Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Don't drive on the beach

There seems to be more of this sort of thing happening recently. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, I really do feel inclined against helping people in this situation. I don't really understand why they are so surprised at how quickly the tide comes in, how soft wet sand can be or why the tide might surround them even though they are high and dry for the moment.
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

I got into this game pretty late. It kept being mentioned as one of the best games of the year on game sites and everyone seemed to be pretty excited about the upcoming prequel. When it popped up on STEAM I bought it and then didn't play it for ages.

Initially it seemed to me to be a bit clunky. I wasn't wild about the human animations or the lack of talking over the external conversation parts (it seems cheap to have voice acting in some places but not everywhere you would expect it). Finally, there seemed to be a lot of running around and you start off extremely underpowered so combat is a little unsatisfying at first.

I decided to give it another go after a rave review from a friend in work and, apart from work and sleep, didn't stop playing until I had completed it. I should have hated it because it has a lot of backtracking, because it is tremendously buggy on my hardware (common but random crashes when transitioning between game zones and some odd event trigger problems) and because it takes a while to figure out the gameplay mechanics. Instead I found myself being really sucked into it.

The first and most important thing is that the atmosphere (especially graphically) is fantastic. The scenery is full of rusting machinery, decrepit buildings and overgrown flora. It looks very much like the pictures of Pripyat and the rest of the zone that I have seen which is apparently not surprising since the developers were able to gain access to it to do research. Your fellow stalkers and the various friends and enemies you meet all look realistically kitted out for the difficult terrain.

Then there's the gameplay. It's an interesting mix of reasonably freeform exploration/side-quests and a clearly delineated main path (the goal changes at a few points). You perform the side-quests to explore the various areas in the zone and to accumulate guns and artifacts (which bring special powers). Because of this the side quests never seem ridiculous and occasionally they are particularly good fun.

The main quest draws you towards the reactor building itself. Somewhat annoyingly it's possible to miss the main ending by not performing what appear to be a couple of side-quests earlier in the game. That main ending is fantastic, taking you all around the exterior of the reactor complex to a strange final showdown.

The AI is excellent throughout and the weapons behave very realisitically (with excellent modelling of ballistic drop and substantial spread on almost all weapons). Juggling armour, weight of inventory and availability of ammo adds a lot of useful difficulty to the game. It's certainly no pushover, even at the end when you are pretty seriously tooled up.

Finally, I think the thing that appeals to me most about the game is the careful reveal of the back story and the source material. It's based on the same source material as Tarkovsky's film (though it keeps much more closely to it than he did) and it was great recognising elements of the game (especially tonal ones) that I remembered from the film.

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

It's short, it's very short but then most episodic games are now. It's not quite as funny as I had hoped (it's no Portal and it's not as odd as Psychonauts) but it's definitely fun to play. I haven't played a proper special-mode-for-combat RPG in ages. As an RPG it is a bit of a cheat since there really isn't a lot of choice in how you level up, there's no way to emphasise certain aspects of your characters. On the other hand, that doesn't really matter and it makes for a nicely balanced game. New enemies pose a real threat and the last two bosses in particular are pretty difficult.

I won't pretend to know enough about modern RPG play to claim that it's truly the real deal but as a way to spend a happy afternoon/evening/early night it certainly does the job. It's not really all that difficult which some might find annoying but, being rubbish as these sorts of games, I can live with it.

Unsurprisingly the graphic design is fantastic and the underlying plot suitably absurdist (if not amasingly original). In fact the art is so good, such a pleasure to look at that it takes a lot of the sting out of their being only three major gameplay areas (and an extra area for tooling up).

I'll definitely be looking out for the next episode in the shiny future.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Para something.

Motorised parachutes. Forget what they're called. They're surprisingly noisy and hence annoying, I think becasue this part of the river is so quiet when there aren't major ships heading up to the port.

On the Boyne

In summer, real summer. Nice fog rolling in on the cool sea breeze, miscellaneous fowl crowing in a wood back up the path and some boats heading up river to my right. Pretty sweet.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New footbridge over the Nanny

This really has been taking a long time (though it didn't help that they were doing it over a rather rough winter). It's finally getting there though and we might actually be able to use it in a month or two (presumably after the local FFers open it). There are no permanent railings yet but the paths up to it are being laid and that's a pretty good sign. At least this one will be hard to burn and should last better.

Puppy loves his crab

Woody found a reasonably large crab swept up by the apparently endless East wind but can't figure out how to get at the meat. I have a feeling that this crab has been here a little too long to be the healthy option but it probably doesn't matter much as there isn't really anything he can do about it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shiny new Airport Express

I figured it would be handy to have one of these for the living room both to give me flexibility in placing the main base station and so that we can use it as an input for the surround. It works really well, especially with Airfoil from Rogue Amoeba which allows me to broadcast any BBC Real streams I can pick up.

It also makes a portable wifi base station for when we're off visiting somewhere. It's much better than the ones we have in the corporate apartments in Mountain View and obviously it'll be handy anywhere I'm visiting that only has fixed broadband.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sleeping samurai

He certainly didn't seem to have a problem with me being in his master's office. It's definitely one of the nice things about a visit to the mothership that they're allowed dogs in the office there. It's amusing to be asked by a PFW who doesn't know you how you feel about dogs and their proximity to your keyboard.

Veg eating for real

Proof, if proof be need be, that I sometimes eat veg even when I'm not forced to. Of course the photo could be staged but I didn't want to share the whole green braces experience.

Clover Coffee Machine

Very flash coffee machine in work. It's about $11k of shiny latest-thing-in-caffeine-consumption and it's just sitting all forlorn in one of the random canteens in Mountain View. It apparently can make awesome coffee and I certainly found that it was possible to get very different flavours from the same beans.

The problem is, I think, that it needs someone more expert than me to really do it justice. For one thing, whoever had set it up initially had the brew time set way too high (it's sort of like a vacuum-pump version of a cafetiƩre) so I was getting only muddy rubbish. I had a lot of trouble finding the right value in a reasonable amount of time. That's just one of several usefully adjustable parameters (the other big one being brew temperature). Presumably one can just download suggestions for common beans (the initial values I tried were ones I remembered from a review of the machine).

What was odd was that I had planned to make a special trip up to SF to find a cafe with one on this trip over and yet I just stumbled onto this in the American Kitchen cafe near my building. It actually put me off bothering to find one in a cafe which I regret now as they would probably have done a better job with it.

Now that Starbucks have bought the manufacturer there are rumours that we'll see them in every mermaid store but it's conceivable that, despite their protestations to the contrary, they bought it to bury it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kriegsmarine in Dublin

Unsurprisingly our German colleagues were able to talk their way onto the sub.


It's hard working life.
I think we justified it as office decoration. Took two days for a bunch of us to build.

New coffee Machine

So shiny. A Mazzer Mini Electronic
for the grinder, Isomac Relax Automatica heat exchanger machine, Grindenstein Knockbox, bottomless portafilter and Reg Barber convex tamper. Grinder and machine needed a lot of dialling in. I like it a lot.

Definitely requires a lot of work to keep clean since it shows up dirt like nothing else and it can really put you off your coffee. Not to mention that it'll need regular washing out in summer. The big advantage of both is that, being automatic, I can slot them into my breakfast making schedule and not have to hover over them, timer in hand. Of course they have manual buttons if I feel inclined but I basically don't. Most of my tweaking is on the grind and cooling preflush side.

Of those, definitely the biggest issue is the preflush. I'm finding that the initial double-shot flush isn't quite long enough to cool it to useable level and that I can often be back up above the right temperature if I take the time to lay out Trish's breakfast before getting back to making my coffee. I guess I just need to stop worrying about the machine running out of water. I did ask about getting the kit to plumb it in but was advised that it wasn't really a great idea for home use (mainly due to mains pressure and inline filtering).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Time for another BF game I think

In the future, infantry will be so laden down with armour and weapons that they'll be able to run more or less as far as I can, more or less as quickly as I do. In the future the weapons the infantry will be equipped with won't include grenade launchers or, indeed, grenades. In the future tanks will no longer have coaxially mounted machine guns and their shells won't fly as far or as fast as they do now. In the future anti-armour missiles will be so weak that they won't be able to deal with giant, slow-moving, walking tanks. In the future, anti-aircraft shells won't kill infantry and assault rifles will be substantially less accurate than an M16. In the future it will be hard to distinguish friend from foe and a small roomful of grunts will be able to hold off a concerted attack of everything the infantry can throw at them. In the future, all the billboards will have amusing early-21st century ads for the delectation of soldiers everywhere.

Mind you, the future looks and sounds bloody great. The future features flying through the air in rocket pods. The future makes you work for those essentials like grenades and explosives (so no change there then).

Overall, the demo isn't that good and it looks like you'll need unlocks to do the things you used to do for free (like use grenades to clear out a room, say). That just doesn't seem like a deal to me. Also, the hovertanks are just shit. Really, really shit.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Poor Lost Rome

I was playing a lot of Rome: Total War, a game that is, if anything, more time consuming than Civ. Basically, you start as a Roman faction in the middle Republic (when they had conquered all of southern Italy and eastern Sicily) and have to take over 50 provinces and Rome itself. It makes a valiant attempt to be historically accurate, certainly enough that it isn't annoying.

As a pure strategy game it takes ages to play since your units can take a long time to move from one front to another (which is reasonable). What makes it even more incredibly time consuming is that you can play each battle as a fixed-resource RTS (a lot like the old Myth games). This is worth doing for really close battles as most of the time the player does a better job than the CPU (as is so often the case). I can't imagine that anyone plays all of the battles, of course, since that would require ridiculous amounts of time on the hard levels but it's cool to give them a go.

After a lot of playing this one I fired up Barbarian Invasions, the expansion pack. It's a surprisingly different game. Essentially the main difference is that when you take the last city of a barbarian tribe (which are most of the groups you will come across) they become a horde which attempts to find a new homeland, sacking cities as they go. They will eventually capture and settle (rather than sack) the three cities required to settle into a new homeland but in the process they can disturb other groups. You can have a ripple effect as a horde creates hordes out of other tribes and they spread across the map. Starting as the Hun horde you can easily set off the Goths, Vandals, Sarmatians and Roxolani. In one game I did this and when I finally made contact with them again (after they had settled) they had conquered all of Europe from Dacia to Aquitania, leaving a devastated Western Roman Empire behind them. Actually, playing this game is rather depressing in some ways as the remnant empires keep splitting and buckling under the pressure of the hordes. The Huns are basically all conquering and by far the easiest tribe to play but it seems sad to watch the Western Empire riven by rebellion as you march on Rome. Still, who can say that the fall of the empire was necessarily a bad thing for us today (as opposed to people then). There is no way to know what society might have become and those who hold that we would be living in an Eastern autocracy have a rather simple view of what happens over nearly two thousand years.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hail to the New Tech

My lovely employers threw us some unexpected cash just before Christmas and, after consulting with her indoors, I blew it all in two hours at komplett.ie. Shiny new video card and the required new mobo (for the pci-e), new CPU (because of the mobo), new power supply (new mobo is 24-pin) and new hard disk (new mobo doesn't do RAID the old way).

Man she is the kicking. Been replaying everything on arse-kicker resolution and it is most pleasant.

BF2 many months on

So I've been playing it for a lot longer now and it's time for further impressions.

After many patches (1.12 currently) they've definitely sorted out the login servers and have improved the browser (though not enough, not nearly enough). They've changed the rank requirements and the unlock points so that even I, Sargent Heresiarch, have three unlocked weapons. Of course I'm not too sure I've unlocked the right ones (and the community doesn't seem to help much here). So far, the new medic weapon makes that character class much more survivable and the support weapon is much better than the old one (it's far more accurate). I miss the grenade launcher from the assault rifle though and so I usually don't play with the G3 (which doesn't seem all that accurate anyway).

The thing is that we still don't have a really effective way to deal with aircraft. Chopper pilots are just getting more skilled as they play, I've started seeing pilots fly through the tubes in Kubra Dam which is pretty incredible. The problem is that there still isn't much your average infantryman can do about it. The Stingers are stationary and very slow to reload. They also don't actually do much damage and love nothing more than flares. Those of us who play anti-armor are getting better at hitting the less experienced (ie, hovering) pilots but it's still pretty hard. Even the mobile AA is pretty weak, there's no chance of winning a 1 on 1 fight with a chopper, you pretty much have to surprise them or have someone else soften them up.

Of course, there's the argument that choppers and ground-attack fighters should be left to the jets but that's not really how it plays out on most of the maps. Usually the flyboys boot around trying to take each other out to no useful effect. I guess I'll just have to learn to duck more.

I must say though that the game has given me some great moments and being part of a big push is a great feeling. I'm enjoying the dismounted combat much more than I thought I would at first, especially on Sharqi Peninsula (a great map).

Having recently upgraded my kit (effectively to a new PC) I can also say that with all the graphical options on it looks superb. I had some trouble playing online due to a corrupted cd-key entry in the registry but EA tech support were very helpful and helped me through a fix (even over Christmas).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

BF2, Top or Pants, who knows yet?

Well, it does look good. Which is nice. It also sounds good (though I can't figure out why I can never hear any VOIP chatter). It even runs pretty quickly when it's going despite my machine being a couple of years old (just don't get too optimistic about your graphics choices).

Does that make it any good? Well, yes and no. The kicking graphics and sound improve your ability to kill things no end. You can hear soldiers creeping along behind walls, see armour in the distance and make out infantry movement between buildings. The squad based play (when it works) is excellent and being on foot isn't the terrible pain it was in the past.

But this is not the online game that Desert Combat was. It wants you to have a permanent identity so it can give you rewards and, presumably, stop you ripping it off or cheating. The catch is that if you are going to require everyone to login then you should really provide more authentication servers so that it doesn't take seven minutes (by my watch) to log in. Perhaps the times I play the game are particularly busy but since I play it in the evening after work (and gardening) I don't have a lot of flexibility about that.

It's annoying too that you have to wade through a whole bunch of non-negotiable ads to get there. At least you can deal with that by nuking the movie files from your install.
The big delay is when you actually want to play. Select multiplayer and wait for the server list to populate, select apply filters to prune it of all the ones you don't want (why show servers that are full, BTW?) and wait. Then wait some more.

Why doesn't it apply the filters by default, it's not like I ever change them? So then you get a list of suitable servers but it isn't sorted by ping despite the fact that it should be (according to the column highlighting). Why is that? So, re-order the columns for ping and try to find one with an actual ping value (so that you know it didn't simply fail to respond). Now try and connect. Well odds are good that if you picked a server with one slot free that slot is gone. Fair enough the game is popular. Still it takes a very long time to tell you that. Instead pick a server with a few slots free and wait to join. Then wait some more.

It will now spend a long, long time checking you haven't tampered with your client. Is there no way to precalculate this during the other interminable parts of the process? Couldn't it let me join and kick me if I had tinkered?
Anyway, now you're into the game. But what's that? Lag? Weird bunny hopping? Could it be that the 90ms ping server isn't really at 90ms from you? Tough, you'll need to disconnect and try again. Or alternatively the game could play along happily for an hour or more while you rack up the points until you are second on your (admittedly losing) team and then drop the connection. That's annoying in and of itself (I mean we only had two tickets left) but it's particularly annoying because that means no addition to your central stats. So the fact that you've picked up a commendation for being a badass and that you've added a lot of kills to your negligible tally counts for naught. Nice.

Then there are the balance issues. Why can't we have a MANPADS? A stinger to the cockpit made quite a big difference in DC so why can't I have one in BF2? The ATGMs are lovely but too slow for anti-air. The stingers we do have (on some armour and on stationary mounts) are very, very weak, too easy to trick with any warm object, tend to hit your team as much as the enemy (not good when you call the CAP to help fight off the choppers) and take forever to lock and to reload. Worse, if you are assaulting a position then you won't have safe control of the emplacement (unless you sneak on for a quick shot) so all they need to do is call in a chopper and you can't fight it off.

I do like the damage balance on the armour though. There's nothing like killing a tank with a shot to a soft-spot to make you feel tough. The fact the you didn't see his supporting APC and are now dead doesn't take the shine off it. The infantry seem pretty good, though I can't figure out why half a mag of 5.56 to the body from an M249 is beaten by a few shots from an SMG. I usually lose one-on-one firefights because I'm not that good which seems fair to me.

Overall, if you are very patient, have a lot of time to devote to it and an amazingly central network connection you are sorted. Otherwise, wait for a working patch (not 1.0.1).

The man LOVES his crab

At the Crab Pot in Bellevue. They tie bibs around your necks, put paper on the table and pour a pot of shellfish and spuds onto it. Add a tub of melted butter and feel the pain. Do be careful with the clams though.