Monthly Archives: July 2008

Bonekickers: Week 4

So, week four and… well… it… they… I… I… I don’t think I can do this any more. The CGI Death Snake of Death, the simmering sexual tension (lacking only simmeringness, sexuality or tension: “grrr I am quite cross and jealous!”), the most desperate attempt yet at crowbarring Bath into being the pivot of the future of civilisation, the blatant infodumps (“When you were running around in loincloths going ‘ugh’ our civilisation had invented the electric lightbulb, the cheese and ham panini and interdimensional spaceflight! And you know all this anyway because we’re both archaeologists (and you gave the same bloody speech yourself ten minutes ago) but the audience might’ve forgotten!), the monumentally irritating child genius codebreaker…

On holiday for next week’s episode, but seeing as it involves a tank I feel compelled to Sky+ it. And then having made it through five weeks, it’ll be mandatory to see how they tie together the recurring plot themes in what, on current form, promises to be the most ludicrous denouement in the history of ever. Oh boy…

I Can See For Miles

I had one day to enjoy my whole extra core in Age of Conan before my subscription expired. When I first decided to unsubscribe, it was, with uncanny timing, the day after a month’s subscription had been paid, which seemed rather a waste. Still, seeing as the subscription was going, I popped over to a new server to wear a hat and Learn More about Xotli (from a distance, and most assuredly via observation rather than first hand empirical experience), and if it hadn’t been for that I might not have poked around and got that second core working, which has saved a few hundred quid (for a while) from not buying a new PC, so it wasn’t such a waste of a tenner after all.

The really staggering difference after being able to move some of the graphics sliders up from the “no, just… no, don’t bother” setting is with view distances. Previously my character was horrendously short-sighted, and anything more than a few feet away was a hazy gray shape. After the laser eye surgery of extra CPU power, I can stand on a hilltop in Khopshef overlooking the bay and just drink in the view, marvelling at the ripple of the water and the sway of distant palm trees, which is marvellous for me, possibly not quite so great for anyone else in the party I’m supposed to be healing. It’s also been great to play with other people again (IYKWIM); after Melmoth became otherwise engaged, I had a bit of a hunt around the old server forums for a likely looking guild, and it’s a tricky business. Starting with the blurb, some are nice and easy to discount; anything looking for the “best of the best”, “server firsts”, seeking to “dominate the server”, “become feared”, “achieve a THOUSAND YEAR REICH SUBJUGATING ALL HUMAN EXISTENCE TO OUR WILL”, yada yada, is unlikely to be my kind of place. That tends to leave a goodly percentage of guilds advertising themselves as some combination of friendly, mature, fun, casual, help-each-other out, easy going types; there aren’t many whose stated aim is to constantly bicker in guild chat then disband in a blizzard of acrimony and disputes over the contents of the guild bank, or to start off incredibly enthusiastic but become progressively more disenchanted with everything yet somehow unable to leave, ending up as bitter, twisted husks. Funny that. I hooked up with a decent enough bunch on the old server, guild chat ticked over quite pleasantly, but there was almost never anyone around of the same level, in the same zones, so grouping up to denude Kopshef of wildlife was most enjoyable.

Class-wise I’d picked a Tempest of Set almost at random, not really intending it to be a permanent thing; I’m not quite sure if it’s for me, I had a bit of a tendency to fall back to my “nuke first, heal later” technique (where “later” is “after we’re dead and running back from the spawn point” in some cases). The interface also seems rather fiddly for healers with squashed up little party health bars and very unclear targeting, especially in a mass brawl with a necromancer in the party and their posse of zombies (and if you’re fighting zombies, forget it… “Is it one of ours or one of theirs?”). Still, there’s plenty of lightning-based nuking to enjoy, it’s not as if I’m a proper healer or anything just because I happen to have a spell or two that might possibly restore some health or something. It’s baby steps on the DPS to healer path, like moving from accountancy to lion taming via banking.

I still let the subscription lapse, as I’m off on holiday for a fair chunk of August, and there’s the free reactivation of Star Wars Galaxies to make the most of for the rest of July, and City of Heroes, and I slightly picked up Mass Effect at the same time as some holiday stuff… Come September, though, it’ll be back to Hyboria (depending on Wrath of the Lich King, and Warhammer Age of Reckoning, and anything else coming around that time…)

The Long Dark Upgrade of the Soul

Why is it that 11.30pm so often seems like the best time to start some intricate fiddling around with computers?

Somewhat earlier in the evening, I’d been putting the finishing touches to my upgrade plans. This PC is getting a bit long in the tooth, and though it had been handling most games pretty well, Age of Conan was giving it a somewhat vigorous thrashing. I was a bit disappointed about that, as other PCs with seemingly broadly similar specs were doing much better, but figured it was pretty much time for an upgrade anyway, so set off poking around the different options for a new machine and finding out through the power of Google that every possible component/manufacturer/vendor was both “excellent, had no problems, would highly recommend” and also “appalling, dreadful, am taking them to court for fraud, stay well away”. Having finally sorted a likely-looking system in the past couple of days, I thought I’d see if anybody would be interested in the current PC to offset the cost a bit, so set about collecting the specifications (I can remember my first three PCs were an 8Mhz 8086, 16Mhz 80386SX and 33Mhz 486DLC, but everything after that blurs rather… I was fairly sure this one began with “A”… AMD? Athlon? Ardennes? Artichoke?) System Information helpfully informed me it’s an Athlon 64X2 Dual Core Processor 4200+. Splendid.

Dual core? Dual core… That set me thinking… One of the things I’d happened across while investigating upgrades was screenshots of Task Manager for a quad-core processor, showing processor utilisation graphs for all four cores. My Task Manager ought to have two graphs, then? But no, just the one… Curious. More delving and searching, and it was showing up as “Uniprocessor” in device manager. Grabbing and running various drivers and dual core optimisers and Windows updates wasn’t having any effect, and many forum threads suggested making sure you had the latest BIOS for your motherboard. I’d replaced the processor a year ago, when the magic smoke escaped from the previous one, and I’m sure I’d checked compatibility and versions and all that malarkey, but just to make sure I fired up CPU-Z, checked on the manufacturers website for the catchily titled GA-K8N Ultra-9, and… I was running version F3 of the BIOS, and the processor was supported by F4 and above. Oops! I guess it works (well, it has been working for the last year), but presumably falls back to single core mode or something, with the second core kicking its heels and getting a bit bored. Only one thing for it, then, a BIOS flash. What could possibly go wrong?

Yes, this was around 11.30pm. Downloaded the latest BIOS, checked the manual about how to perform an update. While speccing up a new system, I hadn’t been including a floppy drive. I don’t think I’ve used the floppy drive on this PC… ever. Totally pointless. Except, of course, when it comes to BIOS updates! Thank god for floppy drives. Delving in the back of a cupboard, I found a 3.5″ disk, blew the dust off it, copied the firmware over, and got ready for the update. Take deep breath, drop into the updating utility on boot up, read from the disk, install, all ready, reboot, and…


There’s nothing more chilling than the sound of a PC speaker. On an 8086, it’s cheery blips and burbles were all the music we had (and we were grateful!), but these days it’s a portent of POST-y doom, a signifier of forthcoming Long Dark Update of the Soul as you struggle to get everything working again, which, as with so many things, xkcd captures perfectly:

The trouble with starting stuff late at night is that by the time the midnight doom chimes of the POST beeps ring out, you’re not exactly in an optimal troubleshooting state, but at least it was Friday. Also, thank god, the motherboard’s got some kind of dual-BIOS fallback-failsafe thing, so at least the PC started booting again (from cold, any warm reset went back to the Beeps of Death). More fiddling, checking the files on the floppy are OK, attempting to revert to the backup BIOS, trying a slightly older BIOS, trying the newest beta BIOS… It would still only boot (if at all) with the old F3 BIOS. Eventually I made a bootdisk (thank you (a) floppy drives and (b) and their Driver Free Disk For BIOS Flashing), stuck a flashing utility on it, and used that instead of the BIOS self-update-type thing. And, fingers crossed, touch wood, rabbit foot grasped, horseshoe attached to PC case, it seems to have done the trick, the BIOS is now on version F8, and the Evil Hell Beeps are gone. Better still, there’s a second graph in task manager, I now have two cores!

First thing’s first, obviously, fire up Age of Conan, crank up the detail settings, and in the words of the great Mark Kermode: “Blimey Charlie!” It’s a different game! There are mountains, and water, and stuff! It looks amazing, combat is so much smoother, FPS holds up at a decent rate. To think I could’ve done that a year ago… Upgrade postponed, and I might even be tempted back into Age of Conan a bit sooner than I’d thought!

E3 DOs and DON’Ts

A public information broadcast for companies demonstrating plastic instrument based games at E3.



– Start the demo with “Are you ready to rock?”
– Wear black t-shirts and have long hair
– If you’re wearing a shirt and have short hair, shred like a maniac
– Play a song that splatters a crazy number of notes all over the screen, and nail most of them


– Use a guitar from someone else’s game
– Have a demonstration team looking like alternate-universe White Stripes
– Fail the song

Bonekickers: Week 3

So week two was a bit of an improvement on week one. The whole George Washington/Maroons/ancestor-of-“don’t call me Obama”-presidential-candidate business was arrant nonsense, but turning up late 18th century stuff wasn’t quite so loopy as popping down the second hand bookshop for a 14th century text, and gun toting racists were at least vaguely plausible as Villain of the Week as opposed to nutters in Knights Templar t-shirts beheading people down the local shopping centre. Could Plot Insanity be directly proportional to the elapsed time since the Mystery of the Week?

Based on last night, yes. Back to Roman times, and the insan-o-meter is off the scale. Earthquake uncovers New Old Stuff at the local swimming pool, and poor old Baby Archaeologist (Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Viv) follows in the footsteps of on-screen sister Martha as Doctor Who Assistant, helpfully piping up with “What’s going on?” whenever we need a chunk of exposition, “Who are you talking about?” when the rest of the team are being irritatingly smug over some smugly irritating bet, and calls Boudica “Boadicea” just to wedge in the change in pronunciation, in case viewers thought this week was all about a different Iceni warrior queen. Inexplicably she failed to be dragged off by Daleks or Silurians while shouting “Doctor, Doctor, I’ve been captured!”, maybe next week. Exciting Illegal Archaeology follows, as our team cock a snook at some busybody from the council who wants to keep people away under the feeble pretence that the area is terribly unsafe. What could possibly go wrong? If you said (a), “nothing”, EH EH! If you said (b), “the tunnels collapse and kill our protagonists”, EH EH!, no such mercies. If you said (c), “half the team toddle off to the labs while the other half stick around, get trapped by a cave-in and end up in a desperate race against time”, BING BING BING BING, we have a winner!

The half of the team anyone might possibly care about, Baby and Posh (Hugh Bonneville at least hams it up something rotten as dirty old man “Dolly” Parton, and lecherously points out that at least the audience can use their archaeological imagination when Viv’s around) head off for some Strontium Dog dating, which I think involves phoning up Johnny Alpha and asking if he bumped into Boudica at all during his time travelling escapades, leaving Scary and The Other One to get inevitably trapped. At this point, if we’re following the formula, the Bad Guys should turn up, mortal peril in the present trying to cover up or co-opt the past. Who will it be this week? Perhaps an ultra-nationalist political party, who use Boudica as their figurehead and can’t stand the thought of her having had a fling with some filthy eyetie? The deadly assassins of the Watling Street Chamber of Commerce, who stand to lose £1.34 in ice cream revenue from tourists hunting for Boudica’s true place of burial? No, we’re bravely breaking the formula this week, which is a bit of a relief, and the biggest present-day danger to the team is the head of department wanting someone to give a bit of a speech to some VIPs, AIEEE, THE PERIL! Well, that and an elaborate series of Roman traps involving fuel-air explosive based incendiary anti-personnel mines and the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, I think, I was slightly confused after we’d cruised gently past the straits of Historical Liberties and into the choppy waters of What The Fuck?

Still, being trapped underground at least gave our protagonists a chance to talk about their relationship. This seemed to entirely be based around the angle of a Christmas tree, most specifically it having been at “40 degrees”. If you didn’t see the episode and are thinking “that makes bugger all sense”, don’t worry, context really didn’t help. I think it was some attempt at capturing the essence of the slightly up-tight, in control, strait-laced chap versus the crazy maverick woman (surely the first such couple in on-screen history) who’s so out there her Christmas tree was at 40 degrees. Yes, 40 degrees. In case you didn’t catch it the first time, they keep banging on about 40 degrees, sounding like an advert for Ariel washing powder (it shifts stubborn stains, even at 40 degrees!) By the time they’re onto the gaping chasm of musical differences (one liked George Michael, the other one liked Queen; my god, I’m surprised they hadn’t killed each other with guns long before) I was desperately hoping we’d return to the previous formula, and the Bath chapter of a Roman re-enactment society would turn up, terrified the team are uncovering proof that their reproduction armour is ever so slightly anachronistic and ready to KILL to protect their secret. But no. There’s GAS! and EXPLOSIONS! and THE PETRIFIED CORPSE OF BOUDICA only MORE EXPLOSIONS AND STUFF SO IT ALL BLOWS UP and GAS, and Baby and Posh sprinting back from the labs armed with some Latin gibberish from a camgirl that sounded suspiciously like a Ted Rogers riddle from 3-2-1, only it didn’t lead to Dusty Bin but to a secret entrance to a shrine from whence the other two emerge, having managed to set fire to the most amazing archaeological find in history for the second time in three weeks, and it’s home in time for perhaps the most toe-curlingly awful speech of the whole episode, banging on about 40 BLOODY DEGREES again. Oy vey.

I fear there’s a limit to how far you can stretch stories about Amazing World-Changing Discoveries Contradicting All Previously Accepted Historical Fact. As a one-off, in a film, you can just about get away with it, but on a weekly basis? Next time out, Napoleon didn’t die on St Helena, he returned from exile AGAIN! and led a successful invasion of Britain, making it as far as Bath before being defeated by a coalition of forces led by Trotsky, Churchill and the Ogrons! So on Time Team they find a few fragments of stuff and vague traces of a couple of walls, and an artist comes up with a bit of a sketch of how the villa/manor house/village might have looked with varying degrees of artistic license; at least he doesn’t go “yes, and that bloke I’ve drawn there was called Geoff, and his favourite colour was green, and he owned three chickens called Neville, Cedric and Brian, and by the way he’s actually KING ARTHUR working UNDERCOVER with ROBIN HOOD to take down the SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM who was really VLAD THE IMPALER on HOLIDAY!”

Speaking of King Arthur, I’m not even *thinking* about the Mysterious Sword turning up in every episode of Bonekickers. If it’s anything less than Excalibur, which one of the team then wields in a battle against Darth Vader in the finale, I’ll be terribly disappointed.

Ill deeds are doubled with extra XP

There was a double XP event in City of Heroes, so I spent much of the weekend dressed in spandex and fighting crime. And also playing City of Heroes, ahh! (I confounded your expectations there, and from thence the humour arose…)

Double XP is a good chance to zap through the early hero levels, which can otherwise involve quite a lot of running around, even with the temporary travel powers on offer from early Safeguard missions. I was strongly tempted to roll another Blaster, using the recently added Psionic/Mental powersets, but already having three Blasters I figured I should branch out a bit, and went with a Tanker. Costume choice, as usual, took a while, I settled on a shovel-wielding eight foot giant in formal evening wear (complete with top hat, monocle etc.) I decided his assignment was to infiltrate the street gangs of Paragon City, and thus gave him a disguise to blend in: a tiny eye mask. Even though it’s purely cosmetic, there’s just something utterly joyful about running around in teams of wildly disparate characters, chain-wrapped denizens of darkness next to orange-skirted cheerleaders with dragon wings, sombre funeral directors with zombie minions alongside a katana toting techno-samurai in neon armour.

As well as getting the new tanker up to level 14 for a travel power, I flitted around a bunch of other characters, doing a bit of Blasting and Scrapping, and also some nefarious villainy, continuing my plans to create human slaves in an insect nation. At level 24 my Arachnos Solider had a choice of becoming a Bane Spider (bonking people over the head with an energy-mace-thing) or Crab Spider (strapping on a multi-armed energy-beam-shooting backpack). No contest, really, hand over the extra arms! Hooking up at various points with some other ne’er-do-wells, much ne’er-do-welling ensued, not just knocking on doorways and running away but also sending packages with insufficient postage stamps, and on one occasion knocking a policeman’s helmet off. Oh, and a couple of occasions where we massacred countless innocents who’d done nothing but stand near a bank we decided to rob, but at least we didn’t download any knock-off films, so that’s OK. Melmoth had been playing a Dominator for a while, with a measured approach where more threatening foes would be detained or fixed in blocks of stone and their fellows picked off one by one, but switched to one of his assortment of Brutes for the weekend. Rendered nigh-invulnerable by assorted forcefields and auras over the top of already decent Brute defences, this caused ever such a slight shift to a somewhat more SMASH!-oriented approach, wherein the Brute steams into anything that moves to keep his Fury bar filled, and everyone else does their best to keep up with the Brute. SMASH!tastic!

Outside the City, I went back to Guitar Hero for a while, several of the Aerosmith songs are growing on me. Also caught up with some of the Guitar Hero: World Tour news coming out of E3, and it’s looking rather awesome, as I believe the correct vernacular to be (I’m extending my index and little fingers at the same time, if that has any bearing on it). Despite my other ravings over customisation, it’s not so much the “create a rocker” feature; the game could display a stick person (with optional hat) cavorting away in the background for all I’d notice, being fixated on the coloured notes scrolling their way up the screen. Not that it’ll stop me spending hours adjusting the exact tint of my nostril hair, should such options be available on the Wii. All fingers, toes and assorted other dactylates crossed that Wikipedia’s suggested EU release date of October 28th isn’t entirely made up (though as it’s not a Friday, I rather suspect it is) and we don’t have to wait for six months (or more) after the US release, as with certain other guitar-drum-and-vocal based rhythm games. I don’t care about global supply and demand issues, I just want to rock (once again, extended index and little fingers there).

Free books!

Found via Charlie Stross’ blog, Tor have launched a shiny new website, and to celebrate are giving away stuff! Books, pictures and… well, just books and pictures. But that’s enough, surely, especially when it’s a whole pile o’ books in a variety of handy formats (mostly HTML, PDF and Mobipocket). I haven’t tried any of those authors yet, so what better opportunity? The N810 is now loaded up with some extra holiday reading, which is always handy for keeping the weight of a suitcase down. The freebie bonanza is only on until July 27th, so make haste! Even if you miss that free loot it’s looking like a fine site with new stories and all sorts of other interesting posts.

World of Warcraft’s Preliminary Achievements List.

World of Warcraft’s achievements system will launch with more than 500 individual achievements covering every aspect of game-play, and our man on the inside at Blizzard has given us a few of the more common achievement titles and their respective achievements to be found when Wrath of the Lich King launches:

  • Glider: Have epic shoulders that are more than twice your characters height in width.
  • Opportunist: Steal at least five guild banks within a month.
  • Man Eater: Obtain a flying mount by cybering with male guild members.
  • True Man Eater: Obtain a flying mount by cybering with male guild members. (Female players only)
  • Mercenary: Join at least ten raiding guilds within a week with the same character.
  • Triumph of Hope over Experience: Join at least fifty PUGs.
  • Outraged: Use the phrase “slap in the face” in at least one hundred forum posts.
  • Overcompensator: Have an epic weapon that’s more than twice your character’s height in length.
  • Irony Champion: Shout three hundred times in the general channel for spammers to stop flooding the general channel.
  • Abasement: Maintain a seven-days-a-week raid schedule for at least four months.
  • Ridickeweluss: Attempt to use the word ‘ridiculous’ in a forum post and fail miserably.
  • Cavernous Cakehole: Type two thousand words in ALL CAPS.
  • Milliner: Possess at least 15 hats.
  • Drama Tank: Quit and rejoin the same guild at least five times.
  • All Dressed Up and Nowhere To Go: Join at least ten PUGs that stand outside of an instance for half an hour waiting for a tank or healer, then disband.
  • Nemesis of Originality: Create four characters with names that are rubbish variations on Legolas.
  • Validated: Link fifty items in guild chat in one play session.
  • Dust Collector: Spend two hundred hours posing outside the auction house or bank.
  • Lust Collector: Spend two hundred hours as a naked dancing female night elf outside the auction house or bank.
  • Wganker the G is Silent: Gank one hundred players that are at least half your character’s level.
  • The Cycle Continues: Get ganked fifty times in Stranglethorn Value by a level 70, then return at level 70 and gank at least fifty players.
  • Sun Tzu of the Battlegrounds: Shout eighty helpful commands in battlegrounds like “HEAL!” and “OMG U NOOBS!!!”
  • You Don’t Want To Do That: Instruct at least three classes that you have never played how to perform their role, and what their spec should be.
  • Horse’s Ass: Sit with your big, fat, show-off mount in such a way as to prevent other players from accessing an NPC for thirty hours.
  • Bedhopper: Co-habit with three different guild members in real life.
  • Guildhopper: Co-habit with three members of different guilds in real life.
  • Mormon: Co-habit with three different guild members simultaneously in real life.
  • The Greatest Person in the World Ever: Win at least one arbitrary race against a level one character whilst on your epic mount, or one duel against a level one character whilst wearing your complete set of Tier 7.
  • Practising for Real Life: Spend three days begging for gold in a capital city.
  • Always Doing Doughnuts: Never remain stationary for more than one second before jumping/running around in circles again.
  • Moustache: Loot twenty quest objectives/gathering nodes from under the nose of a person who’s just pulled a mob away from them.
  • Full House of Originality: Have characters named after an individual from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dragonlance, The Belgariad and the Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Blizzard’s Bitch: Achieve more than one hundred achievements the day Wrath of the Lich King is launched on all five of your level seventy characters.
  • Sarcastic Blogger: Make up at least twenty five vaguely insulting achievements.

A cautionary tale

As the tracked launcher of E3 rolls into position and elevates its firing tubes, the gaming news sections of the internet are blanketed with dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, jamming RSS feeds with a devastating combination of trailers and presentations, shattering rational thought with the shock and awe of hype. Slightly ironically, then, the one thing that caught my topical eye is from Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s non-E3 series They Are The Champions Online, specifically the character customisation article. I’m a sucker for customisation. Library of animation stances? Facial animations to convey emotions? Oh my! I was waxing lyrical to Melmoth about the possibilities when he sounded a thoroughly sensible cautionary note: “I guess we shouldn’t fall into the hype trap, lest we come to play the game and find out that customisation actually consists of a single hat, which you can either have on your head, or not.”