Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Xbox One

The media reaction to the Xbox One is going to be interesting. Most of twitter, Google+ and forums I've seen so far have been less than impressed - but they don't have to play nice with Microsoft for press materials.

I've not read any articles properly yet, but the headlines seem to be sticking to facts - the machine's name, launch window and other basic indisputable information.

I wonder when - or if - we'll start to see opinions seeping into the coverage, given how poorly-received it was by enthusiast gaming communities.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nexus 4

So long, webOS.

Palm's (and then HP's) little phone OS that couldn't quite has served me pretty well these last few years, but with the hardware slowly getting on my nerves and no app ecosystem to keep me with it, I have given in and moved to a more active operating system.

I got my Nexus 4 delivered today (I'm typing this on it now), but have been using Android on my tablet for the last few days so the growing pains have, so far, been minimal.

The biggest change is the keyboard; the last three phones I've used have had physical input so moving to a touch keyboard is a bit weird. The Nexus comes with a fancy swipe keyboard installed as default though, so it's an even bigger change.

I'm still not as fast with the swipe as I was on the Pre, but I do think I'm getting faster. It takes some of the imprecise pecking out of the equation too, which was worrying me a bit about a touchscreen-only phone.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Random Access Memories

I have something of a standoffish enjoyment of Daft Punk. I like Discovery (apart from One More Time, which just reminds me of unenjoyable school discos) and the Tron Legacy soundtrack (who doesn't?), but could never get into Homework or Human After All. I was mostly looking forward to the new album, Random Access Memories, but had fully accepted the fact that I might not click with it.

Disappointment has been avoided however, because it's fantastic. With the exception of Get Lucky, which I've been overexposed to on the /r/mashups subReddit, there's not a single track I'll skip. Some of them are a bit long - possibly just because I'm used to the shorter Tron tracks - but I've had it on repeat for a couple of days at work and I'm still loving it.

It's a weirdly old-school album for a techno group, though; aside from its obvious disco influences, most of the instruments are being played live rather than replicated electronically - which has a much bigger impact on the sound than I'd expected. There are still synths, but the non-electronic foundations of the tracks really cement the old-school 70s sound.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Into Darkness

The new season of Sherlock seems to be heading in a new direction

This is going to go into spoiler territory for Star Trek Into Darkness, so consider yourself warned.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Fuse (solo)

I know that Insomniac's official feed is only going to be retweeting the positive responses they're getting to the Fuse demo, but I am pretty stunned that it's getting such enthusiastic feedback. It's not a disasterous demo by any standard - it has some flaws but is clearly non-final work - but it's not done anything to assuage my fears that the final game, post-OverStrike, is anything more than a solid 7/10 shooter.

The game's level design and UI reminded me a lot of Vanquish which put me a bit on the back foot - I was spending a lot less time in cover than I probably should have been and ended up being put down quite regularly. There was always an AI companion nearby to pick me up in short order, but I would have liked to have some control over their actions, Mass Effect-style during the general gameplay. It didn't feel like a coherent experience; they didn't seem to try to follow my lead and their targeting priorities were... questionable.

That's almost certainly solved by using human co-op partners - or maybe actually using the LEAP option to move between characters - but playing solo was a frustrating experience. Another Vanquish-led expectation was the enemy strength - while Platinum's hyperactive cover shooter swarms you with enemies, the majority of them are easily dispatched with a headshot or two so I rarely felt overwhelmed. By comparison Fuse's bad guys are veritable bullet sponges, which only added to my trouble when peeking out of cover.

Add to that a surprisingly large number of high-level enemies (for an intro/demo level, at least), snipers and oversized robots, and I wasn't having a whole lot of fun. I felt on the back foot for the majority of the play time, swamped and alone - not a reassuring sensation in a game where you have three companions who should be helping out.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Shock and awe

I was planning on writing something about the Fuse demo.

But then I watched the new episode of Attack on Titan and I can hardly form a coherent thought. Jesus.


It's had a few slow plot-heavy episodes and seemed to be building up to particular shonen tropes in this latest installment, but it's still taking such delight in confounding expectations and pulls no punches with its more gruesome moments.

I can't remember the last time a show had its hooks in me this badly when I was still trying to make up my mind if I like it.

John Dies at the End

I could've sworn this film was much older than it is; Wikipedia says it was only released in the US in December last year, but I swear I remember seeing the first trailer for it long before that. It still hasn't had a proper UK release, but the DCA had a preview screening last Friday as part of the Dundead horror festival thing.

I don't know what I was expecting, exactly, but John Dies at the End isn't it. It's one of those films where its component parts seem like a recipe for greatness, but it somehow never pulls everything together. It's brilliantly shot, the dialogue is sharp and brilliantly delivered, and it has a core idea - a narcotic drug called "soy sauce" that gives people clairvoyance and the ability to see and communicate with the dead - that's full of promise.

It never really goes anywhere though, at least metaphorically; the characters literally go to an alternate dimension at one point but it feels like an attempt to up the stakes in a conflict we've not heard much about. The film opens with a ghostbusting endeavour undertaken by the two main characters - unreliable narrator David and the eponymous John - but then jumps into flashback for its entire running time with their (for want of a better term) origin story.

I'd have preferred a full film of low-tech paranormal investigations. It might have been less original, but it couldn't have been less coherent.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Oculus Rift part 2

Mike, the guy at work with the Oculus Rift (also my immediate boss), let me borrow it for the weekend, so I spent what feels like a lot of this evening setting it up. I say setting it up, what I mean is, trying to set it up.

Everything plugged in and powered on, I wasn't getting anything. I didn't know if it was the cables, the drivers, the graphics card, Windows being a jerk, or if I'd somehow damaged the Rift while gingerly taking it out of the box and setting it on the desk.

It turns out, as near as I can tell anyway, that the graphics card is the problem; its second monitor port appears to be non-functional. I've updated the drivers and restarted the machine more times than I can remember tonight, but it won't pick up anything I plug into that second slot - even the monitor, which works fine on the first port.

The Rift, of course, also works on that first slot, but it proved very difficult to set up, test, configure, tweak and use a head-mounted VR display with only its video output, so in the end I gave up.

I can see the appeal of the Rift, and if it had worked I'd be dashing around City 17 feeling violently ill right now instead of typing this. But in the circumstances, I've got to take some comfort from the fact that I didn't spend $300 on this headset that I can't actually use without spending upwards of £100 on a new graphics card to go along with it.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Cave

I think I'm done with this one. It's got a lot of great stuff going for it - the writing and narration are excellent, the artwork is beautiful and the puzzles are just the right side of frustratingly obvious-in-hindsight - but I've had enough of the tracking back and forwards across the environment.

What makes the puzzles that bit more complicated is your "party" of adventurers - you choose three, and can switch between them to hold down levers or activate devices in different places at the same time so you can for instance, ring a bell to lure a monster out of its cave with another character poised to lower a trap over it. It's an interesting way of playing with space to spread out solutions, so it's not a case of just using every item you've accumulated so far with every item in the room.

The massive, massive downside is that you have to move each character separately. So if you finish a puzzle and move on, you take the first character to the next location, then... you have to do it all again with the second. And then the third. And then again when you're finished that area, or if you've taken a wrong turn.

It's intensely frustrating; what I wouldn't give for a "bring all your characters to this one's location" button. Hell, maybe there is one, and I just haven't found it. But jesus, it's killing any enthusiasm I have for the game.