Monthly Archives: June 2008

Reviewlet: Guitar Hero – Aerosmith

Guitar Hero – Aerosmith is… Aerosmith-y. This isn’t terribly surprising, what with it having “Aerosmith” in the title and everything, and a picture of Aerosmith on the cover just in case you missed that; 29 of the 41 songs in the game are by Aerosmith (or Joe Perry), you play them as motion-captured Aerosmith, there are short snippets of Aerosmith interviews between the levels as the game tracks Aerosmith’s career from playing a high school dance to intergalactic megastardom, you can play as one of the Aerosmith guitarist on the rest of the tracks if you buy/unlock them as a character in the Vault, playing signature Joe Perry Gibson guitars

If you’re unsure whether you should get the game or not, here’s a detailed in-depth questionnaire to help you decide:

1) Do you like Guitar Hero?
a) Oh yes! It’s a work of plastic instrumental genius!
b) It’s OK I guess.
c) No, it’s a stupid waste of time, learn to play a real guitar.

2) Do you like Aerosmith?
a) Oh yes! Who doesn’t like the multi-Grammy winning biggest selling American hard rock band of all time?
b) They’re OK I guess.
c) No, I hate them and everything they stand for.

If you answered:
Mostly (a): buy the game right now
Mostly (b): maybe rent the game, see how you like it
Mostly (c): don’t buy the game

Hope that helped.

Personally I remain fairly ambivalent towards Aerosmith, they’ve got a few catchy songs but I’m not rushing out to buy their entire back catalogue, so the game’s a neat enough diversion while waiting for World Tour rather than something I’ll play solidly for the next few months. If you love Aerosmith, though, I’m sure you’ll love this (unless you hate Guitar Hero).

All seven and we’ll watch them fall.

Having just read Zoso’s post today on cancelling his Age of Conan subscription, I had a quick chat with him about it and found out that although he’d unsubscribed, he’d left it just a fraction too late and the first set of subscription fees had already been processed. It was only shortly after this that I read Stropp’s post stating exactly the same.

And you begin to realise that the reason the MMO blogosphere seems to be endlessly recycling the same topics is that, in general, we’re all following exactly the same path; we’re all on an MMO-like treadmill in real life, grinding out the same old topics as everyone else just as we grind out the same quests in our MMOs, not because we’re unoriginal or lacking in ability, but because we’re all destined to experience the same real life content, there’s no other path to follow.

And then one wonders that if that’s the case, who is the master developer of this sub-game of real life that is named MMO Enthusiast, who is the generic overlord presenting us with this real life grind, and why?

My theory: it’s just like The Matrix. We’re all in a non-consensual hallucination generated by a dominant race of artificial intelligences, except in this version they have a separate section – away from the main power generation – which is reserved for MMO bloggers, where we are harvested not for our energy but for our contrasting and extreme experiences of joy and of lethargy, purely for our blog posts, for the raw unadulterated word count on topics revisited on an almost hourly basis for time immemorial.

Why? My guess is that sometime in the early days of the conflict between humanity and the AIs we forced a buffer overflow in the masochism section of their neural networks, and now they read and read, transfixed with a perverse need to repeatedly endure, through the medium of blogs, the seven successive sensations of an MMO enthusiast: Scepticism, Confusion, Wonder, Addiction, Frustration, Ennui and Withdrawal.


I think the time’s come to move on from Age of Conan, at least for a while. I hit level 50 and just can’t get terribly enthused about carrying on. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it seems like there’s a wave of MMOG-ennui sweeping over the world and I’m as caught up in it as everyone else. I posted about Age of Conan being exasperatingly MMORPG-y; the latest Van Hemlock podcast has contemplations on the Meaning of MMOG Life; the first part of an interview with Paul Barnett on Rock, Paper, Shotgun covers some of the same ground, for games a whole, and then of course there’s the kerfuffle over a Richard Bartle interview, in which it was revealed that Bartle was the instigator of the brutal crackdown on the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, leading to Morgan Tsvangirai withdrawing from the presidential run-off. Least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for the outpouring of Fearsome Internet Rage that followed, the only other possibility is everyone’s getting terribly cross that he doesn’t realise that WAR is going to be the most amazingly revolutionary thing in the history of time ever, knocking trivial stuff like fire, the wheel or sliced bread (even a piece of sliced bread attached to a wheel and being toasted over a fire) into a cocked hat (the cocked hat itself ranking a distant third as far as amazingly revolutionary things go). Still, once you get past the unhelpful hyperbole and weird metaphors involving bicornes, there’s the ennui again. As Alec Meer puts it in the RPS piece “Much as I can enjoy a few days/weeks/months in a Conan or a Tabula Rasa, I’ve pretty much come to terms with any MMO for the next few years being disappointing on a fundamental level of exploration, purpose and self-expression.”

I might well head back to Age of Conan at some point, Funcom seem to have plenty of plans for extra content to add, and if I upgrade my PC in the meantime I might get more than a couple of frames per second with high detail graphics. For now, though, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith beckons. Let there be rock!

PS: apropos of nothing else in this post, I just love the quote so much, from Neil Gaiman’s blog, Terry Pratchett in a spectacularly mis-headlined Daily Mail article:

“There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.”

Reviewlet: Nokia N810

I’ve had a few PalmOS PDAs, starting with a Handspring Visor (Handspring no longer exist, having been absorbed into Palm as part of the “hey, let’s split our hardware and software divisions and rebrand as palmOne… no, wait a minute, that’s a stupid name, let’s go back to Palm” exercise), then a Sony Clie (Sony have since stopped making PalmOS PDAs, though I believe they’ve achieved minor success in some other fields of consumer electronics) and finally a Tapwave Zodiac (a brilliant device that unfortunately pitched itself as a mobile entertainment system with a strong gaming element around the time the PSP came out, Tapwave going bankrupt less than a year after the Zodiac launched in the UK). Much as I love the Zodiac, and PalmOS in general, they’re getting rather long in the tooth and haven’t been updated much recently, so I started looking around for a handheld device that would do all the PDA-y stuff of a PalmOS device but with added WiFi and internet-y goodness.

This turned out to be a bit difficult. PDAs are all but dead, barring some last ditch resistance from a few aged Palm Tungstens and new HP iPAQs, but having committed to blind veneration of Palm back in the heydey of PalmOS vs PocketPC/Windows CE/Windows Mobile/whatever they’re calling it this week, I can never consider a Windows Mobile device on religious grounds. Smartphones are everywhere, but I prefer to have a small easily pocketable phone in addition to a larger pocketable-in-a-slightly-bigger-pocket device with a nice big screen and better input methods than going “7, 7, 7, 7, NO I MEANT R FOR CHRIST’S SAKE” (and in a perfect world the two talk to each other via bluetooth, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves). Then there’s… other stuff. Ultra Mobile PCs, Tablets, media players that happen to have a touch screen and WiFi, GPS units that happen to have a touch screen and WiFi. In the end I got the shortlist down to a Nokia N810 Internet Tablet or an iPod Touch, neither of which were quite perfect, but with the Touch being fairly limited in its initial form (though I’m waiting to see how Apple’s App Store turns out with keen interest) I went for the N810.

The N810 has a large 800×480 touch screen, a slide-down hardware keyboard, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, camera, coffee percolator and extending three speed chain driven rotavator (OK, not the last two. But the rest of the list is pretty impressive.) The screen is definitely one of its strongest features, being vibrant and with a high enough resolution to render most web pages as you’d see them on a regular PC. The keyboard is perfectly functional for something squeezed into such a small space, though you wouldn’t want to write a book with it; I was fairly adept with Grafitti (Palm’s character recognition input system), the keyboard is quicker and easier. WiFi connectivity is fine, easy to set up, and Bluetooth is handy for connecting to phones when outside WiFi coverage. On the not-quite-so-great side, the GPS takes a long time to lock on to satellites, though I don’t really use it much anyway, and the camera is a fairly standard VGA job on the face of the device, only really useful as a webcam (not that I’d want to inflict that on anyone). It has 2Gb of internal memory, a bit taken up with maps for the GPS software, and a single MiniSD card slot.

The standard software is a mixed bag. The Mozilla-based MicroB web browser has handled all the web pages I’ve chucked at it, even the full version of Google Reader, though it does slow down a lot for script-heavy stuff. It’s a bit clunky to use, especially when compared to Apple’s multi-touch navigation, but then the N810 supports Flash and RealMedia for services like the BBC’s Listen Again or YouTube/Google Video etc etc, and the 800×480 screen means zooming isn’t often needed. Skype is included, and works very well for chatting while wandering around the house, and there’s the usual set of notepad, sketch pad, calculator, world clock, couple of games etc. The original e-mail client is very rudimentary (but has just been overhauled), and the base unit is almost totally lacking in PIM functionality, barring a very online-centric contacts application (you can store phone numbers, but not addresses).

So it’s generally a nice device, albeit with a few frustrating rough edges. The lack of PIM functionality can be partially remedied by installing GPE, though getting that to talk to anything else is quite hard work; Erminig will sync GPE with Google Calendar, but I gave up trying to import contacts. A few other apps like FBReader for e-books and AisleRiot Solitaire round out the N810, particularly for when WiFi isn’t available. Installation is mostly straightforward when apps are published via, either browse to the web page and tap “Install” or use the application manager software, but things can get a bit more involved if you need to go further afield; before some kind soul packaged AisleRiot properly, it involved a lot of fiddling around with libraries, “red pill” mode and other hassles.

This past week there’s been a significant upgrade of the N810 operating system that I installed last night, in a fairly painless process (especially with this handy walkthrough) that’s greatly improved the e-mail client, and if it works as advertised also means that’s the last time I’ll have had to flash the device to upgrade it. While reinstalling applications after the upgrade, I remembered an e-mail about an updated version of the Garnet VM Palm emulation software; I’d downloaded an earlier beta when it was first available, but never spent much time with it, not least because it ran in Palm’s 320×480 resolution in the middle of the 800×480 screen. The new version now has full screen support and by all accounts an improved HotSync function, so I fired up the old Zodiac HotSync manager on the PC, enabled network synchronisation on it, tapped the PC’s IP into Garnet VM, hit HotSync, ate wallah, as the French seldom say. I hadn’t entirely been expecting it to work, and it hit a slight snag as I’d left Garnet VM set up with its default 16Mb of space and HotSync was merrily trying to restore 50Mb worth of stuff that had been on the Zodiac, but a swift bit of tinkering later, and Garnet VM is doing a very creditable impersonation of PalmOS with all the applications I had installed before. I haven’t tested it rigorously, but unless it explodes violently it looks like it really might be a best-of-both-worlds situation.

The only slight worry is that, if my past history of handheld devices is anything to go by, Nokia are due to totally withdraw from the Internet Tablet market any moment. Oh well, time to see how much the 3G iPhone will be on Pay & Go…

ToddlerQuest: The Nappying.

I mean what’s an adventurer to do? A yellow exclamation mark pops-up above mini-Melmoth’s head, so I wander over and enquire as to what she would have me do. Here’s the quest text:

WaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Huh huh huh. Snrk. Snrk. Urrr. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAaaaaaaaAAaAaAaAaAaAaAhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH. NNNNNNNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggg.
<Deep intake of breath>
<Gurgling choking sound>
<Eyes bulge. Head turns a strange Dulux special edition puce colour>
WAaaaaaaH. WAAAAHHH. HuhWaaaaaaaahh. HuhWAAAAAAAAH.

So I went and looked, but there really weren’t ten wolves ravaging the land in the nearby vicinity, so I couldn’t collect their noses and spleens even if I wanted to.

Mrs Melmoth suggsted that perhaps mini-Melmoth’s nappy needed changing, but that’s just crazy talk. What quest giver ever wanted a hero to change their undergarments? Ok there are some rather attractive quest givers in certain MMOs, and many an adventurer, if they’re honest, has contemplated the deep philosophical conundrum of just how to crawl in that dungeon, if you catch my meaning, but never has a quest giver actually requested a simple soiled undergarment pit-stop.

No, despite humouring Mrs Melmoth and changing mini-Melmoth’s nappy, I was resolved to determine just what it was she wanted me to kill, how many of them, and where I could possibly find such beasts in the soft rolling greenery of the English countryside. I’m sure fame and gold await on the completion of the task, and I’m not talking about the odorous liquid gold that mini-Melmoth presented me with when I changed her nappy.

My quest continues!

Hat News Hiatus

The producers of Hat News Now Today would Now like to apologise Today, Now, for the lack, Today, of Hat News, Now, Today. Unfortunately the crack team of hat news hunters have been unable to find any new hats.

Well… that’s not strictly true. There’ve been new hats by the bucketload. Barely a slaughter of 20 EnemyGroup EnemyTypes goes by without a new hat or three to add to the collection, and no two hats are the same, oh no, they vary in level, vary in armour type, and, most of all, vary in prefix. There are Sacrosanct hats that give Unholy damage invulnerability and Merciful and Mocking hats that reduce or increase threat respectively (if you wear both at the same time you get an Ambivalent hat, leaving mobs uncertain of exactly how they feel about you) and Invigorating hats that increase your stamina and Exsanguinating hats that tap enemy health and Interventionist hats that make you more likely to interfere with the peaceful business of NPC society and Euphemistic hats that are a bit rude if you look at them a certain way and Paraphrastic hats that re-word your dialogue options (I may have made one or two of them up. But not many!)

Visually, though… I have a suspicion that some Enchanting Corporation ordered a huge container-ship loaded down with identical mass-produced hats, then stuck ’em on a conveyor belt going past drunk magician with a thesaurus. “Sacrosanct! Pow! Salubrious! Zap! Turn you into a pig! Newt! Pig! Newt! Pig! Louder pig louder pig louder pig mute pig!” So a level 21 Iron-mail Helm is identical to a level 34 Invigorating Iron-mail Helm which is remarkably similar to a level 37 Mocking Bronze-Studded Helm which is identical to a level 48 Bronze-Studded Helm. Once you’ve seen one heavy armour helmet you have, quite literally, seen them all (apart from a few level 30 Vanir and Nemedian bits covered last time out on Hat News Now).

There is a bit of Hat News Hope, as some higher level players do appear to be sporting slightly more interesting headgear, so maybe somewhere in the distant corners of the world there’s a rogue hat maker creating wild and crazy headgear for those brave enough to seek him out… or there’s a 10% chance of a rare helmet drop from some boss at the end of a hellish instance. Find out soon, in Hat News Sometime In The Future, Maybe.

Monopoly as MMO.

If the Monopoly board game had been produced to the same standards and design philosophy as MMOs, what would it look like shortly after launch?

  • There’s a small bug in the dice where it has 1 printed on five of its six sides.
  • Marketing had announced that there would be twelve player pieces to choose from, each with its own unique abilities and the ability to customise each piece with a unique look. It turns out that marketing may have exaggerated slightly, and that what they actually meant was that there would be four player pieces with no customisability at all. The devs don’t see this as a problem, because who doesn’t want to play as a Victorian iron.
  • The special abilities of the player pieces had to be temporarily removed when enterprising players realised that the top hat piece’s ability was broken such that it allowed it to always pass Go and always collect £200. Every turn. Including other players’ turns. And even before the game had even started.
  • When unfolded, only half the board is there. The rest of the board will be added in a future content patch.
  • It appears that content is lacking on those parts of the board that actually exist. The early content is excellent, with Old Kent Road being a particular player favourite. However, the jail is currently broken: rewarding players with five hundred pounds and the deeds to Mayfair every time they are sent there, and deleting a player’s entire inventory of properties when they’re just visiting. In addition, everything from Pall Mall onwards is just Old Kent road with the prices increased slightly. In fact, on release, Bow Street, Vine Street and Marlborough Street were still coloured brown; a quick patch changed them to orangey-brown. The devs explained that it was a graphics glitch and not because it was all just a copy of earlier content.
  • Players soon discovered Trafalgar Kent Road and The Angel Fleet Street and call shenanigans on copied content. The devs were surprisingly quiet.
  • In order to balance the player pieces, the underpowered dog piece was given the ability to eat other players’ hotels. The forums are awash with complaints. A mad dash now ensues at the beginning of every game to see who gets to be the dog. The previously popular, recently nerfed, top hat is now rarely played.
  • The tutorial for new players was confusing and often entirely contradictory, this lead to many early games with players moving anti-clockwise around the board and falling off into space, because that section of the board was still missing.
  • It was announced just after release that no development of properties can take place because the devs haven’t added player houses and hotels yet. The dog piece quickly falls out of favour as flavour of the month, although people still prefer it over the stupid Victorian iron.
  • The Chance cards vary greatly in their quality, with some cards giving useful buffs to the players such as “Move forward three spaces” “Inheritance: Collect £150”, but with many others being less useful: “Visit all four train stations, collect an item from the station master there and then deliver all the items to the Electric Company, then come back to me and I’ll give you a quid or something”.
  • The Community Chest cards are a constant source of frustration as no matter who lands on the square, all players must roll on the Community Chest and cards are taken on a Need or Greed basis.
  • There are many complaints due to the fact that players who ordered the game in advance have a special bonus player piece that allows them to pick which square they land on each turn.
  • Due to excessive complaints about the open PvP nature of the game the devs have released a PvE-only version, where all the players join together and form a hippy commune in the middle of Oxford Street and partake in protests against the capitalist state.

Ultimate Boot CD rides again

So far the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows has saved three PCs. I created one a couple of years back, when a PSU died and slightly mangled a hard drive in the process; with utilities on the UBCD I fixed the boot record and reverted Windows to a previous system restore point when it wouldn’t load (after recovering the system restore points from files chkdsk had recovered). Last year a friend had an almost identical problem, and once again the UBCD got us back to a previous system restore point. Yesterday another friend’s PC was showing the dreaded Blue Screen of Death on bootup; it’s a Dell, with a some built in diagnostic tools on another partition, but all the tests ran absolutely fine. Booting from a Windows CD and dropping into the recovery console, it couldn’t find the hard drive at all, so it wasn’t possible to run chkdsk or fixmbr. UBCD to the rescue! A DOS NTFS utility on it found the NTFS partition, chkdsk’ed it, fixed some errors, and all is well again (hopefully…)

The UBCD also has CD/DVD burning utilities to save data, just in case you can’t get a hard drive booting again, anti-virus/malware tools in case they were the cause of your problems, and a whole bunch o’ other stuff. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but just in case, it’s a damn handy thing to have around.

Wii Fit Update

In the month since my last update, I’ve lost about half a stone, so the Wii Fit regime is definitely working. Though technically, it’s not really the Wii Fit regime; I use the Body Test facility to keep track of weight, and run through its muscle workouts now and again (though I could probably figure out how to do sit ups and press ups without the plastic board, if I tried really hard), but I suspect most of the weight loss has come from dieting (drinking lots of water instead of sugary carbonated beverages, eating more fresh fruit and all that) and putting in more time on the exercise bike (while listening to the radio).

So is Wii Fit a waste of money? Rationally, yes, as per the previous update you could get a similar benefit from a workout DVD, set of scales and a notepad (and maybe some graph paper and coloured pencils), and even then I suspect all that is secondary compared to eating less/more healthily (I wasn’t particularly unfit previously, just carrying a bit of extra weight). But… despite, on several occasions over the past five years, making a bit of an effort to lose weight, it’s only since getting Wii Fit that I’ve managed to stick at it, so I’m not sure it can be entirely discounted from the equation, even if just as a psychological spur to stick at the diet to keep losing weight to prove it wasn’t a waste of money.

Anyway, even if the Wii Fit disc starts to gather dust, the balance board can be used for a bunch of other stuff

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.

Back from the breach, dear readers, if only for a brief respite. I return to you today to report on conditions on the front line, where war rages back and forth in a dance that imitates that eternal tumultuous tango between the frothing, foaming charge of Poseidon’s aqueous cavalry and the immovable defence of Gaia’s rock-faced shield bearers.

There have been many battles, some won by your humble narrator and many lost to the forces of chaos. Indeed it seems to me that the mini-Melmoth is nothing more than a channelling device for Zuvassin, Nurgle, Tzeentch and others of their kith, each one taking turns to manifest itself and unleash the essence of one of its many aspects onto the poor unsuspecting Stalwart Alliance of Parenting Supplicants. There was the Battle of Watery Loo, where the forces of chaos unleashed a hitherto unimagined projectile assault, a torrent of Tummy Tika Masala which at once both impressed and horrified those of us in the firing line and redefined the term ‘carpet bombing’. The Battle of the Reflux Drift was a partial victory for the SAPS, with the forces of chaos unleashing a voluminous regurgitated bile attack that was fully anticipated thanks to our newly developed VOMDAR, and deflected through the judicious use of anti-barf baffles. However, the victory was short-lived, for with their ranged artillery disabled temporarily, the forces of chaos had to wait but for a brief interval before a gap in our defences – the changing of the nappy guard – occurred, whence they released their ground troops upon us, the main bulk of their arsenal, the easily replenished expendable force, the infantwee.

And so the war rages ever on, and for all the horror stories recounted here and elsewhere, the two opposing forces seem relatively balanced in strength, although the underhand tactics of sleep deprivation and noise pollution by the forces of chaos have perhaps yet to exact their full toll.

But I’ll tell you the difficult thing, the curious thing, the exasperating thing: and that is fighting an enemy that you love unconditionally beyond all other things. An enemy that you want to protect and nurture. An enemy who, outside of the context of your minor skirmishes, is as defenceless and helpless as… well, a newborn child.

Ah well. Once more unto the breach… and all that.