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Sunday 30 September 2007

Knowing nowt about audio... [Brit]

To my right, in the office (or 'den' as some Americanized EED colleagues call it) I have a small Sony midi Hi-Fi; still cranking out BBC Radio 2 in less than superb stereo some 6 years after purchase. It ain't big, it ain't clever, and it does MiniDisc which as you can imagine, I use all the time.

There is nothing wrong with it per se, but I would like to explore the area of replacement at some stage before Christmas - perhaps bizarrely we don't actually have a 'proper audio rig' anywhere in the flat, albeit there are screens and computers aplenty. Priorities, Priorities! I guess.

I do know that I want separates. I do know that I'm not convinced by the argument that spending an extra £200 per yard on oxygen free hand spun titantium & chocolate cabling isn't one that is going to swing with me unless Dawkins himself says its OK. I also want Digital DAB radio, and the ability to plug it into the network (if such a combo system exists) would be a bonus.

So there you go. Where to start? What brands are worth the looksee, and which aren't?

Sincerely, Confused of Tunbridge Wells.

Saturday 29 September 2007

Enemy Territory Quake Wars Random thoughts [Spiny]

ETQW popped through the letterbox today. I'd forgotten to cancel my preorder based on the horrible experience I had with the earlier beta & demo...

...but you know what? It's actually not half bad. They've got propper sound assets in now & it's a raucous battle experience. The classes have all got useful stuff, there's a wealth of ways you can contribute to the team. Combat is pretty satisfying and it runs very well indeed (1650x1050 here on normal settings with an X1900).

The objective system is good, even if the HUD is a little frightening at first. It's all useful info though & a read through the manual is well worth while, unusually enough. Playing as engineer is fun, as is sniper. solider has the typical iD hit-where-you-aim feel rather than CS randomness.

Nice open larger scale class based combat, vs TF2's tighter quarters.

PS, Don't get the special edition, the extra disc is crap.

Friday 28 September 2007

TF2 Achievements [Spiro]

It's a nice part of the game and I thought we could come up with a few of our own achievements, for instance:

Protect the medic (more than once by accident) as the heavy

wait for the rest of your team to spawn before charging off alone

Play as part of a team for at least 1 round

Lets have some more?

God Bless The Beej! [Brit]

You know, I'm not really into the sentimental mush type scene; I'd much rather grab a cheap flight to Burma and film monks being beaten, but here's the thing... God Bless Beej.

For those of you joining us from places far flung, and wondering how on earth a website like exists in the way it does, I point wholeheartedly at [EED]Beej, a man who is to this webby what Chuck Norris is to low-life criminal scum in B-movies various.

So, well done that man and don't think for an instant that your script0ring work and general 'net dalliances go unobserved or unappreciated... you've done sterling work here.


TF2 mechanics [Lurks]

I've noticed some weird stuff in TF2 and started to formulate ideas about why that might be. A quick bit of in-game testing turned up some unexpected results.

My first hypothesis, based on observing soldier RPG fire on heavy weapon dudes, was that the game doesn't just apply a fixed value of damage per weapon to any class regardless. A quick bit of testing with some class v class melee turned out this surprising result.

TF2 randomises damage to a large degree, making it really quite hard to tell what an average hit of something is for. However I noticed no difference in damage taken in hitting another scout versus hitting a HW dude. We hit each one twice to check and really I can ascertain that the damage of the scout's bat does about 28-47 damage per hit. The really strange thing is that crits always hit for 105. On any class.

So we can rule out the hidden armour, for melee at least. However even a quick hit with a soldier's spade yielded a whack well outside of the scout bat's range with a 55 and 61 hit. The more obviously heavier melee weapons do indeed do more damage.

Also I looked at patterns of bullet impacts from the scout shotgun and the spread on other weapons like the pistol and observed something interesting. It looks like the spread happens quite early. If you fire at a wall some distance away, you see it's quite tight. Yet if you fire right up close, you don't see the tightness of rounds you'd expect. Annecdotally, also, the weighting of the spread does seem odd. You most often take SOME sort of damage with someone firing a shotgun at you from the other side of the map. If the spread was 'natural', then that just wouldn't happen very often at all. Similarly with pistols, you see a number of railgun like accurate shots and then some very wide ones. I don't think valve is using random spreading precisely.

I suspect what they're doing is rolling a number as to how many of the shots or pellets are 'wide' and then throwing those wide, while those that aren't tend to be very tight.

I wonder if the crit figures I obtained end up being maximum damage x 2. It STILL seems high since I did not observe any hit that was over 50. And the crit rates are also quite high really. Normal crit in an RPG is 2X damage normally. Not 2X of the maximum damage your weapon roll could do and THEN some.

This goes some way to explaining the difference in opinion on the scout bat. One guy said it was even, that he'd seen someone taken down in two hits. I said, no it's quite pussy really, you need to whack people a lot with it. Of course with a crit being more than HALF the health of a heavier class like a soldier, it's not hard to see how the range comes about.

Thursday 27 September 2007

Removing Friendly Fire from TF2 [Lurks]

We really didn't see this one coming. This morning I go to update our server's MOTD with a clever bit of text from another UK FF server which had a handy guide to spotting spies with FF on, only there's an update. I read the news and Valve have removed Friendly Fire from TF2!

Removed mp_friendlyfire cvar for servers. Team Fortress 2 breaks in a number of ways if this is on

This is quite a remarkable thing to do. They did so by saying that basically the mp_friendlyfire cvar breaks the game in a number of ways. Without actually stating what ways those are. Certainly after 375 hours of TF2 being racked up by the clan in the last week, I think it's not unreasonable to suggest that Valve's statement is abject nonsense. The game is not broken in any single way at all with mp_friendlyfire 1.

I started off being pretty agnostic about friendly fire. Natural inclination to have it on based on our predilections with previous FPS games over the clan's ten year history. I remember when we were quite insistant in the distant past regarding weapon stay on Unreal Tournament leagues. They wanted it on, we wanted it off. We felt very strongly at the time, feeling that the game became a needless spam 'a thon and hence pulled out of the leagues. Six months later were vindicated when the leagues reversed that decision.

It must, however, be pointed out that there's a key contrast between that scenario and the one which hovers over the clan like an ominous cloud with a hint ofthe faint artificial tang of spam in the air. The difference is back then Epic agreed with us. Weapon stay was silly, they said.Now Valve are telling us that friendly fire has no place in TF2. There's a heated debate spilling over on the forums right now.

The thing is, in the intervening timehaving played a great deal ondefault FF off servers and our own FF on server,it's clear to me what the major gameplay differences are and by trial of battle, a preference has solidified in my mind. I prefer friendly fire to be on. It'd be nice if it could be 50% damage or so but it's better that it's there than it is. This is pretty much the view of the whole clan with the exception of one legendarily mecenary Irishman that would probably prefer to play with bots anyway, given the chance.

Let's quickly set out the pros and cons of friendly fire on and off. Let's start off with what's good about friendly fire being on:

No griefing. Spys are debuffed because everyone can simply shoot at everyone all of the time in order to find out if they're a spy or not. Players don't need to be aware of any of their team mates, they can straffe around to their hearts content, they can lurk as a spy around a corner being pill spammed, they can mow left and right with the heavy weapons dude with gay abandon.

How about what's good about friendly fire being off:

Players are forced to know where there team mates are and consider arcs of fire. Pill spam in enclosed spaces is seriously cut down as it makes it very difficult for players to get through with a constant stream of grenades. Large collections of turrets are nerfed because they tend to mow down defenders standing in front of them.

The case for Friendly Fire.

Too often with multiplayer games do you find that the game essentially consists of 24 random people, half of which just happen to be wearing the same colour and are pointing in the same direction, just like when you were paired up with that ugly chick in the biology practical. Friendly fire forces people to consider, who's job is it to cover that doorway. It cuts back on the genuinely silly levels of mass grenade spam seen in the game and demands a higher level of skill where players need to be pretty clear about where they're firing and not just fire in the general direction of bad guys speculatively.

Friendly Fire does demand better team play and players which are on the ball. This tends to work well when you've got mates playing versus mates. On our server it's common to see much of EED versus another clan.

Additionally, despite the game apparently - according to someone at Valve, having mp_friendlyfire level in by accident - we find that the Pyro actually doesn't damage team mates. This buffs a sadly maligned class considerably because it makes them great for flushing out spies running through the front line stealthed and one hanging back in your base becomes a major asset.

The case against Friendly Fire

There's a couple of key issues here: Firstly spys are simply too powerful in the game as it stands. Somewhat counter balancing that right now is the fact that you fire at your entire team periodically to see if anyone is a spy. I think this whole game mechanic needs a bit of an overhaul but the fact remains that right here and now, particularly with non-expert players who have learned how to work out if someone is spy from actual observation and smarts, Friendly Fire being off actually nerfs spys in a way that they kind of need to be.

Currently the FF ratio is basically 100%. It's somewhat normal to have this damage scaled back a bit just to cut down on a single shotgun blast being a fatal event. The game is quite manic, it's not a tactical shooter. There's lots of stuff flying around and people are going to die by accident with FF on.


I think there's not a lot in it. I enjoy both game types but I enjoy FF more. Ideally I would have liked to have scaled the damage a bit and perhaps reduced the respawn time on a team-killed player a bit. However when the chips are down,I find itmore fun playing on our server and another FF server I have in my favorites list, than otherwise. Spys can be a huge problem, particularly since the Pyro situation is not widely known, but I do pretty well versus spys normally, as an engineer.

Surely any rational view is that you let people decide unless there really is some game breaking reason why friendly fire wouldn't be in. We've voted, collectively, and we're running the server. By what right does Valve come along and just decide sorry, the gameplay you find more enjoyable is simply not how we think you ought to be playing it. I'm seeing parallels, right away, with the many dubious multiplayer choices Valve has made in the past, all of which were aimed squarely at their own style of inexpert game play. Such as the ridiculous spray 'o matic headshot lottery which Counter-Strike ended up being when they took ownership of it.

I have a massive amount of respect for Valve. I respect the way they've re-done TF from the ground up to appeal to a wider audience. I appreciate that we are probably not part of the mass new audience they've been going after. However I think I can voice some collective dismay that Valve would basically hold us in sufficient contempt that they wont even let us decide this issue for ourselves.

What are you playing at Valve? I'd dearly like to know.

Teamfortress 2 (TF2) - things that need fixing [Brit]

We've had access to the TF2 beta for a while now and the clan has racked up an astonishing 374 hours of play at the time of blogging. For those interesting in statistics, this means that in terms of clan internet usage, TF2 is second only to pr0n; which to be fair is what you'd expect.

However, TF2 is raising a number of questions in my mind and in turn a number of items that desperately need fixing - otherwise, (and at this point I've got my crystal ball out) I suspect it may turn out to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. So, in no particular order - and bearing in mind these are all 'imo':
  1. There are serious issues with class balance. The spy and scout both have abilities which far exceed 'fair' if you look at their performance in game. For example, the spy is just impossible to find and there exists no detection mechanism to enable a decent counter. The scout is not only extremely fast as you'd expect, but has the ability to take out even a heavy with his shotgun/baseball bat at a rate that suggests the heavies are made of spongecake. At the very least the spy should have the invisibility mode removed, or give it a much longer recharge time, and the scout should have a shotgun with fewer rounds before reload and the baseball bat shouldn't be the equivalent of a lightsabre. Alternatively, allow the engineers to build a spy detector type device... In fact, shotguns are almost like the DE in CS:S. Regardless of distance you can still inflict damage at quite a startling rate from a gun that is not designed for range. This needs fixing across all clases.
  2. It is very pretty to look at, but could someone explain what took the Valve guys so long to build exactly? The mechanic hasn't changed much since the original TF2 and whilst there are some nice extras and its very polished (even at this Beta stage) things seem to feel a little stale quite quickly. This could be because there are so few maps. Six is a joke especially when you consider that six is all there are going to be at the official launch too. Whilst a direct comparison to Unreal Tournament isn't necessarily fair, that game came loaded with maps and game types which extended it's shelf life well beyond expectations. TF2 needs a lot more professionally designed maps, at least double the number it has now. The CTF equivalent is a great game type but seriously underwhelming at the moment. Otherwise the mapping scene will be dominated by user generated maps which whilst not a bad thing, leads to a definite drop in game play quality as they are usually not up to scratch.
  3. The dedicated server needs work; options which should be there and are not must bethought aboutin my view... for example: a) Reserved slots need to go in. b) Class limitations would be great. c) Skipping the "intro" movie bit so it goes Connect > MOTD > Team Select would be a handy option d) In game player management for admins (rather than RCON via console) would also be good. e) Ability to skip/reduce the pre-game waiting/setup times as per your own preference.

Thats it really. For the purposes of sharing our awesome knowledge with the wider world, many of whom we know from the webstats sit at home waiting for EED to speak unto them, fellow clannies should proffer their own thoughts from hereonin...

Wednesday 26 September 2007

World in Conflict review [Lurks]

There's a few of us that are RTS affecionados and with the news of a new Massive Entertainment RTS game, the Swedes who did the great Ground Control series, and a good deal of hype on top - it was worth being pretty excited about this game. But is it any cop?

It's a heavily story driven RTS game with long cut-scenes, either with a real 3D engine or some panning around nicely hand-drawn artwork as the voice over dialog plays out. I thought this stuff works quite well to set the scene although I did become irritated with the writing style, where the author has obviously read too much into the edict of 'thou shalt tell a dialog through disagreement'. One of the characters continued to basically just disagree all the time in a cowardly/incompetent way and the superior officer's repetetive remonstration of thembecame highly irritating.

While competently done, the story aspect and indeed the entire onus of the game full stop is substantially marred for me, and I think many other people in Europe, by just how amazingly America centric the whole thing is. This is doubly remarkablein light of the developers being Swedish! The whole thing kicks off a Russian invasion of the US (in the 80s), then bizarrely the plot moves backwards to the US bailing out France from a Russian invasion with you, as an American officer, in charge of NATO troops. That means you get the full treatment of a variety of random comedy accents when you issue orders. Joy.

They even manage to injectthe right-wing Yank mantra at one pointwith one of the characters saying 'no wonder you can't defend your own country'. We're no stranger to the fact that yank game publishers think the entire universe revolves around America but the notion that Europe needs American commanders to lead the most important battles carried out by NATO troops - jesus you twats, turn off Fox News and learn about the world eh?

As for the game itself; just like Ground Control stuff, you don't build things, they get deployed as one-offs using resource points. The game decides what you can and cannot deploy from one round to the next. You do get some additional resource points for blowing stuff up and completing objectives, which means you can deploy more stuff. The upshot of this is that it forces you to try take care of your units. That's laudible, however where the entire thing comes crashing down like a pack of cards is the fact that the enemy pretty much just throws infinite stuff at you until you've captured an objective or whatever.

I found, after attemps to play the game 'properly' with the type of units recommended in the briefings, that most problems were best solved with the application of the heaviest armour they'll let you deploy, and some repair vehicles. So you just cycle back things that need repairing and continue that way.

Also the game, being as it is ONLY about the units, doesn't even seem to have picked up some basic advancements to the genre as introduced by the genre-defining Company of Heroes. There's really piss all in the way of cover, formations (there's two! Box and line!), and well, it's all seriously lightweight and since you can't just crank out replacements constantly, I found you fall back to tanks and so on.

The breadth of special support, air strikes and that kind of thing is fairly impressivevisually and destruction wise (although the multiple levels of each item seems redundant to me) butagain what's available varies randomly from mission to mission with no real reason as the developers try to spoon feed you scenarios. However using it just isn't that much fun because you don't get the sense of "oh wow, I just blew up all their tanks!" because Ivan will just send more tanks. Despite the fact he's sent them in secret shipping containers, he's apparently got 10 times as many tanks and stuff as you do. So it cheapens the whole thing and removes almost utterly the desire to actually inflict these sorts of mass casualties. Of course there's almost no buildings either, no bases etc, other than basic fortifications so you don't have that sense of victory of having delivered some crushing blow to the enemy's infrastructure either.

The graphics engine is quite good but it's not making me go wow. Also it doesn't zoom out anywhere NEAR enough. Which means you have to wait while you scroll around with keys or click on the mini map for a confusing teleport. Then some cut-scene might come in anyway, which you'll escape-key press through because you've seen it many times before, and it's reset the camera position where you didn't want it. Grr.

You can zoom in more than usual in an RTS game and it looks nice. That looks to be where the effort has gone in but don't expect to see troops do anything interesting like shimmy for cover, hide behind a tank or squeal in fear or pretty much anything at all, other than just stand there firing their weapon.

Things tend to get worse later. One mission I was told emphatically to use troops. I tried many times and it was pointless, so again I just chose the biggest tanks I could and repaired them and sure enough started to complete the mission (they're all long, multi-staged so you need to use save-game after each objective or you're replaying the lot) and then went on to capture some enemy artilliary. Only to find that the extremely useful artilliary (normally, for this kind of thing) refuses to basically fire on random buildings for no apparent reason.

In the end, every time I stopped playing World in Conflict, it was because I'd just managed to achieve an objective and couldn't stomach heading on to the next one. It's absolutely quite remarkable that they managed to essentially engineer all of the fun out of the game so that even a die hard RTS nutter like me can't even find the game worth playing. Then add on a massively over-egged Yank-centric story line and you end up with what I'd put down as my greatest gaming disappointment of the year. The key problem is that they've removed all of the sand-box stuff from RTS games, telling you what to use, what the circumstances are in the form of a sort of linear single player game and yet this hasn't been designed very well, none of the missions have any real wow factor to them at all and you're generally left frustrated that you can't do what you want.

Shame on you Massive. If you want to make a good game next time, dump the yank publisher (I have to assume the story and dialog was their idea)and go play some other RTS games to see where the genre is *really* at.

Bottom line is World in Conflict is an RTS turkey. Avoid. Hopefully this wont impede any bids for my impending ebay auction.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Virgin gets out of music [Lurks]

Following hot on the heels of Branson dumping Virgin Megastores it seems that Virgin Digital, some sort of lame unpopular DRMed music service I didn't even know existed is closing down. Fair cop, there's been a massive collapse in CD sales and that's lead to the destruction of whole chains of shop, pretty much now leaving only HMV - who of course devote just as much space, hell more space, to DVDs and games than they do CDs these days. It's the end of an era and they're moving with the times.

The thing that really surprised me though was that this lame DRMed music store thing ends up saying "If you have purchased tracks from the service then we recommend that you back up your music files – Information about backing up and re-downloading your tracks." This is, of course, precisely the reason DRM is lame. And what does their instructions for backing up your DRMed tracks conclude? Why to burn onto a CD and then re-rip as MP3 of course!

That's just priceless. At a stroke demonstrating the sheer pointlessness of this bullshit. Why wouldn't you buy it on CD in the first place, so you've got a nice physical back-up immune from the shop going bust, and then rip to MP3 without any loss in audio quality from transcoding? You fucking wouldn't. Or you'd just go and warez the damn stuff because it's so easy.

So in one sense the death of bricks and mortar CD shops is inevitable but on the electronic side this just crashes into the whole issue of music publishers not having any clue. I find myself having to spell it out for them yet again. If you sell an album, in high-quality MP3 format, and I want that album and you're selling it for LESS THAN THE CD, then I will buy it. Otherwise I'll just go and download it from somewhere.

No fucking around. Flog it on a music service with paypal or google checkout to make it all nice and fast. £5 for the album, click bosh you've got £5. You've made it easy for me to do, just as easy as warezing it but it's clearly worth money to me because I like the artist. So I'll pay. Five quid is, just to clear it up with your accountants, rather better than zero quid. It's a numbers game and the object of the excersize is to leverage the huge audience you potentially have with a high degree of conveinience. Running around trying to prop up the unit prices of albums just doesn't work any more, it's fucking over. We wont pay a tenner for a fucking CD any more, deal with it!

But we DO listen to more music than we ever did before. So start thinking how to take a reasonable slice of action for delivering a service that we want. Just like any other proper business.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Team Fortress 2 (TF2) tips and tweaks [Slim]

My god this game's fun. What I want to do right here is create a repository for Tips and Tweaks, so post em below and I'll edit this here blog with them.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Team Fortress 2 Review [Slim]

Nine years! Nine fucking years! In 1998 Robin Walker and John Cook were contracted by Valve software to write a sequel to Team Fortress (A free Quakeworld Mod) for the Quake II engine. Now, numerous E3 demo's later (anyone remember E3 1999?), several concept changes, leaks, cancellations, delays, bleats, pisstakes, Team Fortress 2 has earned Duke Nukem Forever levels of vapour-dome.

But here it fucking is! It's almost hard to accept that the TF2 I unlocked on Steam last night is the same game I've been reading about for so long. It's here! What's more, it fucking rules!

Now such a declaration doesn't come easy for me, I was worried about TF2. CS:CZ was shit after all, Valves track record isn't necessarily a banker, and my concern was that we'd just get a pretty Team Fortress Classic, a pretty good game, but a game completely ruled by those 'in the know' vs the rest of us who play other stuff too. A reskinned TFC would be just what the fans of that game want, and there are many, and it must have been tempting for valve to deliver.

What they've delivered is somethign better, a team game for the masses.

Team games with classes aren't new, spawned from the original Team Fortress you have games like the Battlefield series, Tribes and very recent Shadowrun. All these games have the potential for superb team based action. All these games tend tofall apart in playbecause that teamwork doesn't happen unless you're in a clan.

But this cooperative breakdown doesn't tend to happen in Team Fortress 2. The classes all have very clear roles, the maps and objectives are superbly highlighted, the visuals define the roles in such a way, that cooperation between the classes in the teams happens in a very natural way. You're a medic? If you heal that heavy he'll kick arse and you can hide behind him. Worred about frags? Don't be, you'll get points for assisting the kill. At a choke point? Save up your ubercharge, then fucking go for it. The balance between the classes is very delicate and brings through such strategies in an obvious, and very satisfying way.

Of course, it's early days, and there will still be online frustrations. An organised team will always steamroller a bunch of randoms in Team Fortress, that's not going to change sadly, although the uber squad should get more of a challenge. Straight out aiming skills are far less important at least, with some of the best killers barely needing to use the cross-hair at all.

First impressions though, it's a great game, can't wait to try some more!

Monday 17 September 2007

TF2 and mondays [Am]

TF2 is supposed to be out today for beta play. For some of the clan, this has left them slightly....mneh.... for others it has left us slavering with anticipation and hoping, after the munificence bestowed on us by Bioshock, that we are about to see another really fun well made game come to the PC platform.

Unfortunately a couple of sites are reporting a chatlog with some members of the Valve team which says the release will be out 'late in the day'.

Since Valve have chosen to make base in Bellvue, Washington, which means the state, not DC, and therefore Seattle on the West Coast of the USA or, more pragmatically, practically Canada (and therefore, basically, the North Pole), they end up being closer to Russia than Rusholme and this means they are -8 hours to Blighty. Therefore 'late in the day' would equate, most probably, or ‘prolly’ for those of you reading this under the age of 20, to 'not playing it today' for us here. NoTF 2dy wot a fkn fkr m8 rite.... sm1's gnna get cut!

Damn you circumference of the world! Damn you t = d/s!

Therefore anyone reading this blog who owns some sort of advanced weapons’ global satellite that happens to be passing over the western seaboard in the next couple of hours – would you mind applying a little zap-ray just here please; ....nothing too serious mind, just enough to stop them nicking off to the ‘Beaux Arts Village’ (WITNOFF that is), drinking too much Seattle coffee and eating gnghhhh, I don’t know, probably…pastries! We’ve got your extended-lunch dev habits marked Valve and it won’t be long before the infamous HL2 ‘hack’ is exposed for the smokescreen it was to allow Gabe to get half a pound of Bled kremshnita down his neck. May your Danish be filled with Lutefisk and may your every struddle prolapse! *!&£’s!

Wednesday 12 September 2007

WWII.2,782 [Spiny]

With great games out like Bioshock and the imminent arrival of TF2 there's a pretty good game that may have slipped under your radar...Medal Of Honor Airborne Assault [Crappy transatlantic spelling].

"Sigh another WWII game" I hear.

Well, yes, except that I reckon it's better than Call of Duty 2 by a fair margin. I won't attempt a proper review, there's lots on the interwebs. Instead I'll just give a quick few bullets on the good & bad:

Teh ubar:

  • An odd one this, but the effects when you run are done really well, probably the best I've ever seen in a game, and help to make it very immersive.

  • It's shooting Germans!

  • And Italians!

  • The combat is more frenetic & free form than other WWII games. e.g. you can scurry up a ladder, hop across a few rooftops to flank that mg42 & bust a cap in Fritz's head from above. Entry to the battlefield is *anywhere* by parachute.

  • Despite the realistic setting, there's nice fun arcadey tasks. e.g. get enough accurate kills & you're rewarded with a weapon upgrade & max payne style slomo with invulnerability sequence. There's "skill drops", you get bonuses for parachuting down to awkward spots like the top of a stone column.

  • It runs well & this is a 'proper' DX9 generation game.

  • It works with the steam community chat stuff.

Teh suck:

  • When enemies are shot they sometimes turn ridiculous somersaults as a result of taking your bullet.

  • As ever, the v 1.0 server browser is completely broken so I haven't tried multiplayer.

Monday 10 September 2007

Video Nano's [Pod]

So Maddy's killers are now on the run and seem to have settled down over here and dug their heels in for the long fight......

Nah just kidding. Like just about anyone else living above the chav line I was bored of this story before it even began. Instead I'm here today to give you my review of the new Ipod Nano. It was beej who first told me about the upgrades the nano was going to recieve. Granted, back on tuesday, they weren't quite right (16 gig nano's sadly weren't announced) but my interest was still peaked. I headed down to the apple store on saturday to see what they were like in the flesh. I'd seen the specs on the web and had noticed that the device was thicker. Human perception eh? Even though the values were in mmthere have been people bleeting on our mailing lists about how its grown in size. Tell you what, in hand you don't notice it. What you do notice is how cool it looks and how it feels in your palm. Upto the counter I strode and bought an 8gig Red one for £129. Some of which goes to fight Aids in Africa (the Product Red promotion, same price as the other colours too!)

Still, proof is in the pudding. Got it home, charged it and played with the menu system. Nice and visual as you'd expect from an apple product. The interface has gained cover flow mode which is a visual treat but after years of using itunes and browsing by name I've no idea what the covers of my albums look like :) Still, those of you who have upto date Itunes installs will know that it also provides you with the name so you can still find what you're looking for. Just takes a little longer is all. Interface wise the only downsides I could find was that the wheel was a little sensitive (no sensitivity setting that I've found) and that the cover flow mode can take a little time to fully load all the images.

Finally, the big upgrade for this model is the video. The screen is super lush and I've converted some music videos and showed them off to my friends. All have been very impressed with the quality of the playback etc. All I need to do now is get a load of content queued for conversion so I can make the most of it.

So decent marks for the new nano. Not perfect, it loses marks for the interface issues but I do wonder if some of those might be addressed in a firmware upgrade. I was also hoping for a 16gig model but faster transfer rates over my gen1 ipod helps in that area anyway :)

Demystifying recycleable packaging [Lurks]

Most of us would like to make informed decisions about products based on their environmental impact, right? Even if you're not a raving greenie, you probably think that it's better to do less harm. Fortunately things are improving quite dramatically, our council in West Sussex is right up in the tables for amount of garbage recycled. However there are some confusing aspects to this and I've always wondered whether it's better to buy plastic (instinctively you think no) or glass packaged stuff, and tetrapaks must be good, since they're made out of supposedly biodegradable cardboard, right?

Well, it seems there's a little more to it from what I've found. First of all, there's good plastic and bad plastic. Here's my council's link to show you exactly which can be recycled and which can't (easily) be recycled, so currently isn't recycled at all. It boils down to this list in a kind of order of difficulty of recycling.
  1. PET - Polyethylene Terephthalate - Drinks bottles
  2. HDPE - High Density Polyethylene - milk bottles and washing up liquids
  3. PVC - Polyvinyl Chloride - squash, water & shampoo bottles
  4. LDPE - Low Density Polyethylene - Carrier bags and bin liners [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]
  5. PP - Polypropylene - Margarine tubs, microwaveable meal trays [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]
  6. PS - Polystyrene - Yoghurt pots, foam trays, hamburger boxes, egg cartons, vending cups, protective packaging [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]

Also, most bottle tops on drinks bottles, milk bottles or whatever turn out to be not recyclable although it's not clear to me why. There is a large facility that takes all these kinds of bottles, sorts them and recycles basically to be used again to make more plastic stuff. Cool. Incredibly according to only 3% of household plastic bottles are recycled! Although I have a hard time believing that based on the league tabels of recycling for our county alone (and there were some that were even better recyling wise).

There's another interesting thing on that site and that's that glass takes up to 40%more transport energy to move versus products in plastics. That's a good point actually, glass is a lot heavier. Also when you examine the reality of glass recycling it transpires that because the UK is a relatively low producer of green glass, there's a danger of coloured green (wine) and brown (beer) glass ending up needing to be shipped to the continent to use. Clear glass though, there's a huge market in and it goes straight back into being recycled.

The real spanner in the works comes from tetrapaks. They're made up of several things including cardboard, plastic and aluminium foil. There was one plant inScotland, that could recycle these but it was shut down due to a lack of supply (!), meaning there's no one that recycles this. They end up on land fill and they're nowhere near as green and degradable as you might think due to the other materials inside them. Basically they're a bit of a green con in some respects, you see the cardboard outter but they're made up out of folded laminates which have a layer of cardboard for strength and other stuff inside used to seal. Incineration is about the only option but in reality, they end up on land fill.

Of course the best option recycle wise is genuinely reused containers such as the milk man. If you consume a regular amount of milk and orange juice, popular stuff like that - then this is great. They take back the bottles and just clean them out to reuse and the aluminium tops can be popped in your recycling bin too. Hell, most of the milk guys run around on EVs too so it's all good stuff.

Ultimately from this bit of research we can come up with some conclusions about various materials. If you've got the choice to buy something in glass or plastic, if the plastic is of a recyclable nature then this is preferable because of the lack of energy costs in transportation. All glass should be recycled since it never breaks down. Glass is the second best option, always try go for clear glass because this is used in the UK.

In terms of plastics there are some no go areas. Margarine tubs, yoghurt pots etcare useless, which is a pain sinceboth don't come in anything other than that. Someone should start making blocks of margarine in wrappers like butter comes in! Plastic bags and bin liners are evil. The latter is clearly a necessary evil (we need to find some replacement if we're wrapping our rubbish in these!) while the former, seriously, take reusable bags to the supermarket. It's a low grade plastic and the printing on them makes for a lot of contamination. Surprisingly brown PET drinks bottles are unrecyclable, which I'll be thinking of next time I buy ginger beer...

And finally, tetrapak is every bit as evil as margarine/yoghurt tubs and should be avoided. That means buy milk in plastic bottles. They say throw away the lids but I'm pretty sure the lids are PET and ought to be recyclable too... Juices you're a bit screwed since they mostly come in tetrapak. Hunt around for juice in plastic bottles instead. Soups in tetrapak is bad, those foil packets such as seeds of change would be an alternative but I think they'd be just as dubious recycling wise, being a mixture of aluminium foil and plastic. ALL packaging that goes in the microwave is bad. So ready meals are evil but then they were anyway.

Polystyrene trays for meat, this is also unrecyclable and so is the thin plastic film on it too. You know what this means? It means you should buy your meat from a butcher. Also if you get polystyrene in other packaging, boxes etc, you should try to reuse it as packaging because otherwise it'll live on a tip until the end of days - which is only partially practical granted. Back on the butcher subject, if you go to a supermarket butcher counter you'll get it in a plastic bag or, hopefully, in waxed paper (biodegradable) in a paper bag (recyclable) - which is vastly better. Ask for the same treatment in a real butcher too.

So, anyway, the all important issue of alcoholic bevvies. Green and brown glass is a bit meh, but if you drink wine you're screwed really. As for beer, you should get cans first and foremost - they get recycled directly into more cans and they're cheaper to transport. Glass beer is simply not worth the weight and transportation costs in my view, and recycling is a heavier prospect also. Where as a bin bag can hold a shit load of hand-crushed beer cans. Plastic bottles is okay so long as they're not brown. Which means cider in brown PET bottles is bad, so cider in glass would be preferable. Spirits in clear glass is better than coloured glass because clear glass has a greater domestic market in the UK and will probably wind up as someone's curry jar.

I think that's about it.

Thursday 6 September 2007

On slacking, education and self-improvement [Muz]

So, it's been over a year since I left the position of 'token student' within the clan (LCpl Beejenhausen stepped ably into my shoes, well done that man etc etc). When I left uni, I thought 'OK, it's been a good laugh, but really, four years of studying computer science, that'll do me; time to go and learn some useful stuff'.

Clannies with particularly good memories will recall that I got a 2(ii) - evidence of slackness in extremitas, also known as a 'Desmond'. And so it was that I made my way into the real world and sold my soul; to go and do 'IT stuff' for a bank.Doing a general IT job really wasn't that hard; bit of Windows, bit of Unix, bit of Perl, bit of random vendor apps, loads of talking to peons^H^H^H^H^Husers. Now, lots of people would view this as a pretty cool job; and indeed, it is, touching on a vast number of technology areas and learning how they interact. The one problem was that I wasn't doing anything that I couldn't have done before going to uni. And six months in, the question loomed in my mind - 'what have I actually learned?'. And I listed everything I could think of - time management, multi-tasking/prioritising, dealing with users, dealing with vendors, navigating a big company... and yet still the question loomed in my mind 'You're supposed to be a technologist - what new technologies have you learned?'

The answer was 'none' - and without much scope for that in the near future (I'm a grad, I'm going to get the shit jobs, and like it), I decided 'fuck it - what am I interested in?'. Long story short, this week I passed my CCNA, an entry level network certification, and am now planning on moving on to expert level network certs for next year.

This raises a couple of interesting points. The first is, had I worked anywhere like as hard in uni as I did for this exam (studying for three months in the evenings and weekends while working a full time job, and taking a week off before the exam and studying 8-10 hours a day), I would have gotten considerably better than a Desmond.

The second point, which is really the main focus of this blog, is I've realised I'm not happy unless I'm learning something new. University was an overload; learning a massive amount on loads of different technologies was perhaps a little overwhelming. But picking a specific subject and reading about it and working with it until I've gotten to a depth I feel sufficient is actually something I'm finding quite rewarding.

So, to the clan at large: am I alone in this? Do you think that you should always be learning something new in your job/life in general? Could you care less? What makes us want to work at some things and not at others? Or am I just crazy, and was this all a waste of time?

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Movie Quotes [Spiny]

There's a thing Beej brought to our attention on Empire that's listing most quotable movie lines. I reckon we can do better so I won't even bother linking to it. And this really deserves a blog.

Here's some to warm you up:
  • "You want the truth? You Can't Handle The Truth"
  • "Car's got a lot of pickup"
  • "I love the smell of (your word here) in the morning"
  • "Game over man, game over"

Keep em snappy, the sorts of things you could say in context to a non film geek, but that a film geek would recognise...