Hands on with the Xbox 360

Smyths of Jervis Street have set up an Xbox 360 pod in their games section. The pod consists of an Xbox 360 in a perspex dome, a beautiful Samsung LCD screen and a couple of controllers. Altogether, these must cost a couple of grand a piece. Very nice pieces of kit.

But most interesting is the fact that they actually give you a chance to play some of the games. Right now, they're only running the demo version of Ubisoft's King Kong game, but I've been told that they're hoping to get a copy of Perfect Dark Zero during the next week.

I stood in line for a while and finally got a chance to play a bit of King Kong, and I'm not all that impressed. Although the game looks very pretty with a lot of little graphical effects, and a really satisfying meat to the models, this game has actually got me worrying about the overall quality of the Xbox 360. There was a definite price to pay for this high-definition lushness: the frame rate was terrible, and the game frequently slowed down during particularly busy scenes (and let's not even mention the questionable physics).

Running right next to the Xbox 360 running King Kong was an Xbox running... King Kong. This side-by-side comparison was most likely intended to show us all the things next-gen games have to offer over the current-gen, but had the opposite effect of highlighting all of the flaws: the Xbox version didn't have the high-resolution textures, but ran well with a high frame rate and, most importantly, didn't drop a single frame, meaning it looked nicer on the eyes and well, looked like a nicer game

There are still a couple of months left before King Kong releases on the 360, which means there is still time to tidy it up and fix these problems - let's hope they do. In the meantime, roll on Perfect Dark Zero.

Clearwire: Initial Report

I've had a weekend or so to play with Clearwire. Here's what I've noticed:

Speed

According to the Irish ISP speed test, I'm getting 2MB down, and approximately 300kb up. Sharing this among two computers isn't much of a stretch: my girlfriend was able to comfortably run Software Update on her iBook (which hadn't been updated in about 5 months) while I was able to maintain a 120kb/s download.

I'm not much of a PC gamer, but I've had no problems using Xbox live on Clearwire. Smooth, lagless gaming. Which means there's no real excuse for me having my ass handed to me in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow except my lack of real skills. Dammit.

Setup

Setup was certainly simple. They just provide you with a little box, about the size of two DVD cases put together, that you just put near a window. It presents you with an RJ45 connection, and that's it. No messing about with usernames or passwords. Usually my first instinct when you give me a closed black box is to crack it open and see how it works, but after three months of struggling to get broadband in our apartment, I'm really not going to push my luck with this one.

My only concern is at the user end of the RJ45 connection is a public IP, meaning your computer is connected directly to the internet. And I'll be damned if I'll ever put have a Windows machine directly on the internet. But no worries, the clearwire works perfectly with my Linksys WRT54G.

Issues?

Nothing too spectacular too far. The only thing I've noticed is a couple of DNS oddities - the DNS servers they give you seem to have trouble with a lot of hosts. For example, thefraudcast.com:

Server: cwi004.clearwire.ie

Address: 85.134.255.245#53

Non-authoritative answer:

*** Can't find www.thefraudcast.com: No answer

versus a working server:

Server: 194.125.2.240

Address: 194.125.2.240#53

Non-authoritative answer:

www.thefraudcast.com canonical name = thefraudcast.com. Name: thefraudcast.com Address: 67.18.209.59

... but this can all be fixed by providing my own DNS server ahead of the ISP-provided ones.

I'm reasonably impressed so far. It'll be interesting to see how it scales as more people jump on board.

Broadband at last!

Reports are coming in of a working broadband installation in my apartment. Rumour has it that my girlfriend rang up the guys in Clearwire yesterday and they delivered the modem today - she just plugged it in and away she went.

(Incidentally, right now, her IRC conversation consists of "SO HAPPY", "THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE" and "THIS IS HOW LIFE SHOULD BE! EASY!" repeated again and again.)

Can't wait to get home and get my hands on it. What will I download first?!!

Technorati Tags: broadband, internet, clearwire

Fatal Inertia →

Fatal Inertia will be one of the Playstation 3's first titles. It's being touted as a "futuristic racing game", in which you whizz around canyons in super-fast aircraft blowing the other competitors out of the sky. So basically, a cross between WipeOut and the "pod racing" scene from Star Wars.

But what on earth were they thinking when they came up with that name? A while ago, myself and my friends came up with a "Random Shit Movie Generator" - take one ridiculous adjective, couple it with an absurd noun, throw on a couple of shit stars, and add a horrible tagline, and you've got the makings of a completely shit movie.

Example: **Outlawed Fortunes** _"Ready or not, here he comes"_ starring Rutger Hauer & Beverly D'Angelo

Is that what the Playstation 3 is going to be about? The gaming equivalent of a straight-to-video movie?

Technorati Tags: Games, Playstation

Grand Designs

More4 launched a few weeks ago, and already it's become a major part of my TV-watching habits. Well, less than I'd probably like. My girlfriend doesn't think Jon Stewart is particularly funny (and, Crossfire appearance aside, I tend to agree with her) so we tend to avoid that.

But the most surprising thing has been a massive addiction to Grand Designs. In just a couple of weeks, that show has become such a massive part of my TV viewing habits, I turn it on even if I'm in the middle of doing something else like cooking dinner.

I've thought long and hard about this. I think there are a couple of things going on here. First, obviously, is the actual building. Nine times out of ten, the people being showcased are the kinds of insufferable assholes that most likely had no other choice than to strike out on their own because no-one wanted these cunts for neighbours.

This works for me because I like shouting at the TV. And these episodes give me plenty of opportunities to turn the air blue from the amount of obscenities I'm hurling at these people with more money than taste. For example, Grand Designs Abroad recently a couple who built a god-awful wooden house in France because this the husband really wanted to become a writer and the only thing stopping him was the lack of a badly-designed house in the middle of a French valley. That episode gave me lots to shout about.

But it's not always like this. As I said, this is only nine times out of ten. The other time is typically a really heartwarming, reassuring story about someone who really is chasing down their dream. Like the one last week of a guy who worked in a forest in England and spent ten years living in a leaky caravan while waiting for planning permission to build an organic house in the forest. The end result was something so pretty and beautiful that it absolutely brought a tear to my eye. That he built it all by himself, right down to the carving of the 16,000 wooden slates only added to the beauty of this episode.

But there's another reason. And I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I think I'm developing a bit of a hetero crush on the presenter, Kevin McCloud. Don't get me wrong - this isn't a major thing. Certainly not like my hetero crush on Peter Gallagher (more specifically: Peter Gallagher's eyebrows) or my full-on hetero boner for Noah Wyle. No, no. This is much simpler - I just like his little soliloquies. These are perfectly judged breaks from the chaos of the actual home-building, providing just the right balance of caution and hope.

I was thinking of dressing as Kevin McCloud for Halloween (other ideas included: Hellboy, Arthur Dent, Biff Tannen). There wouldn't have to be much to the costume, but I would occasionally step aside and offer my own soliloquies about the party, pausing occasionally for emotional effect.

"People... Are the life and soul of every party... And this party certainly has people... But are they they right people? ... And will it be enough?"

Technorati Tags: More4, [Kevin McCloud](http://www.technorati.com/tag/Kevin McCloud)

Why gaming in Europe sucks

Shadow of the Colossus is the sequel to Ico, one of the most incredible games I've ever played. Ever. I can't call Ico underrated, because everyone who played it agrees that it was, indeed, one of the best games they'd ever played. Ever. Instead, it suffered from woeful under-exposure and an apathetic market. Incredible word of mouth and a dedicated fanbase mean that pre-owned copies of Ico swap hands for approximately EUR50 on eBay. It still ranks as the only game I've ever played through more than three times.

And to say that I've been looking forward to its sequel would be an understatement. I've been poring over every video, awe-struck by the scale and enormity of the promise. [ has only made matters worse. From the review:

In short, Shadow of the Colossus breaks storytelling barriers none of us knew existed. It's the rare game for which the often overused words "ground-breaking" were truly reserved for, and it's enough to make you regret every stupid coin you ever collected. There's more to gaming than rote clichés and borrowed ideas, and Shadow of the Colossus is kind enough to remind us of what could be. You really couldn't ask for better than that. Besides merely being one of gaming's great moments, this is the experience of the year.

The game is being released today (October 18th 2005) in the US. Checking out when I can expect to get my grubby little paws on my own, European copy...

(Author's own emphasis)

That's two thousand and six. Might as well be two thousand and fifty. And this is why gaming in Europe sucks: all the localisation that needs to be done - manuals, box art, voices, interface - multiplied the 6 or so languages that Europe requires, means that we don't usually get our games until much, much later than our American cousins. In some cases, like Animal Crossing, this can mean that we don't to play the game for over a year and a half after its original release (even though there are typically perfectly good PAL releases in English for the Australian market).

This bites.

Simple Wifi Setup?

Our office is reasonably thin, but quite long. It's also broken up into three areas

  • Developer Room
  • Front office
  • Board room

The developer room is, obviously, where most of the action happens. It's got an existing wireless connection, but since our office is so long, its range doesn't quite extend to the front office. It would be nice if the people in the front office could also get access to the wireless network, since most of those people use laptops anyway. And since we're kitting out the building, why not give the board room its own wireless access point too?

I didn't think it would be unreasonable to assume that there existed a wireless access point that contained two "remote" APs, that weren't actually APs at all, but simply extended the range of the main Access Point. This would mean that someone could connect in the developer room, walk the length of the building and enter the board room (where most of our meetings, both internal and external) are held, without having to disconnect and reconnect. Surely this would be a fairly common request?

Apparently not. I spoke to our supplier about this and he told me he never heard of such a solution. He said that most companies just make do with the disconnect - move - reconnect scenario.

There must be something out there like this. Has anyone heard of anything like it?

There's a special place in hell for bike thieves →

In the 18-odd hours between coming home from TechCamp and parking my bike in our building's underground parking area and stepping out again to cycle into town, someone had managed to break into the underground parking area and run off with approximately five bikes (I'm guessing five because there were five mangled locks left where our bikes had been.)

I'm still pretty furious about the whole thing. But I can't tell if I'm more furious at the guy (or girl!) who stole my bike, or our management company for recognising that there was a huge problem with theft and vandalism in our parking area and yet doing absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

Technorati Tags: Bike

TechCamp roundup

On Saturday, I jetted across to the Northside Civic Centre for the inaugural TechCamp. I gave a talk on "Getting Things Done" and moderated a discussion about "Using technology to improve our lives."

So how did it go?

I thought my talk on Getting Things Done went okay, in spite of being time-limited to just giving a really brief introduction to the topic. The discussion didn't go so well. I'd put this down to the fact that halfway through the thing, my mind started wandering down the more philosophical road of "What actually counts as an improvement, and what's merely a convenience?" and just wouldn't get back on-topic. Dammit.

The other talks were good. Tom Raftery's discussion about blogs and marketing was quite interesting and eye-opening, even if I did come out with less of a clear idea of what "blogging" is all about than when I went in.

What went well?

Well, the casual, laid-back nature was nice. And it was really good to put a face (and a voice!) to many of the blogs I'd been reading. And some of the talks were really very interesting. The venue, in spite of its awkward location, was well-fitted out.

How could it have been better?

Well, one of the things that I thought that made (Foo|Bar)Camp so compelling was the participatory nature of the things. There didn't seem to be as much of that at this one - although the talks were generally quite open and relaxed, it seemed to be pretty one way. Perhaps a communal project for the next one?

In the end, I think it was definitely worth getting up at 7.30 on a Saturday morning to cycle the 10-odd kilometers to get to. And a rollicking good start to something that I hope will continue for quite a while.

Technorati Tags: TechCamp

Spielberg's next movie is a game?

Stumbled across two articles about Steven Spielberg this morning.

The first comes from IGN, who discuss an interview he gave to the Hollywood Reporter, in which he says

A good movie will bring you inside of itself just by the sheer brilliance of the director/writer/production staff, but in the future, you will physically be inside the experience, which will surround you top, bottom, on all sides... I've invented it, but because patent is pending, I can't discuss it right now.

The second comes from the BBC, who report that Spielberg has signed a deal to work with EA on three games. From the article:

Steven Spielberg, who worked his magic with ET, is now looking do the same with games giant EA.

The acclaimed film director has agreed to develop three original games with EA's Los Angeles studios.

Work has already started on the first of the three projects, which EA says will be a next generation game which appeals to a broad audience.

Perhaps the two are related, perhaps not. Anyway, let's hope the results are a little more like The Dig, and a little less like The E.T. video game.

Technorati Tags: Games, Spielberg, Movies

Fahrenheit

Positioning itself as a 'true' marriage of narrative and interactivity, and promising a different experience each time it's played, Fahrenheit has a lot to live up to. It's a shame then that the game comes off something more like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" for the 21st century, except perhaps slightly clunkier.

Early on, the game seems to deliver on many of its promises. The initial flurry of interactivity appears impressive and leaves the player with high hopes for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Regardless of what choices the player makes, the game remains largely unaffected. The game provides the illusion of a branching storyline where the players' choices open new paths, but in truth there is just One True Path. This is most obviously demonstrated early on with the option to save a child who has just fallen into a frozen lake, with the police approaching. Choose to save the child and run away, the police find you - continue from last save. Save the child and run away in a different direction, and the police still find you (with the same cut-scene) - continue from last save. On my third attempt, I finally saw what the game wanted me to do. And it's this distinction that holds the game back: it's about what the game wants to do, not what the player wants to do.

In a recent interview, Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island) condemned the idea of 'interactive storytelling', saying

...I don't believe stories should be interactive. I believe stories should be _participatory_... You're participating in my story, but you're not going to change it, because it's _my_ story. I have a story to tell you.

This makes a lot of sense, and Fahrenheit sits a lot better as a "participatory story." Hackneyed script aside, it's as immersive a game as I've ever played, and it's quite capable of tearing away a few hours at a time, while comfortably providing plenty of opportunities to duck out of the game: a feature I wish more games provided.

Technorati Tags: Fahrenheit, Games, Reviews

Microsoft: Codename Max →

Microsoft released Microsoft: Codename Max, a photo-organisation application, just like not at all like iPhoto or Picasa.

I haven't had a chance to try this out properly just yet (still firmly entrenched in iPhoto territory), but my first impressions are: Wow, Microsoft are really going after the Apple dollar now. Right down to jacking their smooth gradient web style.

Although, I'll give them this much - the transparent box icon is very cute.

Technorati Tags: Microsoft, Max, Software

Talkin' bout a Revolution

Well, here's one thing I missed: Nintendo unveiled the controller for their next-generation console, the Revolution, over the weekend. And it looks... well... it looks different. It looks blocky and basic - like an extremely simplistic DVD remote control.

But it's not the looks that matter. If the DS has taught Nintendo nothing else, it's taught them that they can sidestep the Xbox 360 vs Playstation 3 one-upmanship and make innovative, entertaining games by exploring other possibilities - shifting the emphasis from the "games" to "playing." What's more, it's taught them that these games can be made for a fraction of the budget of games on other platforms.

This seems to be a lesson that they've learned well. Although the Revolution will certainly be powerful enough to churn out some staggering amount of polygons, it seems as if a lot of the emphasis will be on small 'parlour games', a la Wario Ware or Mario Party. Things like EyeToy and Singstar were great ideas and encouraged a lot of people to play games that wouldn't normally because they were easy to pick-up-and-play - a quick burst of fun, rather than an epic challenge. But because these were niche accessories, they weren't catered for to any great extent. Since this is the primary controller for the new Nintendo console, there's no fear of it being relegated to that sort of niche status.

And this is the other important lesson here: games have, essentially, plateaued. Let me explain. My girlfriend is someone who has never played games, and she's not going to start now. It's not because she doesn't like games, she does. She recently completed and enjoyed Silent Hill 2, but only through a system where she took on the puzzle/exploration parts, and threw the controller at me for action parts, or anything that required precise control. And that's the lesson here: unfamiliarity with controllers is a major barrier to entry for new gamers. Once again, we can give the example of EyeToy as an example of something that worked because people could play it without requiring the type of muscle-memory that gamers have built up through years of practice.

But Nintendo aren't just courting a new market with this idea. With this new controller, it opens a whole range of possibilities for people who are more familiar with games to engage them with new a new way to experience familiar games. For example, playing First Person Shooters like Doom 3 with the long, remote control-style stick acting as your gun or torch and direction controlled by the analog thumbstick. According to the IGN hands-on, this set-up is more intuitive than any currently-existing system.

But all this yapping won't really do much good. For a much better glimpse of what Nintendo have in mind, you should check out their promo video, which gives you an idea of the various uses for the controller.

I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Technorati Tags: Games, Nintendo, Revolution

"Free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can't"

On Friday, I took off out to Wicklow for a wedding, and I come back today with a bruised liver, a slightly soiled suit, an ingrown toenail and mild constipation from the amount of rich food and drink I consumed over the past three days.

Three days kicking it around Greystones and Glendalough. Three days of sitting around Glendalough House, getting drunk on champagne and canapes, going for naps in the library. Three days of hanging out with people I only knew from their various neuroses. Three days of feeling like Uncle Monty.

It's so nice to be back to normality. Don't get me wrong, this was by far the most interesting party I've ever been to, never once veering towards "dull", and I loved spending a few days feeling like a member of the landed gentry, but by 10pm on Saturday I was ready to kill someone for a Diet Coke that didn't have alcohol in it.

So, what have I missed?

Technorati Tags: glendalough, Ireland, personal