The last two days have been a hectic maelstrom of Globalist related work (when I wasn’t aiding Jeff and Dwain in rock hunting, that is). The key members of my team have been great, making my job much easier, but there were certain unhelpful setbacks which served to make things rather more complicated than they ought to have been. Nevertheless, the finished product is being uploaded as I type — issue two is now a virtual reality (it won’t feel totally real until it’s printed and I’m holding a copy, at which point I can breathe a sigh of relief). This is likely the last issue for which I will helm the production, though I do hope to be involved in the magazine as it continues. Issue 2 is really as much of a landmark as the inaugural one, since this is the transition from mere frolic to legitimate institution. I sincerely hope to be holding a third issue produced by my successor in several months’ time.
The new year approaches relentlessly, brought home yesterday when Alexis and Jenna dragged me off to shop for fireworks because this is an American tradition which I could not miss out on. My attempts to explain that we’re very good at blowing things up in Europe and that in all probability the fireworks were made in China anyway fell upon deaf ears. We ended up in a large tent filled with every sort of colourful explosive a pyromaniacal child could desire and proceeded to fill 3 baskets with the requisite paraphenalia. Jeff has, I am told, singularly failed to ignite a proper sparkler bomb for the past two years, so is hoping to break the trend this time around. We did blow a quarter of our $100 budget on a single impressive multi-firework tube — Jeff and I have high hopes for the Black Cat Aerial Showcase. The advertised “finale break” sounds a little too Final Fantasy, but then Caleb and Jeff have been playing rather a lot of FFX, so should be qualified to deal with any related eventuality.
Unfortunately enjoying a USA style New Year means I’ll be even further away from Kirsten. She already knows how much I miss her, but I thought I’d dedicate tomorrow’s post to her in advance. Meanwhile, to anyone making a severe New Year’s resolution, enjoy your last day of freedom. While Karleigh learns the fine art of the swivel chair spin, Pepper, as you can see, is making the most of it, pawing at the fish whenever people aren’t looking.
We’ve headed down south to Baton Rouge for Christmas. Karleigh is, as you can see, lively as ever. She takes great pleasure in tormenting Pepper, Jenna’s new kitten (better known as “Kitty”). They have a very giving relationship.
The girl has also been taught a sequence of dialogue that would be sickly if it weren’t true. It runs something like this:
“Karleigh, what are you?”
“And what else?”
I had my first Sonic burger the other day. Although the experience was not altogether unpleasant, it is a prime example of limitation through marketing. The self-proclaimed “America’s drive thru” is going to be a rather hard sale if they decide to expand to the UK or, say, Afghanistan.
Christmas Eve we headed down to New Orleans to survey the damage firsthand. The sparse traffic was immediately obvious and it was sad to see the place so deserted with many homes utterly uninhabitable. The subdued mood gradually elevated once we reached downtown and the French Quarter where the structural damage was minimal and people were trying to continue as normal. It was still very, very empty but there’s life in the old city yet, and the impression I received is that locals are keen to see it return to its former glory. The beignets taste as good as ever.
Caleb and I saw King Kong a few days ago. I was secretly pleased we had to travel the extra distance to a late showing at Tinseltown since I remain less than convinced by the mall screens. Jackson’s new epic certainly benefits from the biggest screen you can find as Kong takes on three T-Rexes. You probably will be aware that I aim to avoid spoilers in my reviews. However, I have to side with Gabe on this one: when it comes to a seventy year old movie, there’s got to be a statute of limitations.
Although political correctness dictates that I may only wish you Happy Holidays, defying authority I sincerely hope you have a Merry Christmas nonetheless. And if you’re not a Christian then I guess enjoy your free holiday. Just remember you owe me.
My cousin Caleb arrived back from uni yesterday bringing a rather nice surprise in tow. He somehow forgot to mention that he’d got his hands one of the elusive Xbox 360 premium consoles. That means wireless controllers, harddisk, the works. Since I have yet to find an RPG that he doesn’t like, I decided to introduce him to Guild Wars. Instantly hooked, that left me free to put the 360 through its paces. After several hours of gameplay, here are my first impressions.
Beyond the sleek white box to replace the black behemoth in your living room, the controller is similar to the second, smaller version Microsoft released for the Xbox, which was in my opinion the best console controller on the market. Although it still fits in your hands just as comfortably, there have been a few modifications. The trigger controllers are smaller, moving less. While this is great for shooters, I fear it will prove a drawback in driving games where the Xbox excelled due to the precision triggers offered in controlling speed. Gone too are the black and white buttons, replaced by shoulder buttons that seem a little too sensitive as they’re easy to accidentally press — especially since they’re often going to be controlling grenades! You’ll soon settle in to the wireless way of things with an easy interface that lets you pick up any controller to start the action, but I’m still looking for the wire every time I put the controller down at the end of a session.
I’ve been playing Call of Duty 2 and Kameo. The graphics in both instantly show that this truly belongs to a new generation of consoles. The former is certainly a superior world war game, enough to excite me in a genre that doesn’t usually hold my attention. It features impressive teammate AI as they call for supressive fire and take cues from your use of smoke grenades. Kameo is sort of Zelda crossed with Pokemon, while visually closer to child-safe Conker, and it delivers the quality one would expect from Rare. The shapeshifting gameplay is incredibly fluid as you hunt down cute kidnapped elemental sprites, absorbing them to release their inner warrior as you catch ’em all. Alongside the usual heroics, Kameo features an all-out war which your character charges through on horseback. Watching score after score of trolls fly up as you wade through their ranks is quite a sight and is the first sign that the new generation is capable of something truly new, more than just pretty graphics. In half a day I’ve sliced through about three quarters of the game so it’s a little short, but definitely enjoyable while it lasts.
The Live! system, which vaulted Microsoft high in terms of online play, has been modified too. New features in your profile include a gamerscore and a list of achievements. Achievements are defined by the developers of every game you play, and they can assign a given number of points to each one. The more games you play, the higher your score. Dead simple but effective. Similarly, rather than saving data on a per-game basis, you can now set up separate profiles for each player using the console. This way games are stored uniquely for that profile to save confusion. The ease and simplicity of the new interface is readily apparent and one of the box’s real highlights.
Whilst no more groundbreaking than any previous new generation of consoles, this is a big step forward. Until games from more of the big developers emerge it will be difficult to assess its true potential (and many will likely hold off purchasing until the arrival of Halo 3 next year), but regardless of what the cynics may claim, there is more than just a graphical upgrade at work here.
I love Americans who can afford to buy technology they don’t understand. I should establish that I believe it would be highly immoral to steal another’s wifi broadband internet access simply because they haven’t bothered to protect it. That said, merely borrowing such services is purely a matter of efficiency and therefore utterly amoral in context, especially when it facilities the production of this very entry, allowing me to communicate with you lovely people. Efficient communication is what wireless networking is all about and to speak of it in such ugly terms as “theft” does it a great disservice. The only downside is that the hypothetical owners of said service are wont to turn it off when they’re not using it, which seems a little inconsiderate in my opinion. If I happen to disappear mid-conversation, that’s probably the reas—
Incidentally, as I am in the USA and therefore several thousand miles west of The Skylark, I will be unable to join you for curry this or indeed any other Thursday. Please do not text me to check unless you intend to pay for both the exorbitant cost of receiving the text and the private jet. Taking my lead from Stewie, for every text I receive I shall kill you. That is all.
Having recovered from my strangely oversentimental reaction to the discovery of Sonique’s disappearance last time, I thought I’d drop by to say bye before I fly off. I’m currently unpacking from Cambridge and repacking for the States in a single swoop that one may rightly describe as fell. As I’m supposed to be leaving the house at 6am, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve given up on the mortal notion of “sleep”.
My Christmas album of choice, since I’m sure you’re wondering what might soothe the ear of this veritable Scrooge at a time like this, is the Barenaked Ladies’ yuletide offering, Barenaked for the Holidays. From it’s opening with a musically varied rendition of Jingle Bells, including a now obligatory Batman reference, it is clear that this is an album approaching the holiday with a suitably lighthearted tone and yet without making a mockery of it. The line is a narrow enough to make garotte wire envious but if anyone can manage it, my money’s on the crazy Canadian quintet.
As another treat for Halo fans it seems a dark alliance has been forged between Bungie and Team Ninja. The latter, makers of the Dead or Alive series, requested the use of Master Chief as a character for one of their games. Politely declining, since Master Chief was, to put it mildly, a little busy after events on Delta Halo, Bungie instead offered them Spartan 458, also known by alien-sounding moniker of Nicole. A full backstory was developed and you can also see screenshots of the character in action, along with more about the trans-Pacific design process. The chance to punch someone in the face with a Spartan fist sounds like the opposite of the Nintendo Power Glove (that is to say good). Or w00t-o desu as those crazy Japanese say.
It may be a little while before the next update but I shan’t wish you a Merry Christmas™ just yet, as I promise to be in touch before then. Nevertheless, enjoy the festive build-up, good luck battling through the Christmas crowds, don’t overdo it with the eggnog, and always eat mince pies in odd numbers while never, and I cannot stress this enough, in multiples of seven. The consequences could be dire.
Many years ago there were three major players in the music software arena. Microsoft’s Windows Media Player was everyone’s default starting point since it came with their machine. Unlike the decent jukeboxing offering it has evolved into, at the time it was basic and severely lacking in features. For those moving away the chief contenders were Nullsoft’s Winamp and Media Science’s Sonique. Most are familiar with the former but sadly the latter passed under most people’s radar. Where Winamp 2 was skinnable in terms of overlaying new rectangular interface images, Sonique allowed skinners the freedom to totally redesign the interface from scratch with colourful curvy designs and smoothly animated menus. Aside from looking gorgeous, its audioEnlightenment decoder was great and its visualisations looked awesome as they throbbed in time with the music. Lycos bought up Sonique, then later fired the entire team, and hired a few people to work on a new version. Aside from an unstable beta release things became very quiet and eventually the project died entirely, its website quietly disappearing in September this year.
Meanwhile Winamps attempts to copy Sonique freeform skinning resulted in the horribly bloated Winamp 3 that served as a proper jukebox but was an awful piece of software. After that I stopped paying attention to it entirely but recently discovered that the latest release, Winamp 5, is actually not bad at all. Whilst I still find Musicmatch Jukebox unsurpassed when it comes to coallating music into a library, for playing individual files I prefer a lighter application as I don’t want my entire 20GB catalogue loaded every single time. The lite version of Winamp 5 is ideal for this, loading instantly and also offering full support for Nullsoft’s SHOUTcast free internet radio.
Halo fans simply have to try out Halo Zero. A free full game designed by fans, it’s a side-scrolling Halo-themed throwback to the arcade joys of the Metal Slug era. As you might imagine, the resulting gameplay both feels familiar and is highly addictive. The homage features music from the original game and elements of its GUI too. As it was developed by a French team there is unsurprisingly also a French language option which leads to an even more surreal experience. Il y a un Warthog, bitch.
Well I’m back in Croydon, but this feels more like a brief stopover on the way to the States as, once I’ve caught my breath, I fly out on Thursday. Which doesn’t leave me much time for settling in. If anyone’s particularly keen on seeing me before I go, that means I need to know now! It also means I’m busily juggling work on The Globalist and vacation scheme applications over the next few days, but I’ll need to take the laptop with me to the States to finish things off which, on the plus side, should mean several site updates for you guys while I’m there. Don’t even think about switching channels.
Having had my appetite whetted by watching Pitch Black a few weeks ago, I picked up a second hand copy of the Riddick game, Escape From Butcher Bay, for the Xbox. I’d given the game a wide berth on its release last year as games based on movies tend to vary between piss poor and criminal travesty, and to be honest The Chronicles of Riddick on which it was based is a pretty mediocre film to begin with, despite its budget and hype. This didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Yet the game was met with a flurry of positive reviews that marked it one of the best looking games on the Xbox and legitimately one of best examples of its genre. By creating a prequel game they avoid the usual restrictiveness of a movie plot and create a believable prison environment that evokes a little of Shawshank and the more recent Prison Break too as Riddick interacts with the other inmates. The new fish in the tank feeling is palpable. It’s greatest offering is its revolutionary close combat system. Punches seem to have real weight. You wince with each hit which feels like being slammed in the face. You know, in a good way. A long time after its release it’s still well worth a look if you’re after something fresh to keep your Xbox ticking over until you can afford/find a 360. Unless you happen to be Toby, who accidentally bid for one on eBay…
Last night I also saw Narnia, so there’s a review available now. Unfortunately it resulted in the accidental overwriting of the Mrs. Henderson Presents review and I can’t retrieve it. I may get round to rewriting it, but in the meantime here’s the encapsulated version: very funny, has much more to offer than just (generally attractive) bare flesh, musical numbers are restricted the stage so don’t get in the way, real drama aided by Dench and Hoskins’ great performances, 3/4.
Chatting to Luke the other day made me realise how much I’ve been neglecting the photography side of the site. It had been a slowly-updated yet reasonably successful section of P-2004, but with the site overhaul it just didn’t fit in quite so easily with the new WordPress system. I figured I had been putting it off long enough and decided to rectify the situation. Being something of a control freak, I wasn’t happy with any of the hosted services on offer and wanted everything to look cohesive. Naturally the alternative involved staying up ’til 5am for a second night (although unlike last time I didn’t run into Janine in the kitchen as I was going to bed and she was waking for rowing training). The end result is a fully integrated gallery in the Artist section. Its content will vary between general snaps and proper photography. When you enter you will notice that it removes the right hand menu system. This is intentional in order to give more space for the photos to be displayed. To continue browsing the rest of the Artist section, just click on the link in the top menu. The gallery is still under development and there may be some teething problems, so don’t be surprised if you see the odd broken image or the whole thing collapses and redirects you to Magical Trevor 3 instead. Do let me know what you think.
In other site related news, more film reviews are being added, both new and old. Jane will be pleased to hear this includes a 4-star review.
Portable Firefox v1.5 has finally been released, bringing with it all the new features added in the latest version of the Firefox browser. Portable Firefox allows you to install the program onto any transportable medium like a USB key or even an MP3 player! This means you can take your favourite browser (well okay, my favourite browser) with you wherever you go, complete with your chosen themes and extensions. Now you truly never need to use IE again, even on someone else’s machine. On a related note, for those of you who love mouse gestures for interacting with Firefox, Sparkie pointed me towards a neat little app called StrokeIt. Not usually something I’d be comfortable entering into Google, it turns out to be great way of adding mouse gestures to a variety of major programs including Windows Explorer.