Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter Steam

So Steam is offering great deals on a variety of games that they have available at their store.  This is similar to their Thanksgiving/Black Friday deals that they had some weeks ago.  But this time, it seems their offers are much more interesting than before.  Having already purchased Trine, Braid, and World of Goo at prices which were too good to pass up, they offer those three again at similar or better prices.  Unbelievable!  Yet while those small indie games which I have posted before are great to have, other games are making waves.  Games such as Torchlight, Battlefield 2: Complete Collection, Unreal Deal Pack, and Left 4 Dead 2 are attracting buyers.  For me, though, I have little interest in Torchlight and the Unreal Deal Pack.  Both BF2 and L4D2 are already in my possession so there's no need to get 'em again.  But one game in particular, I have been waiting for a good deal to happen.  I have been waiting since their deals and sales that started with Left 4 Dead.  I have kept an eye out for Burnout Paradise: Ultimate Box for the PC ever since it made its way onto Steam.  Since then, I have waited for a weekend deal to get this game for a great price.  I didn't want to pay full price for it, given its age and how it lacks the Big Surf Island add-on that console players are able to enjoy.  And there are no Steam Achievements to mimic the achievements and trophies offered on the console platform.  But the last bit isn't much of a big deal.

So finally on December 28, 2009, Steam offers the one game that I wanted to play on the PC platform at the price that I was looking for.  And Steam does not disappoint.  At US$7.49, it was at a price that was better than anticipated and expected.  Having already finished most of what's available and to do on the Xbox 360, I just know I'll be having fun again trying to redo some of the things that the game has to offer.  Although some are a bit of a pain, I am willing to tolerate going at it again just because it's going to run smoothly with anti-aliasing turned on.

Who knew that Steam would be doing this to me?  It's almost as though what Steam is offering during these limited run daily deals are nickel-and-diming me because what they offer are truly good games to have and purchase.  Next up, the PC version of Batman: Arkham Asylum should be removed of DRM.  But I won't hold my breath on that.  If it weren't for DRM, I would have purchased the game via Steam.  Oh well.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mincing in Pain

On June 1st, 2009, I placed a pre-order on Hobby Link Japan for a very expensive PVC figure.  This figure would turn out to be the most expensive figure purchased to date.  I hope that I won't make another expensive purchase like that again for a very long time.

The figure in question is Fate T. Harlaown, an anime character from the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS series.  The figure is manufactured by Alter, a company not new to the business on creating PVC figures.  They are one of the big ones out there, with character figures from K-On!, Ikkitousen, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and plenty others.  But what set this particular figure apart from the rest?  Size and complexity.  Many figures commonly found today are designed and manufactured with simple hairstyle.  The less detail the figure in question, the quicker the manufacturing process would be, in theory.  You don't create a figurine mold that details as many strand of hair as possible.  It's not economical and it's expensive.  Plus adding such details would exponentially add more delicacy to the figure.

The figure was slated to come out some months ago.  But it never arrived at the store until lately.  And immediately the figure sold out the moment it arrived.  I suppose this is one of the better benefits of pre-ordering something.  I have been waiting for a while.  Sadly, due to a combination of various factors, getting the figure is a very expensive process.  The store handles yen and that means converting it from US dollars.  With the US dollar being at a dismal value, combined with the current state of today's economy, it isn't easy trying to make sure that you have allocated enough cash to make sure it can be shipped out.  And because the size of the figure is larger than anticipated, it gets shipped out via EMS, which expedites the time it takes to deliver the order and increases the overall total.

When the package finally arrived, the package turn out to be quite large.  As soon as I saw the logo off the side of the box, I knew what was inside and I rushed to open the box up to get the item.  The item then sat on my computer chair, which ate up the entire seat width.  The sheer size of the item is almost incomprehensible and nearly indescribable.  Yet as I try to peer inside to inspect the content, I cannot help but feel amazed at the amount of details it has.  I'm at a loss for words just how to describe it.  I knew that the figure looks amazing in pictures.  Yet to see it in person is a whole different story.  I suppose it is similar or the same when it comes to getting Transformers toys from Japan rather than getting it locally.

Will I know if getting this will be worth every penny spent?  Time will have to pass by for me to find out.  But for now, the wallet cries and minces in pain.  It'll take a very long time for that to recover.  For the time being, it shall sit unopen and will accompany my other sealed items that I have tucked away, such as my hand-picked selection of Binal-Tech Transformers, T.H.S.-02 Convoy, T.H.S.-02b Black Convoy, Galaxy Force GX-03 Sound Blaster, and Masterpiece Megatron.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Still Hate It

Black Friday, I still hate it.  The one single day out of the entire year that people have to shop on and the retailers advertise on, you'd think they would at least spread their intended sale across several days, rather than squeezing it all into one single shopping day.

I still cannot get over the memory of an outing one year.  This lady had a PS2 and some games in the shopping cart.  Yet I know that advertisement all too well.  The deal has been posted before, albeit with different games.  Yet that idiot chose that day, of all the days in the world, to buy that gaming system when it's been similarly offered before.

Did I have anything to get during that day?  Not really.  Online distribution store Steam was holding several deals throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to spur online purchases.  I chose to wait things out a bit to see if they dare to compete aggressively against some of the other retailers out there.  Specifically, a deal for Left 4 Dead 2.  Quite a while ago, I managed to pick up Left 4 Dead for US$25.  At the time, the regular price was $50 so getting it for half off was a good buy.  It didn't get any better than that, at least for that time.  Amazon then posted their Left 4 Dead 2 offer: $30.  Dell and GameStop offered the same, which makes buying from either stores virtually indifferent.  Amazon's deal was considered better, if you factor out the time it takes for them to ship the game out and have it delivered.  For where I live, there is no tax applied to the purchase and shipping is free courtesy of Amazon's $25 minimum limit.  But $30 isn't the price I was aiming for.  It's a good price but I was holding out to see what Valve and Steam would do over the weekend.  And like I expected, to spur the holiday spending spree, they offered Left 4 Dead 2 for a day at a special price.  Except, the price they offered was a complete let-down.  Instead of beating the competition in price, their Left 4 Dead 2 special was dead cold.  The price was over $35 and the savings was very dismal.  So my next step is to get it from GameStop, locally.

Getting the game locally saves me the trouble of having to wait for them to deliver the game.  So I picked out a store and went there.  Oddly enough, it was the last copy they had.  Funny, I seem to be having a string of bad luck with GameStop lately.  Twice now the game I get happens to be the last in their stock.  Bleh.  But Left 4 Dead 2 was purchased for 30 and I made sure that everything was included.  Actually, the only major concern is the key is unused and in the case.  I could care less about the install disc since I can always download the game from Steam itself once the game is registered to my account.  Ah, the advantage of having Steam...

Saturday's Steam sale was posted.  Within it, Trine for half off.  Having tried the demo, it was one of the few games that I wanted to get but opted out of paying full price for it.  At $10, it's hard to beat.  I bought World of Goo for $5 and it's worth every penny.  Playing Trine was a blast.  It's a great platformer that I am sure I will spend quite a lot of time on.

Sunday's Steam sale was posted.  And Steam strikes again, now offering TrackMania United Forever for half off at $20.  That's another game that I have been itching to get but not willing to pay full price for it.  Having played tons of Nations Forever, getting United Forever was worth it.  Getting it for less than $20 would have been much better but half of its regular price is the limit of how much I am willing to spend on it.

So when Monday came, Steam posted its final sales.  Unfortunately, none of the titles listed were of any interests for me.  To be honest, I had hopes they would offer Burnout Paradise for half.  But I guess I can live with that for a little while longer.

I still hate Black Friday.  It should not come to just one single day just to get people spending.  It would have been a lot better for me, as a laid-back consumer, had they spread the sale item over the course of the week or on certain days.  At least it would have been a lot less traffic and a lot less people crowded around.  People camping since Tuesday and Wednesday just to be the first in line?  C'mon, that's the most retarded thing I have ever heard.

For me, I've done all the personal shopping that I wanted.  Part of them were acquired prior to Black Friday and the deals, while early, were very good at the time it was posted.  It's a shame that people would bother to wake up at 1AM to 2AM just to arrive at a store that is opening at 3AM.  It's idiotic and it's lame.  A lot of people already have some form of access to some of these posted deals.  Yet if they are able to find it online early and plan out their shopping, why couldn't they just get their items early rather than Friday?  There were plenty of deals ranging from pots and pans to HDTVs to gaming consoles to PCs and PC parts.  All of them can be had at prices that rivals or beats what retailers offer.  Plus you don't have to wait in line and deal with morons.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Something New, Something Old

A long time ago, I transitioned from one game to the next.  It was a jump that took a while to adjust.  But this is due to how the two games differ.  Back then, playing BF2142 wasn't much of a big deal.  But it was still an interesting game since it was more focused on ground attacks and not so much on air superiority.  Although now, I do not know if I can say the same, having not played the game in so long, almost an eternity.

It's announced that a new patch for this old game was going to be made.  And it appears, due to a recent posting and goals set out by DICE/EA, that they are going to remove the DRM from the game and include the Northern Strike booster pack as a bonus.  This is a welcome news, despite that the game is so old.  Well, the removal of any DRM is always a welcome news no matter how old the game is.  DRM these days do nothing more than annoy the crap out of players.  I just prefer to play the game and that's it.  I don't want extra junk being injected into my computer just to make sure that I legally own a copy of the stupid game.  Some of the worst offenders are the ones that overrides a driver layer, while some others try to hinder you by limiting to how many optical drives you have or whether you're running a disc emulation software.

Yet as I look back at 2142 as a game, I found it that it has some nice things to go with it.  Yet at the same time I am really annoyed by it as well.  One of the biggest issue I have with the game happens to be the balance of how weapons are used.  Early on, when I had played, nearly everyone would be running around with the Voss unlock.  The comparative ratio between the Voss and Baur unlocks is so lopsided that it ain't funny.  Simply speaking, everyone and their grandmother were using the Voss unlock.  Very few people use the Baur.  And I am one of the handful of people who utilize the Baur as the primary gun of choice.  It has killing power and it is effective for long range suppression fire.  Yet by comparison, the Voss has similar stopping power, fires faster, and holds more rounds per clip.  It also has the most lopsided accuracy out of all the unlocks available.  But I continued on.  I use the Baur, not because it is potent but because it has a significantly higher learning curve than the Voss.  The Voss is such a weak (meaning: easy) weapon that it takes very little skill to really use it.  The Baur, on the other hand, requires more control and forces you to take your shots carefully.

Things could have changed since I have long left the game.  Who knows.  But I ain't going to get my hopes up with that yet.  I may still have a short tolerance for the game since it's based on the same bullet system that BF2 uses.  Meaning, the first shot will shoot straight but each subsequent shots will not.  I have long been accustomed to how Call of Duty shoots because your skill come from your reflexes and how well you can control the gun's recoil.  If BF2 and 2142 won't let me shoot straight each time I shoot using the gun's sights, what good is using it?

I don't know if I should bother installing the game again.  I do want to try getting some of the awards specific to Northern Strike.  But I don't know if I want to deal with the game's deficiencies.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Digging A Deeper Grave

You know how people say that one is digging their own grave? I guess you can say that this is one of those cases where it's like that. Granted, it's already been set when Infinity Ward when they said that there won't be any dedicated server. But nobody knew just how deep the grave hole would be until just recently.

Best Buy hosted a live-chat with the people from Infinity Ward. And with it, questions about the game will be asked directly and the IW staff would have a chance to answer them. Obviously the questions that were raised repeatedly were regarding dedicated servers. But nothing was said that they will ever consider it, implying that they have full confidence that their IWNET system will work without issue. Another question that was raised that factored in to the limitations to the IWNET system is the maximum number of players possible. It turned out to be 18, or 9 for each side. Also gone from the game is console access, which enables people to enter special commands to tweak certain settings so that they are able to better suit one's playing experience. Some games featured the ability to lean left and right, allowing you a chance to peek around the corner instead of dancing in and out of corners where you can get shot. That feature is no longer in Modern Warfare 2. The issue with ping, another shortcoming of the IWNET system, will see players connecting with ping of over 100ms at the very least. So the playability on other people's host machine will be akin to playing through a fast 56k modem of the old days.

Much of what was seen in other FPS games on the PC platform saw these as standard-fare features. There was no question to include them as they allow for all sorts of customizations for players to utilize. They can tweak the game so that it can suit their setup no matter how strange or odd it may seem compared to the general masses. Sure the console players may not use 'em. But that's probably where everything went wrong there. Having to cater to the lowest common denominator seems to be the clear-cut choice when it comes to develop today's AAA/franchise games. And because of that, the PC players are slowly being ousted from having a reliable, dependable, thriving, and tightly-knit community. I just do not see why the big developers of today would look down on PC gamers so much now since it was the PC gamers that put them where they're at today. The one game that started out on the PC has now evolved and turned into a game that is nothing more than a mere port of a console-centric game. Yet Infinity Ward claims that is not a port but a new version that now has "custom stuff like mouse control, text chat in game, and graphics settings." Sorry but these three items are standard features on all PC games in general.

I just cannot tell you how terrible it looks now. Never mind the dumb features that they put into the game. There are many ways to make the gaming experience a thousand times better than what's being known as of now. Yet this is perhaps the one method that has truly killed the game before it even hit the store shelves.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

$161mil + $180mil = World Series

I will not hold back on this one. But granted this is mostly an inevitable truth. Last night, the Yankees won the World Series. And with it, their immense spending has finally paid off. I won't lie to you. I don't like the Yankees. I more than despise and loathe them. I hate them for everything that they and the MLB stand for. They are 200x worse than Microsoft in terms of ethics.

I won't deny the fact that other teams such the Boston Red Sox (my home team) are any different. But I am happy for the fact that paying top dollars won't always net you the best. A recent example is Daisuke Matsuzaka, for which the money being spent isn't exactly giving expected returns. Still, this is all a gamble on chance for which players are expected to perform to the best of their abilities.

Why the hate? Why the utter distaste for Yankees and MLB in general? Simple: there is no salary cap for MLB. What does that mean in layman's term? Teams can spend as much as they want with no regards to how much other teams are spending. So one team could be spending $100 million overall compared to over $400 that Yankees are able to spend. If you factor in how players play the game and where they want to go, where is the one place where you're at least guaranteed that you'll get a lot of money regardless if you fall short or if you go on a hot streak? That's right. The New York Yankees. If you want money, that's where you go. There isn't any other place that can match the spending power the Yankees have. And it sickens me that they have that kind of spending power.

Why is a salary cap such an important thing? If you compare MLB to the NFL, you'll see the large difference in how each team spends their alloted salary money to manage how their players are paid. The NFL basically issues a league-wide salary cap for which all teams cannot spend over that set amount. And for each team, they must split that given amount amongst several players. Its effect makes it so that no team has larger spending power over another. One star player may get a good sizable piece of the salary pie. But the same can be similarly said for another star player on a different team.

Anyway, the Yankees has alloted $161 million to C.C. Sabathia over the course of 7 years and $180 million to Mark Teixeira over the course of 8 years. I ask anyone to tell me otherwise that another team can match that kind of offer. No team can come close. It's one thing to spend oodles of dollars on one player. But it's another to spend over $300 million on two.

Damn Yankees. I have always hated the Yankees. Each year it's another big spending spree and it never fails to see that it either pays off or it backfires on them. They didn't win the World Series. They bought it. They bought it for $341 million and it disgusts me. There's no hope for the MLB. Until they implement a salary cap, baseball is nothing but bullshit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Chaos Before The Storm

What a difference a weekend makes. I spent the weekend quietly and was not aware of a major news that broke out from an interview. By the time I heard about it, it was Sunday evening and was rather surprised by it. Well, not really... still, it was a bit of a surprise.

Infinity Ward, the developers to Call of Duty 4, is changing how PC players find games/rounds online for their multi-player experiences in their direct sequel: Modern Warfare 2. The change is simply this: no dedicated servers. In place of this and with the help of Valve's Steam platform is IWNET, a multi-player platform that supposedly help get players into the game as quickly as possible and as painlessly as possible. What it's going to do is turn the multi-player experience to like what people find in console systems like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. You end up with a match-making system where they decide for you where you should group up with based on your so-called skill.

Long-time PC gamers and FPS players would know that this kind of system would never work. Even if it has been tried before, it has never worked according to the developer's intention. With the removal of dedicated servers in Modern Warfare 2, an outpouring of protest, proposed boycott, and mostly anger have flooded the PC gaming sites around the world. It has reached the ears of IGN. It has the attention of PBBans. And it has placed immense pressure on Infinity Ward's community manager, Robert Bowling, who broke the said news about IWNET and the absence of dedicated servers.

Yet while all of this primarily affected PC gamers, Xbox 360 players have almost nothing to worry about. But they should worry to some extent. Much of how PC gaming has evolved can be found in many of today's games. Much of how PC gaming started can be found in many of today's games. Many properties seen in console FPS games can be traced back to the early days of PC gaming. This is because Infinity Ward was founded on the Call of Duty games and PC games in general. Why should the console players care about this? A history lesson is needed, for all you young whipper-snappers! Best you show some respect to your elders! *waves walking cane around*

A long, long time ago, a game called Wolfenstein 3D was released as a shareware. Developed by id Software and published by Apogee, it was a successful title that prompted a little known sequel called Spear of Destiny. But id Software was hard at work on making the next game. It would be the game that started it all and changed the face of gaming. That game would be heralded as DOOM. DOOM brought us fast-paced action FPS and gave us the first glimpse of deathmatch. After DOOM and DOOM II, Quake was unleashed and the possibilities were expanded exponentially. Various modifications to the game were released from maps to new game modes to rewriting the entire story altogether. It was the game that gave us Capture the Flag and Team Fortress 2. The people responsible for Team Fortress would go on to develop the Team Fortress Classic modification for Half-Life and eventually be designers for Team Fortress 2. Bungie's project with Halo, which lasted many years, would eventually become a Microsoft Xbox exclusive. The game became the icon for Microsoft's Xbox platform and spawned 2 sequels plus one title based on the Halo universe.

No matter how you look at it, much of how gaming is today is all thanks to how PC gaming has evolved over the years. We would never have Battlefield 1942 if it weren't for Starsiege: TRIBES, where the aspect of a large map can be found on both games. We would never have Unreal Tournament without Quake 3 Arena competing with it for multi-player dominance. But there is a common theme that all of the aforementioned games. All of them except DOOM/DOOM II have a dedicated server. The presence of a dedicated server has remained a standard feature amongst the majority of FPS games today, which not only help centralize where people play but also help stabilise overall ping times.

So as the day go by and the outcry rages on, I watch from a distance. I do not know if there will be changes. I do not know if sales will plummet. But I do know one thing. Infinity Ward has lied and spat in the face of thousands of PC gamers everywhere. Not that it matters much for me, as I have no intention of getting the game in the first place, dedicated server or not. Still, this is something that people have expressed anger and disappointment over. One has to wonder how things will turn out as the release date inches closer.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The OLD Efficiency

As Microsoft makes its way around the country (of USA that is) to promote Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2, I had the chance to attend their "technical briefing" at the Boston, Massachusetts location. The reason why is simple: score a free copy of Windows 7. Is there any other reason? Well, getting to know a little about some of the stuff that is coming soon and new is also good. But sadly I am not much of a programmer.

There are two different sessions. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning was geared towards developers. The afternoon was geared towards IT people. I attended both, mostly. After the session was over, the people walked out and were handed a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate, an interesting surprise as Windows 7 Ultimate is Microsoft's highest tiered edition of Windows and contains everything that Home Premium and Professional has and then some.
As I have opted to depart early during the afternoon session, I went to the registration desk to attempt at redeeming a 2nd copy of Windows 7. And it worked. I now have 2 copies for which I can use. And here I thought I would walk away with 1 in the end. But it turns out that wasn't the case. It did not even occur to me what I will be getting, which you will know in a bit.
After a train ride home and then settling down, I had no time to really install it as I had to prepare the main rig for installing. That means backing up various files and making sure I don't lose any settings. After dinner and after looking over to see what else is needed to be preserved, I put the disc in and rebooted. After a format and a couple of reboot, the rig got to the desktop and the first thing I did to check is the System Properties. This is what I found:

I could not believe it. I spent several hours listening to them promoting and hyping their stuff and all I got was a 32bit install disc?! Well, it does say 32bit disc on the DVD. Yet you'd think Microsoft would be smart enough to promote x64 (aka 64-bit) and try to phase out x86 (aka 32-bit). C'mon man. That's just plain retarded. You call that the "New Efficiency"?? That's not new. That's OLD.

So take a good guess on what I had to do. Yep, I had to look for a torrent for the x64 build of the same OS. Can't Microsoft anticipate that people would prefer the x64 build over the x86 build? Microsoft is trying to push their Windows 7 certification to include 64bit, a sign that they want to push 64bit so that the hardware works in 64bit version of Windows 7. How do they expect the people who attended these events to help push forward the progress of 64bit computing when we're given 32bit code on disc? This is the most pathetic and retarded thing I have ever went through. Never mind the fact that I got it for free. If I was stuck with 32bit Windows 7, it would be worthless to me even as free! There's no point in going with 32bit Windows if the hardware of today that run Vista is more than capable of handling a 64bit operating system.

It's quite moronic that I have to resort to looking for an illegal copy of Windows 7 x64 when I have a legitimate key. I could have understood the distribution of the 32bit OS had this happen 2-3 years ago. But with today's hardware and software, a 64bit OS should be the preferred form, instead of being spoon-fed 32bit code. I would have been just fine had Microsoft gave people options to get a 64bit ISO or disc using some redemption method. But nooooooooooooooooooo.... Bunch of idiots...

Friday, October 02, 2009

My First Dual-Layered Burn

For a very long time, I have been using single-layered DVD+/-R blanks to burn all of my medias and files. However, some of the files I have go beyond the usual 4.5GB mark. Unfortunately, I cannot simply split them off and try to make two discs out of them. It doesn't seem all that practical to me. But I am starting to run low on space due to all the downloads and archiving of various files. Added to the fact that I'll likely be reinstalling Windows 7 come Monday (or later, depending on how quickly Microsoft dispatches the CD keys), I have to make sure that whatever data that sits on the drive is backed up. Otherwise, I'll be missing a lot of things in the event that something goes wrong or I had to reinitialize the RAID array that was supposed to be my gaming hard drive.

The first burn contain only one file. It's a movie of "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly" that is encoded in 720p H264. Having watched this movie from start to finish a while ago, it was great being able to actually see this old classic in high-definition glory. I should try to watch the other movies such as "A Fistful of Dollars." Maybe I should try considering a quick run of Netflix since that seems to be a far simpler and easier solution than trying to find it at a local Best Buy or Blockbuster location.

The actual write to this dual-layered medium is already finished. However, I wanted to verify that the information sitting on the hard drive matches that to what's written on the disc itself. Hopefully, it's all good and well and I have no error. One unexpected issue came up, as I have tried to set the write speed to 2x in order to ensure the best writing quality possible. It borked at me and defaulted to 4x write speed, which is my drive's top speed for dual-layered writing to DVD+R DL mediums. The discs I purchased is able to go up to 8x but who knows how reliable that write speed is. I feel better knowing that taking it slow will guarantee that the data remains intact and the writing quality is top-notch. It's weird, though, because I have an old NEC drive that has served me very well for the past several years and it has performed admirably for writing and reading. It's quiet and it's reliable.

Perhaps when the verify process is done, I'll give the movie another view. Maybe...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Little Games That Could

Lately I have been on a couple of buying spree for deals on games. And I blame it all on Steam for making such games too good to pass up. It all started out with World of Goo, a simple puzzle game that uses physics to help provide problems and solutions. The usual price is about US$20 but I picked it up for a small sum of US$5. The game is beautifully done and I see why people liked it so much. And as you progress, the puzzles themselves become harder and harder to solve. Yet this isn't some big-time game that is backed by a giant corporation. Nah. This is a small game that is developed by talented programmers who wanted to make a simple and fun game for people to enjoy. Independent developers is what we call them these days. And these kind of people are starting to pop up more.

The game called Trine is another "indie" game that also deserves some attention. Also based on physics, it is a simple 2D platformer where you control one of three characters in the game. It also features the ability to let other people play along, making it a unique co-operative game. Having tried the demo, the gameplay is interesting enough to make me want to get it. However, like anyone would want these days, you'd look for a way to get the game as cheap as possible (that is, without resorting to getting a bootleg copy).

Recently, Braid was put on sale for US$5. Its regular price is about US$15. Braid is a unique game, as it is a puzzle platformer, focusing mostly on how to manipulate time. Yet it is much more complex than that. Often the solution is so obvious that it never occurred to you.

And then there's Fez, a 2D platformer set in a 3D world. Everything visually displayed is to give the illusion that it is an old retro-styled 2D platforming game. The twist is that the world is actually 3D for which you can rotate its view to look at the world from a different perspective. Unfortunately, nobody has ever tried or tested the game, as it's not even out yet. It's still in development. But who knows when the game will finally be released. At least, however, the entertaining physics-based drawing game called Crayon Physics Deluxe is out after many months in development.

All of these games provide a unique form of entertainment unlike anything we've seen in today's big franchise games. Yet all of them provide a sense of good value when it comes to purchasing it, for they are cheap and is worth the money spent. It is too bad I cannot say the same for some other titles, where the cost is 50 to 60 dollars at retail.

Friday, September 11, 2009

State of Affairs on Mobile Devices

One thing I cannot stand is how some people can be so stupid. But I'm at a loss on who is to blame. I mean, using mobile devices has a certain level of self-awareness and responsibility to others and to yourself. You use it to keep tabs on a variety of things and you use it to get in touch with other people. And that's fine when you're communicating with others in a simpler and quicker way than just calling up a friend just to say a few words. The txt'ing industry sure has grown and exploded as of late. But at the same time, I also find that it's getting way out of hand. And upstart companies like Twitter makes it possible for some people to actually stalk others without ever having to leave the comfort of their own home. This is especially true if the person you're tracking just happens to be a moron who would be sending Twitter updates every 10 minutes. Still, using a mobile device for whatever reason you have comes with a certain level of responsibility to not just yourself but also to others.

Personally, I do not mind the fact that people are sending text messages. It is convenient and the wireless carriers and companies are reaping the rewards on this current market. It does not seem to be going away any time soon though. But there is a fine line of checking for text messages and actively sending one while you're walking down the street. So when I heard about the teenage girl who fell down a manhole while texting, I laughed my ass off about it. But what became of it afterwards turned out to be the worst thing you can ever expect. The family of that brainless bitch wanted to sue. And I cannot help but feel frustrated at the utter stupidity of such a family who thinks they can get away with such shit. You only need to know that the bitch is mainly at fault for being careless and for not paying attention. People listen to their audio players as well but it does not divert their attention while walking. Because if you're crossing the street, you obviously check both directions prior to crossing. It's only natural to do that, right? So I say, fuck that bitch's family and their lawsuit. They ought to be ridiculed for filing such a lawsuit. People are supposed to be responsible for themselves. If you're unable to care for yourself then you shouldn't be using such items that distracts you.

Just recently, a couple of girls in Australia, age 10 and 12, both found themselves lost in some drain in the suburbs. Both of these girls have mobile devices and are able to send calls to other people. But in all the wisdom in the world, these two girls decided to update their Facebook page instead of calling for help. The two were lucky that someone happen to noticed the update on the girls' page and called the appropriate people to send help. Otherwise, we would have seen those two girls post more stupid updates about their idiotic travels underneath the city. It amazes me that even though technology has advanced to the point where people can communicate with each other in unique and easy way yet people do not seem to grasp the notion of being responsible for your own self. Granted, those two girls probably didn't know any better but... I ask you this: who in their right dumbass mind would give those girls a mobile device?! It's bad enough that almost every high school teenager in America has a cell phone but why give these brats a mobile device at such a young age?

As with email that enables all of us to send letters and messages to others across the sea and around the globe, I worry that young people will eventually forget to ever know how to write a letter or message on paper. Is the human race headed to the point where we as a species do everything electronically? I guess for our time, we don't leave unique and engraved stones but instead we leave messages that ended up being lost because of a hard drive crash. Fuck!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Frozen Pigs Flying In Hell

For a very, very long time, the game Battlefield 2 has suffered dearly in many ways than one. Even worse so is the attack on ranked servers that try to maintain a place for people to connect on and have some fun. I have not played the game in many months, if not weeks, for I have long moved on to better games that are at least supported. Well, the term support should now be taken with a grain of salt, seeing there's hardly a company that gives a damn on what their customers want.

Having played BF2 and its follow-up, 2142, I have seen some dismal support that hardly came. And when it feels like BF2 was being abandoned in favor of 2142, I have given up on trying to play either of the games. Nobody I know plays 2142 actively and I'm stuck looking for a game to play. Added to this is the shitty support for a simple thing: widescreen. It isn't much to ask for. Yet I have touted time and time again, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, to get the idiots to at least hear out the argument in the most reasonable way. Yet it felt that nobody is even hearing or even bothering to pass the word along. It felt that all I was doing was screaming at a brick wall.

It was when 2142 received a patch that finally got some sort of support for widescreen. But there was still one piece of the puzzle missing. BF2 is still without that same kind of support treatment. And just when people would simply drop the game and move on, which I have done many months in advance, there comes the announcement that a major patch to BF2 will be made to address some of the lingering and current issues with the game. Most notably is the attack on servers that forces the software to crash. And time went on, and on, and on...

I cannot tell you just how frustrated I was at DICE/EA as a company. It's understandable if the company was working on one or two projects at a time. At least it's efficient that way to get things done, if you have enough people to really support handling two projects. But it doesn't seem that way.

When the announcement was made, DICE/EA was purportedly working on Bad Company, maintaining 2142, creating Battlefield Heroes, and now the 1.5 patch for BF2. Added to this is the rumored Battlefield 3 that everyone seems to be pinning their hopes on.

Later on, word got out that they were working on Mirror's Edge. And then Bad Company was released, and the sequel to that will be made. So one project is finished and then another one started. Still counting?

And then there's the graphical revival of Battlefield 1942 called 1943. So how many do we have now? Battlefield Heroes is now a running project open to all. BF'43 is out and a PC port is currently being worked on. And then there's any other maintenance that BF2 and 2142 requires. And Bad Company 2 is in the works. As it stands now, that's 4 different things, where 3 are majors tasks that require more attention. Yet DICE/EA continues to pile on projects after projects.

It was revealed on why it took so long to develop the 1.5 patch for BF2. Their answer was that they didn't have one or two guys working on it. Instead, they used time-limited resource allocation. In other words, the patch only got worked on in a limited time that was given by the higher-ups. That, to me, means they have serious management and resource allocation issues. It's one thing to split off the company into different teams for working on different things (like a PS3 codebase team w/ a unified visual/texture design team). But to give a maintenance patch a limited time for coders to work on, that's just downright stupid.

Assume for a bit that they shoved all of their projects aside. Assume for a bit that once Bad Company was done and Mirror's Edge never existed on paper. That would mean the one major project running at the time was Battlefield Heroes. What then? A bunch of people would then sit down, look at the BF2 to-do list, and start looking into what needs to be done. I theorize that had they never bothered with Mirror's Edge and/or BF'43, they could have finished the BF2 1.5 update in about 3-4 months time after the initial announcement.

Of course, all of this is just in theory, since it took them more than a fucking year to do this. The confirmation of such update was made on June 23, 2008, where a stupid update post was made September 18, 2008, with a winter release goal in mind. That, of course, never happened.

Yet in the time it took them to actually finish the damn patch, they have finished Mirror's Edge, got Battlefield Heroes stable enough to move to open beta status, and released Battlefield 1943. That's 3 fucking projects they have finished, some of which dated back farther than the notion of building a new patch for BF2. Still, it seems that DICE did nothing more than tack on projects after projects to the point where small things received little or no attention at all.

So... September 1, 2009. Over a year has passed since that announcement. The patch is finally out and with it, a lot of content. For starters, Euro Force and Armored Fury, two booster packs that used to sell for US$9.99 each, are now available to all for free. Not only is this a good move but it finally brings all the players together. Before, the maps that came with these booster packs did nothing more than clear out the server. Only a select handful of people would be able to play on these special maps but you'd be left with a fraction of people on the server. It was probably one of the most hated aspect of running a ranked server, as it does nothing more than empty it out quickly. It would go from being populated to empty in less than 5 minutes time, simply because they would all leave to go elsewhere. It doesn't help the server, since it basically bumps people off to other server. And that can potentially lose a faithful player from ever returning.

Another added bonus is the addition of a new map for ranked play. Still, one of the most dumbest aspect to ranked server is the inability to run user-created maps that can be verified, endorsed, or approved for ranked play. Yet while this was seen to work to a certain extent in 2142, there was never a consistent or robust method for which user-created maps can be submitted for approval for ranked play. Because of this, people play the same map over and over and over. There was not enough ranked maps to go around and not enough different content to keep players playing. The booster packs was probably meant as a way to solve this but we all know how that went.

So what do everyone get? A small shot in being able to play something new for a change. But trying to get back to BF2 isn't easy, nor is it all that great. Having played both Call of Duty 4 and World at War, I have come to learn that the bullet system employed in these two Call of Duty games surpasses that to what BF2 is able to do. I have played the game long enough that if you wanted to be able to shoot straight, the most you need to do is simply aim. In BF2, using the weapon's iron sight doesn't necessarily equate to always being able to shoot straight. Quite often the second shot after the first will go astray, a side effect to the game's bullet deviation system. And nothing in the world will get you to shoot straight ever again, even when taking careful shots in aiming at your target. You'd think that if you're laying down prone or taking your sweet time firing off one shot at a time the bullets will always go straight. Not in BF2. In order for the bullet to fly straight to where you're aiming, you have to wait forever. I don't think anyone wants to wait that long.

I have tried to play again. And having been away from the game for so long, I have stumbled trying to relearn all the controls. Yet the one thing that screws me over is the fact that I cannot aim straight after the first shot. Shouldn't the idea of knowing how to aim straight is knowing how to control the recoil of your weapon? At least in World at War, I can control how I shoot by shooting in short bursts, so that I don't lose control of the recoil when trying to shoot at a target far away.

I have mixed feelings on this so-called 1.50 patch. Granted, I'd need time to adjust back to how the game plays and get a feel for the new map. But I just can't stand not being able to fire a weapon straight down the middle when doing careful aiming. One thing is certain, though. Hell has frozen over and the patch is actually out. Who'd knew?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

My World at War

Since JD_2020, a CR guy at Treyarch, did not understood what I have meant in my reply on Twitter, and is too l33t to receive any direct messages, the only venue I have left is here.

The machine gun class in World at War is just like any machine gun class that you'd come to expect in a variety of first-person shooter games. They are big, powerful, and usually heavy. The idea that people have come to expect out of this class and category of weapon is that users will fulfill the role of support fire. These players will aid their fellow players and teammates in providing support to reaching a goal. In many of the FPS games out there, weapons that fall in this category seem to have a bipod attached to the barrel of the gun. Call of Duty 4 and World at War are no different when they are unlocked for use.

However, people are people and they do as they please. They run around carrying a big and heavy machine gun just so they can mow down anyone they come across with. I have seen it before and I have seen that idea backfire on them when they come face to face with a SMG, often the Thompson or the PPSh-41. But you will find players who, like myself, would experiment around and find ways to make these machine guns better tools than just something people use to mow people down while moving. These small number of people are the ones who lay on the ground, sitting still, providing suppression, cover, and support fire for their teammates. I am one of them, as I don't always go run around.

The bipod is a tool for which these players utilize fullest when they are able to use it. At first, being able to go prone and mount the bipod for superior accuracy, at the cost of mobility, is a benefit that players soon realize can greatly be of help for the team. And there are plenty of places to go prone and there are plenty of flat surfaces around many of the stock maps that World at War features today. Being able to use the bipod is an added incentive to work on the marksmanship for that weapon and for that weapon class. It wasn't about trying to find whatever places you can actually mount on. It was more about trying to find the best location to mount for providing the best support fire for your team. Finding that location means finding a place to hide and one that provides decent amount of cover from those who try to shoot you down.

When the decision to disable prone bipod was made, nothing was said. Nothing was mentioned in the changelog. Yet when people inquired about it...

Second, the Bipod cloning glitch could very well cause entity overflow errors on the PC, and provide the same level of Denial of Service attack as it could on a console game. Considering that this game is cross-platform, the solutions that the get worked into the console with regards to this are the same the PC got - and presently that solution is to disable the Bipods entirely.

Just because nobody posted a video of it occurring on the PC doesn't mean it couldn't happen. Granted the controls are different, and it would be difficult to get the proper directionality with the keyboard that you could with the controller to pull off the glitch, however, it could be done.
It's documented that, on the console versions specifically, it can happen. But you only assume based on the thinking that since it uses the same codebase that it's possible regardless. However, you (JD) said it yourself that the controls are different and it'd be difficult to pull off. Thus if it was difficult to pull off, tacked on with the fact that the majority of people play with a keyboard and mouse, shouldn't it occur to you that it may not be practical in the end?

Ask yourself this: what is the goal of a glitcher? Usually the answer to this is to ruin other people's fun. If this is the case, what good is a glitch that may take more time than necessary to pull off? Would it be practical to the glitching player to spend all that time just to do that one single thing?

Also, people play on dedicated servers. These dedicated servers are run by the people. These same people are the ones who manage and govern the servers for others to play on. They set the rules and they set the guidelines. They are the ones to weed out unruly players and the morons who try to exploit a glitch. When Downfall and Castle had map glitches that enable some players to get under the map, all it takes is one single admin to kick and/or ban those players from the server. Why can't the people do the same for any idiot who may very well try to exploit this? This isn't the console platform where we need to be babied on whether or not we should have tanks. The server operators and admins are the ones who set the parameters of how the server should run.

That argument of intentionally disabling the prone bipod is getting old. I cannot accept your so-called solution just to prevent a bug that may or may not even exist in the first place. The PC platform should not be given the same treatment that consoles get. And there are better ways to resolve an issue that may grow into a problem. The PC players would not have wanted a feature like this to be removed. Yet you removed it anyway.

Treyarch should take a long and hard look at the MG class as a whole. The weapons may be fine but the attachment unlocks are pretty much junk now. What good is getting 25 kills if the unlock you receive is nothing more than a useless piece of metal hanging off the barrel of the gun? What good is a MG if you cannot utilize the bipod the way it was meant to be used? Disabling prone bipod effectively makes the entire MG class of weapons the only category which have absolutely nothing to work for. The rifles, SMG, shotguns, and bolt-action rifles all have something worthwhile to get. There's Aperture Sights, extra ammo, telescopic sights, flash hider/suppressor, rifle grenades, sniper scope, and bayonet. All of them can be used freely wherever the player can use it. Yet why is the MG class the only one that have virtually nothing to use? Oh sure, the Type-99 machine gun also has a bayonet and the FG-42 has the telescopic sight. But what about the rest? And who actively uses a bayonet on a MG anyway?!

I have never seen a weapon class so much in shambles. It sickens me to see that the machine guns are crippled beyond belief when they cannot be mounted up in using the only unlock attachment that makes the weapon class worthwhile to use.

Can you feel my frustration in this, JD? It's one thing when you tweak a weapon. But when you effectively remove a feature altogether, you better come up with something to replace it. I have been waiting for several months for a viable solution that would revitalize the MG class so that it is worthwhile to use again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sword Impulse Gundam

Perhaps the most intricate and delicate hobbies out there are those who assemble and build model kits. Model kits come in mostly plastics, requires assembly, and is unpainted. Most model kits are designed so that you need additional tools and materials in order to finish it. Bandai, owner of the Gundam franchise, manufactures all sorts of model kits for the Gundam franchise. And you'll find that there are a lot of them to go around. Some of those model kits were released locally in America. But a lot of the big and fancier ones never made it out here.

I always liked that Gundam model kits are unique in its own way, in that they don't require painting and they don't require cementing in order to complete. Granted, there are several parts here and there that probably would hold better with cement. But the kit itself are designed so that they can hold their own for the time being. At least, that's the original idea.

One of the model kits have been continuously sold out and backordered. The design is very attractive and looks to be interesting to assemble and handle. But there's a slight problem. The kit is often out of stock and backordered. Also is the fact that I have not touched model kits in years. The last Gundam model kit that I have didn't exactly turn out well, due to the design being before what they are today. Since then, I have not touched any model kits. I do find that model kits back then were not for those who does not have much experience or have any patience. In order to fully bring out the beauty of the model kits, one has to care for them greatly and have all the right tools and materials needed to finish it, one piece at a time.

After waiting for 2 weeks longer than the usual delivery time for the model kit to arrive, I looked over the parts attached to the sprue tree and the assembly booklet. At first, it looks overwhelming as there are many parts and pieces to deal with. But I cannot assemble the kit just yet. I needed the tools to cleanly cut the pieces off. Each assembly session lasted 3 to 5 hours, with a bit of break in between. But after 5 days, and many minutes spent grinding away the excess plastics, the kit is 95% completed. The rest are accessories, effect parts, and other equipment parts. And so far, the model looks amazing. Granted, some areas do need some cover up in order to hide the plastic discoloring due to grinding and cutting. But overall, the model looks good and satisfactory.

Perhaps the only thing that I will regret in the future is that I did not have the paint and tools needed to make the model more detailed. But perhaps this is one aspect of my abilities that is not suited for assembling models. At the very least, this is something I can at least do and finish. And unlike the previous attempt, the result is much better than before, as I have placed much more effort and put in more dedication to this.

I do not know if there will be more Gundam kits to assemble. That really depends on whether or not I find another one as fancy, nice looking, and superbly designed as this one. I do know, however, that if there is a next time, I may have more tools and materials on hand to be ready for the next level and stage.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Due to different culture and how objects are viewed and "used," certain things will never see the light of day here. But there are some things that transcends the barrier, like the Transformers franchise. For the most part, the Transformers toys tend to be played with regardless of age. Yet due to American rules, regulations, and perhaps law as well, these toys are analyzed with such scrutiny to ensure the general safety of the children who are going to handle them. Granted, some children are brought up well, in that they take care of their toys. Others do not, and the toys themselves get abused to no end.

There are 3 things that has me buying items straight from Japan, mostly through Hobby Link Japan store, but Big Bad Toy Store is also a decent shop as well. The first is Japanese exclusives. One of the first exclusive items that I have purchased is the God Fire Convoy gift set. This set is sold at Toys R Us in Japan and are both different and limited in many ways. The second is quality. There are many instances where I have seen the Japanese version of the exact same item have better and superior quality when compared to the ones we (Americans) get here. I blame that mostly on Hasbro for being such a dumbass in that regard. The third thing is that it will never arrive domestically for retail sale. Allow me to elaborate on the third item.

While some get to play with action figures and toys, others prefer a much more detailed product -- figurines. Figurines are then separated into two types: completed and resin kits. The resin kits are the ones that require assembly and painting, a task that most of us would not have the patience or skill to do, and is often reserved mostly for the hobbyists. The completed models are produced to such detail that they are eye-popping gorgeous. Well, gorgeous is a subjective opinion. Yet one of the unique aspect to the Japanese toy, hobbyist, and figurine market is that anything goes. It does not matter if the figurine in question is from a normal anime show or ones from a hentai/porn series. If a character is popular enough to spur some demand for a product, then a figurine may be produced. With this in mind, it is not shocking to find figurines where the character is topless, in a bikini, scantily clad, fully clothed, or posed in a sexually inviting way.

I'm not one to collect these figurines. They're often too expensive. A lot of the good ones that I would love to get tend to have prices well above the $50 mark (assuming the exchange rate is $1:100¥). You'd be lucky to find any that is priced well below that mark. Thankfully, that's where random browsing come into play. At random times, I stop by HLJ to check on what's new. Sometimes there are some interesting things. Sometimes there are none. But for the ones that caught my eyes, they are in the form of either a sale, a front page promotion to advertise a product, or a preview of what's to come. And because HLJ has a system in place that provides other products that a viewer or buyer may also like, I tend to browse around the site for longer duration than normal.

There are three items which arrived. The first is a RevolTech figure, which I am familiar with and have posted about previously. The second are figurines which have been put into clearance by HLJ. The original price for both were 4000¥ and 4500¥ but were reduced to 2000¥ and 1350¥ respectively. After some consideration, they seem cheap and affordable enough to check them out and evaluate their quality.

Two weeks after the order was shipped out, the box arrived at my doorstep. But poor timing would have these figures sit in the box for a day longer. I blame Guild Wars for that. But once they are out of the brown box, behold, in my awestruck expression, the packaging that they come in, plastic window on the front to showcase just a portion of the figure's details.

But I could not get around to really seeing it all until I actually take them out of the box. Due to certain family members, I could not unbox my other figure. So for the time being, she is to sit in her packaging until the time is right, which is quite unfortunate because I am anxious to see the details on that one as well.

The first item was RevolTech Leina from Queen's Blade. One could look at Queen's Blade as something similar in fan service like Ikkitousen. But unlike Ikkitousen, Queen's Blade pushes as far as it can go with regards to displaying what nudity they can show. The figure is, of course, small and the figure holds itself well. However, the figure has trouble standing on her own, which is not too surprising given the small feet she has. Leina comes with a pair of optional hands, a sword and sheath, a shield, a damaged chest armor, and an extra face for a different facial expression. Unlike other RevolTech figures that featured female characters, this one is one of the first to feature a bare chest. While her armor usually covers it up most of the time, it should not take much effort to remove it and have her posed (or photographed) with her bare chest.

Leina is perhaps the most difficult to work with as far as finding a decent pose or adjusting her limbs. This is due to the fact that I have no experience with handling a figure of that design, which is usually reserved for Fraulein line. But given time, I may actually have a worthwhile pose for her.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

He's going WHERE??

I have heard the rumor but I left it at that, a rumor. Little did I know that it turns out to be true. The Phoenix Suns has traded Shaquille O'Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Suns get 2 players plus a draft pick. And the Cavs get Shaq. The Cavs were destined to go all the way. But the Orlando Magics threw a wrench in the machine and screwed things up. Originally it was going to be the Cavs vs the Celtics. But the Celtics were hurting quite badly. With Kevin Garnet out with injury, the defense isn't really up to par. Eventually the Magics got past the Celtics and soon squeezed by the Cavs to meet the Lakers.

So now Shaquille O'Neal is a Cavaliers. Will this get the Cavs back into the playoffs for 2009/2010? I hope so. But if that doesn't get them back into the playoffs, then I don't know what will.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Digital Evolution

So on June 12th, the analog TV age has ended.  And with it, some pains and troubles started.  This is of no surprise, as any transition and migration cannot go without a hitch.  Having waited for so long for this to happen, I’m finally glad that the analog signal has been cut off, mostly.

And while those who use cable or satellite TV will not notice a thing, those using old fashion rabbit ears will feel the transition pain.  The first is reception.  Digital signals are different in how it is received and shown for your TV.  You don’t simply get fuzzier images as the signal gets worse.  Instead, the picture becomes more garbled with pixel blocks and weird image artifacts.

As I am one of those who are “in the know,” I have been well prepared for the DTV transition for a very long time.  A converter box has been purchased early on but it was never put to use due to poor reception.  But that was until it was suggested to use the big antenna that is mounted up in the attic.  The connection was made and the signal quality improved significantly.  Now, having seen that reception is possible quite easily even where I live, I have started to even consider jumping on the bandwagon.  But therein lies the problem.

I have noted a couple of times that the TV tuner card that I have (a Hauppauge PVR-150) doesn’t work.  This is due to a couple of things.  One is an unknown limitation where the hardware does not work on systems with more than 4GB of RAM installed.  The second is that the TV application for the hardware doesn’t exactly work very well, even though the hardware works with it.

My RSS reader picked up a little deal from a feed that I keep track of.  The offer was tempting and I figure I’d give it a try.  And the signal strength discovery as noted earlier has me wondering if this can work out well in the end.  While the channel availability has me limited to about 4 major channels, it was enough to go through with this.  After all, once a while there is a show that may be worthwhile to view using DTV.  So I placed the order, a Hauppauge HVR-1600.

Originally, I did not want to pick up a new TV card, since I want to make them last for as long as I can, to maximize the value of the card.  Another reason why I did not want to pick up a new card was to see if it can work well with my current setup.  One of my biggest gripe is when you upgrade to a new OS, the hardware that you currently use would not work with it, either because of a certain problem or because it’s just not supported any more.  It frustrates me to no end on how unsupportive some companies can be when they just don’t try to fix the problem or create a work-around of sort in order to make it work.  I have seen many hardware flaws and issues and there are always work-around fixes and patches that helps the old or legacy hardware to function properly.  I don’t see why they cannot do the same here.

Anyway, the hardware arrived in a day’s time, all thanks to a warehouse located out in New Jersey, so UPS Ground Shipping doesn’t feel like it’s taking forever.  After getting the drivers removed and preparing the system for a new hardware, I shut the system down and swapped the card out.  The system boots up and I begin installing the drivers and application.  Everything went well without a problem until I tried to scan the DTV signals.  The TV software either cannot do it or I have a faulty card.  I tried everything, using a different cable to using a different connector.  And then I fired up Windows Media Center and set up the software for the new card.  And lo’ and behold, it can scan the DTV signals!  Wait, the manufacturer’s own software cannot scan for DTV yet WMC can?  So after WMC got the signals set up and I set the proper channel listing, I switched it over and gave it a test run.  Wow...

I have seen 720p Blu-Ray movie rips of some movies and I love how clear it looks.  But what amazes me is how good it looks watching live TV with it.  I’ve already seen some HDTV stuff and know how good it looks.  But they were all elsewhere and not at the comfort of home.  Granted, there’s a difference between watching it on an actual HDTV and watching it on a computer monitor.  I don’t know about you but it just looks amazing watching it.  And that’s strange since I should not be all that surprised or amazed since I have already seen it before.

The remote that the card came with is nice, and appears to be the exact same thing that the other card came with.  I’m not too sure if there’s any difference.  But it works well with Media Center.  And frankly, I think it works wonders in it.  This could very well determine which version of Windows 7 I intend to purchase when it is available.  But I’ll have to see on how much this will set me back first when compared to the other versions.  It looks like I’ll be using Media Center a lot more now that I have it all set up.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Windows 7: WindowBlinds 7 Beta1

Well, it's bound to happen. This is one of the cool things about Stardock. They don't just make a version and let it sit and rot. They keep updating it, bringing in new features and making it work with new versions of Windows. Today, WindowBlinds 7 Beta 1 was released to ObjectDesktop subscribers. Having caught sight of the news blurb on the WinCustomize website, I fired up Impulse and had it installed. After it was done, I fired up the configuration program and notice the skin that was shown on the news page isn't included. Oh well. Let's try one of the pre-installed skins. It changed but the taskbar looked pretty messed up now. The taskbar buttons appear to be skinned correctly but some of the little Windows 7 aesthetics are now not functioning correctly. But that's to be expected, since it is, of course, a beta. Well, for the time being, I'll stick with the default Aero style for a little while longer.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Windows 7: Small details

*ahem* Okay, so I installed Adobe CS4 and it comes with a 64bit version of Photoshop CS4. I figure that I'd toy around with it for a quick minute and see how it is.

After running the installation, I find that for some whatever reason, Adobe decides that it wants to install support files related to other programs like After Effects and Premiere, when I specifically set the install to just put in Photoshop and Illustrator. I don't know why it wants that but it basically bloated my minimal install to about 2.6GB in total. I cut down as much as I could as I do not want some of the other related programs like AIR, Media Player, or Acrobat. I mean, I have no absolute need for AIR as there's nothing that would make me want to use it. And why would I really need Adobe Media Player anyway??

But one of the fancier feature to Photoshop CS4 is the use of OpenGL and the video card's GPU for rendering things on screen. I'll admit that it does make doing simple things like zoom much faster. Before, zooming also means it has to redraw the visible parts again. Anyone who have used Photoshop before would know how it does this process.

But now that it's installed, I can fiddle around with some images. And one of the first order of business is to take a few wallpapers and cram it down to size. Some of the wallpapers in my archive are large, large enough that they don't fit on my screen. So in order to make it fit and to simplify the process of telling Windows what to do for wallpapers (center, fit, or tile), I resize them to my monitor's native resolution. The good thing is that I do not have a lot of wallpapers to go through. Just enough to spice things up and make the desktop look different at least. This is perhaps one of the more interesting feature to Windows 7, the ability to automate the rotation of wallpapers. No longer do you need a 3rd party application to do this single task. Windows now does it for you. And yes, you can set it to change every X minutes or hours or whatnot.

The above desktop screenshot was taken shortly after some quick cleanup. There are certain files that I do not want visible since they're not public-safe. The wallpaper displayed here is one of many that I have selected to go through. I can hardly wait to see how the other wallpapers look when they change.

After burning off a couple of more movies onto DVDs, it seems that burning files onto DVD works as expected. I still have yet to determine if mounting a disc image works without a hitch under Windows 7. I guess I'm just being lazy about it. Then again, there isn't any image to mount in order to take a look through. With the proposed 1.50 patch to Battlefield 2, there's word that DICE/EA wants to remove the copy protection system altogether, due to the age of the game as it stands now. To me, this would be a welcome addition. All the more reason why I do not have to really test if disc mounting an image works under Windows 7.

After nearly a month of normal usage, I have little problems, issues, and quirks to deal with. Only one hardware is unused and that's my TV tuner. But the rest is working great. USB drives and hard drive enclosures work without any problem. My Logitech G5 mouse runs without a hitch. Logitech's SetPoint software doesn't seem to have any problem working with this unknown version of Windows. And Creative Labs has working drivers for their X-Fi series of cards.

What's even better? One of the issue I have when playing movies, especially with audio being played and sent out via SPDIF, is that AC-3 and DTS audio would not play smoothly no matter what configuration I was using. I do not know if it's due to the drivers being more recent, as my Vista setup was one minor version older than what's available from Creative Labs. But being able to hear the surround sound without interruption as I watched the beginning of S.W.A.T. in 1080p quality, it was a blast. But nothing would be complete without a surround sound playback of two scenes from The Matrix. That, however, will have to wait.

Another small quirk I have is trying to get the Xvid codec installed. I don't know if the codec is even working or installed correctly. ffdshow seem to work fine, as I was able to take control over Xvid decoding easily. I'll need to dig up info on this or be stumped and start asking on some forums for answer. But sadly I may end up resorting to a codec pack, which I have personally avoided for many months. Yet this particular codec pack is designed to be minimal, slim, and compatible with Windows 7 and x64.

And so the month of May comes to a close. The next month will be interesting and different. Windows 7: I am definitely getting it the moment it is out!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Windows 7: It Looks Right

This took me a while as I have been doing nothing but playing Guild Wars and Call of Duty as of late. But despite this, there are a couple of things needed to archive and burn to a blank DVD. So in order to do that, I decided to install two applications: ImgBurn and Alcohol 52%.

Alcohol 52% was a trivial matter, since the backend or foundation for which the virtual drive system works with wasn't compatible or usable in Windows 7, at least at first. But a recent update to the backend now adds preliminary support for the new OS. Hopefully there will be additional support down the line. I will have to check to see if the entire virtual drive system works completely, since I have recently deleted a few disc images to free up space.

For ImgBurn, getting it to run is a simple matter. But working with it is a different story. Unlike some of the bigger and more versatile disc burning software, like CDBurnerXP or Nero, there isn't an easy-to-use interface for assembling files together for disc writing. CDBurnerXP, while being free, has a few quirks. I do not know if the developer(s) have fixed this. But I found it to be bothersome and annoying. I may give it another try when Windows 7 is finished and I acquire a copy of the final/RTM disc. Nero is perhaps the strangest out of the bunch of burning software out there. It isn't strange in that it has a weird interface. But instead the drastic change in direction from what it used to be. Years ago, Nero started out simply as a CD burning application. Not only did it has a simple and straightforward interface but it was slim and small, a necessity when you only want a single feature and want the software to do it elegantly. At the time, there were one or two other CD burning programs out there, one of which was the bloatware Easy CD Creator. Since trying out Nero, I have stuck with it for a while. But as the development for Nero continues, the software and the developers started to take aim in other matters, namely CD ripping and MP3 encoding. Later on, they started adding other features which are unnecessary. Before long, Nero has blown up into a giant software suite capable of everything except the kitchen sink.

So as of "writing," I am burning a 720p encode of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It fits nicely in a single DVD and the software appear to work. But what surprised me is how Windows 7 displays certain things on the taskbar. For example, if you were moving/copying a bunch of files and a progress meter window shows up, the Explorer icon will turn into a progress meter of its own, enabling you to minimize all the windows and not wonder how far until the operation completes. At this time, I do not know if this is something the author of ImgBurn programmed into the software or if Windows 7 recognizes the progress meter in it. Either way, it's a nice little thing that you get and makes using Windows 7 all the more better.

The more I am using this, the more it feels like I'll be glad that I didn't splurge on getting Vista when I needed an x64 build of Windows to use all 8GB of RAM I have installed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Windows 7: What's Left

Remember trying to get my TV tuner card to scan the analog channels? I've done a couple of tests after using a suggestion from the manufacturer's forums. Unfortunately nothing has improved. The end result is the same and I am still without a "TV" for the time being.

I do, though, have confirmed through a few inquiries regarding Stardock products and Windows 7. Certain programs that don't mingle with the inner workings of Windows will work fine with Windows 7. This is a bit obvious when you look at how the software works in achieving certain effects or do certain task. But other programs from Stardock, like WindowBlinds, IconPackager, or BootSkin will obviously not work well or refuse to work at all, simply because there are certain functions and feature that can only work if it knows how to hook itself into that particular version of Windows. At least for the moment, I will be unable to use any of my favorite WindowBlind themes until a version is release that provide preliminary support for Windows 7.

On the other end, Steam works fairly well. A quick start of Portal and a few configuration settings got me the result I wanted. The platform works and the game works. So it seems that at the absolute minimum, there's no problem. I'll have to check other games to see if they work well. But given that they ran fine on Windows Vista, I predict and suspect that I will have no problem running them.

As I rummage around Google search results for a solution to a minor problem, I found that there is an option that may solve the issue I have with my keyboard. The keyboard is nothing fancy. It doesn't feature any special macro keys or tons of little fancy buttons for a variety of things. Instead, it has a basic multimedia and Internet-related buttons/controls. I have a couple of buttons remapped to be used differently. And thus far I could not get Winamp to truly function the way I wanted it to. The version of Winamp may be a tad old but it was a version that I could run out of its own folder. Winamp is self-contained into its own folder and requires no installation if you can save or back up the folder itself. After installing it, I see the option appear and tested the special keys. They work. Now I can navigate around my lengthy playlist and be able to pause or play the track as I please without needing to bring Winamp to the foreground. Too bad I cannot get iTunes to do the same.

Continuing on the topic of media playback, I realized that the xvid codec that I installed turned out to be unused when I was watching some anime. Instead, it was using the built-in codec that is capable of handling xvid compressed videos. It was strange, at least from what I had thought. Since I have ffdshow also installed, I configured it to be the primary decoder for xvid videos. It works as expected. But when I turned it off, it still did not use the xvid codec itself. I later found out that the folks at Microsoft set their codec pipeline to take precedence over xvid. Either that or xvid is not being properly registered as a viable codec. If that's the case, then I may have to figure out how to get it registered.

Seeing that I got some *ahem* 720p resolution movies sitting around, along with a 1080p resolution of S.W.A.T., I figure I'd give some of those movies a quick test drive to see how the audio output fares. But this is not your ordinary and typical audio test. My setup is unique and is, at times, inhibiting. Most gaming rigs you see, or mostly hear about, have speaker system that is connected to either the motherboard using the onboard built-in sound or the audio add-on card. The most typical of these setups uses analog wires, connecting several speakers into several jacks. My setup consists of one cable, connecting from the PC audio unit over to my 5.1 home-theater receiver. So for me, my audio setup is a bit more complicated and cannot be done with fancy games. To compensate, I test using movies that have surround sound (ie. movies with AC-3 or DTS audio track). Three movies were given a quick 10-15 minute run to determine how well they perform. Audio output was set to send the audio data directly through SPDIF and to my receiver. Audio is then deocded within the receiver and sent to the appropriate audio channel. Movie playback appear smooth. But a short test is not enough to truly determine if everything is rock solid. Audio playback, though, seems pretty good. Of course, the best audio test would be The Matrix's Lobby and Bullet Time sequence, as the audio mixing and surround is second to none.

There was something that broke during Windows 7 development: virtual CD/DVD drives. Mounting virtual drives isn't obscure. Some people use it to check the content of the disc image before burning. Others use it to run installation off of it instead of wasting a disc. I use it for a unique purpose: to bypass a disc check imposed by Battlefield 2's copy protection.

There are ups and downs to copy protection. But nowadays, it's becoming more and more useless and more annoying than ever before. Many times I simply want to make a simple copy of a game that I have bought with my own money. Yet I cannot do that because of the copy protection that's on the disc. It's one thing to ask for the disc to play a game. But it's another if you require the absolute original disc in order to play the game. And that is unacceptable. If copy-protection is a system meant to deter pirates and game crackers, then it is simply not working. Instead of trying to find ways to impose restrictions on legit players, they should simply do away with the entire thing altogether. But I digress...

There are only a handful of things left to install. After that, we'll see how different things fare, especially certain functions that I have not used in ages. That is... if I ever get around to it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Windows 7: Going Up

It's easy to become lost in the midst of things. Sometimes you tend to forget to do something to test certain features, functions, and abilities to determine if there are any quirks, bugs, or just something out of the ordinary. In an earlier post, I mentioned on how I have iTunes installed and running. But I did not test any of the functions that made iTunes what it is: an interface for iPod, a store, a media player, and a CD ripper/encoder.

iTunes provides a lot of functions for what it is. But there are some things I do not use. As a front-end to the iTunes Music Store (or should we say Media now?), I don't go there to download movies, TV episodes, or music videos. There are better outlets for that, such as the actual TV or from a DVR, or simply purchasing the entire season on DVD. As a CD ripper and encoder, I do not use the encoding function at all, but instead I take an extra step in order to ensure the greatest audio quality possible within the confine and technological limitation imposed by the MP3 compression system. Did you get that? I hope so. In other words, make the audio sound as best as possible using only the best utility and software available. I have, for a while now, been using the LAME MP3 encoder. It is a freeware and open source MP3 audio encoder with a reputable history of trying to create the best audio quality using any techniques that can be done in the MP3 specification, such as producing high quality variable-bitrate MP3. It has worked out for me as it has produced only MP3 files encoded in 320 kilobit per second bitrate. And while the bitrate itself consumes more space than necessary, hard drive space is not even an issue, given that nearly each generation of iPods based on hard drive technology increases its storage capacity by a good margin.

But I run Windows 7, and in 64bit. Not everything is going to play nice. And this is just another one of those tests.

To start off, I loaded up a CD of mine, Songs From the Big Chair by Tears for Fears. It features 3 tracks that I remember well from the 1980s, the decade for which I grew up in -- Shout, Everybody Wants To Rule The World, and Head Over Heels. First iTunes was set up to rip to WAV files. Then, using FLAC, a lossless compression format, I encoded those tracks to serve as backup and to save some space. Yeah, even though hard drive space is a non-issue, I use it to better utilize hard drive space that serves as a network drive. Once that step is done, I use LAME to encode the WAV files into mp3, which will serve as a general format for playback on various media players: iPod, Winamp, Windows Media Player, Zune, etc.

Thankfully, both FLAC and LAME can run on x64 environment, despite that they are 32bit applications. They both worked flawlessly and have encoded the files without a single issue.

Unfortunately, these three tracks are just a fraction of what I want to archive. It'll still take me a long while before I can truly finish getting it all sorted, backed up, organized, and labeled. I have popsy music coming from Japan, along with re-ripping Transformers: The Movie soundtrack, as well as picking out my favorite tracks from Selena's American debut album Dreaming Of You. As if that wasn't enough, my old Chrono Trigger soundtrack needs to be re-ripped, having felt nostalgiac after playing part-way through the Nintendo DS port.

Now on to something different. There are two applications that need to be installed: Impulse and Steam. Impulse is necessary as I have an active subscription to Stardock's Object Desktop suite, a suite of applications that features not just WindowBlinds, IconPackager, and DesktopX, but other Windows utilities as well. But like any other application today, there may be limited or no support for Windows 7 for the time being. Still, Stardock has been pretty supportive with Microsoft in creating various applications, especially with DeskScapes (a utility/program once exclusive to Vista Ultimate users). Once these two are installed, I will know if any of Stardock's great product has any support for Windows 7.

Windows 7: Settling Down

After a bit of bugging in order to get some ideas, suggestions, and whatever else in between, an individual over at Hauppauge's UK forums suggested an idea for me to try out. While I have yet to determine whether or not this fully works, I'll be giving it a try in every possible way. Hopefully I'll be able to finally get the software to not hang there after it's done scanning for channels.

As mentioned earlier, I stated that I needed to get Impulse and Steam installed. They are now installed, just as I said I will do. And Steam operated normally as it should. For a quick test, I have it download and install Portal. Once it was done, I fired it up and got it to set a variety of settings. But unfortunately, when the game first fired up, the audio blared through my headphones, nearly piercing through my eardrums. I do not know why this is the case on so many applications but this is really starting to annoy me. I can tell you, though, that had I let the system volume stay at 100% or at 75%, my personal volume would have been at 1% the entire time. I do not know what would make the volume so high no matter what but even Flash applets would blare out through the speakers and headphones. Even though I am able to control the volume of each individual application that generates audio output, it's annoying to have to set a lot of these applications down to a volume that is a fraction of a full 100%.

Using Impulse was easy. You simply install it and let it run. After setting a couple of tweaks, I find that the changelog history to WindowBlinds makes no mention of Windows 7 support at all. And while the software can run in x64, I do not want to end up having to install WindowBlinds and finding out that it doesn't run or work at all on Windows 7. For the time being, I am stuck without a way to enhance the visual look of how Windows 7 appears. This is not much of a big deal for now. I am quite content with how the windows appear at the moment and I can change the base color of the window borders to my liking. I also know that eventually Stardock will release a beta of WindowBlinds that will introduce support for Windows 7. So for me, there is little worry over this small issue.

Now, sometimes I kick myself for jumping the gun so early. Getting extra RAM for my computer turns out to be one of those instance where I jumped the gun early. With memory prices hitting lows like noone has ever seen, it's easy to expand and get extra RAM for the computer, especially if your system is capable of handling DDR2 memory. One of the benefits of having extra RAM is to be able to run more applications at the same time without it ever going to virtual memory (which uses a chunk of your hard drive to act as memory). Another benefit is the feature that was introduced in Windows Vista: SuperFetch. SuperFetch act like a caching system where the programs you run is partially stored so that the next time it's started, it starts faster. But SuperFetch is a system that loads some of these program information into memory. For some people, SuperFetch is disabled so that they can have the most RAM available to use. Others have it on so that their application can start up faster. An example of this is starting up Firefox for the first time. Without SuperFetch, startup would take about 5 to 10 seconds, depending on hardware. With SuperFetch on, startup would take about 2 to 3 seconds at most. This is roughly the same amount of time it takes for Google Chrome to start up without SuperFetch. So one can see some certain benefit to using SuperFetch.

Well, with 8GB of RAM, SuperFetch has done nothing more than help make my programs start faster, amazingly faster than I could ever hoped for. Well, it is 8GB. What else am I going to use it for? Might as well make the most of it for now! Although... I should seriously consider creating a virtual machine to play around with.