Category Archives: Games related things

Has the LHC destroyed the world yet?

In case you’ve blanked news out for the day, the Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, was turned on today. It’s taken 30 years and some silly number of billions of pounds to make a really big ring so boffins can make streams of protons hit each other at light speed then see what happens. I did write in with a suggestion that they shine two torches at each other, but they never wrote back. I would even have supplied the batteries.

Anyway, apparently the amount of energy used is likely to create a Higgs Boson particle, which somehow gives all other particles mass (although exactly how or why I really don’t know). Then again, it might not. What this boils down to is that a load of guys underground in Europe are going to perhaps make a very small black hole. They insist that this is completely safe, which it probably is, but that doesn’t stop everyone else wondering if they are about to destroy the world, which brings me to the point of this..

In case you need to check if the LHC has destroyed the world, there is now a convenient website that is monitoring the situation and allows you to check:

It’s a good joke, but the real comedy will escape 99.9% of viewers. Check out the source code for the page:

[script type="text/javascript"]
if (!(typeof worldHasEnded == "undefined")) {
} else {

[script type="text/javascript"]
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." :
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost +
"' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));

Comedy gold for web techy people.

[I removed the email address from the code to try and prevent him getting spammed by bots that may scan this page, but it’s there in the page’s code if you want to find it yourself.]

The best Halo 3 review ever.

Funny, and I couldn’t agree more. Halo 3 is good, but not so exciting that the world is going to give up games forever after experiencing the moment of nirvana that many reviewers think the game contains. It’s good fun if you’re playing with someone else, but most things are. For a single-player game it’s decidedly average. Nothing is really new, and the innovations that the series had have been equalled or bettered by other games released since.

Maybe I feel like this for me because I’m not a frag-addicted multiplayer gamehead that would put electrodes on my arms if I thought it would speed up my twitch response, but most of the time I just want to sit down and enjoy a good game by myself. Most of the time I play games to get away from the idiocy of humanity, not so I have to encounter idiots from around the world in my living room.

The Xbox 360 and the Playstation3… Leaving the door open for Nintendo?

Micro$oft’s Xbox 360:

As I’ve mentioned in other places, I recently bought an Xbox 360 as preparation for a job interview (which, incidentally, worked). I’ve now had the machine for a few weeks and can categorically say ‘meh’ about my experience of the machine. The graphics are admittedly a step up, but do not currently represent what we might describe as a generational leap and instead look like only slight advancements of the height of last-gen graphics. In terms of gameplay, the options of having hundreds of attackers are used by games such as Dead Rising (UK link US link) to good effect, but does this create anything that hasn’t really been playable before?

Dead Rising serves as a good example of the problems faced by the Xbox 360. It is regarded as one of the best titles on the system, and has many different paths of play in a way that earlier games would have struggled to have contained. It is very much Grand Theft Zombie, and not necessarily the worse for this, but it exhibits issues that should have been resolved long ago. It has early difficulty spikes, poorly thought out save points, a lack of checkpoints after tough achievements, and the combat, while fun, is marred by an inventory system that makes it easy to suddenly begin reading a magazine when you are surrounded by fifty brain-hungry zombies. The worst problem, only made so by the ease of correction, is that the majority of in-game updates are displayed in text so tiny that it is unreadable on a normal television. Did the makers of the game never play it on a system that did not support high definition visuals? On a standard CRT set the text is only readable with a lot of guesswork and familiarity with the words that are probably being written. Reading mission updates in a game should be the easiest thing in the world, but this simple over-sight damages the game experience, and it isn’t the only Xbox 360 game with this flaw.

When I bought the machine I was looking forward to the backwards compatibility and the media centre capabilities. The former aspect is software-based emulation of the Xbox, and as such Micro$oft are going through their back-catalogue and releasing patches for the games. This means that the more advanced games are harder to emulate, so some of the most interesting titles in the Xbox range, such as Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath (UK link US link) don’t currently work, and many fairly mainstream titles need an online update to work with the machine (which costs yet more money if the owner doesn’t want wires all over their house). The media centre feature, despite saying that it allows you to stream music and video content to your living room, is crippled by obscure firewall settings that take a while to overcome, then more so by Micro$oft’s insistence that files must be in certain formats for them to be streamed to your Xbox 360, regardless of whether or not they can be played on your PC.

So the Xbox 360 is powerful, expensive, slightly hobbled by Micro$oft’s decisions, frustrating, and packed with potential that a year after release still isn’t going anywhere very exciting.

Sony’s Playstation 3:

I’ve written about this before, so I’ll keep this brief. $ony have got a lot to lose here. They have made a machine that costs them $840 to manufacture, which is $241 more than the $599 price tag (source) of which the retailer would have to take a cut, doesn’t include how much the controllers, cables, and R&D cost Sony. It turns out that the 100% backwards compatibility isn’t quite 100% (source) and, because this is hardware-based, this means that those games will never work on the machine unless Sony manage some very fancy downloadable coding – again requiring another bout of internet connections and firewall fiddling.

In the box you get a Blu-Ray player, which is a very nice piece of kit for games developers who fancy putting a hell of a lot of content into their games, and it is especially good for high definition video – but again, how many people have high definition televisions, especially to the scale of 1080 pixels that Sony is forcing in as a standard beyond the more typical 720 pixels range? Given that a large part of the delay of the machine and the R&D budget has gone on the Blu-Ray, is it going to be worth it for gamers? This one only time will tell. My instinct about the HD DVD v.s Blu-Ray competition is that neither is going to be winning any time soon: too many people have only just upgraded to DVDs and won’t want to upgrade again. This isn’t VHS v.s DVDs because at least the players will still be able to play DVDs, but who is going to be rushing out to make a very costly upgrade when their system is already satisfactory? In addition to this, do the very limited numbers of the machines available at launch suggest that the difficulty of making the Blu-Ray player is still slowing production? Will the player stand up to long-term use, or will it degrade like the early PS2 DVD players?

As for software: the first few months the schedule is mostly games in very heavily populated genres, such as sports and driving, or non-exclusive titles that either already exist on the PC (usually for a far cheaper price tag) or that will be heavily multi-format. They do have a step-up on the Xbox 360 in that they have a launch title that early reports say is excellent, Resistance: Fall of Man (UK link US link) so that bodes well for the future, but it is going to need to do a lot of space filling before it becomes a must-have console, especially when weighed down by the heavy price-tag.

The opportunity is there for Sony to grab the media centre crown from the Xbox 360, but will $ony, with so many fingers in so many media-industry pies, really want to make it any easier for people to play potentially pirated material in the comfort of their living room? I doubt it…

So the Sony Playstation3 is very, very expensive, possibly with a lower build-quality than is desirable, but with at least one good launch title it does have the chance to grow… But still that price tag looms over everything. Oh, and it’s being launched four months late in Europe. Cheers Sony.

Nintendo Wii:

It’s cheap, it’s reliably made, but it’s completely unproven. Will the Wii be able to make games that are more than just novelties, and perhaps more importantly, does Nintendo want to make Wii games more than a novelty? Judging by The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, (UK link US link) Nintendo are determined to prove that the Wii can produce games that are more than a simple piece of novelty entertainment. Will it be any good? Most likely, but the question remains over whether other games producers are going to dedicate the resources to the machine to create deep gaming experiences… Or whether they even should do this at all.

The trouble with the Wii is not one based on the system itself, it is on the market: is there going to be a sufficient market sector to support Nintendo’s vision of family gaming? Will the games ever get beyond the simplicity of the interface and create experiences that players can become deeply involved in, or should the games even try to do this? Without knowledge of the public’s reaction to the Wii, it is near-impossible to second guess who is going to buy it, who it will appeal to, and whether support from developers will demonstrate a meaningful engagement with the motion-sensing technology of the controller. Nintendo machines have classically been best supported by games made by Nintendo. The revolutionary nature of the Wii’s controller (which senses full physical three-dimensional movement around the player’s room while also being sensitive enough to allow play with just the flick of a wrist) means that developers have the opportunity to think in completely new ways.

Nintendo are certainly thinking in new ways: they’ve made a system that is cheap, easy to develop for (because it is based mostly on old Gamecube technology), very easy to demonstrate the appeal of, and capable of giving non-gamers a level-playing ground with people who have decades of playtime behind them.

Microsoft had a year in which to establish the arena for the new generation of games, but have failed to dominate the field before Nintendo and Sony have entered it. This is a major problem for Microsoft, but Sony look to be making some similar mistakes, and may have crippled themselves with the cost of their hardware. For the first time in a decade, there is a real chance for Nintendo to take control of the gaming scene. The next year of gaming is going to be a very interesting and exciting time.

My new website is ready!

Hi everyone!

Yes, it’s been quiet around here lately hasn’t it? I’ve got a few things going on:

I’m finishing my thesis on Monday next week
I’ve been putting the finishing touches on
I’ve got two clients’ websites to build

Yep, I’m definitely a busy bunny!

So, about the new site, the premise is that people have to guess the film/TV series name from a simplified version of a poster, DVD box art, or a scene. Have a look on there to see what’s been made so far to get the idea.

Currrently there are a couple of bits of coding to add, but I could do with more content so I’m hoping people on here might be able to help.

Basically, you create an account using the ‘join’ menu option, then you can use the ‘submit puzzle’ menu option to create new puzzles for the site. When you’re creating a new puzzle, please check the details on !

The best system of making the pictures I’ve found so far is to put the original image on one layer and then draw lines and sample the colours on layers over it. Personally I use Flash to make the pictures, but I’ve seen ones made in Photoshop or even Micro$oft Paint!

Important bit:
ALL IMAGES CAN ONLY BE UPLOADED IN .JPG FORMAT! This is due to the code involved in the watermarking feature.

After you have had five images approved then you can add a picture to your profile, and after ten you can add a link to a website. This will appear under your puzzles, hopefully giving you exposure to thousands of people every day! Hurrah!

This is still beta-test stuff, so if you have problems please let me know. There’s a forum on there too, which is a good place to post any comments that you have, .

Have fun!

Ico to be re-released

A couple of years ago, Sony released a game called Ico for the PS2. It was a very simple game: you controlled a young boy who was born with horns and so destined to be sacrificed by being locked in a stone coffin in a mysterious castle. An earthquake disrupts the coffin and the boy, Ico, escapes. As you/he try to find a way out of the castle you find a shining white girl locked in a cage. You rescue her and continue your exploration. Simple.

What was strange about the game was the way that it created its atmosphere. Firstly, neither Ico or Yorda, the girl, spoke English or could understand each-other. There was very little music, just the beautifully rendered ambient noises of the deserted castle. Occasionally you were attacked by strange shadowy monsters who would try to steal Yorda, and your protection of this otherworldly character became a strong emotional bond through your journey. You could take her by the hand and help her up jumps that she couldn’t make by herself. Sometimes she would give you clues by wandering off and staring in the right direction. All the time her animation, and that of Ico, was absolutely exquisite which created a sense of belief in them both.

A small moment that sticks with me is the save points: these were not glowing gems, or space-age consoles, they were stone benches. Ico and Yorda would sit down, the screen would fade a little and a tinkling lullaby would play. Ico and Yorda would fall asleep on each-other’s shoulders, ready to be woken like Sleeping Beauty to continue their adventure when you returned to their fairy-tale castle. It really was a fairy-tale location too: it was strange, haunting, glowing, but also dangerous. Good fairy-tales have that sense of danger, a feeling that it could all go wrong and life would never be happy again, and that is what Ico gave those who entered it.

The castle itself felt like a character in the game: it was manifestly solid, and architecturally believable in the way that a long climb would often reveal places that you had gone through previously in the game, and places that you were yet to visit. Unlike the geographically floating corridors of games like Doom and Tomb Raider, Ico gave you an environment that felt real, which only added to the feeling of strangeness at its emptiness. Except it wasn’t quite empty: there was a strange and beautiful queen/witch, with design probably inspired by Walt Disney’s Snow White, who was trying to stop your progress, but her words were also in the language of Yorda and could not be understood; however, complete the game and you can play through again with all of the language translated, only to find that you had mostly assumed the right ‘plot’ to begin with. It was a game largely without plot, because your exploration created narrative for you, and subtle story-telling in games is a rare feat.

You might have guessed by now that I liked it! Sadly, the game was never going to be an easy sell and the sales on its first release were unimpressive. Fortunately the game has been critically massively popular, and there is a brisk trade in second-hand copies on eBay, often going for as much as or more than the game was priced at when first-hand. It looks like this has demonstrated enough of a continuing interest in the game that Sony have decided to re-release the game in the UK on Feb 17th 2006 and Amazone are offering it for the very reasonable price of £17.99. If you’ve not played it then it is well worth settling down on your stone bench and embracing the dream of a strange and peaceful game.

UK link (I’ve not found out whether this is coming out again in the US yet)

Another game, with a similar aesthetic and hints at being in the same universe is also being released on Feb 17th. It’s called Shadow of the Colossus and has had some very positive reviews. With the enduring legacy of Ico and the number of gamers who are still seeking a copy of it, I suspect that Shadow… will sell well.

UK link US link

Xbox 360 starts badly in Japan

It was always going to be a tough sell to the Japanese, but Micro$oft were insisting that they were going to crack it. It seems that they have failed. The Xbox 360 sold less than 30% of its available stock in its first weekend and many retailers have been cutting prices to shift them faster. This is a huge difference to the US and Europe where supplies have run out very quickly, although it’s estimated that 10% of all 360s sold in the US went directly onto eBay.

So why has this happened? The Japanese market is often quite insular, with Japanese brands leading the way in terms of hardware and software production. The 360s launch line-up is distinctly western in its approach to gaming, with many racing games and (American) sports simulations. More of a problem is the reliance on First-Person-Shooters. The Japanese are known for some reason to suffer motion sickness while playing these, more so than gamers in the west. My girlfriend suffers from the same problem and it can leave her feeling rather unwell! If you take out the Call Of Duty franchise and Perfect Dark Zero then you have a distinctly bland first release schedule. Kameo remains an interesting attempt at next-gen gaming (whatever that may mean) but one that doesn’t wholly convince many players. Many Japanese gamers cancelled their pre-orders for the 360 system when the fighting game Dead Or Alive 4 was pushed back in the schedules to late December. This leaves the only really interesting titles being racing games, and, while nicer graphics are always good, the gameplay isn’t really introducing anything truly new into the mix that make a killer application to inspire people to buy the 360.

It may be that sales pick up when Dead Or Alive 4 is released; however when initial sales of 62k in the first weekend for the 360 are compared to 123k in the same period for the original Xbox it doesn’t suggest that Micro$oft will be dominating the key global gaming territory of Japan this time around. $ony now have to live up to their reputation and produce something great in the PS3, because many gamers may be waiting to see which system gets the better game line up. If $ony can take advantage of Micro$oft’s mis-step then they will likely continue to control the Japanese market and maintain the interest of one of the most lively game producing arenas for yet another generation of consoles.

Source here.

Retro game remakes

Oh dear… I really shouldn’t have found this site:


It’s remakes of classic 8bit games. I’m cutting myself off after rediscovering how much fun Lunar Jetman still is (remade as Solar Jetman). These are lovely, simple old games given a new lease of life for the PC age. They’re free to download too!

I must stop playing, I must start studying, I must stop playing, I must start studying, I must stop playing, I must start studying, I must stop playing, I must start studying, I must stop playing, I must start studying, I must stop playing, I must start studying, I must stop playing, I must start studying …

Unspeak: something a little bit academic?

Steven Poole, author of Trigger Happy (a very enjoyable book about computer games US link UK link), is working on a new book called ‘Unspeak’. The word is apparently a trademark, but with a bit of luck he won’t sue me…

Anyway, it’s all about ‘decoding the unspoken assumptions in public debate’. What this means is that he’s taking statements from public figures and interpreting them into plain English. This, a common satirical tool, has been done before but he does it very nicely on the fine line between humour and agression. Definitely worth a look if you like something a bit more thoughful on the web.

US link UK link

Here’s the official blurb about it:

Unspeak is language as a weapon. Every day, we are bombarded with those apparently simple words or phrases that actually conceal darker meanings. ‘Climate change’ is less threatening than ‘Global Warming’; we say ethnic cleansing when we mean mass murder. As we absorb and repeat Unspeak we are accepting the messages that politicians, businessmen and military agencies wish us to believe. Operation Iraqi Freedom did more than put a positive spin on the American war with Iraq; it gave the invasion such a likeable phrase that the American news networks quickly adopted it as their tagline for reporting on the war. By repackaging the language we use to describe international affairs or domestic politics, Unspeak tries to make controversial issues unspeakable and, therefore, unquestionable. In this astounding book, Steven Poole traces the globalizing wave of modern Unspeak from culture wars to the culture of war and reveals how everyday words are changing the way we think.

‘Sounds interesting. Although I don’t think ‘unspeak’ did turn up in Orwell’s 1984 it certainly wouldn’t have been out on place in there.

XBox 360 updates the blue screen of death

The blue screen of death, AKA BSOD, is the page that appears whenever Micro$oft Windows crashes. Fortunately, with Windows XP this has become a far less common event, although still by no means unknown. It’s basically a bright blue screen with a basic font error message, telling you that your machine has died and giving you a reference number that means nothing to you at all and usually isn’t very helpful.

It’s nice to see then that the XBox 360 has a had a bit more thought put into it’s version of the BSOD, with a multi-lingual generic error message and a large pinstripe effect in the background. Have a look for yourself.

It rather worrying really that only a couple of days after the machine’s US release that there are already quite a few errors being reported. The usual ‘it’s not as next-generation as I expected’ complaints are standard, but it seems unusual for consoles to have problems loading software at the time of release. It may simply be that this is a major launch, with a huge amount of hype, all happening in an age of massive instant internet feedback. Even if 0.001% of machines have problems it can still seem like a massive issue if those people go online to a few notable forums.

Still, it’s nice that the BSOD has had some design work put into it! 😀

Fancy getting an Xbox? UK link US link

Xbox 360 BSOD info source here.

Micro$oft discover the secret of levitation!

Woah! have revealed that the XBox 360 controller is capable of levitation! Fantastic! I was probably going to be waiting for the $ony Playstation 3 to come out next year, but with the floating controller technology I think Micro$oft just might have converted me. Click here to witness the spookiness (before they remove it).

Don’t forget though, this marvellous aspect of the technology is only available in dear old Blighty, the colonial lot across the pond get a boring gravitationally-conformist controller. Click to witness the drab US version. Hurrah for Britain! And for bored copy writers!

(Found by Mwongozi.)

X-Box 360 backwards compatibility list & the two-package release

Micro$oft have made public the first list of Xbox games that are confirmed to be playable on the Xbox 360.

It’s a software-based solution that converts the old programming to work with the new processors. There is more info about how it works but it is frankly extremely dull; however it does raise one salient point, that being the nature of the solution (downloadable to burn to a CD or available from Microsoft) is a work in progress, with further games added to the list as the software becomes a better emulator for the old machine. As might be expected, to play any old games you have to buy the significantly more expensive Xbox 360 with a hard-drive, the ‘better’ option of the two-package release that they’re doing.

The hard-drive business is all a little puzzling to me. Why release two versions of a console? Micro$oft says that it has told games makers to ensure that all games need not have the hard-drive to run, so exactly who is going to use it and what for?

One of the things that I’ve always liked about consoles is the simplicity that they give when compared to the PC market. In the old days I learnt DOS and various hoodoo elements of autoexec.bat/config.sys files to get games running on PCs, and even now it’s often a challenge to tweak your system to be good enough to stand a chance of rendering the enemy on screen before they’ve killed you, and success is usually finally achieved only with the right incantations, chickens, and circles of flour. Consoles are the antithesis of the fiddly PC system: you buy the game, you put it in, and it works (unless you have an aging $ony Playstation2, in which case it might spin the disk, make some grinding noises, they deny that technology exists and decide to begin killing academics using wooden bombs that it builds in a hut in a forest somewhere). Er… Where was I?

Why are Micro$oft making two versions of a console? What is the actual advantage to buying the posh one (for gamers, rather than for Micro$oft, who will gladly charge you £80 for a hard-drive that might cost you twenty if you were putting it in your PC)? So far it’s essential to backwards compatibility, but, given that this is said to be being achieved through hardware-based solutions for the other consoles, it seems that this is a little like putting a bow around someone’s doormat and then giving it to them as a present; they’re happy to have it, but they could’ve sworn they had it anyway, and there is sensation that somehow they’ve lost out on the whole deal. Try it next time you go to a dinner party then ask the host if they feel it’s a good metaphor for Micro$oft’s approach to backwards compatibility, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Micro$oft like us to believe that the hard-drive version is obviously better but they haven’t really given any good reasons why this might be. The amusing thing is that they are now faced with a situation where they have to say why the expensive version is better (which is an easy and publicly nice thing to do) but they also have the problem that the non-hard-drive version is regarded as being a bit rubbish. It’s got to be a problem in marketing terms, that, on the day of launch for your new console, 50% of your stock is regarded as being a bit pants. I can’t imagine the situation is going to endear Micro$oft to shop staff either, as they patiently (or not-so-patiently) have to explain the difference to the 40th concerned parent that day.

I’m sure the console itself will be lovely, albeit perhaps remaining the same as the last console only with a better graphics chip, but the two-packages release system doesn’t strike me as one of their most enlightened ideas. I just hope that it doesn’t catch on with other console makers.

Possible region-free PS3

It seems Sony is considering not putting region encoding on games for the PS3. Story here.

They decided not to do this for the PSP, which makes sense for a handheld device: what’s the point in it being portable if you can’t play the games that you buy when you’re travelling? Their rationale is that high-definition television (HDTV) is making playback of signals a unified system around the world, unlike the current state of affairs with PAL and NTSC. Of course, if you’ve got the money to buy an HDTV then you could probably afford several different PS3s from all the different regions around the world, but that’s beside the point (apparently).

The good news for all of us Brits is that this means we’ll finally be able to buy and play games from the US on our UK Sony hardware without illegal and potentially damaging modifications. This means we will at last be free of the six-or-more month wait that it usually takes before US games are translated over into all the numerous languages of the European market. Yep, despite the fact that we British are very good at understanding American, we currently have to wait for the games to be translated into French, German, Spanish, Icelandic, Welsh, Cornish, Swedish, and Ogham before we get the chance to play on them.

Let’s not forget that another thing that happens during that six month wait is that the price of the game always seems to double. It’s curious really, you’d think that the company would have recouped a lot of their money so wouldn’t need to charge us Brits twice as much as the Americans, but it doesn’t seem to work like that. So, we might be getting releases faster and cheaper. That’s such good news that, for today, I’ve decided for the moment to stop calling them $ony.