Apologies for my absence but little worth mentioning has happened in the last week. What little did occur was largely underwhelming. Except for the “pranking” of Presidential hopeful John McCain’s MySpace that is. That was what we in the industry call pure gold.
The Elite has officially become gaming’s worst kept secret, being announced pretty much exactly as I stated last post. It’s a decidedly underwhelming offering since pure gamers don’t really need the massive 120GB and HDMI alone hardly justifies the higher price. Meanwhile those using it as a media hub will still find it lacking wireless connectivity or an internal HD-DVD drive (though with the format war undecided this is not necessarily a bad thing). On the other hand, it still costs less than the “cheap” model of the PS3. Buying the standalone hard drive seems like the preferable option.
Meanwhile Take 2 launched a debut trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV. Unfortunately they decided to milk the affair without taking proper precautions. Placing a countdown clock ticking away the seconds a month before your trailer is released pretty much guarantees that hordes of fans will be there the moment the timer ends so having a single machine powered by a gerbil on a running wheel is hardly going to cut it. Unsurprisingly their servers collapsed in a not very spectacular heap. More impressive was the resulting shockwave that took down a clutch of major gaming sites for a few minutes as people struggled to find alternative sources. “I felt a great disturbance in the web, as if millions of GTA fans cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced,” commented Ben Kenobi. The trailer itself was distinctly lacking in content given the insane levels of hype. The engine looks fantastic, set in what seems to be modern day New York. The player takes on the role of an Eastern European immigrant, a happy change from the previous black gangster rap route. The satirical humour is still there with tongue in cheek adverts for Heart Stopper Burger and TV show America’s Next Top Hooker. Yet with no evidence of gameplay or further plot/content it’s difficult to say much beyond “it looks very pretty”.
My Uncle Majela has taken a leaf out of the respective books of the Queen and my mother, finding his 50th birthday fell on an inconvenient date and so “postponing” it until an official birthday this weekend. That means you can look forward to some cute photos of Sebastian doing whatever it is tykes of his age do. You know, tyking.
The release of a trailer for Day Watch (that’s Dnevnoi Dozor to the Russian speakers amongst you) is reason enough for a post itself. It’s over a year and a half since I dragged a motley crew of willing and unwilling victims to see the first instalment of the epic Russian Night Watch trilogy, and although I think it was far from perfect, consider my appetite truly whetted. Although there are clear Hollywood sensibilities (and rumour was they would bankroll the third film) it is nice to see it retains the gritty Russian base with stylistic flourishes that made the original so enthralling. It is not beautiful in the immediate sense, but as you fall under its spell its sheer power makes it a joy to watch. It also featured the most creative use of subtitles I have seen, working them into the scene as they slide behind objects or dissolve ethereally. If you have not yet seen Night Watch, do be sure to grab the DVD before Day Watch arrives.
More interesting, anyway, than a new one for Pirates of the Caribbean. At World’s End looks like — well — exactly like the last two actually. Whilst I’m still keen on seeing the conclusion to last summer’s rambunctious adventure romp, I can’t help but feel the format is wearing a little thing. Trilogy fatigue is difficult to overcome — more of the same is forgettable (Alien 3) while a last ditch soporific attempt to attach deeper meaning to the affair tends to be hideous (The Matrix Revolutions). Upping the ante Return of the King style is a rare achievement, and evening maintaining the same level of energy is hard (Return of the Jedi). Perhaps things would bode better if it were called Return of the Sparrow…
Rumours abound regarding the supposed preparation of the black Xbox 360 Elite which boasts a 120GB hard drive for all your media needs and an HDMI output. So for existing Xbox owners the question is whether it is worth upgrading. The short answer is probably not. On medium sized TVs the difference between component cables and HDMI is probably not noticeable enough to warrant the expense unless you are using the Xbox as your primary media player with the attached HD-DVD add-on. The 120GB hard drive will be available as a separate purchase and is really the way to go. I suspect they will also run quieter with the new hardware. So that leaves the colour, which may or may not be in limited quantities. The truth is that although the black looks cool, white probably matches everything else you own — your Wii, your DS, your (shudder) iPod. Unless you’re a Sony fan, of course, but then what are you doing looking at 360’s?
After the last rather controversial post, I decided to offer you something tamer today while I settle back in at home. On Saturday we had a large group excursion to Grantchester to end the term. I had always believed it to be much further away than it evidently is, the pleasant walk taking us well under 2 hours. We ambled past Jeffrey Archers house (or at least its grounds) with its various bizarre statues and objet d’art (think four foot hares). There was also the designated “cripple punt” for the ambulatory challenged Rav and Kueh. This took quite a while on the way there, but Dyson ferried them back almost as fast as we could walk (though in fairness he’s spent almost seven thousand years at Cambridge — certainly long enough to get good!). Kueh, on the other hand, took great pride in lazily lending no help whatsoever.
In Grantchester we lunched upon slightly expensive pub food in sunny garden out back. The weather was chillier than the previous day but at least it had brightened up once our walk was under way. Aside from certain malcoordinated individuals who insisted upon head injuries, luncheon passed agreeably without being particularly noteworthy. We then proceeded to walk along the riverbank to the Orchard Tea Gardens, our real destination if you were to ask Lufa. Stepping back a hundred years into a deck-chair filled garden with patrons quaffing varied teas and scoffing giant scones with jam and clotted cream is quite an experience. Browsing the literature it became clear why the myths about student life in Cambridge are still so widely perpetuated, as places like this thrive by playing it up. Cambridge students do not, in fact, lounge in deck chairs all day having cream tea. I wish we could afford to take take that much time off, but we can’t. Oh well.
A May Week return seems likely although the idea of a post-Ball breakfast less so, since someone will have to punt there and still be awake. So while we may have spent the day perpetuation Cambridge stereotypes, they are at least very tasty stereotypes.
The problem with the insular university environment is that the student body provides a captive audience to many groups and services within. The Footlights are a prime example, a somewhat anachronistic comedy group who still rely on the name established by British comedy veterans who passed through here over two decades ago. There is certainly some talent to be found but all too often it is obscured by excessive self-congratulatory back-slapping (confirmed to me by a friend who used to be involved with them). This removes any need to improve, fostering results that tend towards the purely esoteric rather than nuanced comedy.
The College Balls are equally guilty of abuses against their prospective guests, with the established ones making absurd requirements that people turn up at specific locations and hand over cheques without even being confirmed a ticket. Downing, by contrast, offers impressive personal attention since it is still building its reputation. For the big guns, however, if you don’t like it they really don’t care — a dozen more willing wretches will happily take your place.
Perhaps the biggest culprits, however, are the print media. Cambridge houses some fantastic journalistic talent but judging by the student papers’ routinely unprofessional attitude you’d be hard pressed to believe it. Last year as part of the Ball Committee I was asked not to discuss the incident in which Varsity were given a customary pair of free tickets to the Ball (approx. value £150) and then failed to produce a review. In reparation they offered the seemingly generous token of a free advert for this year’s Ball. Yet they showed scant interest as I am told they mutilated the Committee’s carefully prepared image, reproducing it with awful colours and evident artefacts. Naturally they ignored any further communication. The perfect display was earlier this year when they produced a palpably perverse list of 100 students to watch in Cambridge which included their own editors — quite aside from the banal puerility, surely if one wishes to be taken even vaguely seriously excluding oneself from such fancies is mandatory. TCS overtly have been striving to improve so deserve some credit there. Since my arrival they seem to have moved forward while Varsity regresses from its previously dominant position.
Is there a solution? The internet offers some opportunity. Downing Ball has successfully been able to project a professional image to challenge the vice-like grip of the May Ball crowd and perhaps it can buck the trend. My hope is that a few targeted blogs by talented writers might challenge the hold of the papers in circulation (not this one, of course, as I am on my way out). Yet there is a depressing sense of inevitability about this all. If Downing Ball establishes itself will it too necessarily lose respect for its guests? Will a wide readership for a partisan blog necessarily result in stagnation? Possibly, but we can still hope…
A Cranworth organised event on Friday featured a lecture from Lord Justice Laws entitled Tolerance and Intolerance generally discussing the approach to questions of freedom of speech regarding sensitive issues such as race, religion and sexuality. It is always pleasant to be reminded that at least the judicature tend to be reasonable and principled where the legislature of late seems to be — well, either careless or insane depending on how generous one feels at the time. For me it was not hugely though-provoking since I already agreed with much of what he said, but did provide some coherent arguments to defend the position. He had much to say on a public law basis which I won’t discuss in detail. Broadly, there are conflicting rights to freedom of speech and to protection, but there is no right not to be offended. The harm caused by speech should be prevented through application of other laws rather than a law restricting speech itself. The talk also took on a delightfully British tone as he explained that people now seem to regard good manners merely as icing upon the moral cake rather than part of the cake itself. How true, indeed.
Over the weekend I ended up fuelling my eBay habit once more, picking up a handful of new games in time for the holiday. They actually offer a nice overview of the console’s one year of existence, stretching back to the launch title Perfect Dark Zero. Although I was unimpressed by the demo, it has now dropped to a far more reasonable level where it might be considered a fun romp rather than the nuanced slice of entertainment perfection that its £40 price tag on release suggested. Rare did an admirable job in producing two release titles for the console (Kameo being the other, and I maintain that where PDZ was significantly overrated, Kameo was actually underrated) but it has taken a little while for it to hit its stride in games like Oblivion and GRAW. The funny thing is that this has resulted in games like Splinter Cell and Hitman receiving far lower scores than the launch crop despite being significantly better. It happens every time, of course, but you’d think we’d have learned to tone down our launch euphoria to reflect this by now…
I’ve been waiting a long time to post something positive about Sony and they’ve finally done it. They were finally able to shine at GDC, showing off Little Big Planet and PlayStation Home. The former is a great little platformer that looks like a cross between a Pixar cartoon and stop-motion animation. However the really interesting revelation (notwithstanding Kotaku breaking the news early) was the pervasive online world of PlayStation Home. Visually it is simply stunning, and allows players to converse and interact in Second Life style. Whether this is a good fit for a gaming platform remains to be seen, of course, but if the community does take to it, it will provide a fantastic hub through which to access other services. The customisable “home” to which you can invite others is a nice touch, with a Hall of Fame/Awards system that seems to offer Xbox Achievement-style trophies from games. The real question is quite how to handle hundreds of thousands of users in the central areas. Presumably they will have to be divided up, but then how will you locate your friends for online gaming? It’s cool and it’s free but the downside is that it’s not a very game-centric advancement. However if a satisfactory solution can be found to these issues, innovative ideas like this, while not truly groundbreaking, show the future may not be quite so grim for Sony.
Meanwhile Peter Molyneux, though claiming to be more reserved, is still waxing lyrical about Fable 2, the sequel to Lionhead’s pleasant if shallow RPG. Aside from including the ability to have children and raise a family (meaning that if you elect to play a female character you can get pregnant — he believes the player character going into labour will be a first), the big feature they revealed was the removal of the entire HUD interface. This itself is not unique, but what they have replaced it with is. Because it’s a dog. Yes, canis lupus familiaris. Pets are far from new but this one you do not directly control. The idea is to foster a two-way relationship so that you genuinely care about this mutt. IGN has more details on the mechanics, as well as videos. Between raising kids and adventuring with your dog, the notion of unconditional love seems to be a theme here with a genuine desire to tap into the player’s emotions. However the world’s rough visuals show the game is far from ready, so don’t expect this to replace Nintendogs any time soon.
Work has been grinding me down over the last few weeks so that every task seemed to take three times longer than it ought. I needed something to reinvigorate me and, while slicing my thumb open a few days ago did not do the trick, such relief eventually came in the form of Pure Reason Revolution. I first saw the band supporting My Vitriol at KOKO last year and was instantly snared by the pop hooks underlying their progressive rock. “The Loft” is the upper floor of The Graduate, a pub on the other side of Jesus Green. The tiny venue is not particularly noteworthy, though it has impressive lighting for its size (Jon tells me this is a common trend amongst the smaller gig locations in Cambridge).
I knew Jon, Philly J, James and Ian would be coming along but they were all late so I ended up chatting to the band’s tour manager while a few rather mundane support acts performed. Our discussion meandered between films and music and in particular the experience of going alone. You are well aware that I strongly oppose the stigma attached by society to solo cinema viewing — I often go with friends but if no one else wants to see the film I’d rather see it alone than drag along uninterested people. Although I have also been to gigs alone, I much prefer company but could not place my finger on the reason for this divergent attitude. Sure, there’s the queuing and waiting which is more pleasant with conversation but more than that is that I find live music an experience to be shared. It stretches beyond music too. While I have no qualms about watching most films alone, the “experience films” like your Star Wars and your Lord of the Rings, I would want to share with others and would be less likely to see alone. Of course for movies like those there is rarely a dearth of willing accomplices.
Pure Reason Revolution took the stage around 9:30pm and produced a great set. We were positioned at the very front, literally two feet from the band. It’s odd to see a bassist take centre stage but Chloe Alper also provides vocals and fills the central position well, with a certain sensuality in the way her pursed lips envelop the microphone. She is flanked by the bands two guitarists, both performing incredibly tightly as they each seem to dance of the tray before them, boasting a spread of around a dozen pedals and switches. Their self-proclaimed perfectionism is swiftly evident. They were, sadly, sans violinist this time.
There were hints at the direction in which the band is moving, though I shall reserve judgement until the new single “Victorious Cupid” is released later this month (as a free online download accompanied by a card slipcase being given to gig attendees who want the full CD experience). Up until now they have essentially been continuously fleshing out the Cautionary Tales For The Brave EP which then grew into The Dark Third album. This received different releases in the States and in Europe so on the current tour they are selling the culmination of everything released to date in a 2-disc version of The Dark Third for a very reasonable £10. Although she admitted they were in progress, their tour manager was coy about future releases. However a scrawled notice in the entrance promised “New album coming sooner than Chinese Democracy”. For the confused it’s more of a Guns n’ Roses reference than a political statement, but also links neatly back to their support for My Vitriol last year. Either way, anything new is more than welcome.
I can’t remember exactly what is supposed to happen when a lunar eclipse coincides with a full moon but I’m pretty sure it involves werewolves, Halle Berry and NAMBLA. And possibly Hugh Jackman — I always found him unnaturally furry. Anyway, here’s a photo from last night taken from my window. It’s something of a novelty being able to take a photo of the night sky in Cambridge since London has rather too much light pollution for anything to actually show up.
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is finally coming to DVD this side of the Atlantic, where it has been notably absent despite being a BBC series. A modern fantasy tale set around London, it’s well worth a look and will be out in April. Unfortunately, despite all the time they have had, it does not look like it comes replete with scores of extra features but hopefully it will at least contain Neil’s commentary from the American release.
Meanwhile Angie decided to cheer up the corridor on Friday by baking us all a gigantic chocolate cake. Funnily enough it worked. Every university student quickly discovers that it is vitally important to have a strategically placed friend who finds baking therapeutic. We’re fortunate in K to have multiple sanity chefs which means regular delicious culinary freebies such as this. As a result we tend to follow the Klingon maxim: today is a good day to dine. Okay, so it’s not exactly verbatim but it’s certainly tastier.
I have a new favourite trailer. It’s for a game, the latest instalment of the Battlefield franchise, Bad Company. It is, shall we say, somewhat self aware…
I’ve been looking for something to do ever since I found out Sudoku doesn’t involve ritual suicide.
-Max, Sam & Max: The Mole, The Mob and the Meatball
Punctuality is certainly one of Telltale’s strong suits, with the third episode in the series taking me by surprise when it popped up early last month and the fourth, the provocative politically-themed Abe Lincoln Must Die, being offered a week early to season subscribers. In an industry where chronic delays are fast becoming the norm, early releases are practically unheard of — just ask the Duke! However the pressure to deliver a new slice each month does seem to be taking its toll.
While the dialogue remains sharp, the gangster-themed third episode featured just 3 new areas (while recycling several of the old ones). The game’s first act starts off well but the second act is over before you know it with an abrupt conclusion that leaves you slightly bewildered. It’s undeniably fun but often the straightforward puzzles require little input from the player as the story largely unfolds itself before you. Reviews suggest the fourth feels much the same. I stand by my assertion that the season subscription is easily worth the money for six episodes but I do hope Telltale are able to pull off a strong finish in the final two episodes rather than fizzling out.
Visual updates to the site have now been extended to the auxiliary pages like the T-shirt store and our beloved error 404 page (which you have hopefully had little cause to see). We’ve also included the first new-style custom header for the blog (based on our old Sam & Max one) to let you know you can still expect more of them.
Microsoft have opened applications for the Windows Live beta. This is the plan to integrate Windows Games into the highly successful Xbox Live to create a single persistent gaming network. This means easy cross-platform multiplayer gaming and communication. And yes, achievement points for your PC games too. Sign up quickly for an early look as Live expands to the biggest gaming platform.
Triple-layer writing is now possible for the HD-DVD format, bringing the capacity up to an impressive 50GB. So in a weird turn of events, Blu-ray is now outselling HD-DVD while HD-DVD has overtaken Blu-ray as the highest-capacity format. To quote Peter Griffin, “My whole world has been turned upside down. Black is east, up is white.”