Things you should see.

Archive for December, 2010

Quake in 60 Minutes

This one has been doing the blog rounds over the last few days and I thought ‘me too’. I’m actually one of id Software’s biggest fans. I love Doom and Quake to pieces, and am beside myself with anticipation for Rage. That said, I have a confession that may shock you; I have never completed Quake. That is, the first Quake- I’ve finished the others.

So for the first time, thanks to wusseh on YouTube, I’ve finally seen the last boss, Shub-Niggurath, in the flesh. This frentic shootathon has also served to remind me just how much I loved these old FPS’s and how much I hope Bulletstorm or Rage or even Serious Sam 3 can measure up in some small way. Can we all cross our fingers now, please?


Secret Diary Needs Longer Entries

What makes me most upset about British TV is the penchant for five-episode seasons. Hardly enough screentime to get anywhere with anything, if you ask me. It doesn’t help when episodes are only 22 minutes long either. Or when, even into its third season, a show feels the need to devote a segment in each already-painfully-short episode to maintaining the series’ gimmick.

I’m talking about Secret Diary of a Call Girl which has the potential to really become something more than it is. I can’t speak for everyone else, but didn’t the whole ‘one sexual deviant per episode’ thing become unnecessary some time back? We get it- the show’s about a hooker. What dyslexic, sex-crazed audience hasn’t got that message by now? These garish segments eat into what little time there is to develop the real storylines that unfortunately have come off a bit wafer-thin so far and made the watching the show harder to justify. This season, we had a sleazy editor who found his way into the main character’s bed in the guise of a proper suitor who didn’t care for her sordid past when really, in a whirlwind exposition, learn he was actually just a hooker-crazed maniac. However it was rushed and seemed all too convenient. I bet the writers could have done more with it given time. In the end she ends up in the arms of her always-there go-to BFF with the implication that they’ll hook up at some point and what is that if not convenient too? I can’t count how many seasons have ended on that note. Oh wait, I can; all three of them.

Without drifting onto a tangent I like this show and wish it had a chance to bloom a little. It’s coming upto it’s fourth and final season in 2011 and I just think that if something isn’t done to change up the formula slightly we’re going to be treated to a parade of kinky sex fetishes, a little romantic innuendo and little else. It’s come and go and be utterly forgotten once the inevitable DVD box sets disappear from store shelves. Which would be a tremendous shame given the high hopes I had for it a couple of years ago, when it was outrating Dexter.


Force Feedback Is A Pain

It’s hard to say when, in a world where apparently the more realism the better, you have to stop and draw the line. I picked up a Logitech Driving Force GT today but not with the intention of being one the cool kids or trying to shave seconds off lap times. No, I bought it to make my driving experiences feel a little more authentic. Not only has this wheel and its monstrous Force Feedback failed at this, it has actively become a pain in the ass to drive.

If I had to guess where that realism line was, I’d say it’s where the fun stops. My gut feeling after a day or so of playing Race Driver: Grid, Colin McRae: DiRT 2 and Sega Rally Revo and endlessly tweaking the settings in each. The end result in each case was learning how the wheel wanted me to drive and not just driving how I would naturally. There would be delays before any turn of the wheel registered with steering in-game, no matter the deadzone – no such problem with a 360 controller – and the wheel often seemed not to adjust for it correcting itself. That is resetting its position to 0 after any turning, whether keeping to a long turn or trying to countersteering, was problematic as there didn’t seem to be mechanical consistency as to what the controller was expecting you to do. Further the vibration and internal motor make sticking to the perfect driving line a battle with the wheel more than anything else.

And I know how to drive; this just doesn’t feel right. Admittedly I’m used to driving something with 1.8L along city streets and not sliding a turbo’d AWD monster sideways to see how the steering wheel would respond. Nevertheless, if I had to guess whether the erratic and downright annoying movement of the wheel is an accurate representation of real driving in these conditions or just a third-party peripheral trying to manage itself in a bunch of varying usage scenarios, I’d have to go with the later.

Oh and to clarify, these are not my formal impressions of the Driving Force GT itself- I’m saving those for next time. I just wasn’t sure whether this painful first impression was down to the hardware or software implementation. I’m going with the latter until I’m more educated on the topic in which case, if necessary, I’ll revise all this.


James Frain Likes Displeasing His Masters

James FrainAlthough he has a filmography stretching back to the early 90′s, I only know James Frain, above, from his recent appearance in The Tudors and from his very recent (ie tonight) performance in Tron: Legacy. Not to dither about too much, he plays an obsequious vizier in both roles and is in both cases executed for incurring his master’s wrath. It’s a coincidence I find amusing right now. Oh dear. To be honest I like the guy and hope this isn’t the beginning of some tragic typecasting.


The Mega Drive Lives

Although they have been yesterday’s news for a good 10-15 years now, Sega’s old Master System and Mega Drive consoles have lived on in one way or another. Either through emulators or through grey market and even licensed products in markets like Brazil, they haven’t been forgotten. I was still shocked to see this item on the K-mart Christmas catalogue though and had to get a hold of one.

The short of it is the hardware is sound. It’s all a bit cheap-feeling but it comes with 15 games built in and two controllers. So far so good. Graphics were all perfect, but, as other reviews have noticed, this box must have a cheapo sound chip or something. Sound effects just sound off and music is at a decidedly lower pace. I know this isn’t a PAL issue – as someone who’s played Sonic & Knuckles more times and in more forms than I care to remember, I can vouch that all games are all either NTSC or 60hz modded ROMs – and against gameplay that runs at the same brisk clip you’d be used to, this deficiency just seems strange. A very bizarre oversight and a poor place to cut costs, especially when you go to the effort to have an onboard PAL/NTSC toggle. Although I suppose everything else, from the packaging to the plastic construction, was done as much on the cheap as possible as it stands.

Luckily all cartridges from the old days work, apart from the sound problems, just as you’d remember. I have a selection of slowed-down PAL cartridges ranging from Adventures of Batman & Robin to Jurassic Park and a Japanese NTSC import of Monster World IV and can’t fault the playback of any of them. Can’t vouch for any US games, and can confirm the Master System and 32X adapters – at least the local versions – don’t work. Still, given the unit’s native composite output, it would be the perfect replacement for my verge-of-death Mega Drive II and it’s gigantic power brick if not for its dodgy sound.

Overall I’m still impressed and this experience has made me want to try out this company’s range of other Sega products. In a vain attempt to recreate some of the gaming magic of yore, no doubt.


Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iPhone?

So in my last piece of Mortal Kombat news for the minute, apparently Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is coming to iOS with Street Fighter IV-esque controls, 11 fighters and the rumour of Goro and Shao Kahn as bosses. Sounds good, but if they DLC-ed it up to the Mortal Kombat Trilogy character count that’d be even better.

Let’s hope it plays half-decently when it comes out, apparently before Christmas.

UPDATE: Here are some screenshots and, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t those look like 3D models and not the digital still sprites used in the original UMK3? Why would they bother going and remodelling everything instead of just using the original graphics? Surely modern iOS devices could handle it…


Speaking of Mortal Kombat, There’s Now A Tournament Edition

Well if this wasn’t a surprise. Releasing a ‘Tournament Edition’ of the upcoming Mortal Kombat is an ingenious way of making part with even more of my cash come next April, even if it borrows a whole piece of… hardware.. from Street Fighter’s… erm.. arcade (?). Far be it for someone like me with more arcade sticks than consoles to use them with (a stick catalogue post is surely coming) to buy another one, particularly one with a bat top and no doubt poor construction quality, but it has that classic MK ‘X’ layout. I don’t have a stick with that. So there’s my excuse.

Alongside the Tournament Edition there’s also a ‘Kollector’s Edition’ that comes with Scorpion & Sub-Zero figurines in lieu of that massive controller, and I’m torn as to which I actually want more. Could always get both; one for each system. But then I’d be pressed to decide which I buy for which. A 360 stick would certainly be a better investment- guaranteed Windows compatibility for emulators and what have you, but I’d likely be playing the game primarily on my PS3. Ahh, choices.

In other news, I’m disappointed that ‘Klassic’ costumes for Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Reptile are pre-order-only DLC. Hell, I’m upset they’re DLC at all. What’s the point of a reboot if not harkening back to what made the series great in the first place? And if it wasn’t those rad Ninja (sorry Sub) costumes I don’t know what to say. They went and made Sub-Zero Chinese again after being, at different times, Caucasian, Outworld-ian and also a member of the extinct species of ‘Cryomancers’ (this was around the time the MK storyline went to hell). You’d think that if they went back to a character’s original ethnicity they’d at least go and dress them in their original liveries. Apparently not. I hope this isn’t the first of many gratuitously stupid oversights going on at MK headquarters but suspect those started long before this title was even announced.

Anyway I’d better retire my thoughts on this title before the K key breaks on this arthritis-inducing Apple keyboard I’m forced to use during daylight hours.


Mortal Kombat Can Fool Me Twice, If It Likes

Much like my last job, I can summarise my relationship with Mortal Kombat with the abused wife syndrome. That is, shabby treatment continues but I keep going back. Or at least used to – I left my wretched job earlier this year and abandoned all fondness for the once-loved franchise years back with the release of Mortal Kombat: Deception. For my part, in both cases I’ve been better off. And yet all it takes to lure me back in is the promise of a return to form in the guise of 2011′s ‘Mortal Kombat’ reboot. It’s a promise made many times before and never delivered upon. Sigh. I really am a glutton for punishment.

You know what else? Kratos of God of War fame, after dipping his feet in the slightly milder waters of fighting games with his cameo in the quickly-forgotten Soulcalibur PSP port, now enters the arena to throwdown with Scorpion, Sub-Zero and friends. As if Yoda and Vader weren’t enough in that last game… are fighters really that bad off that they need every man and his dog to step in and represent whatever supposedly more popular world they came from? I mean really, one would think after a history of solid, well-loved titles that the Mortal Kombat name could stand on its own. Oh, wait…


The Chrome Web Store and Me

On many occasions, in the middle of various different conversations, I’ve found myself extolling the virtues of Google’s web browser and ultimately declaring ‘Chrome is the best thing ever’. Two or so years ago that meant a lightning-fast
browser to replace the clunky and resource-hogging Firefox that opened so quickly it offered an almost ‘instant on’ to the internet. App shotcuts, syncing and so many other good things also came along for the ride. Today, with its new Web Store, Chrome is revolutionising things again but in a way that isn’t immediately apparent.

A cursory glance at the storefront will say the only two things that need to be said about the Chrome App Store; more than a few pages have been taken from Apple’s book and also that most of these ‘apps’ are merely shortcut-wrapped HTML5 apps. Detractors have always called Apple on its devices needing ‘apps’ to make the web usable. You shouldn’t have to compartmentalise the web, they say. However what Chrome highlights is the fact that so many online services are so robust that they may well have been bespoke native applications at one point in the computing past. That HTML5 now essentially enables them to run without Flash or, Heaven forbid, Air, just sweetens the deal. And so to have them app-ified is still useful, even in  full desktop environment. Further it allows integration into the desktop that a website on its own might now- right-clicking contextual menus and drag-and-drop file movement on services like Box.net.

However the reason this compartmentalisation works, at least for me, is in the syncing. I have a consistent user experience – through Chrome alone – across all the computers I use. Pinning tabs for Gmail, Reader, imo.im and the marvellous Tweetdeck HTML5 app keep these basic utilities always open in the browser and makes the experience self-sufficient. I can live out of a single Chrome window at home on Windows or at work on OSX and I love it. Sure, you could do this before and in other browsers, but the experience had never been so consistent or seamless. Most importantly, it had never been so easy.

Once the implications of it sink in you start to realise how Chrome OS seals the deal on all of it and just how significant Chrome’s offerings are. Techcrunch highlights how opening up Chrome OS for the first time and watching all your apps sync over is the future of computing. And it is. Apple’s Mac App Store might offer a similar proposition to OSX in a few months but half the value of Google’s version comes from it being platform-agnostic. Living out of a browser as I said sidesteps the OS and its specificities altogether.

That Google have been the first ones to really push this in a meaningful and accessible way is surprising. For the first time since their core search product, and with the debatable exception of YouTube, they have released something that has the potential to hit the mark bigtime. And for all the talk of ‘cloud’ computing, again, outside of webmail, they are the first to make the idea resonate with the consumer. That probably does come down to their vested interest being on the net while Microsoft and Apple have their OS product families to think about, but is an interesting point nonetheless. It will be exciting to see how this space pans out in the post-Web Store internet.


My Great Matter

Ford Fiesta Fancy Edition

Over the last week Nulopticon.com has suffered a fair bit of neglect. That is because I have been dealing with my own great matter- what car to buy. Not one to rush into things, I’ve been giving the issue its due diligence and have narrowed the choice down to a Ford Fiesta WS Zetec (the most expensive mainstream car in the ‘light’ category outside of VW’s Polo) or a Mitsubishi Lancer CJ SX (one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, in the ‘small car’ category). Hope to make a call and take delivery soon, but don’t expect the flow of posts will increase all that much, especially given Christmas and whatnot looming.

If I had been posting I’d probably have been regurgitating reviews of those cars that I’d read online or mulling over which trims and colours to go for. I’d alternatively have been writing about how ambivalent I am toward my new job. Or how authentic the official FIA WRC 2010 game was. Or how Gran Turismo 5 is the latest game in the tradition of Final Fantasy XIII and Metal Gear Solid 4 where the cocksure Jap developers were too obsessed with filling a BD-ROM to worry about the blatantly contemptuous design choices they were making (or the need to exercise common sense). Or how that overstuffed mess of a game made me realise how much I missed DiRT 2.

Oh well. The internet will only be slightly poorer for it. And who knows I may end up going and back-blogging about those niggling things in the coming days anyway. That is if I’m not still enamoured with the Chrome Web App Store.


Donkey Kong Country Returns… With Style

Donkey Kong Country - now with sunset silhouette stages.

In case all my ranting about Sonic 4 and those fan-made remixes didn’t tip you off, I’m fan of 2D games. If Nulopticon.com existed when New Super Mario Bros. came out I would have written about that too. However the key comment that you could make about all those ‘2.5D’ half-remakes is that they are perhaps good homage but not good gaming- in each case something is lost in the transition. Not so with Donkey Kong Country Returns, which is easily the best of the DKR bunch and one of my favourite platformers of this generation.

Without breaking into a full review, I simply think this is because nothing is dumbed down. The game is accessible as ever, but features haven’t been cut and there isn’t an overwhelming design initiative toward nostalgia. But at the same time the nostalgia is there in every SFX, BGM and stage names like Jungle Hijinx.

Personality, particularly on the part of the Kong brothers (who remain illogically different species), is what sells the game though. I will describe everything as ‘playful’ with a broad stroke but you’ll know what I mean when DK has been in a barrel too long and cheekily pops his head out or when he just smiles resisting the mesmerising talents of the game’s new baddies. That’s a long story in itself – King K. Rool and the Kremlings are gone and while reserving judgement on whether that’s for better or worse there is at least now a good reason for the banana hoard being stolen…

I was expecting DKCR to flop. NSMB was fun but a bit sterile, not measuring up to any of the original games it sought to emulate. Sonic 4 was a reasonable effort but too short both in length and new ideas. This gem, it turns out, takes all the best elements of DK’s seminal SNES franchise and outdoes them all handily while injecting its own flavour into the mix. No easy feat as both Sega and Nintendo have discovered in the past.

In a week where there’s The Tudors to watch, Dragon Age: Origins DLC to play and a fresh copy of Gran Turismo 5 to try out, the fact that Donkey Kong Country Returns excites me the most is both surprising and worrying. Is it just cause to stop me slagging off the Wii though? Let me get back to you on that…


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