Friday, 28 September 2007

Certifiable

Training Camp was tough. Seven fifteen-hour days of studying, lectures and labs takes its toll. By Tuesday I didn't really know what day it was. By Thursday, I didn't care. The accelerated learning programme is all about taking the information contained in the MS exam books and cramming it into your skull in the shortest time possible.

But here I am, a week after my first exam, and I'm supposedly a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist in .NET 2.0 Web Applications. I say
supposedly because I haven't yet received my MCP number, but it should be in the post.

My experience at the Training Camp was extremely positive. I'm in no doubt that without the accelerated one-week course, I would not have been able to pass. The books are big and it would be easy to lose focus through self-study or a longer course. I'd urge anyone looking to get Microsoft or Cisco certified to look at their programmes and consider paying the steep fees to greatly increase your chances of passing.

The daily routine at TC was as follows: Into class at 08:30, Lunch 12:30-13:00, Class and labs 13:00-19:30, Dinner 19:30-20:00. Evening schedule was usually an hour of practice tests from 20:00 to 21:00 then reading around five chapters of the book to prepare for the next day, which usually took around two hours from 21:00-23:00, sometimes longer. All your needs are taken care of during the course: free food of a great quality. Free snacks. Relaxed atmosphere with few distractions. It was very easy to get focused for studying and to stay in focus for the whole week. Looking back on it now, I can say that I did actually enjoy it and now that I've gained a useful qualification I'd safely say I would do it all again!

The day before I went away to TC was Jamie and Christine's wedding. Congratulations to them for an amazing day during which I made my first ever best man's speech. I was pretty nervous to say the least, but from all accounts I pulled off my speech with aplomb. I can't remember much of what happened past dinnertime as I proceeded to drink way too much and eat way too little, basking in the glory of a job well done.

Not much else to report - my 360 was collected two weeks ago today and the last I heard of it was when it arrived at the repair depot. If I haven't received anything by next Friday, I'll be calling to check the status. I'm itching to get back to Bioshock and I find myself somewhat pleased that nothing decent has been launched on XBLA in the downtime.

Recording of Puritan Slain's first EP has been put on hold - we've been screwed over by our practice space (that was also due to be our recording space next month) and we now have nowhere to practice
or record. Yet another setback on the road to rock-stardom. Queue band in-fighting. Nothing new there, to be honest.

This weekend I plan to take as much time as I can to relax and recover from last week. On Sunday afternoon, I'm driving down to Brighton to see Dark Tranquillity and Soilwork. I've not been to Brighton in years, and I've certainly not driven there before, so I fully expect to get lost and I imagine I won't be getting to bed until 2 or 3am, then waking up to go to work on Monday! It's all in the name of fun I guess...

Monday, 3 September 2007

Bricked!

RIP My first 360, November '06 premium.

I was hoping that I wouldn't fall victim to the Red Ring of Death that has plagued the Xbox 360 since launch. The unit first crashed and RRoDed last week, but thankfully it continued working after I called support and they told me to try unplugging the hard drive and booting it up again. I then plugged the HD back in and carried on playing and it was fine. Microsoft support still gave me the option of returning the unit, but as I hadn't yet finished Bioshock I thought I'd risk it.

So this weekend I bunged in Bioshock to carry on where I left off. Unfortunately, five minutes in the damn thing crashed again and red ringed. This time it was fatal, and no amount of unplugging the HD, turning off at the mains etc helped. So when I get home this evening I'll be calling support to send back my box. *Sniff*.

Luckily, this month should be keeping me relatively busy. Band practices begin again this week and we're working on a couple of new songs that have been kicking around for a while. We're getting closer to recording the EP, with almost enough cash in the pot to purchase the mics we so desperately need. We're booking a week in October to use our regular practice hall to do the recording.

Until then, I've got to work on my best man's speech for Jamie and Christine's wedding. This weekend it all started to form in my head after weeks of procrastination, and I've got a pretty strong picture of what I'm going to say and in what order. It all started to go down on paper and now I've just got a few blanks left to fill in and then to practice the speech until I know it by heart. I'm not the greatest public speaker, but once I get warmed up I can deliver the goods without too much embarassment. I just hope I can inject the right amount of
funny without being utterly lame.

The day after the wedding, I'm off to
Training Camp for a one-week intensive course at the end of which I'll be a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) in Web Applications. It's basically the .NET 2.0 foundation course that can lead to a Professional Developer qualification. It's going to be tough. Seven days of lectures and classroom-based learning that focus entirely on the exam you take at the end of the week. Sunday to Sunday. If I pass, it'll be amazing. Failure is not an option. I'm just having nightmares about my lack of focus when it comes to academia and hoping that I'll be too busy learning to actually worry about the fact that I've not taken an exam in eight years.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Sun Dodging

I absolutely love summer. I'm a summer baby and I live for June to August, spending as much time outdoors as possible doing summery-type things with friends, such as barbequeues and walks or just lazing in someone's garden. Lets face it, this summer has been shit. Last weekend I was getting drenched at Bloodstock, this bank holiday weekend was absolutely amazing.

Not that I saw much sunshine.

Sure, Saturday evening was spent enjoying a nice barbequeue in Jamie and Chrissy's garden (until the attacking flying ants took back the garden), but for the rest of the weekend I was shut away indoors with my 360. Even when I was literally drenched in sweat with the desk fan blowing directly into my face could I not tear myself away from the glorious weekend of gaming that I'd been gifted with.

It doesn't happen very often these days - I can no longer spend more than a couple of hours with a game until boredom strikes but let me tell you: Bioshock ticks all the right boxes. It draws you in with gorgeous visuals, pins you in your chair with an atmosphere that absolutely
oozes style, slaps you round the face with tense gameplay and refuses to let you look away with its fantastically deep storyline. To make sure I don't miss any of the story, I printed out a list of the locations of all the audio logs in the game, and I've been making a point of collecting them all. That involved some backtracking, but I'm fairly certain I've collected them all up to my last save point. I'm currently just over half way through the game.

I imagine that I would have finished Bioshock this weekend if it wasn't for Space Giraffe. As I mentioned in my last entry, I purchased this wonderful little Llamasoft game on XBLA just before the weekend and now I've fallen in love with it. It's a lot more involved than a straightforward shooter, and awards tactical gameplay over lightning-fast reflexes, which suits me fine. I'm currently sitting at about #200 on the leaderboards, but I know that I'll be able to get in the top 100 with little more effort, maybe even the top 50.

This weekend I finished reading
Peter F. Hamilton's "The Dreaming Void". I don't get a lot of time to read, but when I do I'm currently favouring sci-fi novels, particularly the works of Hamilton and Iain M. Banks. This particular book is the first in Hamilton's lastest trilogy and is shaping up to be another page-turning journey and I enjoyed this book just as much as any form the Night's Dawn trilogy and the Commonwealth Saga. As always, the book ended with a couple of great cliffhangers and it's going to be a long wait until next year's second part. In the meantime, I'm going back to Banks' "Use of Weapons" which is a seriously hard slog of a book. After that, I'll get on with the rest of Banks' Culture series.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Mister Bubbles!

If Gameplay.com deliver on time as usual then I should be playing Bioshock tonight. Can't wait for that - the Live demo blew me away, as it did for thousands of gamers around the globe. So far I've managed to stay spoiler-free, despite following the Bioshock thread on Somethingawful.

As well as Bioshock, which really requires no further discussion (buy it now!), yesterday saw the release of
Space Giraffe on XBLA. As a fan of Jeff Minter's work, I shall be laying down my 400 points after quickly running through the demo this morning. Yes, it's another shooter on XBLA, but it's a Llamasoft shooter. Every self-respecting Brit should purchase this trippy masterpiece and support Jeff in his future endeavours.

Last night's gig elicits some mixed feelings from me. The crowd was awesome (thanks guys!), and Polonium and Penny's were wicked to gig with as per. However, a slight mix-up over the gig (England match last night meant we couldn't get going until 10pm) and several technical hitches from our side (my guitar having a loose connection and James' guitar losing tuning) tarnished what should have been a brilliant night. Couple that with me messing up on a couple of tunes (the covers actually, I know our shit inside-out) and I'm left feeling somewhat deflated. Still, we got an awesome response from everyone there who must have been oblivious to the screw-ups, and that leaves me somewhat satisifed.

Today needs to go faster, dammit. Looking forward to my first weekend of gaming in an absolute age!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Procrastination Station

It's been ages since I last blogged. I have no excuse either! Sometimes I feel like writing, other times not so much. I've decided to compile the last couple of months into a new blog post to make up for lost time. So here goes...

June
...saw a lot of band-related happenings. Discussions about the future of the band, polishing our awesome live show and putting in practice for the gig we did at the end of June at the Liquid Lounge in Ryde. The turnout was pretty damn good for a Wednesday night and much fun was had by all. Here's a video:



That's our latest "new" song, Just A Man. We've still got a couple of new songs under wraps that we're finishing off - we hoped to have them ready for this month's gig but had to sideline them due to lack of practice time.

Also in June, the band had its first official photoshoot. This was a first for all of us, but the experience was nonetheless exciting and the outcome was better than any of us had expected. An old friend of mine (Thanks Alv!) came down from London to try out some ideas for an outdoor shoot and we were happy to be subjects for the day. After going out and about to scout for a location, we settled on a rocky beach in Freshwater Bay. The elements were all against us for the shoot - lighting, weather and the tide - but somehow the photos came out really well! Judge for yourselves:



And here's a short video from behind the scenes:



July

...was the month of birthdays. Several of them, all rolled into three weeks of pubbing, clubbing, and parties. My birthday fell on the 21st and I headed out in Southsea to Subversion (at club EQ), a local alternative night. Despite only having one floor open, the music selection was awesome and much fun was had by all.

The 8th of July was very special. Metallica at Wembley Stadium. Best gig I've ever seen. We managed to get access to the pit area right in front of the stage shortly after Metallica began their set. What a night to remember. I posted video on Youtube:


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Another gig at the Cellar rounded off the month, with us supporting
Penny's Dropped, a band that I'd been looking forward to playing with for a while. The evening didn't disappoint, though our set could have gone a little more smoothly (as always).

The end of the month was taken up with preparation for my trip to
Wacken Open Air with Dan, which kicked off August with a bang and was the first of two festivals I attended this month.


August
...and we're almost up to date!

The trip to Germany was pretty harsh to say the least. With five of us crammed into a Focus hatchback, needless to say we got to know each other fairly well. The outbound journey took around 16 hours from Portsmouth to Wacken. It took a while to warm to the festival - I'm not usually one to go to a festival for the
experience, I go because I want to see some kickass bands that I like. I only only saw around ten bands at Wacken properly, but the atmosphere, the beer, the food and the people were all top-notch and I'm definitely considering going again in 2008 regardless of the line-up.

Up next was
Bloodstock Open Air. Not so far to go this time - Derby is about two hours from Southampton by car and I drove myself, Dan and Carl up in relative luxury compared to the nightmarish journey to Wacken. Bloodstock promised much and I certainly wasn't let down by my three favourite Melodeath bands : Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and Arch Enemy. I spent a lot of time checking out the unsigned stage on Saturday during the inevitable downpour and got to see The Hanging Dolls, Hollow Earth Theory and Exit 10. Some of the other unsigned acts were pretty average and I'm fairly certain that Puritan Slain could easily play that stage. I'm going to research exactly how we get there for next year!

I'm not sure if I'll be returning to Bloodstock next year. The lineup would have to be exceptional given the relatively poor organisation, the expensive (and sub-par) food and the patchy stage management. At the end of the day though, it's a British festival in its infancy with a 7k attendance and the chance to get close to some pretty huge bands.

A few other things of note - I caved in and took my ESP F-100 in to have the pickups upgraded to EMGs (81/85 set). It's taken three weeks so far and I desperately need to get it back either today or tomorrow as we're playing the Liquid Lounge again tomorrow night. Time to get on the phone and raise some merry hell.

Also, Bioshock. Eagerly awaiting delivery of my Collector's Edition either Thursday or Friday. If you haven't played the demo on Live (or the PC demo if you're machine's up to the task) then I suggest you stop what you're doing and go play. It's going to be an awesome gaming experience.

And on a final note, I've finally installed Gallery 2 on the webserver! Been meaning to do it for ages, but now I've finally got somewhere to offload all the pics and videos I've got hanging around.
Clicky Linky!


Friday, 1 June 2007

Back In Action (Take Two)

The server didn't stay up for very long! Hopefully this time things will be different. The fan in the server now appears to be working properly, and we're back online.

It's been nearly two months since I last blogged, and my life has been positively hectic. And yet, thinking back on the last two months, I'm not exactly sure what exactly it is that I've been doing! I certainly know I haven't had time to take a look at any more XNA stuff, even though the first update was released a couple of months ago, and all the early subscribers like myself were given an extra four months' free Creator's Club time. One weekend I'll find myself at a loose end and I'll finish Gravsheep and move on to bigger and better things. Right now though, it'll have to wait.

Last weekend I played to a crowd of close to a hundred at the Cellar bar here in my hometown of Ryde. My band was first on the bill, and we couldn't have wished for a better reception. All eyes were on us for the entirety of our short six-song set (all originals), and we completely blew everyone away. All four of us have been walking around with big idiot-grins on our faces, safe in the knowledge that we pulled off our first public gig and it couldn't have gone better. We had a band meeting this week to discuss the way forward, which includes playing at least one gig a month and recording a 5-track EP by ourselves as soon as practically possible. The recording process should make for some interesting blogging!

On the work side of things, I've been doing a lot of AJAX using Microsoft's Atlas implementation for ASP.NET 2.0. I must admit, I don't usually get excited about technologies but after playing about with the community-made Control Toolkit, I'm hooked. I did start to plan out a side-project of a web-based IRC client but I've still got a few technical details to iron out before I can get it working. I've not been this buzzed about development since... well, since I started GravSheep I guess :)

Moving on to gaming... STALKER came and went and failed to impress me. I mean, I've been following the game since 2003 and as a gaming experience, it kind of fell flat. The atmosphere was top-notch, as expected. The detail in the world was astounding and I enjoyed the combat readliy enough. As a whole though, the game felt messy and extremely linear. Some patches have been released, but I've not had the heart to go back and try them out. It's truly a shame - if the world had been a little more seamless (rather than having borders and designated loading zones) and if the incentives for exploration were greater, I really would have spent a lot longer playing it. If it gets a release on the 360 at some point in the future, I might just check it out again!

Speaking of the 360, I've been playing a lot of Crackdown and Burnout: Revenge recently. I played the former in co-op with my good friend Qu_be, who helped me complete the main bulk of the game. We were mightily impressed with the add-on packs (both the free content and the 800-point expansion). Possibly the best paid expansion yet to be released (although Shivering Isles came close). Burnout Revenge continues to frustrate me. I've managed to perfect the first six ranks of the game, and the last four are really going to annoy the hell out of me. There's a lot of points waiting for me if I manage it though!

The Wii continues to sit unused on top of the 360, and it's likely to remain so until the first batch of Nintendo games are released. I'm not all that interested in Strikers, as I played the GCN version to death and even though it's the first Wii game to have online play, I'm not willing to fork out the cash for it. I'm guessing the next Wii game I buy will be Metroid Prime: Corruption, although I was tempted to go splash out on Elebits (Eledees is a silly name) after playing it at Qu_be's. I still haven't finished Twilight Princess, either!

That's about it for this entry - I'll see ya when I have something more worthwhile to blog about!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Back In Action!

There's a reason that I usually write lengthy blog posts in notepad then copy and paste them into the blog when I update, and the one time I don't do it is the time that the page decides to time out when I click "post". And of course, my huge 500-word post wasn't cached when I clicked back either. So now I have to start again. Except I don't have time to write it all again as it was, so I'll just bullet point the gist of the lost post and maybe expand on it later :)

  • Back in action after the Island Gamers webserver died a death. It's now in a brand spanking new case and we're back online!
  • Lots has happened over the last three weeks!
  • My band nearly split up over silly testosterone-laden male arguments. We're still on shaky ground, and a lot will change, but I'm optimistic that there is still a Puritan Slain.
  • I got my guitar out last night and started working on a song that I've had formulating in my head for a couple of weeks. I haven't written a song this year, so it's all good.
  • I've been listening to Dark Tranquillity's "Fiction" non-stop, because it is an awesome album.
  • I'm back in with my parents and it's strange. It's kind of cool, but not being able to throw parties or have band meetings is going to suck. I imagine I will go stir crazy in a few months. Otherwise I'm free to come and go as I please, spending time with the olds and my Sis is cool, and my room is set up for maximum productivity!
  • I bought a Samsung SM940mg to improve that productivity, and I'm thoroughly happy with it. I can plug in my PC, Xbox 360, Wii and Freeview into the one 19" monitor and switch between them at a touch of a button. It even has a remote control!
  • I'm going to write a monthly gaming update soon, and it'll be crossposted to my Gamespot profile. I've been doing a lot of gaming!
Needless to say, the original post was more detailed and I'm annoyed as hell that I lost it. Hopefully, I won't lose the gaming post when I write it!

Please leave a quick comment if you read this post, or indeed any of my blog. I'm interested to know if I have any/many readers out there :D

Monday, 12 March 2007

A Busy Week Begins...

After spending the last couple of weeks in preparation for Friday's gig, I'm now facing the monumetal task of moving out of my flat. The bulk of the move should happen this weekend, though I have another week after that to clean and move any last-minute bits and bobs. Of course, as I've only just started my new job, I can't take any time off and as such the evenings are looking to be exceptionally busy this week! It'll be worth it in the end, though.

So Friday was the first time I went onstage as rhythm guitarist with
Puritan Slain and we rocked hard. Everyone seemed pretty nervous to begin with, but as soon as the first count-in occured, it all went away. I think we put on a great show, and judging by the response we got from the small crowd, so did they! It was a disappointingly small turnout for J's party, but everyone that did come seemed to enjoy themselves. A job well done, methinks.

A big thanks to my Dad for taking the
video:













All my gaming and XNA plans are on hold now for a couple of weeks, until the move is over. After that, I plan on spending my evenings finishing Gravsheep, and trying to complete the many games I've got on the go at the moment. STALKER's out soon as well, can't wait for that. Of course, now we've got a taste for playing live, I'll be trying to score some more gigs for the band as well. The next couple of months are going to be very busy. I wouldn't have it any other way!

Saturday, 10 March 2007

What a Night!

Last night was amazing! If reaction from the small crowd was anything to go by, all our practice has paid off. We lost our gig virginity in style. I'll write more impressions later, but for now here's some pics - more to follow along with some video!

(pics no longer available)

Friday, 9 March 2007

Worms and Gigs

I played five games of Worms on XBox Live Arcade with my fellow IGers last night, and what great fun it was too. This particular version of worms reminds me of the original Worms on the Amiga, mainly due to the classic weapon set and a return to the use of proper tactics. Many a morning before trotting off to school I'd play a hot-seat game with a couple of buddies. Those really were the days.

I've heard of a lot of people having problems with connecting and staying connected to games over Live, but the games I played last night were flawless and without any kind of lag. I guess it really does make the difference when you connect to people you know, rather than just playing pickup games.

I'm waiting with baited breath for some downloadable content, as the three level themes that Team 17 managed to cram into the measly 50mb allowance they had at the time just aren't enough. I know they are doing their damndest to get some more themes and sounbanks out, but how long will it be before the huge Microsoft roadblock will let them pass?

Tonight's the night! My first time on stage as a member of
Puritan Slain. I think we're as ready as we'll ever be. Sunday's practice was brilliant, everything went right and if we can pull that off tonight we'll have done ourselves proud. Wednesday's practice was a complete balls-up, but at least we got the bad stuff out of the way. I'm still a little nervous, but I'm sure a couple of bottles of beer will have me loosened up enough to relax and enjoy my thirty minutes of stage time.

It's not so much the playing in front of fifty odd people that worries me, it's more that it's the first time we're playing our songs in public. We all know that our stuff isn't going to win any songwriting awards just yet, but we've been sitting with some of these songs for almost a year and not knowing how people will react to them is a little unnerving.

It's going to rock though \m/

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

A Couple of Things

I noticed today that Caiman free games has one of my old OpenGL games, Rollminator, listed. It's been downloaded nearly 6000 times and is rated at 96%. Seriously, what? If you can even manage to get the game to run on XP, you need a medal. It's cool to know that my stuff is out there and people enjoy it though. Read the readme files if you do download it, as there's some tips on getting it to run in there.

Both Rollminator and my other OpenGL game, Cuberoids, can be found on my old personal site.

I head the news that Microsoft have finally launched their XNA
Dream-Build-Play competition for real. A $10,000 first prize as well. That's seriously cool. I'm going to enter Gravsheep I think, as long as I can get some decent art together for it. If you're reading this and you're a 2D artist and fancy having a go at winning some prize money then leave me a comment and I'll get back to you. I did toy with starting over on an original game idea, but as I'm short on ideas at the moment it'll probably be better to make Gravsheep the best it can be. I'm under no illusion that I have a chance of winning, however!

Friday, 2 March 2007

Gaming's Good News

Two great bits of news concerning gaming today. First of all, STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl has gone gold. I've been waiting for this damn game for four years now, and it'll be a relief to finally play it. I'm just not going to expect miracles. I've already had a dabble in the recent multiplayer beta, and it chugged like mad on the DX9 renderer on my shuttle. The DX8 version of the engine was super smooth, though. I'm just worried how much detail will be lost without the dynamic lighting effects offered by the DX9 renderer. I'll be buying the game regardless, simply to support GSC and original game concepts in general.

The second piece of news is that Worms is out on Live Arcade next wednesday. God yes. I used to be pretty damn good at the original Worms on the Amiga, and I'm looking forward to getting back in the saddle with some old-school 2D wormy action.

In other news, I'm still plugging away at Zelda. Just finished the fifth dungeon (Ice Mansion thingy), and I'm well on my way to the next. Also, my Wii sports fitness age is resting at a respectable 26. Damn that baseball though. Damn it to hell!

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

If you came looking for XNA...

...I still intend to finish my current project, Gravsheep, and then go on to write my next title which will be some form of 2D platformer. Life has caught up with me for the now, but as soon as the move is over I'll have some more free time which I fully intend to use on XNA development. For now, I'm letting my Subscriber's Club subscription lapse, as I think $99 a year is pushing it right now, especially with the severe lack of content that was promised to the subscribers. Personally, I think running code on the 360 should be free (or at least a much lower rate), and only the promised premium content should be paid for/more pricey.

New Beginnings

I always intended for this blog to be a personal blog, as well as a place for me to write about gaming, my band and other projects that I dip in and out of. Up until now though, there's not been much to write about my life in general.

Two - nearly three - weeks ago, the company I was working for went bust. Losing your job, the only thing you've known for five years of your life, isn't pretty. First came the numbness. That didn't last very long because the "oh shit" factor soon kicked in. Rent, bills and debts to pay and no money coming in. No redundancy pay, no pay for the two weeks I worked since the last payday.

That's when I began to realise just how much there was to do. Over most things in life I can procrastinate as well as any other internet blog writer. It's when that comfortable rut of worrilessness becomes threatened by a complete change in circumstance that I suddenly decide to spring into action. For many people, losing their job would be an excuse to chill out and take life easy for a bit. After all, it's not their fault. For me, however, being unemployed became my new full-time job.

Straight after I left work for the last time, I went to the bank to sort out the financial side of things. Then to the job centre to sign on. Then it was time to get home and call in all the insurance and savings I could lay my hands on. After that I had to wrangle a two-year-old CV into shape and scour the internet for all the Island-based IT companies I could think of. There were seven in total, and before 5pm on the day I was made redundant, they all had a swanky CV and covering letter on the way to them.

One week and three job offers later, I found myself working again. I couldn't be happier with my new position as developer at
2B.net. It's going to be challenging, but I feel that I've learnt more in one week here than I did in the last two years at my previous position. For now, at least, my career is back on track.

I wish I could say the same about my home life. My flat is currently strewn with boxes and junk as I now only have two weeks left before I move back to the parents. I'm not quite bringing home enough to keep the flat on AND continue paying for the car, and the car is infinitely more important right now. In some twisted way, I'm quite looking forward to spending at least a year back with the olds until I get back on my feet. There's a lot I'll miss about living on my own, but ultimately a decision had to be made and I feel it's the right one. I just have
so much to do, and so little time in which to do it all.

In other news,
my band is playing our first gig in just over a week. I'm nervous and excited and I simply can't wait. We're undergoing a gruelling three-times-a-week practice schedule in the run up to the night, and things are coming together quite well. Here's some excerpts:





Monday, 29 January 2007

New Year, New Gaming

This weekend marked the fourth anniversary of Island Gamers, the gaming community I co-founded for residents of the Isle of Wight, which is where I live. Over the last four years the community has grown to a userbase of almost 500 registered Isle of Wight gamers.

Only a handful of those gamers seem to get actively involved in the community, which is somewhat disappointing but then this is
the internet we're talking about here.

So I was suprised to see so many new faces at this weekend's LAN. It's been over six months since we held our last gaming event - the longest we've ever waited between events. Going into the LAN, staff morale was low and we all had the feeling that this would be the last PC LAN, if not the last event ever that IG would be organising.

Thankfully, now we're out the other side we're all feeling much more positive. We managed to drum up almost 30 paying attendees, all of whom seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely. We had a lot of positive feedback and a lot of questions about the next event. The next event that we thought we probably wouldn't be organising. So there you have it, IG is back from the dead and it makes me happy!

I thoroughly enjoyed the LAN. There was a shift in gaming toward consoles and there were quite a few attendees with both a PC and an XBox 360, myself included. I enjoyed my first ever LAN co-op Rainbow Six: Vegas game, which was a lot of fun even without a headset, which I stupidly left at home!

Going back to PC FPSes was strange. It's been maybe six months since I last properly played an FPS with a mouse and keyboard and the sensation I felt when jacking into my first game of UT2K4 this weekend was strange. It felt so wierd to be controlling with a mouse again, and took me a good few minutes to settle back into it. And you know what? It felt good. Really good. My biggest struggle with console gaming was the transition from mouse to thumbstick, and going back to PC again I realise why. It just feels so much better to shoot stuff with a mouse.

I pretty much sucked at UT for most of the LAN, though I did come second in the 1v1 tournament to the highly seasoned Dor1to, who's still in fine form. A pat on the back to Darkangelus though, who almost sent me out in the semis until I clawed my way back in the last 10 seconds to go for a draw and sudden death which I won by the skin of my teeth.

We had the local newspaper round for some photos, so it looks like we might be getting some free press again. The reporter looked most interested in the Wii, which took pride of place on the projector at the front of the hall. I think everyone had a go on it at some point, and it really did bring people together. I can see where Ninty's going with it now and I'm happy to say that the Wii has found its niche.

It was my Wii, by the way. It finally arrived two months after I renewed my pre-order. I've not had a whole lot of time to play with it, but Wii sports really is as fun as everyone says. I've barely dipped into Zelda, I spent 45 minutes trying to catch my first fish to get that damned cat to follow me, and I failed miserably. I must be doing something wrong.

I'm still waiting for Worms on XBLA. I played the very first iteration of the series on the Amiga and really got into it after Worms: Director's Cut on the A1200. I skipped the PC 2D worms, but did dip into Worms 3D a little. The XBLA version looks set to be straightforward 2D action, with great presentation and all the old-skool weapons that one would expect. I'm itching to spend my 1200 points and to get worming with my friends from IG.

Having said that, I'm getting a little frustrated with the infrequent Arcade updates. There are so many games we've all been hearing about that are due for release "anytime now", but with ony one Wednesday update per week, I'm left disappointed every time I see another 80s arcade game (which I could quite happily play on MAME illegally, thank you) or something equally silly like another expansion pack for Lumines. Then I wait another week only to be disappointed again. Ugh. More updates and faster QA please, Microsoft!

I think I've written enough for this update. If you couldn't tell, I'm quite excited about gaming right now, and this year is off to a great start!

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Christmas Gaming

Wowsers, I spent a LOT of time playing games over the last three weeks. Haven't played so many games so solidly for a long time - the 360 really has turned me back into a gamer.

But before I go into detail about that, let's talk about the Wii. I still have my pre-order, and I still have no idea when I'll actually get the console. After playing on one for the first time over christmas, I'm not really all that excited either.

Wii Sports is great fun. The movements you perform with the remote are translated to screen with an unexpected high level of accuracy. Bowling, tennis and baseball were a lot of fun and really show off what the Wii is going to be capable of in the future.

I didn't want to see Zelda (spoilers), so the only other game I got to play was Rayman. Some of the game ideas were okay, some were laugh-out-loud funny, but the majority were just "meh".
Playing it, I was reminded of the Olympic joystick-waggler games of old.

And overall, the Wii feels old. I'm worried about the controller, it wasn't easy to use and it was very finicky at times, with cursors going AWOL and jerky motion problems. And I still have a problem with the overall level of the graphics in all of the games. After being used to the 360
connected to my VGA projector with a VGA cable and running in 1024x768, seeing the Wii running over a shockingly bad composite cable complete with the saturation problems and general fuzziness that one expects from such a setup I couldn't help but be disappointed. Low poly models and low-res textures simply serve to make matters worse.

Come on Nintendo, let's see those
real Wii games released. Mario and Metroid already look great in screenshots. They needed to be out now, not in six months' time.

In other news, I
completed Dead Rising, Rainbow Six: Vegas and Oblivion on the 360 this week. At least as far as single-player storylines go. I'm still working on the achievements for Oblivion with just the Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves guild storylines to go. I'm a little concerned about how many of the achievements for Vegas and Gears centre around the Online portions. I really don't have much time to dedicate to playing hundreds of matches of shooters online, especially when it's hard to find a quick match most of the time.

I guess I'll just have to buy more 360 games. Oh the sweet, sweet points.