Thursday, August 31, 2006

Canned entertainment and a shift in medium

Gamer videos

I've been wanting to post links to certain videos for some time now, but now I don't have to, since this list Eurogamer presented includes every cool one. Do check out Daigo's Street Fighter performance, the Ikaruga video and the Morrowind speedrun, at least.

Old school, welcome to the new school

Microsoft has really upped the stakes in the quest to firmly embed me in Live. Tycho's post in Penny Arcade pointed me to Microsoft's ploy to bring so-called "eurogames" (for European board games) to Live Arcade. I applaud this wholeheartedly. Sure, they might still blow the execution, but XBLA has been so strong that I allow myself to feel optimistic.

If this catches on, chances are we might see other games in the same venue... miniature battle games (Warhammer) and Pokémon come to mind. Let alone Magic: The Gathering.

There are lots of quality board games I'd love to play in Live (with friends, of course), if they can capture that livingroom feel. Most good games require quite a few like-minded players, and finding the time and matching the schedules in the real world is a pain.

On longevity

I told about switching to a Creative Zen Nano Plus recently for my portable music playing needs. Now, either my previous Philips player had some sort of manufacturing fault or this thing's battery life is impressive indeed. I've been using it for 24 days, usually on both commutes of the day, and my first battery died yesterday. Compared to the 1-2 batteries per five-day week I worked through with the Philips, this is very good.

I haven't encountered any bugs or lacking features yet. No wonder these things are becoming very common. (The same goes for the Sennheiser PX-100s, by the by.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The F games (FEAR, FlatOut 2)

Upcoming game I'm excited about

The F.E.A.R demo is on the coverdisc of OXM magazine right now. It's expected on Live in a couple of weeks. This is one of the very few games I've envied from the PC world, so it's great to finally get a chance to play it. Interesting article on the game's AI here.

Current game I'm excited about

I got Flatout 2 (Eurogamer review) for the Xbox some time ago. I have now played it about halfway through and I have to say that it rocks. There is much more content than in the original game (which I also liked) and everything is just better.

One thing they could work more on is difficulty. I play a lot of games, if not exclusively driving games, and I found the road rather rocky at around the halfway point. It isn't nearly as demanding as the original Flatout, though. The key differences are improved (more interesting and life-like) AI and a more forgiving handling model.

(Edit: I've now completed the game to above 90%, having finished all the race classes. My problems were due to sticking with rear-wheel drives, which can be very hard to control at high speeds. Changing to front-wheel-drives and four-wheel-drives solved my problems.)

The graphics are really good for a last-gen title, the previously overdone ragdoll effects have been toned down (increasing their punch), the minigames are plentiful and improved considerably, and there are lots more cars and tracks.

One huge change is the effect of physics. They're downplayed a lot. It's quite unlikely you'll lose a race due to a stray tire or a two-by-four, like in the predecessor. In exhange, there's thousands and thousands ( I recall 5'000 mentioned somewhere) of separate objects to be scattered across the track. I would like some weight added to them, though, just to get that danger aspect back.

Flatout 2 features the best tracks I've seen in a driving game. I have so many favorites it's hard to pick one, but for instance the military airplane graveyard in the desert is a blast. I haven't yet come across a dull track. I really like the way there are multiple routes to take and that the AI drivers know how to use them. Or the way that someone needs to clear a given shortcut of debris before it's beneficial to use.

The career model is rather good, really, even though it's been lamented in reviews. I liked the freedom to go to an upper class when I felt like it, simply by purchasing a car of that class. The upgrade system is also more involving than before - you need to make decisions on what attributes of the car to increase, possibly decreasing some others.

As it happens, just yesterday I got a chance to replay my old driving game favorite, Burnout 3, due to it becoming backwards compatible (BC) on the 360. Flatout 2 doesn't dull in comparison and indeed, the much more accurate driving model gives it a feel of depth and precision that's missing from Burnout. I'd venture that Burnout needs tons of content because it's so shallow. Insanely fast shallow, but still.

Now, if only Microsoft could get around to making Outrun 2 play on the 360, too. There's shallow gameplay married with perfect content. Outrun doesn't leave you feeling bloated like an obsessed session of Burnout does.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Holiday bliss

As the increase in my Gamerscore may indicate, yesterday I played Oblivion some nine to ten hours straight. It was good. I cleared the entire Arena quest in one sitting and got some mileage in the Fighters' guild. My 360 is happy.

I was pretty surprised to find the energy to install and begin playing the original Fallout in the evening on top of the day's unheard-of-in-many-years gaming stint. I've only played the sequel and Fallout Tactics previously, so it was rather exciting to embark on the original Vault-Dweller's journey. The interface was a little clumsy and the resolution is low (looks kinda muddy on my laptop), but otherwise it rocks a lot. The soundscape is excellent.

Today we're off to Tallinn for three days; gaming is probably limited to Dweller on the phone.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Get a friend

My 360 friendlist is very short. Naturally I'm expecting all of my real-life friends to get 360s one day and then we can be one happy gaming family, but until then, it would be nice to have some more familiar faces to play with.

Along comes 360 FriendSpot. It helps you to hook up with people with similar 360 gaming habits as you. I found it via my 360's blog, so maybe it wasn't such a useless service after all.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Blogger Beta

I've switched to the new Blogger today. It is still in beta testing. If there's something wonky with the site, pay no mind to it, I trust that all issues will be dealt with.

So pointless

This is so pointless that I love it! gives my Xbox 360 its own blog. Not only can I check via Microsoft's official offering what my 360 is doing right now (say, from work), now I can also check out what it's thinking about.

We laughed very hard at the Lego Star Wars II trailer on Live and promptly decided that we need the original game. Sadly, it's all sold out at Play.

In other news from a galaxy far, far away, Darth Vader is an ass.

Update: We got the original Lego Star Wars for the Xbox used from the local EB Games. Based on a half an hour's play, it's cool, but a little slow and unpolished. The easygoing nature is very much appreciated, though, and it really does feel like playing with Lego! I especially like the way they gloss over the plot. Much like the Clone Wars animation series, this is Star Wars at its best - condensed so much you don't even cringe at the acting, the writing and the pacing.

It's my vacation, by the way. I've watched some telly (Miami Vice, Over There) and taken it so easy that I've been pestered by a headache all day. Maybe I'll play Oblivion all day tomorrow and not feel bad about it, since I don't have to work the next day.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Google Analytics data

I've been using Google Analytics for around half a year now. Here are some statistics - likely none of you are that interested in them, but since I gathered them for my own use anyway, here you go:

43% use Firefox, 38% Internet Explorer, 10% Safari, 5% Opera. I'm a Firefox user myself, but I have to say that Opera 9 is a sweet browser. I just might switch one day.

75% are Windows users, 22% Mac geeks and 2% on Linux. Nothing surprising here.

The vast majority use the relatively small resolution of 1024 x 768 (45%), but this is explained by the increasing numbers of laptops people have. The next most favored resolution is 1280 x 1024 with 18%. 1440 x 900 (never heard before!), 1152 x 864 (I've got that at home), 1280 x 800 and somewhat surprisingly 800 x 600 are neck and neck at around 6% each. If you're using 800 x 600 and you're on IE, do try one of the alternative browsers - they're much easier on screenspace.

68% use computers that speak English, 22% use Finnish operating systems and there are five more exotic languages in there, too. All told, 48% come from Finnish IPs, 22% from the US 6% from the UK, and the rest are a sub-5% bunch, with Hungary leading the pack. Go Hungarians!

A whopping 98% have Java enabled. This is somewhat more than I've come to expect. Flash version 8.0 is used by 73%, while the newest 9.0 is used by over 10% (I hadn't even heard of v9 yet!). Older ones drag behind at a combined 6%, while 2% don't have Flash at all (Luddites!).

The real surprises here are the number of dialup users (over 13%) and those on corporate LANs (over 5%). For instance, our company site's visitors have under one percent of corporate-cabled users.

What I find encouraging is that the vast majority of visitors take a look at two or more pages when they stop by. Also, 21% of you come back for another round!

28% use direct links, suggesting I've been bookmarked or stored in history folders, 24% come from organic Google searches and 11% from Kotaku and Blogger are also noteworthy sources of referrals. Random hits generate from,, non-Google organic searches and Edge Online.

So there you go, my distinctively north-American and Scandinavian audience. Your interest is much appreciated!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Gundam: Operation Troy

After the disappointing From title Chromehounds, my hopes are set on the 360's Gundam title, last known as Mobile Ops: One Year War. It's now apparently called Gundam: Operation Troy, and it's looking much better than previously. See for yourself over at Xboxyde (warning: annoying pop-ups ahead). I am especially enthusiastic about the first-person mecha piloting.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lots of stuff

Regarding difficulty

I've been playing more Perfect Dark Zero and Oblivion. Both have proved to be challenging. PDZ's (default) Secret Agent difficulty has me retrying levels a lot, which I don't mind, but the stealth sections are beginning to grate. I like the multiplayer DarkOps, in which you play several rounds of a given gametype and get money to buy equipment with between rounds. Infection and Onslaught are my favorites. I'm wondering whether the map pack would be worth its price on the Marketplace.

I've got the collector's edition of PDZ. The bonus disc is utterly useless, but the tin can is sweet indeed.

In Oblivion, as I have levelled my character (I'm at level 11 12 13), trolls have cropped up everywhere and they're so much tougher than the wolves and the like I've had to deal with so far. Will o' wisps are also a pain - empty magicka on low-damage spells, run away to recharge, repeat around ten times... Of course you get better at casting spells while at it, but still.

I do like the way the new threats make you think and evolve. Last morning I had to retrieve some items from a burial complex. The faded wraiths patrolling the place are far too hard for me, so I took off my boots and sneaked through the grave barefoot (it's easier to sneak without shoes) and upon discovery, legging it. It was fun, and I improved my sneak skill by quite a few points.

Nevertheless, Oblivion is still very good. Only the conversation system has proved to be utterly pointless - once you figure it out, it's no more engaging than hammering away on the A button.

There's quite a bit of things to do in the game. I only realized today that you can apply poison to your weapons!

Speaking of hard games, I tried my trusty old Ninja Gaiden on the 360. It works just fine, but the Hurricane Packs proved way too hard for me; I can't even reach the first boss! I guess I have to complete the basic game again (fourth time) to pick up my skills for the new challenge.

Next gen rising

So far the biggest next-gen vibes I've got are coming from the recent demo of Dead Rising. It's simply... fun. I like everything we've been hearing about the game, the first reviews are very positive, it looks good, it plays great, it's an absolute laugh. Its looks aren't really anything you could not achieve on an Xbox, but there are hundreds (hundreds!) of zombies on-screen, all moving smoothly. Bodies and blood splatters don't disappear anywhere - indeed, your clothes get stained rather convincingly as you plow through the horde. I've played the demo quite a few times, looking for new weapons (bowling balls, gold clubs, cash registers...) and comedy opportunities (cream cakes). You can even spit at the undead. I really didn't expect a basically very simple "zombie game" to be this good.

Capcom looks like it's got its next-gen development in capable hands. In addition to Dead Rising, their Lost Planet is very promising. I trust that more stuff is on the way.

Random observations

As a geek pursuit, I like checking out what Google searches people are coming to my site from. Yesterday one guy was looking for whatever the King Tut mask is for in Animal Crossing Wild World. Nothing much, really, but it looks awesome!

I'm also getting back into tabletop gaming after a dry summer. Miniatures, too, especially Heavy Gear (check these out... I'm salivating here), but also Warhammer 40'000.

So they chose a director for the Halo movie. Interesting! That short movie he's done is quite something else. I'm getting more and more positive about the whole endeavour. The new comic book seems like it'd be worth the (little) money they're asking for it.

[Edit: so cool! In addition to the rather neat short movie above, the Halo director has also done this excellent Transformers-alike Citroën film, which would be first of the three car commercials I can recall from the top of my head.]

I got a new portable music player yesterday. The 512 MB Philips I had was not only lacking in storage capacity, it's bugged, unreliable and cumbersome to use. My wife's Creative Zen player seems like the right stuff, so I got a Creative Zen Nano Plus (white, 1 GB). I would've liked a black one instead, but what's with charging +5€ just for the color? I haven't used it much yet, but initial impressions are good.

Update: since someone's been Googling stuff on faded wraiths in Oblivion, I finally found something that works: an ehchanted sword which does fire damage (15 pts) on strike. Unfortunately, it runs out of charges pretty quickly, but you can follow up with damage-dealing spells to conserve charges. I cleared a ghost ship I've been trying some dozen times with this. These swords started dropping from looted enemies at around level 14. If only I had the strength to carry several!

Also, after some more use of the Zen Nano Plus, I can say it rocks. It's very well-designed and the battery life is impressive, compared to the pitiful one of my previous Philips machine.