Monday, January 30, 2012

Couple of Old Republic Screens*

* "Couple" meaning "three" in this case.

The Importance of Coffee

One could actually label this one "The Importance of Caffeine" but since my caffeine delivery system of choice is coffee and it's my damn blog, I'll write the headings I want to.

I remember when 7-11 carried three kinds
of  coffee: Regular, Bold, and Decaf.
When I was 13 or 14 and I had a paper route in the early morning (Monday through Saturday) that required a wake-up time of about 5:00AM. Of course, I was 13 or 14 and doing this posed absolutely no problem. I got up, jumped on my bike, delivered the papers, back by 6:00 or maybe a little after, play on the PC for a bit, breakfast, then off to school. It was nice rhythm.

Then during one summer, I finished my Saturday run and the sun was already pretty high in the sky. And on some impulse and the fact I had money in my pocket I rode over to the local 7-11 (which is long gone). I wandered in, feeling somewhat grown up -- I had a job after all -- and bought a coffee. My first coffee. I dumped sugar and artificial flavouring into it. It was "Irish cream."

The heat hadn't really set in yet and there was just the barest of chills in the air as the dew evaporated. The sidewalks weren't hot yet. Traffic was light and only a few early-morning dog walkers were on the sidewalks. I felt grown up. Like I owned the place. Like this great big sea of possibilities extended out in every direction. Not just for the summer but for my entire life. After pre-lunch street hockey it could be an engineering job in Dubai or a cigar maker in Cuba. Who knew? It was all there in front of me!

I rode my bike one-handed as I cautiously sipped the coffee, the heat of which was dulled by the amount of "Irish cream" I had added. It was just a little magical.

And I think what could of been...
And that pretty much sealed it for me. I was a coffee drinker. I wasn't a regular drinker until I was out of highschool and have been ever since. And with each bitter cup -- having long since given up on "Irish cream" and even sugar (most of the time) -- I remember even if it's fleeting that Saturday morning so long ago when I was 13 or 14. Of course, drinking it now is more out of necessity, especially lately when sleep is at a premium. That is to say, practically non-existent. This is the time when I think of coffee as a means to stay awake, even if that doesn't always translate as "alert."

Still, no matter how fatigued I am or how bad/good the coffee is, there's still part of my that snaps back to that Saturday morning. I won't ever be a Cuban cigar roller and the last time I played street hockey is clouded by years of being an adult with adult responsibilities, but coffee... I can drink that whenever I like.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mega Man and Pac-Man in Street Fighter X Tekken

I posted this bit of information to AE's News section earlier but it kind of deserves a little more attention.

Mega Man -- as depicted on the cover of the original Mega Man -- and Pac-Man are included as "exclusive" characters for the Playstation 3 version of Street Fighter X Tekken (alongside Cole from the inFamous series). Mega Man in a fighting game is not unheard of and kinda makes sense in the overall scheme of crossover fighting games, but I think it's a stroke of genius to use the original (and ugly as sin) Mega Man cover model.

It does a couple of things that are positive for Street Fighter X Tekken.

The first is publicity. This inclusion is an attention-grabber and will work fighting fans and non-fans into a froth on gaming forums. "How could they do this?" "What will this do to the competitive circuit?" "Geez, that's ugly!" "Geez, that's awesome!" And from what I've read online, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. Either you're for it or against it. Applauding or booing.

The second thing it does is open the door for other really terrible box art characters to be brought into the digital realm, like Strider or Crack Down. That's either a blessing or a curse. I lean toward the blessing side of that argument.

If for no other reason than to remind gamers of just how far design and art have come thanks to the abundance of processing cycles modern technology allows. Now, what a designer sketches and a concept artist paints can actually come alive in a way that wasn't possible in the early days.

Good on the development team for trying something a little outside the expected!

Old Republic: It's Losing My Interest

I really would like to spend more time playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. But almost every time I've had a spare hour to devote to the game, I watch the game download and apply a patch or update rather than actually play it. This is exactly why I would get frustrated if I had to review a Playstation 3 game. If I hadn't had the console on in a while, I'd have to wait out the time consuming update process. This meant I wouldn't actually play whatever game I was supposed to be reviewing and slip into bed instead.

So, while these software updates are good for a restorative sleep, they're playing hell with my review schedule.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

That Post about "The Curse of HTML (and Other Things)"

Now if your memory is good or you scroll down a couple of posts, I wrote about wanting to work in a place that demands creativity. I wanted to let Vitus have free reign and solve problems "by a deft line of dialogue and a three panel sketch of a cyborg smashing a glass-faced alien right in the head! That's what I crave!"

And yesterday I came across two job postings that would demand just that. I read the description of the jobs then closed my browser. "No, that's too scary. Could I actually do something like that?"

Apologies to Jimmy Stewart.
After giving my head a shake and slapping myself a few times, I applied to both positions. I realized right then and there that I've probably missed great opportunities because a career choice didn't feel "safe" enough. And then there's that whole "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" thing. I'm tired not venturing enough. I'm in what most would call "Ruttsville." I want to shake off the dust of that crummy little town and see the world!

Maybe nothing will come of the applications, but no longer will I stand or sit idly and wait for something to fall into my lap

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Every time I finish a book lately I realize just how much I miss consuming books like I used to. A book would last me a few days at the most before I was on to the next. And it was a constant stream -- I always had another book on deck so I could just keep reading. That voracious intake has slowed due to any number of things but mostly I get an hour or two in the evening to dedicate to solitary pursuits like reading or gaming. A commute by transit helps a bit because it gives me a little over two hours to concentrate on reading (and ignore the other smelly commuters).

And it was on the bus, that I finished George Mann's Victorian steampunk "The Immorality Engine." Good read, with little in the way of substantial character development but high on the "things exploding messily" scale. I liked it and it goes out of it's way to set things up for the next book. What stays with me are the descriptions of the automatons, the slanted world that rides a boundary of occult, real history, and steampunk clockwork, and the way Mann rolled out the story. Would I recommend it? It's summer reading through and through. That's not a bad thing! I enjoy these kind of pulp stories where things explode messily, usually via some kind of fantastical machine/contraption. For example, there are steam-powered mech-like vehicles included! I think Mann needs to get an illustrator on-board to provide some art for the inside of the book. Or possibly turn the whole thing into a graphic novel.

Next up: Will Ferguson's "Spanish Fly"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Curse of HTML (and Other Things)

I've spent a number of hours now -- countless hours because I failed to keep track of them -- slowing wading through the multiple thousands of articles and features posted on The Armchair Empire to change four (4) lines of code on each page. I'm told this is somehow necessary and actually vital to security as it prevents some kind of PHP exploit that is bad. For some reason.

I can't pretend to know 90% of what I should probably know about running a website. More accurately 90% of what I should know about coding for the web. I'm comfortable enough with my basic understanding of how the code part works -- those reams of nonsensical <,> and /'s that seem to control everything behind what a person actually sees -- but beyond a few steps in I'm like the guy that brought a burrito to a knife fight. I'm licked and I know it. I'd love to learn! Finding/making the time for that is pretty damn hard to do.

Vitus is the one with the killer moustache and cape.
I took a course a couple years ago to give me a better grip on things but I think it just made me frustrated that it was going to take me so long to get where I think I should be. And I have these ideas of what changes I want to make to the site overall, but actually implementing them is something entirely different. If I had a job that taught these kinds of lessons while, you know, doing work I wouldn't have a hard time with it. It's the chance to be creative that has been missing from all my day jobs. I've "settled" for things, which seems to be encasing my creative juices in some kind of force field, if that makes any sense. There's this constant feeling that there's something inside me that wants to punch itself out of the top of my head, grab my ears, and steer me toward something I really want to do... something that I should be doing.

I actually felt like that little thing, I'll call him Vitus, was in control a few years ago. Vitus had smacked through my cranium and had me by the ears. And, man, was is exhilarating. There was this cacophonous peak when the world turned into rainbows and my smiling face actually began to cramp up. That was three years ago. And the same thing has not happened since. There have been a few times where I could feel some knocking from inside my skull, but that's not the same. I want Vitus to come out everyday. I want to work in an environment that seeks creativity, no, demands it everyday. A place that feeds and nurtures creativity. Everywhere I turn I'd be challenged with some obstacle that could be overcome by a deft line of dialogue and a three panel sketch of a cyborg smashing a glass-faced alien right in the head! That's what I crave!

I'd still expect to work hard, but I'd be having fun.

There's something so soul-sucking when one of my kids asks, "How was work?" And I have to think hard about what I even did at work, let alone come up with an opinion of what went on, and I sigh in one breath, "Work was work." And after a 12-hour day you'd think I'd have something more exciting to say. Or anything to say.

That's sad and pathetic on a few different levels. And though I feel a slow climb upward, most days I feel like I'm standing still, getting older, while all those opportunities that could have been mine, should have been mine, have sidestepped me altogether and continued on to bump into someone else. I want to tackle the next opportunity to the ground and beat it within an inch of it life.

I'll admit that there's a bit of "oh, woe is me!" going on, but I also have to honest and say it's a pretty small part of it. That will simply get in the way of being focused on what I actually want to do.

I can't give up. My creative drive is too strong. To give up now would be like killing Vitus.

No more cape, no more moustache. That would be sad beyond words.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Current PC Gaming Machine

It's an extended loaner unit, but what I'm gaming on right now is an Alienware laptop, the M18x.

"Laptop" is kind of a misleading description. This is quite easily a desktop replacement that just so happens to be portable. In form factor and function, there's no mistaking it for anything other a piece of hardware in the laptop family. The dead give away is the screen that folds down but I'm not sure how much gaming would actually be done with the M18x sitting on a persons lap.

For starters, it's heavy! (Close to 12 lbs!) While some laptops have gone the route of thinner and smaller, the M18x is akin to a V8 Hummer. So, it's heavy and big. And that's okay by me -- it means the screen is also a generous size. In short: It's perfect for a desk.

But I'll have a more in-depth review of the hardware closer to the end of March, for now I need to mention at least one number that I can remember off the top of my head:

Half-Life 2 (and its episodes) maxed out everything = 300 frames per second (fps) according to FRAPS

Saints Row: The Third looks best on PC. No lie.
And while I can't remember the exact numbers for the likes of Left 4 Dead 2, Crysis, Red Alert 3, StarCraft II, Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, Homefront, and Team Fortress 2, the fact I can turn all the settings to "10" and not see any performance hits makes me appreciate the kind of horsepower built into the machine. (And by any, I mean any.) The only game so far that seems to have chugged, even just a bit, was Saints Row: The Third with the settings maxed to 8x anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. And even then it was an acceptable chug (to me) of ~25 fps. For ~$2,000 I'd expect that but actually seeing it in motion... yeah, PC Master Race Tendencies are difficult to squelch. The games look appreciably better than on console. And finally seeing Crysis running at max settings? It's hard to believe the game came out in 2008. It looks so good!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Finishing Touches...

I woke up this morning still feeling like I’d been attacked by fire ants – will I ever feel well again? – but I still managed to put the finishing touches on my Saints Row: The Third (PC) review. Still needs an edit pass or two, but at least it’s mostly done.

I think I had more fun with the this version of the game simply because control was much more precise and I went into the experience with my eyes wide open, knowing what to expect and being familiar with the layout of the city. I previously put a bunch of hours into the Playstation 3 version, but this second play through on the PC just felt better. I had more fun with it. The same thing happened with Batman: Arkham City.

I’m trying to put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it has something to do with playing them on an Alienware M18x. Or maybe it has to do with sitting close to the screen, which is something I’ve missed while playing games from the couch. It deserves more thought at the very least. I need to identify why the PC versions of these games are somehow better. Or at least why I’m perceiving them as being better.

Next on my playlist is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim… unfortunately, I didn’t get a crack at the console versions so I can’t make that kind of PC vs. console comparison.

And since we’re half-way through January my mind has already turned to September and PAX Prime. If a GFW Radio Reunion doesn’t happen this year, I think that’ll be it. But that might just be the fire ants talking.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Few Saints Row: The Third (PC) screens

Character creation is a great feature of Saints Row: The Third. While some games put you through the rigmarole of creating a character you only see the back of, SRTT has your character on-screen and interacting all the time. It's makes your character decisions matter!

The lighting/heat effects are awesome. I just wish the flame thrower was much more readily available.

The "Sex Appeal" slider during character creation is basically the "boob" and "crotch" slider. The higher the sex appeal, the bigger the boobs.

Glorious destruction!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Couple of books

I’m finding that with my commute I finally have more time to read and/or play games. But I’m all outta books and I feel substantially up-to-date when it comes to my 3DS games. So, I grabbed a couple of books from the library during my lunch hour.

The first is “Spanish Fly” by Will Ferguson, one of my favourite authors. “Spanish Fly” seems like it will be a prequel of sorts to Ferguson’s first novel “Happiness” (or “Generica” in some markets). It features a young Jack McGreary, who was responsible for the self help book that nearly brought about the end of human civilization in “Happiness” years later. It seems strange to me that no where on the cover or inside flap is there reference to “Happiness.” The idea of fleshing out the backstory of a somewhat minor character of one story, even if he does play a pivotal role, in a standalone novel has a certain appeal to me. While “Happiness” offers a snapshot of the McGreary character and what motivates him to write his self-help book, I always got the feeling there was much more to this crazy dude in the desert.

The next is a basically a guilty pleasure. It’s a steampunk novel by George Mann called “The Immorality Engine” – A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation. I read the first book – Affinity Bridge – a couple years ago and enjoyed it for its pulp sensibility, characters, and altered-history premise, but I kind of forgot about the series. I haven’t read the second book so I hope it doesn’t become an obstacle to enjoying the story.

I saw a copy of the Walking Dead novel “Rise of the Governor” on the new arrivals shelf but three books is probably pushing it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

From Blizzard, With Love

So, some sections of the Internet are crying today about the latest news from Blizzard: Diablo III will be available on consoles. I was pretty sure the company had announced this ages ago so I'm not sure what the big deal is. I'm sure that for a few days there will be some very vocal whining and complaining from some segments of the gaming public, but these guys need to spend their time on more fruitful pursuits, like say, horticulture or cleaning up a river.

Dollars to donuts, the same people flipping out about this recent announcement were the same individuals that went a little off the deep end when it came to the art style. I remember when Blizzard showed off Diablo III for the first time and the voices called the art direction terrible, the grittiness had been replaced by a Care Bear sensibility, and so on.

I'm not sure how small your world has to be to care about stuff like this. More players getting a chance at a Diablo game?

That's good news.

Not just for Blizzard, a company that needs to have its gold-plated silverware re-finished, but for those gamers that have to listen to "old timers" beat the drum about how awesome those old Diablo games were. Finally, they'll be able to experience the "killing and shopping" of an RPG series that is still labelled as one of the best ever even though the last game was released more than a decade ago!

ADDITIONAL: Blizzard has actually denied confirmation of a console version. I'd still say it's likely to appear though.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic - knee-jerk reaction

Okay, so I'm not that deep into Star Wars: The Old Republic yet but I remember why I abandoned City of Heroes (as much as I liked it).

I'm a Level 4 cyborg smuggler and I'm not even out of the origin story yet. For the last couple of days I've been vainly attempting to get past a Level 6 robot guy. This damn thing keeps laying me out! Last night it dawned on me that I needed to head out into the surrounding area and grind out a couple of levels to reach 6 to ensure I could squash the robotic bastard. That's when City of Heroes stopped being fun for me and I was much deeper into the game than the first couple of hours. The moment it became about The Grind I lost interest.

With Old Republic I just want to explore the storylines and forget this grinding thing. Discovering your own Star Wars story certainly has an appeal for me but not when I'm frustrated this early on with the game. I'll stick it out for a while longer but my fortunes had better turn pretty damn quick or this one's getting a hyperspace jump to the Uninstalled system.