Thursday, 27 December 2007

Rubbish but fun?

It is a with a sense of unease that I've noticed an interesting trend binding together the computer games I've enjoyed most recently: they're rubbish. It's a difficult thing to admit - I've been playing these games for many years and have spent many hours critiquing them; I like to think I know what makes a good game. But recently I've been playing a lot of Hero's of Might and Magic 4, Command and Conquer: Renegade (both on the PC) and Red Steel (Wii). In brief:

HoMaM4 is a vast, sweeping rpg / strategy game which chronicles the major events of six factions in the MaM world. Unfortunately the strategy is incredibly simplistic and the rpg elements came from the Big Book of RPG Cliques.

C&C:R was the first attempt to stick a first-person shooter into the ever-popular C&C universe. You play the Commando as featured in the first strategy game and must sneak into various installations and blow them up, occasionally running into an old flame who (predictably) wants to kill you. Unfortunately the game was a collection of set pieces and was impossible to actually enjoy until you gave up all pretense of stealth and simply rocked around spraying the badguys with automatic fire. The levels were uninspired, the weapons pathetic (they gave you the best gun right at the beginning) and the graphics were severely dated.

Red Steel is a lot more recent and hence its focus is on oriental criminal organizations. You are running around trying to rescue your girlfriend and protect a powerful katana from an evil clan of evilness. Occasionally there is a break in the shooting whilst you beat someone in the head with your sword. It's eerily reminiscent of C&C:R in that you have to give up on playing it "properly" and instead run around like a loon mowing down enemies with your shotgun and shouting every time a sword duel comes up because you have to engage in close combat rather than (say) emptying your clip into the idiot's head. The Wii controller jumps all over the place and the cutscenes appear to have been drawn in crayon.

Anyway, the point is the one thing these games all manage to capture is a sense of fun. Despite many, many flaws (and believe me, there are many) there is a great deal of satisfaction in beating them and a lot of excitement in running the gauntlet of minor bugs. Recently I've also played Resident Evil 4 on the Wii, which is far more competently put together - better graphics, much better use of the controllers available, better plot, better game design - but it'll be Red Steel I'll probably return to. I guess the point I'm vaguely stabbing at is that much as "great graphics don't make a game", neither does sound construction. It can still leave you cold; still be missing that X factor that really hooks you into a game. I really wish I could clearly define that feeling of entertainment - aside from making a fortune in the video games market I'd like to see where I could find similar effects in other walks of life.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

A thousand ways to wish someone Merry Christmas

Buying Christmas cards should be very easy these days. Clinton's Cards has provided cards for every type of family - Daddy and his New Wife, Daddy and his Girlfriend, Mummy and her Husband, Brother and his Special Friend. Sadly (and I use that word entirely incorrectly) my parents are still together and yet I'd quite like to buy them a card each. You cannot imagine how difficult this is proving. I haven't yet bought cards to "Mum and her Husband" and "Dad and his Wife", but the temptation is growing.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Insult someone and feel smug

I was on XFM Wales this morning, insulting the presenters as part of a competition. If you're in the South Wales area (and by that I include Bristol, or indeed on the web) I'd recommend The Roop and Tom Breakfast Show from 6 till 10.

And the insult?

You, sir, have the intellect of a monkey's scrotum. Your odour is more usually found in the matted hair of a cow's anus and your face can only be described as "unsafe for children". I am less amazed by your dress sense than that you have the sense to dress and your spasmodic gait is beyond my comprehension. One day you might rise above yourself and be compared favourably to a satsuma but until then you shall remain as you are - a veritable turd of a man.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Compiz-fusion is a nice place to visit, but i wouldn't want to live there

Gutsy Ubuntu then (yes I know, not exactly cutting edge). Is it exciting and are the new desktop effects going to usher in a new era of cooperation between man and computer? Hmm, probably not.

It looks great, make no mistake about it. The way windows bounce around and beam into existence is suitably pleasing. I especially like the mammoth number of options which make your desktop anything from mildly annoying to utterly impossible to use. For most fun try turning down friction on the windows and watch as the slightest twitch of the mouse sends your window shooting off into the distance.

There are clearly more options than any sane human being could possibly want, but this is a new feature so they'll be playing with them and then removing them as you'd expect in gnome. Problem is the defaults - they don't really replicate the existing desktop but with added whiz. Try using the mouse wheel to switch between desktops for instance. The poor old wheel seems to have been neglected throughout in fact. I'm reliably informed these options can be turned on but either these people are lying to me or I don't have the patience to hunt through a million menus trying to find the option that makes my desktop behave as it did before.

I'm willing to believe the fault is with me here, but patience is something that's sadly lacking when I'm using a computer. It's a tool - I don't want it to get between be and what I'm trying to do, in the same way I don't want to spend an hour gently stroking a hammer before hitting a nail with it. Especially when, in this case, it's just garnish that slows things down. When I hit a key I want a response now, not half a second later when the graphics card has finished rendering everything or the desktops have finished scrolling around or

I have to say I'm somewhat disappointed, but again I suspect the fault is mine. I was hoping for a great leap forward in usability. Something that makes the computer a joy to use. Something different, like the glove things in Minority Report. Instead I got the same thing as before but slower and with the ability to add fire trails to my desktop. Thanks, but I'll be switching this off for a while I think.

Orange Squash

Imagine the scene: you've arrived at the station to catch a train. You've arrived a short while before the train is due and you're standing on a freezing cold platform waiting. The platform gradually fills with members of The Public all stamping their feet in an attempt to keep warm. Suddenly the train pulls in to the station and people start climbing into the carriages. It's busy, but you're confident everyone will fit. You remain confident until the moron a dozen people in front of you suddenly decides, for no apparent reason, to stand in the isle and entirely block it. Ahead of him you can see a third of the carriage remains empty. He's clearly happy where he is though and will go no further.

Behind you the orderly queue has descended into chaos. People are pushing, trying to get on the train before it leaves. The guard comes past and helpfully instructs the people at the back to move down the carriage. A few moments later he angrily informs all the people still on the platform that the train isn't going anywhere until they've filled it and he can wait all day if necessary. Meanwhile the fool continues to stand still - either ignorant or oblivious. For reasons best kept to themselves, those directly behind him choose not to get involved despite their increasingly irate fellow passengers and the inevitable shrill woman shouting "move down, move down". Finally the guard gives up in disgust and slams the door in the faces of the people waiting on the platform and the train moves off with half of the potential passengers still on the platform.

Sounds insane. It wouldn't be tolerated. People would complain to the railway. And yet this is exactly the scene that greets anyone catching the Bright Orange Bus from central Bath up to the university every morning...

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Orange Juice

News from the Orange network. For the last 2 days we've had all Orange phones in the office saying "no access to network" and (predictably) refusing to work. Orange have said they cannot find a problem, but since it affects everybody one would be forgiven for thinking they haven't looked hard enough.

So, 2 days without any kind of mobile phone access from the office. This is an amusing enough problem for such a large company, but consider that the university hosts an Orange transmitter and indeed runs all its staff mobile phones on that network...

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

VOIP Phone - a new era of productivity?

I have a new phone on my desk. It's black and shiny, has lots of buttons and I can't figure it out at all.

There are bits of functionality I have discovered though. It makes calls, but that's just dull. It also has a (programmable) button which lets me permanently set my phone to busy (as in engaged) for some lovely peace and quiet. It has an auto-answer function: if someone calls me the phone rings once then answers itself putting them on speakerphone. Then I can shout vaguely in the direction of the phone and they can shout back at me thus allowing us to have a barely adequate conversation AND annoy the office at the same time, or allow people to ring your desk and shout helplessly because you're off having coffee. What larks.

However the very best function (so far) is the "page another phone" option which lets you speak directly through another phone's speakerphone speaker, regardless of whether that person wants you to or not, or indeed if they are currently speaking on the phone. So you can page ANY of these phones in the university and shout at the person sitting at the desk and they can do NOTHING to stop you, other than call security. Thus far I have found no way to override this option and lock my phone down.

Truly the days when your desk phone was your friend are long gone. I strongly suspect the person who designed this beast has never worked in an office.

The Blog Reloaded

I've been told I should have a blog - and by a chap who reads a lot of blogs. Since this is the closest thing to a compliment I've ever heard pass his lips I couldn't really say no. Hence I've decided to resurrect a blog I was using for testing purposes and actually try to post something meaningful occasionally. And, no doubt, much drivel in between.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

My First Post

I'd imagine everyone does this. It's my first blog, here is my first post, I just want to see what it looks like. And I'm no exception. This is my first post. Thank you and goodnight.