Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: May 2006 (page 1 of 2)

Two Down…

With two exams down and three to go, it does not yet feel like “almost halfway through”. Nevertheless, a few days’ respite is welcome before tackling the big two, Land and Contract. They have gone reasonably so far, which is to say they could have been far worse. When it comes to predicting tripos marks, I find it’s virtually impossible, so I shan’t try to guess.

Sparkie has completed his list of 28 procrastination techniques, which we mentioned previously. He considers it more of a “don’t do” list, with three items inspired by this very site. Worryingly, many of them sound far too familiar and I have engaged in the entire top six over the last few weeks.

Popular torrent site, much loved for its humourous public derision of legal threats it receives, is rumoured to have been raided and shut down, although this may well be a hoax as a similar story was posted exactly a year ago when their servers were taken down for maintainance. Corroborating articles would suggest otherwise. It will undoubtedly provide much publicity for the newly established political party which cannot hurt.

In todays “things to browse and watch” category, I was recently directed to the “Animusic” Pipe Dream video. While I wouldn’t really consider buying their DVDs, the idea is interesting and certainly well-executed. For fear of overdoing it, I shall not dwell on the release of yet another Superman trailer, but suffice to say it exists in our reality.

I had hoped to wish everyone luck before exams commenced, but what with revision and pre-exam stress, it didn’t quite happen. Nevertheless, good luck with the rest!

Good Luck!

Grand Theft Auto: Cloud City

GTA: Cloud CityDiscussing the future of the GTA series now that it is receiving an immediate multiplatform release, someone suggested that the modern day setting was becoming tired and they should create a futuristic one. Aside from the fact it is a horrendous idea that would destroy the core appeal of the game, it was a great idea. So I began to muse on how such a world might look. Following in the footsteps of Vice City, there was only one possible future location: Cloud City, home of Arch-Pimp Lando Calrissian. And what better story arc than to follow than the fortunes of this “scoundral smuggler turned politician turned miltary general” protagonist. Actually, now it’s starting to sound like a good idea

The reason for relating this extended musing is that the same developers, best known for this violent gun-toting carjacking franchise, loathed by mothers and political upstarts everywhere, have just released a sports game. Nay, a table tennis game. One might see it as a dark confrontation with paddles and hollow balls replacing more traditional projectile weaponry, but in truth it bears more similarities with Pong than GTA. And yet it has been heralded by many as the best next-gen multiplayer experience thus far. With a ferocious speed that makes it far more compelling than it’s tennis counterparts and a finally tuned yet intuitive control system (for example a gentle rumble indicates aiming off the table, with stronger feedback the further you stray), it shows there is real depth in the company’s skills. Oh, and it looks pretty too.

Neil Gaiman has a new collection called Fragile Things coming out in September. If it’s anything like the fantastic short stories in Smoke and Mirrors, I will certainly be happy, appetite satiated having had nothing new since Anansi Boys last year. A mock-up of the cover shows translucent paper that looks very pretty but will likely get ruined within minutes. The UK cover, he has explained, will be completely different. So not to worry.

Finally, I forgot to mention that Sparkie now has tong-duelling photos from Ian’s birthday.

Examinatory Sabotage and Super Supreme

Steph has suggested that the latest round of Facebook updates were designed to make us fail exams, and with their inconvenient timing it is a persuasive theory. Personally I’m more concerned about the House of Lords delivering a key ruling on divorce settlements right before Tripos. When even the Lords are sabotaging your law exams, it’s hard not to take it personally. It all makes me hanker for the good ol’ days of Edexcel.

Sparkie recently recommended McAfee Site Advisor which has plugins for Firefox and Internet Explorer, sitting in the status bar to warn you about the safety of the site you are browsing, with regard to popups, spam and spyware (in which case you should not trust downloads or submit forms). It also places warning icons next to results in major search engines to alert those which may pose a threat. I was happy to see that had already been greenlighted.

Superman ReturnsThe stylised teaser for Superman Returns contained barely any content but garnered much interest, while the full trailer met with a decidedly mixed response. Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor was a suitable fulfillment of Gene Hackman’s legacy, but overall it failed to herald the man of steel’s return with the epic sense that was suggested by its forebearer. However, a new UK cut of the trailer mends many of its flaws, with different construction and superior pacing. And the final shot is just comicbook cool.

Supreme CommanderThe Supreme Commander trailer shows off just the scale that journalists were raving about at E3, zooming out from what appeared to be an already full map to show several similarly sized conflicts occuring at once. The variety and volume of units engaging one another makes this the first time in a while that people may be upgrading their computers in order to play an RTS. Of more concern, however, is whether controlling so many units in multiple engagements at once can be achieved without reducing the player to a drooling epileptic mess on the floor. An impressively intuitive user interface will be only way to achieve this, but the game deserves recognition for its visionary scale, the biggest step up I’ve seen since the “Total War” series emerged with Shogun.

Heat Vision and Lej

About a week ago I heard a rumour that Lej had vacated Cambridge for the even wetter city of Portsmouth to attend a top secret recording studio session after penning an all new England World Cup anthem. Teaming up with Beauty and the Geek co-star Will Goodhand and a Royal Marines band, Edmund Bolton UK has done us proud once again with the horribly cheesy and inexplicably catchy We’re England. It’s replete with an insistant head-nodding rhythm and several silly voices — Will says his is supposed to be a cross between “Giles Brandreth and Timothy Claypole off Rentaghost”. Apparently. The duo’s combined geek star power and the song’s trashy contagiousness might just be enough to pull it off. Be one of the first to know, tell your mates and get ’em keen. So suck on that, Ronaldinho.

On similarly trashy note, Ben Stiller introduces this truly shocking canned 1999 pilot for Heat Vision and Jack. The story follows ex-astronaut Jack (played by Jack Black) whose rocket flies too close to the sun causing his brain to deform so that he becomes hyper-intelligent in the sunlight. His sidekick is talking motorbike Heat Vision (voiced by Owen Wilson), imbued with the voice of his former roommate. Ruthlessly hunting them down is Ron Silverman (playing himself) as they keep moving across the USA. Trust me, it gets even sillier from there. Yet somehow this camp send-up of 70s and 80s pulp action TV shows manages to be entertaining.

Having supervisions in the week before exams start is less helpful than inconvenient, particularly when getting to it on Wednesday involves trekking to the opposite corner of Cambridge. Admittedly the afternoons are not my most productive period, but a 40min hike each way isn’t exactly an improvement. Until then I’m mostly holed up in my room poring over folders and tricking out my statute books with iridescent Post-it index tags. Plans for a Cambridge-targeted Pimp My Textbook are, no doubt, already in progress.

Best and Worst Tickets in the House

Alex Grey avatarMore than making up for the fact she’s not around when I finish my exams, Kirsten has bought me a ticket to see Tool at the Hammersmith Apollo on June 14th, a live experience for which I have been waiting more than four years. The band’s Lateralus tour coincided with exams so I was unable to see them (Gorchin went anyway and bagged one of Danny Carey’s drumsticks!). Maynard then moved back to his second band, A Perfect Circle, resulting in no further opportunity to see them until this 10,000 Days tour. It would sound remarkably shallow of me to tell her that I love her more than ever now, but it’s true anyway. Joining a Tool forum to read about their other gigs and to see if I could meet up with some other fans before the gig, I ended up designing a new avatar based on Alex Grey’s COSM work, which combines his psychic and spiritual systems with a real human face.

The new Da Vinci Code film seems to be everything its detractors could have hoped for. Despite the high-profile contentious source material and A-list actors, Ron Howard has somehow managed to put together a bizarrely luke-warm thriller that’s unlikely to impress anyone, whether they have read the book or not. Audiences laughed at unintentionally comic lines like “I have to get to a library — fast!” which hardly aids in mounting tension. Apparently the only thing it has served well as is an Opus Dei recruitment video, as interest in the society has exploded ever since the controversy arose. Also for those who plan their winter wardrobe well in advance, this year the albino monk assassin look is sure to be in fashion. You heard it here first.

And who would have guessed that this year’s Eurovision winners would be a Finnish zombie rock outfit. Actually, quite a lot of people, I guess.

The End of the Dream

To illustrate the profound stupidity of this movie, I would like to share with you how Will discovers Sandy is sleeping with Tweed. He spots them through the key hole in her dressing room door. If anyone has seen a key hole in any door constructed in the last 25 years (and that’s pretty generous), please email me. Remember, this is a major Hollywood studio. Are you freaking kidding me?

HISHE News American Dreamz review

How It Should Have Ended is a site I’ve mentioned a few times for their imaginative animations reworking the endings of popular films. Soon after they started, their Star Wars ending resulted in a slashdotting but earned them a large fanbase. Recently I noticed they have also been writing short movie reviews, and encapsulated within these is a specific review of the film’s ending. Largely a gimmick, but an interestingly different take (since the ending can often make or break a movie), these reviews are obviously rife with spoilers so are perhaps best read after watching the film for yourself.

WMP 11A beta release of Windows Media Player 11 was leaked several days ago and officially released on Wednesday. Aside from a pretty update to the GUI (I personally prefer the look of the XP build to its transparent Vista counterpart) it features a new library system and an iTunes-esque set of large controls at the bottom. Musicmatch Jukebox remains vastly superior to both in terms of a music library, but WMP has the inclusion of video library management, although a tagging system of some sort would be appreciated. Unfortunately constant crashing means I’ve had to rollback to the previous version again and therefore cannot wholeheartedly recommend trying it out for yourself due to the instability of the beta. Microsoft have also released the hardware requirements for running the next iteration of their operating system and I find there is something disconcerting when their recommended specs require my machine’s full power in some areas (a gig of RAM and a 128MB graphics card, no doubt to power Aero’s transparent visuals).

The SabbathteursFinally, we had a Chapel Warden’s Meeting and in the course of events the topic of religious sabotage arose. That is to say, Rachel decided that we would be remiss in our Christian obligations if we failed to superglue the locks of the library doors to prevent people working on Sundays. Consider it guerilla religious warfare against Tripos. Faith or no, I think it’s a great idea and Davy agreed for, I would surmise, similarly convivial and thrill-seeking reasons. As such it seemed pertinent to produce a logo for our new society, dubbed “The Sabbathteurs”. I think at least Sparkie will glean the reference and approve.

Avoiding String (Theoretically)

The Visitor Map has certainly been embraced by you guys given the flood of comments we received. Most of you seem to be enjoying the new toy, largely as a procrastination tool I would imagine. The two notable exceptions are a certain disgruntled llama photographer and a sat-map electoral roll stalker. At any rate, do add yourself if you haven’t already, and then go about hunting for your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousins’s former-roommate’s old school. I’m told that’s what people are doing. I do not judge as it seems marginally more productive than dragging a piece of string around* with your mouse.

Paris Hilton at E3In post-E3 news, apparently Paris Hilton turned up at the convention to promote her new mobile phone game, “Diamond Quest”. Which proved to be a bit of a problem, since she doesn’t have a new game called “Diamond Quest”. It’s actually called Paris Hilton’s Jewel Jam, which you would have thought she might remember, firstly since it has her name in the title, and secondly because it was plastered all over the walls behind her. But that’s what you get for hiring Paris Hilton, I suppose. Another source suggests the game’s name was actually changed at the last minute, and she got it right. It looks like the marketing department need to be fired either way because both sound ridiculous. And Paris Hilton?

Will Wright's SporeIt is a little known fact that Robin Williams is an avid gamer. He was also at E3 ths year, lending his somewhat more paletable celebrity presence to SimCity-creator Will Wright’s latest brainchild, Spore, a game that looks as though it was inspired by a mixture of Pixar movies and Darwinian evolution. It certainly shows promise although it’s still hard to fathom exactly what the gameplay entails. Williams can been seen demonstrating the creature design system with suitable improvisational flair. Like Will Ferrell, the man’s comedic talents range far beyond the film roles he tends to select, as I realised the first time I saw him performing stand-up comedy, shocked to hear him swearing profusely once freed from the constraints of a U-rated set.

* WARNING: String Avoider is as insidious as it is infuriariting, we do not advise clicking on this link if you have an addictive personality and cannot be held responsible for any consequences that may ensue.

Geographically Speaking

More observant visitors may have noticed the addition of a new page (but probably didn’t). The new Frappr Visitor Map is designed to show where our myriad of visitors come from, so whether you’re a regular or an occassional browser please head on over and take a few moments to mark on your home town. I originally considered doing this when PvP set one up a while ago, but never got round to doing it. Recently, becoming irritated by continuous “where do you live?” and “who lives in X?” threads, I set one up for Gamespot UK and it seemed the perfect time to create one for P-2006 too. I’ll add a link as a footnote to the next few posts to remind people to add themselves and hopefully we’ll see it grow.

CULS, the uni law society (unlinked since it appears someone forgot to keep up payments on their website’s domain), has been running a weely competition ever since Jade took over from Nick as President. In each email newsletter are a few lyrics from a song and the first two people to correctly identify them win a bottle of champagne courtesy of Cambidge Wine Merchants. Despite being pretty quick on the draw, what with a virtually permanent net connection, I’ve been pipped to the post on several prior attempts but finally snagged a bottle this week when the song in question was the now-infamous Facebook Song, the “snag” being that you needed to name at least one of the lyricists. Now that I have the champers, all I need is something to celebrate…


With the Big Three press conferences out of the way, E3 proper unfolds and is really about the games. I’ll aim for a less specialist (though not entirely game-free) entry today.

The University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt is an annual multi-day event which is unlike any you’ve seen before, inspiring creativity and some pretty impressive feats of engineering. Amongst the items on this year’s list are a working wood refridgerator and a one-way funhouse mirror. Also on the list, and a worthy trophy regardless of the hunt, is Austria’s most oft-stolen road sign.

At last four former Guantanamo detainees have won the right to sue the US government for violating their religious beliefs. Previous attempts to do so were blocked by the government on the grounds that the conduct — which included flushing a copy of the Koran, and forcing Muslims to shave their beards — did not occur on US soil.

Goblin ShamanMore information about Mythic’s MMO Warhammer Online is now being released at E3. Some have accused it of mimicking another popular franchise, leading to the derogatory “World of Warhammer” moniker. In fact the 25-year-old Games Workshop license from which it draws has been more than a little copied by Blizzard themselves in the Warcraft series, and was itself adapted largely from the Tolkien Middle Earth universe. Maintaining the integrity of this fantasy world is key to their vision, resulting in unique classes for each race. For example rather than the usual pet classes, Goblin Squig Herders (which insane designer Paul Barnett described as as “pet classes, just not dull“) include abilities like being eaten by their own squig, which they then wear as armour or roll around in Metroid-style.

DwarfRacial identity is also key, and Paul’s familiarity with the source material (he previously worked for GW) resulted in descriptions like Dwarfs as the “northern working class” miners, and Dark Elves as “posh people what have taken a lot of drugs. Like Byron.” Despite the vibrancy of this imagery, the overall tone is darker than Blizzard’s WoW, with the pervasive continuing war being a central theme. The idea is that not only will you, say, raid and pillage the Dwarven citadel, but shave the very beards off your prisoners. Personally, having spent years of my youth battling Chyde’s Dwarf menace, I’m rather keen on seeing a beard-shaving minigame…

Nintendo and Microsoft Press Conferences at E3 2006

I’m writing this immediately after watching the Nintendo Press Conference but the entry won’t go up until the second half is written following Microsoft’s later this evening. Much to my surprise, Nintendo have just blown Sony out of the water. Everything that was wrong with their show — poor presentation, overlong, dull demonstrations, unnecessary ego massaging — was right here, including indirect digs at Sony and a very cool stage door. Sure the graphics aren’t up to those of its rivals, but the new Zelda game looked as though it was easily capable of challenging them in terms of visual beauty. The inclusion of a Sonic game on the console will be a very weird experience for those who remember the Nintendo vs. Sega days.

The Wii ControllerThe Wii (yes, the name remains unchanged) controller was the real star of the show. It is difficult to translate into text the fluid and varied ways in which it can be applied to an incredible number of games and genres (27 games, including Zelda, are playable at E3 and should be ready for launch) from drumming to tennis to sword fights to shooting to fishing. And believe me, that’s just scratching the surface. Their demonstrations showed off not so much the games as the way in which Wii provides a new way of interacting with these worlds. Want to open a door? Just move your hand. A few secrets had been retained about the controller which elevate it far above Sony’s meagre immitation. The “nunchaku” component is motion-sensitive independently of the remote. This allows for two handed motion-play while keeping the analogue stick (rather than two remotes as in other games). The controller also features a speaker which provides additional feedback, such as the sound of a bowstring pulled taut. It’s an interesting idea that will be successful only if used sparingly. There’s a reason we have surround sound speakers in our living room, and I’d hate for them to be wasted.

Unfortunately the release date and price remain sketchy, although they have promised released in the fourth quarter and one imagines a markedly lower price given the machine’s limited power. It is clear that what it lacks in power is more than made up for with innovative design in both the console and games. It was enough to make me consider the Wii as a serious possibility — despite my initial skepticism, this bold move from Nintendo is poised to revolutionise how we play.

Halo 3Microsoft’s was the best delivered conference, opening with Epic’s Cliffy B introducing Gears of War, then Mr. Xbox Peter Moore taking centre stage for the rest of the show. With the console already available, there wasn’t much for Microsoft to reveal other than the expected peripherals; a camera, an HD-DVD drive, and a steering wheel will be available by the end of the year. Their real news was in game releases and developer partnerships, including the surprise bombshell that Grand Theft Auto 4 will be available on the 360 as soon as it is released, ending Rockstar’s longtime Sony lock-in deal. Combined with Square Enix, Microsoft has taken a huge chunk out of Sony’s exclusive titles. Microsoft’s developer acquisitions ensure more exclusive titles, Rare producing the inovative and unique Viva Piñata, while Lionhead Studios announcing Fable 2. Saved until the very end was the highly anticipated and somewhat inevitable Halo 3 trailer, somewhat underwhelming compared to last time, but boasting impressive in-game graphics nonetheless.

The reason for the tight security around the event became apparent when the future developments of Xbox live were discussed by none other than Bill Gates himself, attending E3 for the first time. Although at first a little too reminiscent of Wayne Solinski, it picked up fast as he discussed integration with PC and mobile platforms through Live Anywhere, included as standard in Windows Vista. This unification of gamers is what Sony are trying to emulate but it’s a tough act to follow with the rapid uptake of Live. Further developments bring music and film media to consumers through the same Live interface, and suddenly we remember what this whole console war was about in the first place — both companies struggling to get their multimedia box into every living room.

Overall it seems that Sony have lost focus in trying to span the gap between Nintendo’s innovative control mechanisms and Microsoft’s high-powered multimedia and online connectivity. There is a good chance they will miss the mark on both counts, leaving their console outpriced and outgunned. The fanboys will buy it nonetheless, but of the big three they’ve certainly come out weakest from this year’s E3. All that remains now is for people to try this gear out!

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

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