Tasks, reviews and updates, oh my.

A variety of witterings for your delectation and cogitation today, so let’s begin with a little DIY activity. For today’s activity you will need: one PC; one DVI to HDMI cable with bandwidth enough for 1080p signal transfers; one Xbox; one HDMI to HDMI cable; one ‘modest’ of size TV capable of true 1920×1080 1080p resolution with one to one pixel scanning, I can recommend the one that I have recently purchased, the Toshiba Regza 32XV555DB; and a nice cup of tea.

Connect the PC to one of the TV’s HDMI inputs using the DVI to HDMI cable. Select said HDMI input on the TV and, if your TV is like the one I have, pick the mode which gives a one-to-one pixel scan, thus bypassing overscan and all those other funky post-processing features that TVs tend to apply to video signals to make them look delicious and lustrous, but which make a PC signal look like an 8-bit render of Picasso’s Three Musicians. For me this was enabled by selecting either of the Game or PC modes of operation on the appropriate input. Next, ensure that the sharpness level is suitably low, this option may make the lines of Bruce Campbell’s chin look as though it could cut through sheet steel when you’re viewing him in Army of Darkness, but when you are trying to read a PC display all it will do is make any text look blurred and ugly. I have set my sharpness level to zero (in fact the PC mode automagically sets this for you, I discovered the problem because I was originally using the Game mode which is meant for consoles and thus keeps the sharpness level set high), but it may be worth playing with the level to see if you can improve text rendering with modest levels of sharpness set; however, it’s not worth worrying too much as the output is quite splendid regardless. Bear in mind that the idea of this is mainly with respect to the PC being used as a gaming machine, it’s not an ideal solution for hours of lengthy text processing, say, because a TV is never going to be as good as an equivalent sized monitor. Essentially though, I wanted a general purpose screen that I could play PC games and console games on and which was suitably large in size. Getting a similar size of screen as a monitor, such as the 30″ Apple Cinema Display, would have meant a lot more cost, more faff with trying to get both the console and the PC easily connected, and when using the PC, running the screen at a native resolution that is insanely high such that my lowly gaming rig would struggle to run many of today’s games at any decent sort of frame rate. So far my idea has worked wonderfully for what I wanted: the PC output looks great, it’s not perfect, but understand when I say this that I’m trying to address those hardcore PC aficionados who would scoff at running a 1920×1080 resolution on a display of 32″. In actuality, and practically speaking, it looks marvellous, with the couple of games that I’ve played so far, World of Goo and World of Warcraft (still waiting for the crossover World of Goocraft), looking fantastic. One further word of advice: in games such as World of Warcraft you should make use of the UI scaling to increase the size of the overall UI display first before trying to tweak individual fonts to be of a size that is more legible. I spent an age tweaking the fonts on all my various UI elements before realising that the stats on my character pane were still quite small and hard to make out and that there was no option to increase those fonts. Inspiration struck shortly thereafter, like a Verigan’s Fist to the back of the head, and I adjusted the UI scale. And then spent ages reducing all the fonts back to how they were originally. The result: splendid World of Warcraft views in 32-inch-o-vision which, when you’re sitting at the screen as though it were a PC monitor, is really quite impressive.

You may drink your cup of tea now, or save it for later. I shall drink mine now.

Ahhhh, lovely.

Finally, connect the Xbox up to the PC; I think this is fairly straightforward and needs no further elucidation. Select the one-to-one mapping mode; the 32XV555DB, for example, has a Game mode which does this and also selects various preset picture levels determined to give a shiny default gaming experience. The Xbox is also a new addition to my hardware stable, and for the few moments that I’ve managed to play Fable 2 – after faffing around trying to set up an Xbox live account, and then purchasing some Microsoft points, and then trying not to spend all those points on a hundred thousand various icon packs for my gamer tag – I’ve been mightily impressed with this high definition console gaming that all the cool kids have been raving about for years.

Here endeth today’s activity.

In other news I’m on to chapter four of World of Goo. It really is a most delightful game, well worth your investment if you enjoy puzzle games of any sort. It’s beautifully presented, funny, charming, clever and unassuming. Don’t be fooled by the modest exterior, underneath the surface lies a very thoughtful game in both story and structure. There’s a demo to be found on the 2D Boy website, and a brilliant review, as always, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It’s available from 2D Boy themselves, on Steam and also on Penny Arcade’s Greenhouse. Support your indie game developers!

Speaking of indie games, I witnessed another fantastic one whilst bumbling around with various other gaming ne’er-do-wells at the Limited Van EuroHemlock Expo-dition event earlier in the week. It is called Plain Sight and is an excellent little multiplayer combat game where players control Lode-Runner-like characters around a 3D Super-Mario-Galaxy-like world and attempt to ‘boost’ into one another to kill the opposing player and gain themselves a point. Self-destructing your own character at any point claims any points you have accumulated, and if you manage to take out other players in the resulting explosion you earn yourself a multiplier to those points for each person so killed; however, if you are killed before you claim your points then those points are lost to you. Thus the game has a clever risk-vs-reward sub-element of play alongside the more overarching frantic but generic deathmatch game. It’s well worth checking out, and despite what blathering reporting you might hear from me on a certain podcast about War Twat being the game of the show for its curious naming convention, I was actually in agreement with Elf that Plain Sight was easily the game that we got the most visceral pleasure from out of all the games at the show. For me the Farcry 2 tournament had nothing on the comparatively tiny Plain Sight frag-fest that was going on right next door. Be sure to keep an eye on the game, it should be coming out sometime in February according to one of the developers whom, in a comedy moment of confused conversation, we initially mistook for someone asking us how to play the game, when in actuality he was trying to tell us how it worked, because unsurprisingly we hadn’t gleaned the whole story from randomly flailing about for a few minutes. Sorry sir! Anyhoo, I give this game the Melmoth Seal of Magnificence, which despite having just made up, you should take as the highest order of gaming recommendation known to man.

In World of Warcraft the eximious Elf is hopefully going to join me for some Old World dungeon duoing; we’re planning on taking a look into Blackrock Spire, and then perhaps trying out some of the early Outlands dungeons to see how far we can push ourselves now that we have our new and improved, pimped out and pumped up, Wrath of the Lich King characters. We’re still trying to get m’colleague to join us, but he is valiantly resisting the temptation of the Dark Side of the MMO force at the moment, instead sticking it out with Warhammer Online despite another wave of bloggers leaving, or considering leaving if things don’t improve soon.

And at some point I should probably try to find time to play a little bit more of Fable 2, apparently it’s Quite Good.