Archive for January, 2009

52/30/5 Week 3

January 19th, 2009

This week we drove to Sydney.

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Here’s a view from the Pyrmont bridge:

Darling Harbor

The Westpac building just North of Darling Harbour:

Westpac Building

Inside the Sydney Aquarium, the newest attraction, the Dugongs:


And a classic favourite, the Platypus:


Finally, we stopped on the way home at the Lake George lookout:

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Lake George

As always, the full set is available from Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 2

January 11th, 2009

Week 2 took me to the Acton area, near Lake Burley Griffin.

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There’s some construction going on, here’s the crane through the trees:

Crane and trees

That’s also where Canberra’s bike rental is set up, for a pleasant quad bike cycle around the lake:


Here’s a flower, which was mainly taken as a test of depth-of-field for my camera:

Blue flower

On the other side of the lake were some small sailboats sailing in front of Parliament House:

Sailing near APH

And also near here is a building that perhaps would have been nice, if it weren’t for the excessive use of concrete:

Ugly building

That’s it for Week 2. The full set of photos from the session are on Flickr as always.

Game Review: World in Conflict

January 11th, 2009

World in Conflict for PC is a real time strategy game with a new twist on the genre. Rather than emphasise the base building and resource harvesting that have been at the core of the genre ever since Dune II, it emphasises lower level combat, with fewer units and less emphasis on resources.1

So rather than building a base, you’re given a small number of units (purchased from a renewable pool of resource points) and given smaller tactical goals such as covering and securing a point in a town. The range of units is fairly broad (infantry, troop transports, tanks, helicopters, artillery and so on), but there’s no tech tree to manage – everything you can use is available at the start of a mission.

Taken together it’s a much simpler game to play than Company of Heroes or Starcraft. There’s a lot less strategic worrying in the single player game, it’s much more focused on the tactical end. You’re also not fighting alone – there’s normally several AI controlled units on the map along with you, giving you a better sense of fighting in a broader war than you normally get.

I think that all things considered I probably prefer the more complicated version of things. While the tactical micromanagement is fun, there isn’t as much satisfaction from wiping the enemy off a map – you’ve just been following the orders of your unit commander the whole time.

The biggest strength of the game is the setting. You play as US soldiers fighting Soviet troops, moving through the north-west United States, some missions in Mediterranean France, an invasion into Russia, and even fighting on Liberty island. The setting is late 1980s, with appropriate vintage military equipment (and music). The plot is also interesting, although there are some problems. There’s one point in the game where some information appears to be meant to be a secret to your character, but he was just in a meeting where it was discussed. It was like they changed the plot at the last minute and didn’t run all the changes through.

All up World in Conflict was probably the best RTS of 2008. If you like the genre, it’s a must play. If you don’t like the genre, maybe this is the game that will help you get into it, as it streamlines everything.

Oh, and it’s very, very pretty on a powerful enough PC. I found myself pausing and just going ‘Wow’ from time to time.

  1. Dune II was also the last time that the normal paradigm actually made sense. In Dune II you were harvesting spice, which gave you cash and so you could buy units. In every other game, from Warcraft to Starcraft and on, it always seemed much more arbitrary to me. 

52/30/5: Week 1

January 4th, 2009

As promised, week one of the 52/30/5 challenge for 2009.

Today I started with a photo or two of the backyard. Here’s one of the Australian perennial, the Hills Hoist clothesline:

Hills Hoist

Then I drove just a couple of kilometres away, over to the paddock on the eastern side of Mt Taylor:

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I couldn’t get any further up the hill due to the gate there:


A tree from the Athllon drive side:


And a close up of the friendly horse:


That’s the five for this week. You can see everything I took over at Flickr if you look at the pictures for 4-January-2009.

The Exasperated Calculator Game of the Year 2007

January 4th, 2009

Yes, I’m aware it’s 2009 now. But I still need to cover the games that I played in 2007, before I can move on to the 2008 edition.

The rule is that it has to be a game that I played for the first time in 2007 – not paying too much attention to the original release date.

The finalists are:

  • Bioshock

  • Mass Effect

  • Portal

  • Super Mario Galaxy

  • Uncharted

  • World in Conflict

So, without further ado…

In 6th place is Mass Effect. This is a game that I was incredibly excited about, but never got the energy together to play more than about three hours. I’m sure I’ll come back to it some day, but it’s a game where nothing quite comes together properly. Of course, it still beats out lots of games that didn’t make the list at all.

World in Conflict takes 5th place. The main reason I didn’t finish this one was that it kept crashing on my MacBook Pro. But it’s a lot of fun – an interesting take on simplifying the real-time strategy genre, with an interesting plotline. Makes good use of high-end PC graphics as well.

For fourth place is Portal. It’s a great fun game (which I actually finished, so it’s also pretty short). But I didn’t get as much out of the plot as a lot of reviewers, and the humor was just ‘OK’. But an interesting take on the first-person puzzle game, a genre without a lot of entrants so far.

Super Mario Galaxy takes third place. This game is just about the only reason to own a Wii. I haven’t finished it, mainly because I was spending so much time getting each and every star that I hadn’t finished by the time I moved on to the next game. Fantastic, pure platforming fun, with an occasional frustration from an inconsistent difficulty curve.

Second place goes to Uncharted. It’s a simple Tomb Raider rip-off, with a little bit of Gears of War thrown in for the combat sequences. But it’s so well done, with a great pulp plot, that it’s one of the most compelling games out there.

And so first place, the inaugural Exasperated Calculator Game of the Year 2007, goes to Bioshock. The main attraction is the strength of the story, but the RPG-esque shooter gameplay is a big part of the attraction as well.

I’ll try and get to 2008 before too much of 2009 passes….


January 4th, 2009

I just finished loading a years worth of photos onto Flickr. There are some good pictures there, but it looks like I only really got my camera out a few times in the year.

So, this year I’m going to try something new.

I’m calling it 52/30/5.

Each week (the ’52’) I’ll go out to take at least 30 photos, and then edit/crop 5 of them to post to the web.

Look for issue one later today…

List: Podcasts I listen to

January 3rd, 2009

To celebrate the fact that I’m up to date on all my podcasts. In alphabetical order, from iTunes:

  • 1UP FM. Weekly review of new game releases and previews.

  • 1UP Yours. Weekly discussion of new games and other video game industry things.

  • Apple Keynotes. Yes, I’m a fanboy. So sue me.

  • Battlestar Galactica. The audio quality is normally terrible, but Ronald D Moore’s episode commentary does make up for it.

  • Coverville. One of the best music podcasts out there, dedicated (duh) to cover songs.

  • Crikey. Production needs some work, but still some interesting political commentary from some of the people behind the newsletter.

  • Downloadable Content. The Penny Arcade podcast. Hardly ever updated (they’ve done two since June 2008), but a must listen when they do – a horrifying glimpse inside the minds behind the webcomic.

  • Escape Pod. A Science Fiction short story podcast. Short SF is a perfect fit for audio, although I seem to end up skipping about half the stories these days for one reason or another.

  • gdgt weekly. Gadget nerd podcast. Lots of discussion of new cell phones and such.

  • Irregular Podcast. Pretty much impossible to describe. Weird and insane.

  • Joystiq. Computer and console games discussion.

  • Lan party. PC games discussion.

  • Lyrics Undercover. From the makers of coverville, a 5 min dissection of some song. The only paid subscription podcast I have.

  • Napoleon 101. A detailed (~45) episode history of Napoleon’s life. Now finished with the main run, and doing some special topics. If you’re interested, start at the start.

  • Retronauts: History of computer games, going into a different title each week.

  • The Talk Show. Mac and Apple discussion.

  • The Biography Show. From the maker’s of Napoleon 101, each episode looks at the life of some historical figure.

  • Wall Street Journal. Technically pay, as this is a freebie with my subscription. The front page and selected stories from the WSJ. A good way to start the day.

Game Review: Mirror’s Edge

January 3rd, 2009

Mirror’s Edge, by DICE, published by Electronic Arts.

I don’t play a lot of games all the way to the finish. The current pile of unfinished games includes Assasin’s Creed, Oblivion, Fallout 3, Mass Effect, Super Mario Galaxy and Psychonauts. So the first thing to note about Mirror’s Edge is that I actually finished the game.

The game itself is a mixture of very entertaining and frustrating. The basic parkour free running sequences are a lot of fun. But some of the rest of the game needed more work.

There are really three types of game built in to the game:

  • free running parkour sequences, where you have to get from one end of an environment to the other, often chased by enemies.

  • puzzle sequences, where you need to use the parkour moves in a more precise way to navigate around a room, usually to get higher. Usually no enemies chasing you.

  • combat sequences, where you’re fighting enemies directly, either using hand-to-hand or weapons you’ve picked up.

I loved the first type of play – innovative, exciting, and has the best ‘fall of a cliff and die’ effects of any game ever. The puzzle gaming was also a lot of fun – occasionally frustrating (when you fall all the way down and need to make your way back up), but satisfying in the same way that most puzzle games are.

The big problem with the game for me, right up until the last bit, was the combat. Firstly I made a choice to play for a PS3 trophy for not using guns – a mistake, as while you’re encouraged to not use them, you need to from time to time. That made my life a lot more difficult. But even taking that into account it’s just not that enjoyable, a lot of needless death until you accidentally find the way to get through the sequence. Unlike the first two types, I never really felt like I was getting through because of skill, just luck.

The last fight sequence in the game turned me around, a little. I realised that you could plan everything out precisely, and treat the combat almost like another puzzle sequence. That made the (difficult) final encounter a bit more palatable, but still it would have been nicer to have a good running sequence instead as the finale to the game.

Overall, it’s a superb game worth playing. The plot isn’t really worth mentioning, but the gameplay is mostly a lot of fun.

(Hey, I’m back! Don’t expect too much – I’m just going to post stuff as it occurs to me. Some weeks nothing, some weeks lots of things).