everything around it. I retried the fight, but this time the first thing I did was pause the action and send each of my characters to a different place on the circumference of the room and equipped ranged weapons. The Ogres knock-over attack was rendered useless, and because all my guys were spread out he had to pick one to attack. When he moved to attack one of my characters I simply had that character run away while the other 3 pummeled him with arrows and magic attacks. It was over in about a minute.
 
Just last night I did a quest looking for a missing person (presumed dead), upon discovering the body you get swarmed by a pack of 12 wolves, I tried various tactics but nothing seemed to work, 12 wolves just proved to be too much for my fledgling party to handle (all characters either lvl 6 or 7). On my final attempt I tried bidding a retreat towards a nearby villiage in the hopes that I could somehow channel the wolves into a narrow region where their numbers wouldn't count for as much or that the Templars in the villiage would join in the fight. Neither of those things happened, but fortunately only 6 of the wolves followed me towards the villiage, this number proved easier to handle, I took them out then proceeded back to the body and dispatched the remaining 6.
 
So you see how thinking about the opponent and the surroundings can hand you the battle much quicker than rushing in and attempting a brute force attack.
 
This is rather a new way of thinking to me and I'm still trying to get used to it, but it is intriguing and I hope to master it.
 
The Tactics system is, as I mentioned before, roughly analogous to the Gambit system in FFXII. Like the Gambit system you can set up a range of rules that govern how your character will react in certain situations, and just like the Gambit system the number of rules you can assign is dependent on the progress/level of the individual characters. Where I feel the Tactics system might edge out the Gambit system is that Dragon Age gives you a complete set of rule components to work with from the very beginning whereas the Gambit system is limited to begin with and is expanded by finding additional components throughout the game. Although just like FFXII you will start with only a limited number of tactic slots and earn more as you progress through the game. This is a wee bit of a pain in the arse as it limits the effectiveness of the system early in the game.
 
I'm still feeling my way through the Tactics, there are still some occassions when one or more of my characters will kill their target then just stand there doing nothing while the rest of the party are still engaged - so obviously my current rule sets aren't quite up to scratch. I'll keep working with it though, I think there's light at the end of this particular tunnel.
 
Building A Party
 
This is most definitely a party based RPG, there'll be no Elder Scrolls style one-man dungeon busting Super-Warrior efforts here, the key to success is building an effective party and executing strategies that play to that partys strength. You can take control of up to four characters at once, although your entourage might actually comprise of many more characters that you can pick'n'mix into and out of your main party.
 
At present I have access to six different characters, Tessa (a Rogue), two warriors (one a Templar specialisation), a Mage (War Mage I think - not sure without checking), another Rogue with Bard specialisation and a Dog (named Dogmeat by me after the Fallout dog). I've got a lot of offensive capability here, which is great, but the party lacks anyone with healing abilities which means I've been plowing through healing items like a hot knife through warm butter. This is almost entirely down to my Templar Warrior who takes the majority of damage in most situations since most of his talents lie in melee fighting and he usually ends up in the centre of a mass of enemies while the others harass from afar as much as possible - enemies tend to ignore the Dog in favour of the Templar for some reason.
 
At this point in time choosing who to use is a difficult decision, The Bard and 2nd Warrior are my newest additions, so I want to give them a go, but at the same time I'm not that keen on having two Rogues in one party, even if one is a Bard. I'll try out the current formation for a bit (Rogue, War Mage, Bard, Warrior) and see how it goes. What I really really want right now is a healer Mage who can stand behind Tessa and cast supporting magic/heals while she harasses with her bow (switching to melee if directly engaged) and the remaining two get in on the Melee stuff. Without a healer I'm going to have to spend a small fortune on healing items and a lot of time on the herbalism screen making stuff.
 
Complaints
 
There's nothing majorly wrong with this game, but there are a couple of niggles for me - if anything I've mentioned has a solution I missed I'd really welcome some comments on it.
 
Camera - The PC version of Dragon Age allows you to adjust the camera from various distances of behind-character third person and "tactical" overhead views. My main issue is with the tactical view, it's nice to get a birdseye view of the action, but the bird isn't high enough! A common situation is to engage a party of enemies who will leave a number of archers at the fringes of the battle while their melee attackers rush in for a skirmish, I will also tend to leave at least one character on the fringes firing with either magic or bow in support of my own skirmishers. This makes the entire field of battle somewhat larger than the total area shown in the tactical view and can result in a frustrating amount of camera panning and unnecessary pauses of action just to survey the overall progression of the battle. I shall endeavour to find out if it's possible to adjust the height of the tactical camera next time I play, but it hasn't seemed possible up to now.
 
Item Weight - as with most RPGs the amount of stuff you can carry is limited (you can still carry more than it's physically possible for any one human to carry, but the extent of your superhuman strength and neverending invisible rucksack are limited). The inventory system however does not appear to allude to the weight of individual items - which appears to be 1 whether we're talking a dagger, a full suit of armour, a set of gloves or a giant greatsword additionally not everything appears to have a weight at all, which confuses matters more. I think it'd be better if light stuff weighed little and heavy stuff weighed more.
 
Equipping/Buying item comparisons - When you look to buy a specific item the properties of that item and your currently equipped item pop-up so you can compare them, however it only does this for a selected character and in the case of weapons for their equipped weapon set only (you can quick-change between two weapon sets in world). It would be prefferable if it was easier to compare items and both weapon sets of all party members simultaneously. The shop screen only takes up a small portion of the available screen retail space, they could easily have included a pane that displays items and both weapon sets for each party member and had some sort of graphical indication over whether the prospective item has better or worse stats than the equipped gear.
 
Difficulty - As a 'seasoned' gamer I look at any difficulty level below medium witrh a certain amount of disdain - play on Easy? No chance! So I'm playing DAO on medium, and it's hard! It's not unusual for me to get trounced at the first time of asking in any particular encounter. I get the feeling things will improve after I have a mage that can heal, but right now this shit be HARD! I hate to admit it, but I am actually slightly tempted to switch to easy :(
 
Final Thoughts
 
I am enjoying DAO thus far. It's certainly challenging and the story is compelling. I got my copy free courtesy of VG247 and EA, but if I hadn't I'd probably be willing to part with cash for it.
 
If you're not a fan of RPGs in general then you'll probably hate this, so stay away, I also hear that the Xbox 360 version is fucking awful, so if you're going to get this it looks like it's PC or bust.
 
I've been freedoms_stain, out.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Woe Is Me

Earlier I mentioned the ATP Draw Challenge, and after a fairly decent start I'm afraid it's all gone to shit. Monday and Tuesday I was doing quite well, 7 points off the leaders fairly consistently, then Wednesday came... Wednesday was a big day, top 5 seeds in contention, their first matches, naturally you'd expect World #1 Roger Federer to manage to win through, right? Well he didn't and I had him in up to the semis, therefore I lost a lot of points on the great Swiss (coincidentally my faith in his countryman Stanislas Wawrinka to reach the 3rd round was ill placed.
 
Worse was to come on Thursday, Andy Murray, who I pipped to win (damn my foolish nationalistic tendancies!) was beaten by Radek Stepanek in a match he looked sure to win after raping the czech 6-1 in the first set, but it wasn't to be. BGy losing in the third round Andy will have cost me fully 60 points by the end of the tournament - D'oh!
 
With Murray and Federer gone my top half of the draw was fucked, I had only one match left in that half to gain any points - Gonzalez vs Del Potro. Although Del Potro won the US Open this year he under-performed greatly in Asia, thus I decided to give Gonzalez a shot. The first set went to tie-break which Del Potro looked sure to win taking a vast early lead, but Gonzalez battled back and took the set - my hopes stayed alive! It became apparent in the second set that both men were suffering - Gonzalez with a knee and Del Potro with his Abdomen. It seemed that Del Potro was suffering most and Gonzalez managed a break of serve and generated some Match Points, but Del Potro broke back and it went to tie-break. Gonzalez took the lead and again generated match points, but alas Del Potro rallied and took it. The prospect of another full set was obviously too much for Gonzalez knee and he retired from the match - DAMN!
 
So I have two men left in the entire tournament, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, I predicted them to both make the Semis and for Djokovic to make the final. As I type Djokovic is playing his QF with Robin Soderling, 1 set all on-serve in the 3rd, Nadal will play later.
 
But why does it matter now? Without a perfect draw there's no prize to be won, but there is still a competition on, between me and Helen!
 
Helen predicted Nadal to win the tournament, right now I have 46 points and she has 40, if Nadal reaches the final then she wins, if Djokovic reaches the final, I win. If neither of them reach the Semis, or if Nadal reaches the semis and loses, then I win.
 
It all hinges on Nadal! I need that Spaniard to lose!
 
freedoms_stain, Fault!, out.



 


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

An Interesting Weekend Of Tennis!

There were two big tournaments over the past week, ATP 500 events in Basel, Switzerland and Valencia, Spain.

Valencia marked the first piece of ATP action World #4 and British #1 Andy Murray has seen since his 4th round exit at the US Open in August (excluding his participation in Britain's loss to Poland in the Davis Cup – which is a non-ATP event smile_tongue) after injury forced him to miss two scheduled Asian Tournaments (including the Shanghai Masters). After a 6 week lay-off from competition Murrays victory at Valencia was never a particular surety to me, despite his status as top seed at the event. Nevertheless Murray prevailed, and although his form wasn’t quite 100% throughout the tournament he battled through a tough SF against home crowd favourite Fernando Verdasco en route to a relatively easy looking final against unexpected (and unseeded) finalist Mikhail Youzhny (who himself battled past compatriot and Shanghai Masters champ Nikolay Davydenko in his SF). In the end Murray took the title 6-3, 6-2 in the final, his 6th of the season and 13th ATP level career title.

Over in Basel the field was slightly stiffer with both World #1 Roger Federer (a Basel native) and #3 Novak Djokovic competing. Seeded first and second respectively both made it to the finals in a rematch of their recent clash at the Cincinnati Masters prior to the US Open which Federer won in a comfortable two sets. I had personally thought this would be Federers for the taking – I was to be surprised. The Basel final began 45 mins prior to Valencia, I fully expected it to be over by the end of the first set in Valencia, this was not to be the case as Djokovic took the first set 6-4 before Federer bit back taking the second 6-4, but it proved to be a mere delaying action as Djokovic managed a double break in the decider taking the set and the championship 6-2. A shame for Federer who was looking for his 4th successive title in front of his home crowd.

Djokovic actually had to save 3 match points in his SF against Radek Stepanek on Saturday, so for him to have come back and taken the title in the end is rather impressive.

This coming week sees the final open-entry tournament on the ATP calendar for 2009, the ATP 100 Masters in Paris. With 1000 juicy points on offer this is the last chance the guys in the top 12 have to advance their rankings into the 7 and 8 slots (currently occupied by Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco) and qualify for the Tour Finals in London in two weeks time. The field is tough however as Paris is one of the 8 (of 9) Masters tournaments the top 30 players in the world are required to play (except in case of injury), and those players aiming to qualify for London not currently in a position to do so will need to reach at least the final in Paris to stand a chance – this means potentially that they would have to defeat two top 4 players in the process – no easy task.

Incidentally, if you’re as nuts about Tennis as me then this might interest you for the 2010 season: http://challenge.atpworldtour.com/

It’s an interesting competition, you attempt to guess the entire draw for a variety of ATP tour and Grand Slam events, each correct pick nets you points that contribute to a leader board. After a year of events the player at the top of the leader board wins a VIP trip to the tour finals. There are also prizes for a couple of runners-up and additional prizes in the unlikely event that someone makes a 100% perfect draw for any of the events during the year.

Unfortunately as I only found out about this on Saturday my chances of winning anything this year are pretty much nil, but I gave Paris a go. So far I’ve made 6 correct picks out of 11 matches, that ranks me 6984th out of 10065 btw smile_confused.

Hopefully they’ll run it again next year and I’ll have a chance at winning some tickets for the 2010 finals. As for this year, Helen already won us tickets to London smile_regular

freedoms_stain, still going to LONDON BABY!, out.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Fag – We’re taking it back

If you haven’t seen it already (and why the fuck haven’t you?) you should check out the latest episode of South Park. It’s a hilariously awesome attempt to reclassify the word “fag” from a derogatory word for homosexuals to a general insult for people who are loud, obnoxious and inconsiderate, because, to paraphrase the episode “it’s just so much fun to say”. The episode has the same sort of vibe as the short “Porch Monkey” section from Kevin Smith’s Clerks II.

Unfortunately despite the fact that the episode is completely gay-positive some gay folks still managed to take offense.

Well, I reckon we should take it back, because dammit fag is fun to say! Why else would the British use to same word to describe such a commonplace item as cigarettes?

Fag is just a word, it’s meaning is simply what we choose it to mean.

I mean, it’s pretty funny if changing the meaning of Fag means that everyone who tends to use the word already then becomes a Fag.

On that basis alone I think it should be done, although for maximum comic effect nobody in the Southern US states should be told until the rest of us have had a good laugh at them.

Sorry if you’re from the South and not a bigot, but those of you in that situation usually understand the generalisation, much to your general dismay.

freedoms_stain, hates fags smile_wink, out.

We’re Goin To LONDON BABY!

A few weeks ago I heard of a competition to win tickets to the ATP Tour Finals in London through the ATP RSS feed from the event sponsors Barclays. I was unsuccessful smile_sad

My girlfriend Helen on the other hand, was smile_regular

So we’re going to London baby!

We’ve got our travel plans organised already, so we will definitely be at the evening session on Wednesday the 25th. Can’t wait.

Don’t know who’ll be playing that day/session yet as there are still a couple of places left up for grabs that won’t be decided until the outcome of the Paris Masters (which begins next week) has been played. Whoever it is we’re guaranteed two top eight male singles players and two top eight male doubles teams, so it should be good, although obviously I’d prefer it if it was two of the top 4 or 5 than say the 6 to 8 guys.

freedoms_stain, excited and out.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Bah! Misjudgement!

So, you know when you're going to see a band but you don't want to see
the support, you've got to make the decision, you know thw band will
probably be on like 8.30 or 9, but do you turn up for 8.30 or 9? Of
course you invariably choose 8.30 because if you chose 9 and they went
on at 8.30 then you miss stuff.

Well, it's about 8.30 now and the arsing support are still on, and no
offense to them, but it's severely not my thing, which is why I'm
standing blogging on my phone instead of paying attention to their
wailing.

Roll on 9pm and the headline act: Idlewild!

Well at least this killed a few minutes.

Oh, and the bastards ran out of my size in the cool t-shirts :(

freedoms_stain, needs time-control powers urgently, out.

--
Sent from my mobile device

“Preloaded”

One thing I really don’t get about the games industry is “preloads”.

DAOpreload[1]

So the game is finished, you’ve let me download it to my computer, but I can’t play it until you say?

Why, oh why, oh why, oh why?

It makes very little sense, it’s done, it’s in my possession, let me play it!

Of course not releasing finished works before a set date is not unique to the gaming industry, but it is more frustrating when they let you have your toy but won’t let you actually play with it.

You have the power to make content available as soon as it’s ready Entertainment Industry, USE IT, because if you don’t, things like this will happen and continue to happen. Your out-dated release model encourages piracy. Sort it out, Mininova shows ~2000 seeds for the top 3 DA:O torrents, that’s 2000 people who have and are playing the game days earlier than people who legally bought it. There are a further 35,000 people in line who will be in the same boat shortly. Many of them probably bought the game but Pirate to play now rather than later.

Understand your audience. If you won’t satisfy their needs, others will.

freedoms_stain, spitting the dummy out, er, out.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine “Uncaged Edition”

This is a game I was really looking forward to earlier in the year before its release. Games based on superheroes, comic book superheroes in particular, have a long history of sucking. Wolverine did look the business during the pre-release hype machine and it did look like it might live up to the developers claim of “best superhero game ever”. Unfortunately the game garnered nothing better than fairly average reviews all round and I decided it wasn’t worth the new game price-tag, so I shoved it on my GamesTracker list, set a £15 limit on it and largely forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago when GamesTracker alerted me that the game could be got for <£15 and I decided to go for it.

So, lets see how it stacked up.

Likey

Wolverine – The look and story of the game is based on the dreadful movie of the same name released at the same time, however the movement, actions and moves of the in-game Wolverine are all classic comic book/animated series Wolverine. You are Wolverine, it really feels like you’re playing as Wolverine, when you fight everything looks and feels Wolverine. When it comes right down to the feel, the weighting, the abilities and the power the devs done it good and they done it right.

Combat – It’s pretty basic really, regular combat is limited to the light attack/heavy attack/throw model supplemented with a variety of special (or Rage) moves that has essentially become the mainstay since the PS2 era. It works as well here as it does for God of War and the various other titles that utilise a similar system. Visually the combat is very impressive and the counter system leads to some very impressive (and gory) kill animations. One of the unique features of the Wolverine combat system is the Lunge. This is a move that feely very Wolverine, Wolverine launches himself at targets claws first and tears into them. It looks great and is a cool mechanism – although it is easy to overuse the move, particularly against weaker opponents who can be one-hit-killed by it.

Upgrades – I like to really feel like I’m in control of my characters destiny when I play a game, and that to me involves a bit more than just pointing them at the next dude to kill and hitting the kill button until they’re killed and repeating for the next dude. So when there’s an upgrade system in place that lets the player make choices rather than just doling out new goodies at set points I’m a happy chappy. Wolverine has such a system – albeit a limited one. Killing dudes grants you experience, levelling up grants you skill points and you use those to build your Wolverine the way you please. If you prefer basic attacks you can invest more in those, if there are certain Rage skills you dislike you can ignore them in favour of the ones you prefer etc etc.

Mutagens – You get (up to) three Mutagen slots to play with during the game (starting with one), the mutagens themselves are scattered around the game with three levels of each. Mutagens are sort of like bonus multipliers, each has a different effect and may give bonuses to damage dealt/taken or health based on certain criteria or may boost the levels of experience/rage/combat reflexes received for a kill. They’re a nice little enhancement that further allow you to customise your Wolverine based on the criteria you prize highest.

No Likey

Combat – Yup, it’s another double edged sword. When fighting against melee enemies Wolverines combat is great fun, the melee enemies can defend themselves and some of them can put up a pretty decent fight – particularly the “Beauties” from the Gambit level, however the gunner enemies that populate most of the early levels are really dull to fight. Most of them die really really easily and there’s no challenge, lunge, heavy attack, repeat. Too easy basically. The game also features a couple of types of large hulking enemies that do massive damage if they manage to clock you one. Unfortunately they’re mind-numbingly easy to beat and the game will insist on throwing them at you frequently. You can boil it down to a science: stand, dodge, lunge, X button 7 times, jump, repeat. No challenge.

Story – It’s unfortunate that this had to be a movie tie-in, Hollywood really fucked up the Wolverine story, and unfortunately you can’t polish a turd. The devs did make a decent effort at enhancing the story by expanding on the Africa operation that led to Wolverine’s departure from Strykers team and brining the Sentinels and Mystique into the fray. The epilogue cutscene is very suggestive of a potential sequel set in a world post-mutant registration act. But despite their best efforts the story is still a bit stinky.

Sentinel Fight – This really was ass. It’s so un-Wolverine. The “Wolverine” thing to do would be to scale the thing with his claws then rip its head off, what the game makes you do is destroy its hands and feet, following that it decides to blast-off into the sky (in a cut-scene where it has magically regained its hands and feet) where Wolverine then proceeds to destroy various other Sentinel bits in a free-fall section the length of which stretches believability to a fine thread.

A far more satisfying and Wolverine-like execution would have been a God Of War like quick-time event. They used quick-time events and GoW style button bashing tricks elsewhere in the game, strikes me as odd they didn’t use the concepts more effectively here.

Length/Difficulty/Replayability – It’s too short. It’s too easy. It isn’t particularly replayable. Your average gamer will play on the Normal/Medium difficulty setting to ease themselves in to a new title, this game is too easy on Normal. None of the bosses pose much of a challenge, even the final boss and unfortunately the only way to increase the difficulty is to play through the entire game on Normal to unlock Hard… If you can do and see pretty much everything in one play-through then there’s very little motivation to replay the game if all it can offer you is a slightly stiffer challenge, and with so many great games on the market, why waste my time playing the same thing over again if there’s nothing new to see or do, or no bonuses to earn? This is an entirely linear game, this doesn’t lend well to replayability in the first place, the devs could have put more effort in to adding incentive to replay the game.

Achievements – Presumably the 360 and PS3 versions of the game have Achievements and Trophies (respectively), pretty much all new games on these systems do. Microsoft allow PC games under the Games For Windows LIVE branding to contribute achievements and gamerscore to a Live ID/gamertag. Raven decided not to bother going the whole hog and cut off the LIVE part, so no achievements. Fair enough, but they still track the criteria for many of the 360 achievements under the banner “Statistics”. It just seems pretty lazy to me not to go the extra step and actually integrate into the Live system.

DLC – The PC version of the game (which I bought) doesn’t have the DLC pack afforded the PS3 and 360 versions of the game. This is becoming a trend for multiplatform games that make it to the PC and is quite frankly bullshit.

Conclusionados

Despite its failings it’s still a decent play-through, best superhero game ever? It might actually have been back in May when it was released, but it has definitively been shafted by the superb Batman: Arkham Asylum released a few months later in August/September which raised the bar for superhero games henceforth.

Should you buy Wolverine? Why not, but I’d probably reduce the value of the game to more like <£10. Maybe a rental then.

freedoms_stain, Rwwwarraaaarrrr, out.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Desktop Shortcuts - Ughhhhhhhhhh

Having recently installed a new operating system I have of course been installing a rather large amount of software of late, and I’ve noticed an irritating trend

DESKTOP SHORTCUTS!!!!!

Fuck me if every other program doesn’t leave a desktop shortcut. I know what you’re thinking “uncheck the desktop shortcut option during installation” and of course I do numbnuts, the fact is there’s a shitload of software that simply does not have the option not to include a desktop shortcut in the installation options whether you go for the advanced or custom route or not (and I ALWAYS take the advanced or custom route).

It’s fucking annoying, I don’t use desktop shortcuts, I just delete them as soon as I notice their presence. Desktop shortcuts are an outdated concept now we have quick-launch bars, dock-style launch bars and the new Windows 7 taskbar that lets you pin program icons right there and is never obscured by other shit on the screen.

Ban desktop shortcuts, or at least make them off by default, make them an option you have to turn on during install rather than turn off.

What’s more ridiculous is that many of the programs that insist on having desktop shortcuts are ones that you’d never open the program by a shortcut anyway, they’re ones where you’d directly open the file first, things like Adobe Reader, Java updater and VLC media player.

What really fucking annoys me is programs that re-spawn desktop shortcuts after they update – DON’T!

freedoms_stain, wants to live in a world where shortcuts fuck off and die, out.

Interesting Valve Related Shizzle

Just booted up Steam to start pre-loading the L4D2 demo and the Update News page advertised this job.

Valve are looking for software engineers to develop web apps eh? I wonder what for. Know what would be awesome? If they were developing a browser-based Steam client.

One of the things that is kinda shitty about the Steam client is it’s in-built Internet Browser (looks to be IE6 in a custom frame) that is used to access the Steam-store from within the client. It’s slow and unwieldy that basically shit, if Steam were developing a browser-based client then they could use the native browser for accessing the store and thus be miles faster.

It’d also be a fuck-tonne cool if I could use such a browser-based client to download some of the smaller of my Steam games to my girlfriends computer without actually having to install the full Steam client on her machine and use the Steam-cloud to access my save games and play where I left off while she’s out playing Hockey.

Of course I could be way way way off the mark here. They could be looking into a browser-based game, or simply looking to improve their existing Steam store with some modern JavaScript based shenanigans. Only time will tell.

freedoms_stain, wants it to be the browser client thing smile_teeth, out.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Incredulous

It’s the only word I have:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8339223.stm

To summarise, the House Speaker (Commons, British Parliament) got his knickers in a twist because an MP read an excerpt of a letter sent to him from his smartphone or PDA in the Commons (I take it that’s what was meant by “blackberry like device”).

How backwards is that? In the digital age MPs are discouraged from using technology to enhance their efficiency. They can read and send emails from them, but when it comes to referencing notes it’s paper or naught?

Honestly? Give them all a Netbook for use in the Commons, we can afford it now they’re not all claiming £400 a month for food they never ate.

Have some fucking sense.

freedoms_stain, In-fucking-credulous, out.

IM Conundrum

I use Pidgin to IM, I first came across it during the brief period I used Ubuntu, Pidgin was the default IM program packaged with the OS. I liked it. Minimal interface, tabbed chat window, multi-protocol, no ads, basic core features yet extensible for those who need/want extra stuff. A nice program basically.

Nice, but not perfect. One thing I notice with Pidgin is that messages sent to and from MSN contacts often have trouble getting thorough. It’s tempting to blame this on MSN, but when your friends tell you that it’s only you they’re getting frequent bounce-backs from or it’s only you that’s experiencing a high level of bounce-backs then you’ve got to seriously consider that the issue might be the client rather than the network. Although of course the possibility remains that the MSN network deliberately handles traffic to/from non-MSN clients poorly in an effort to drive those non-MSN client users back to an MSN client.

I really don’t want to go back to an MSN client with all the mess, the ads, the bullshit features I don’t want etc etc, and crucially the fact that it’s single-protocol and won’t allow me to connect to both my MSN accounts simultaneously – which is a must for me. So we look for an alternative.

Two come up in the initial search, Digsby and Trillian (4.1 beta).

Digsby has some interesting unique features, unfortunately the current build (as far as I can tell from the support forums) appears to have issues with both 64 bit Operating systems and Windows7. As a Windows7 64 bit user that pretty much rules out Digsby in the immediate future.

What I like about the Trillian 4.1 beta is the Windows7 optimisation with full support for the new Taskbar features including jump lists. Unfortunately bad experiences with previous versions of Trillian (admittedly at least 2 years ago if not longer) and the fact that Trillian comes in Pro (paid-for) and Free versions, the free version lacking various features from the Pro version.

So neither of these clients look like the perfect solution for me. So I implore the WWW, got any suggestions?

freedoms_stain, staying Purple, out.

Why Am I Not Surprised?

I have this sort of a hypothesis regarding sceptics of science, basically if someone is sceptical of any one particular scientific standpoint then they are more likely to be sceptical of other scientific standpoints, furthermore these people also tend to lean heavily towards a right-wing political view.

The “scientific standpoints” in question tend to be those where a certain amount of controversy exists – although the controversy is often an artificial construction of people who are opposed to the standpoint for reasons other than scientific. Examples include opposition to Evolution by people who have religiously motivated reasons for opposing the theory rather than scientific and opposition to Climate change based on economic or convenience issues rather than genuine opposing science.

Case study: Christopher Booker, an article of whom I addressed last week. I was curious to see if Booker fit the hypothesis, I already knew he was a Climate sceptic based on that single article, but would he prove to be sceptical on other scientific issues, and where would his political views lie?

The first thing I did was of course Google his name. Thereupon I discovered his primary column is in fact the Telegraph these days. A quick glance down his page on the Telegraph reveals a slew of articles challenging the validity of Climate Change as a man-made occurrence while the other predominant issues grinding his gears were all EU-related – revealing a rightwing political outlook (judging by the UK political compass). Additionally one of his Daily Mail articles expresses scepticism over the legitimacy over both taking precautions over Swine Flu (which continues to claim lives world-wide) and the link between BSE in cattle and variations of CJD in humans – yet more scientific scepticism.

A trip to the Booker Wikipedia article reveals the man supports Intelligent Design over Evolution – more scientific scepticism, and claims no scientific evidence for any link between second hand smoke and cancer, despite all the carcinogens proven to be present in the stuff and completely ignoring the potentially greater threat of damage caused by smoking to the cardiovascular system and the evidence presented for that, basically another count of scientific scepticism to his name.

I was quite amused to discover that Guardian blogger George Monbiot has dedicated a prize to Christopher Booker in the field of misrepresentation of Climate issues. The article contains various links to articles discussing Bookers dishonestly (or plain cluelessness) on a variety of environmental subjects. Worth a look.

So, it rather appears that Christopher Booker fits the hypothesis quite nicely then. He’s not alone unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who’ll oppose science because of discomfort rather than genuine scientific controversy. It’s a sad reality of Humanity.

freedoms_stain, not surprised, but strangely disappointed, out.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Sky Missed A Trick

or the point, not entirely sure which.

To what do I refer? Well the Sky Player of course, an online live streaming and on-demand service that Sky have recently had introduced to the Xbox 360 and will be bringing to the Windows Media Centre later in the year.

To me it sounded like a great opportunity for Sky to provide an alternative to less than legal means of watching premium TV shows, sporting events and movies, unfortunately the way in which Sky want to deliver the service and the pricing involved is unlikely to convert many illegal viewers.

Sky are treating subscription to their online services pretty much exactly like they treat their TV subscriptions, you buy "packs". The minimum pack is £15, the "Entertainment Pack" which contains precisely zero channels I'd find all that entertaining, and curiously doesn't include Sky's flagship channel Sky1, that'd be the one with all the decent programmes on it. To your £15 "Entertainment Pack" you can add Sports (£34) Movies (£32) or both (£42). For some bizarre reason you MUST have the "Entertainment Pack", you cannot just have the Sports and/or Movies Packs. Ok, it's not that bizarre, it's about money, the idea is to artificially inflate the perceived value of the product by packing the good stuff with shit and charging more for it. It's the classic paid-TV butt-fuck "Way-hey, *insert insane number* channels for £30 a month!" But you'll probably only watch a handful of the channels you're actually paying for, so the actual value is poor although may be perceived initially as good because of the sheer number of channels at your disposal.

To cut through the bullshit it's an outdated concept. When it comes to streaming media what is needed is a free choice of programmes to watch exactly when we want to watch them. Live TV streaming is only relevant if the actual programming is live - Sporting events, concerts, live news broadcasts etc. If the pirate community has anything to teach Industry then it's that on-demand is key. Yeah, Sky is providing On-demand streaming for "selected" programs from your subscribed channel packs but it's an aside rather than the focus when it should be the focus.

What I want, and I'm sure I'm not alone, is on-demand access to a massive library of programmes and movies with the option of watching live events if I so desire and crucially only to pay for what I actually watch and what I actually want to watch. When I first heard the Sky player was coming to Xbox and Windows what I hoped was a) That I'd be able to choose a specific set of channels to subscribe to rather than a pre-defined "pack" full of crap  with on-demand access to certain programs or b) I would have on-demand access to anything (be it TV shows, sports, live events or movies) - but only a set limited number of hours of streaming in a given month.

I would quite happily pay Sky £15 a month for 40 hours of streaming under the terms of b) (with the option to purchase more hours if required) but Sky wants to give me 24 hour a day streaming to stuff I don't actually want to watch. Where's the fucking sense in that?

Sky missed the boat on this one, or did they? The truth is there is no one else offering this kind of service in the UK, there's little competition in the streaming domain right now which means they can pretty much do what they like right now. Now all we as consumers can do is hope another service comes along which offers what we want. There were rumours not so long ago that Hulu would begin operating in the UK, if they were to begin offering on-demand streaming of popular shows that tend to get pirated it may kick start a bit of competition between providers to offer the consumer real choice and good value.

freedoms_stain, skyless, out.