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Archive May 2004
Sunday 30 May 2004
Rather heavy handed propaganda in an entertaining game. Starting out as a team of Mr T with Cancer, Obese Unemployed He-Man and Hulk Hogan, you fight the various robotronic members of the Bush regime in an 80s style screen-flipping side-shooter game. Your team is joined by such personalities as Howard Dean with his Dean Scream special power, and Jesus. The propaganda wavers between annoyingly preachy and heavy-handed (far too much repetition about the effects of tax cuts) and amusingly exaggerated (Enron replaced the FERC executive with their own genetically enhanced cyborg). It also strays into poor taste occasionally, which is a shame. [19:57] [2 comments]

Wednesday 26 May 2004
Computer hardware conundrum - what would cause a power supply unit to make annoying screeching noises? What would cause this to occur in a new power supply, different brand, that has recently replaced one that was doing the same thing? What would match both these criteria and would also consistently be cured for a few hours by removing the computer's case and punching the offending PSU? (Removing the case not being a factor except in that it's necessary in order to be able to punch the PSU.) [14:24] [7 comments]
And on the subject of playing computer games for hours - Angels vs Devils is a crap game. I was hoping that the "angels and devils competing in different games" meant actually different games, but no, it just meant crappy not-quite-first-person shooter where sometimes it's capture the flag, sometimes it's collect tokens, and sometimes it's shoot opponents. While using crap sluggish controls.

Myth 3, on the other hand, isn't really on the other hand. It's quite crap too. It seems to be exactly the same as Myth 2, but with all the levels being stupidly difficult like the last level of Myth 2, and no dwarves in the first several levels (which is all I've done since they are, as mentioned, stupidly difficult). Dwarves being the units that tended to make Myth more interesting than generic-wargame-X. Perhaps it would be better playing on the easier difficulty level. [10:49] [0 comments]
If you wish to deteriorate those useless socially-competent bits of your brain, simply play computer games for seven hours a day, and you will achieve Game Brain.
So what's wrong with depleted beta waves?

"When the frontal lobe suffers from significant drops of activity, the circulation of blood there worsens, causing it to degenerate," says Mori, a professor at Nihon University.
And what's wrong with that? Who wants a non-degenerated frontal lobe anyway? Mmmm, delicious melty brains. No doubt in a few years' time you'll be able to use it as an excuse for any sort of bad behaviour. "Sorry - it's my Game Brain." People are already using ADHD as an excuse for sports personalities' bad behaviour, even when it's bad behaviour that is in no way related to hyperactivity or lack of attention. Surely a fully melted frontal lobe is a superior excuse for anything and everything. [07:58] [4 comments]

Sunday 23 May 2004
Shaun of the Dead is quite excellent. As a good movie, it doesn't lend itself well to a review with my usual verbosity. At times terribly unsubtle and at times relatively subtle, the movie overflows with parallels, to the point where I'm not sure if I'm reading more into things than was intended by the creators. Were they really suggesting that pubs are in many ways the UK equivalent of shopping malls for the US? I would like to think so. "You've got red on you."

The Butterfly Effect starts out a bit slow, and as such could probably have done with being presented in a slightly different order, or at least cut down a bit shorter, but despite that is a pretty decent movie as well. Similar shape of movie to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, however, and not as good, so if you feel like watching that sort of movie, go for the latter. Unless you've already seen it and thought it was good, in which case no harm in watching Butterfly Effect as well. Surprisingly decent work by Mr Kutcher, regardless of what IMDB reviewers seem to think, and outstanding casting and/or makeup for the characters at different ages.

And a computer game - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. A bit short, and not really replayable, but that's probably all for the best - there wasn't much more it could reasonably do for variety, and more of the same would have started to get tedious after not very long. As it was, though short, it was fun while it lasted. The puzzles and most of the level designs were very much true to the original Prince of Persia, though thankfully with the emphasis on levers and switches rather than on collapsing platforms. The swordfighting scenes were a bit of a disappointment - the original Prince of Persia had a lot of dull swordfights, but towards the end had characters who had to be fought with specific (or at least different) strategies. As far as I could tell, this one has monsters you can jump over and hit from behind, and monsters you can't, and that's about the limit of the variation in tactics that have to be employed. Since you're fighting them four at a time it's good that it's this simple, but it would have been nice to have some tricky enemies to be fought one-on-one (other than the chap at the end, and even he just seemed to be much the same as one of the "you can jump over it" monsters with extra hitpoints). My only attempts to use the "riposte" manouvre, so valuable in the original Prince of Persia, revealed it to be less use in Sands of Time than just mashing the "swing your sword" key.

Very very stylish game, mind. Lovely graphics, sounds, music and overall presentation, and a bearable storyline. Just a bit lacking in the depth-of-game department. [23:34] [0 comments]

Friday 21 May 2004
And now, a review in a rather different vein - a review of a vasectomy. I shall review it in its components.

Making an appointment: I imagine this would be easy if you went to your GP and inquired, but I don't have a GP, and I don't have medicare, so I decided to try to skip direct to the operations room. Adelaide Vasectomy Clinic, despite having animated fading-out sperm on its webpage, offers "a professional service delivered with a human approach" which apparently means "being really shitty and rude on the phone", and they "treat every patient as an individual" which means "when you say okay to it costing about $1000, they'll immediately tell you it actually costs about $1500". Also their idea of making vasectomies available extra quickly is an appointment in a month at the soonest. Vasectomy Service Carlton in Melbourne, on the other hand, has prices on the website, clearly doesn't treat every patient as an individual, makes an appointment in under a week, and has splendid efficient and polite phone service. So despite it being in another state, I chose them, and rate this part of the process 5/10 overall, but once I'd given up on Adelaide Vasectomy Clinic, 9/10.

The operation: The whole thing, from the requisite warnings and signings through the stabbings and up to the departure, took less than half an hour, and hurt only as much as any competent anaesthetic injection does. I thought he was still doing preparatory stuff when he told me he was done and I could get up. Walking around with no feeling in your groin is quite amusing. 10/10.

Two days of swelling and aching: You'd think that two days of pain in the groin would be, well, a pain in the groin. And you'd be right. But having to walk like a crab for a couple of days is moderately entertaining all the same. 4/10.

Oozing some gammy blood during that time: There are no redeeming features of oozing gammy blood while hurting for two days, and people having periods every month have my sympathy. 1/10.

Doing nothing but play computer games for those two days: This doesn't really need comment, does it? Clearly 10/10.

Being brought pie and cake and drinks for those two days: I suppose this isn't really part of the review of the vasectomy, but rather partially a review of Holly, but assuming anyone getting a vasectomy will have someone nice nearby, this should be a part of the process. 10/10.

The cake having "happy sperm-doom day" written on it in little silver balls: Also little pictures of sperm with chocolate chips for their heads and lines of silver balls for their tails, which, unfortunately, didn't wiggle around and fade out, but still, 9/10.

Reduced chances of spawning parasites: Well, this was the whole point, wasn't it? Priceless.

In related information, Australia's medicare gives a rebate for vasectomies, and not for vasectomy-reversals. Hooray! Presumably this isn't really an anti-child policy, which would be nice, but rather an anti-wanker-changing-their-mind policy, which is still good.

Why a vasectomy? Because pills have mood-altering and other physiological effects, and condoms apparently result in an average of one pregnancy every 30 woman-years, as well as being irritatingly intrusive. Also because children are horrible little snot-beasts. [13:41] [20 comments]

Thursday 20 May 2004
Just finished playing Grandia 2. Not too bad. It's basically a Final Fantasy rip-off; the combat is a little bit more interesting than that of most FF games. The characters are also a bit more interesting. The plot is a bit more cliché. The music is about on a par, the in-game graphics slightly better, the pre-rendered video slightly worse, the humour slightly more self-deprecating.

It also devours the computer's resources a bit viciously - I had to reboot four or five times in the course of playing it, and usually I don't ever have to reboot except for Windows Updates. It somehow manages to consume the resources in such a way that even after it's crashed, everything else that's running starts falling over complaining of no buffer space. There might be patches for it, though - I didn't bother to look.

The underlying theme of the plot made a pleasant change - instead of Final Fantasy's "evil technology" message, Grandia 2 has a "personal responsibility" moral, presented as the unnoticed option to choose in place of evil organised religion. It also has an unexpectedly polyamory-friendly ending. On the downside of the game, the plot is extremely linear, offering seemingly no optional side-quests at all, and has very little in the way of puzzles, such that pretty much the entire game can be navigated through the practical expedient of "follow the wall on your right".

The combat also errs on the side of "extremely easy" up until the final six giant monsters; given Final Fantasy style combat, however, I don't think of that as erring at all - getting killed by random monsters in such games is extremely annoying, necessitating tedious repetition as it does. So it's nice that the combat is very easy, and only slightly irritating with the giant monsters at the end which are moderately dangerous and unfortunately necessitate sitting through whole sections of conversation again if you die. One thing games like this really should allow, and rarely do, is skipping through conversations rapidly - Grandia 2, unfortunately, does even worse at this than most, oftentimes forcing you to sit through it at a fixed speaking pace even when there is no audio of the dialogue.

Essentially, though, it's the same as a Final Fantasy game - if you liked Final Fantasies 7 to 9, it's probably worth picking up Grandia 2 out of a budget bin, like I did. If you didn't, it probably isn't. [23:36] [1 comment]

Monday 17 May 2004
Rayman 2, the computer game. Horrible. It's quite a lot like Beyond Good and Evil, but with all the good things taken out, and all those horrible things about which I said "ooh, that's clever, they avoided that horrible thing by doing something posh" when playing Beyond Good and Evil put in, some of them tenfold.

There are a lot of what's known in the game review world as "jump puzzles", where "jump" is key, and "puzzle" is a lie. Beyond Good and Evil involved jumping, but there was no jump that would drop you off a ledge and kill you. Rayman 2, on the other hand, consists of almost nothing but falling off ledges. Not even while jumping - if you run at a slight angle to that of the ledge, you will fall off it.

Why would you run at a slight angle to that of the ledge? It's pretty much impossible not to thanks to the insane camera. The controls are relative to the camera rather than to the character, so if you press 'up' you go 'into' the screen. I don't mind that at all, especially not when you can rotate the camera. However, while you can indeed rotate the camera manually, it will immediately start rotating back to the direction Rayman is facing. You also can't rotate it when there's a wall 'behind' where you want it to face. You also can't rotate it at key moments, where 'key' seems to be defined as "any time you might want to rotate the camera because you know there's something within eyeshot of Rayman but you're not quite certain about where". Other moments of special uncontrolled camera movement include "when you are falling and need to direct your fall to land on a ledge" (at which point the camera will point upwards so you can't tell where the ledge is), and "when you are doing one of the fast subgames and need to know where the road goes" (at which point the camera will fly as close to the ground as possible so that whenever there's the slightest bump in the road you can't see what's coming next).

By contrast, Beyond Good and Evil does the same thing, but when it moves the camera automatically it moves it to where you would want it to be, rather than the exact opposite place (except during certain key movie-style action moments which is forgivable because it makes the scenes more fun), and, for bonus points, it allows you to get a zoomable first-person perspective whenever you want to look around, from which I will take a lesson in case I ever make a game of similar third-person viewpoint.

The final straw (about 88% of the way through the game I think) was the controls for a flying thing towards the end. Reasonable enough (though annoying) reversal of the up and down controls, but bloody stupid use of left and right; they simultaneously do the Elite control thing (rotating anticlockwise and clockwise respectively) and the other flying games control thing (turning left and right), such that holding left would cause you to spiral. You can also, by holding a button, make left and right do just the Elite-style thing. What you can't do, therefore, is turn left or right without rotating, nor counteract the rotation at the same time, because to do so would use the same control in opposite directions. You then have to fly this stupid-controlled device along narrow corridors with 90-degree turns (which you can't see around at all until a few seconds after you've turned them thanks to the aforementioned stupid camera); corridors which are full of catwalks whose distance from the vehicle is indistinguishable thanks to minimal shadows. One touch of a catwalk and you die and have to start the level again. A lot of the time you can see neither catwalks nor vehicle, as the camera is too slow to turn a corner, or there is a catwalk between the camera and the vehicle (or between the camera and other catwalks). In the end, the whole game feels like a game of trial and repetition rather than skill because you can so rarely see what it is you're supposed to be dealing with. And it's not as pretty as Dragon's Lair, the original popular game of trial and repetition.

The only good thing I can think of to say about the game is that perhaps it contributed in some small way to the development of Beyond Good and Evil - probably as a thing from which they learned all the stupid annoying things that they needed to avoid.

(The installer also crashed and put shortcuts in the wrong places, the game doesn't let you configure your controller and won't use a secondary controller, and it crashed whenever I tried to change resolution.) [21:52] [0 comments]
Van Helsing, the recent movie - much better than pretty much all accounts would have had us believe. Like all movies nowadays it could probably have done with a bit more cutting, but unlike most that cutting should only have removed about twenty minutes, rather than two thirds of the running time.

A couple of reviewers would have us believe that it's bad in the same way as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Nonsense. I can see why one might want to compare it to League of Extraordinarily Boring Gentlemen (it has Jekyll and Hyde, and vampires, and a semi-superpowered human hero), but it differs primarily in that it's not boring and rubbish. Instead it's good fun rubbish.

The other common comparison is "it's not as good as the Mummy". That's true enough, but has any movie in the last three years been as good as the Mummy? I doubt it. The Mummy came out before the movie world's addiction to making movies longer than they should be, after all.

Spoiler time. I was slightly disappointed that the early hints that Mr Helsing might be a werewolf were unfounded, but hooray - the movie made up for it by the end by having him turn into a werewolf after all. Pleasingly, there was no attempt at explaining how he came to be four hundred years old without being a vampire or a werewolf. Also nice is that Frankenstein's Monster is the winner, and Helsing is not.

I'm sure there are plenty of people being horrified by the heresies of, for example, having Dracula invulnerable to stakes, sunlight, crosses, holy water and garlic, and having him be the financial input for Frankenstein's experiments, but I'm very glad the movie decided to stray from the "true to the books" safe ground. There is surely nothing more boring than a retelling of an old story that's already been twenty movies, with no unique variation other than new special effects. Obviously the creator of the Mummy and Van Helsing agrees with me on this, and for that I applaud him.

For the movie Van Helsing, I also applaud him. It wasn't great, but it was fun, and that's what a non-documentary movie is supposed to be. [21:26] [4 comments]

Friday 14 May 2004
America's department of falsification clearly isn't trying at all. "Look at this man getting his head chopped off by those evil arabs - evil arabs with sandy hair and caucasian-pale hands. Watch as his arterial blood completely fails to squirt out as the appropriate parts are severed. Now forget about the tortured Iraqi prisoners and be horrified by this terrible treatment of an American - an American who we did let leave the country, regardless of what his own letters to his family might have said. We even offered him his own plane, oh yes we did, and he said no because of, er, a reason."

Of course, the video-fabrication department doesn't have to be any good, because most of the population will lap up whatever insipid pabulum is offered, and if anyone tries to bring attention to it then they're ignored as a tinfoil hatter. With that in mind, why do they even bother trying to concoct a semi-believable story? Why not just go straight to the point?
Evil Arab Video decoded from Al-Jazeera: We wants to blows up America because we am teh evilx0r! LOL! Pwned!
New Iraqi Prisoner Torture Footage brought to light: I am teh bad mans! Torture me! Do it now! I will make you torture me with my evil brain-control magicks! You are in my power! Now video it and send it to your friends! Muahahaha!
I'm sure the American government would be pleased to use footage like that. In fact, I can prove it with this short video extract I captured from the closed-circuit cameras in the Whitehouse:
RavenBlack: I have an idea for new cheesy unbelievable propaganda that will even so make the moronic majority of the population believe in whatever cause you like.
American government person: (moving jerkily, voice clearly assembled from audio clips taken variously from Stephen Hawking, Stallone movie trailers and televised Bush speeches) WHY YES, we would LOVE to offer you a position as our noo propaganda The Specialist.
RavenBlack: Hooray!
[11:25] [6 comments]

Wednesday 5 May 2004
And on a more happy note - Tontie is special Japanese ultra-whack-a-mole. Play it on a keyboard that has a numeric keypad and num-lock on. Tontie is to whack-a-mole what Arkanoid is to Breakout. [10:59] [10 comments]
The fan I bought with which to fix my laptop wasn't any good. Though it had the same dimensions as the original, it had fewer screw-holes, aligned differently, and one corner was insufficiently curved to fit. So I sighed, and ordered a whole new graphics card from Dell (because they won't sell just the fans).

Now the story gets extremely boring, as if it wasn't boring enough already. Dell won't just sell me a part over the phone, nor via their website - no, I have to phone them and then they'll email me a quote. The quote will be attached using a stupid format such that Eudora realises there is an attachment but doesn't detach it. This attachment is also sent zipped (for optimal spam-filter droppage) and in PDF format to make sure you can't easily work with it.

Three failed emails and a failed fax later, I eventually managed to get a copy of the quote via a Yahoo account. To work with it I had to load it into Photoshop and treat it as an image, which at least worked out okay. I then faxed it to them by printing it to the fax driver straight from Photoshop.

I had opted to pay using BPAY - an Australia-specific payment method - because it seemed likely to be simplest, and the alternative was faxing credit card details which just seems nasty. Of course, seeming likely to be simple, it was, of course, obligatory that it be screwed up by the vendor. The quote had given me customer reference number "391". Attempting to use this caused the response "invalid customer reference number" (which is good, at least, in preference to "okay, you can pay someone else's bill or something").

So I called Dell again about this. They said to call a different number. So I called the different number, and was delighted to be met with "please call back during normal business hours". I had started trying to purchase the part at 2pm; it was now 5pm.

Finally, today, I redialed this secondary number and was given the proper customer reference number, a ten-digit beast that didn't even begin with 391 but 393. Goodbye $380, hello working-properly laptop... In 10-15 working days.

The most annoying thing is the refusal to sell replacements for the actual broken part. I suppose it's better than "laptop normal" which is "broken part? You'll need a whole new laptop", but still, surely fans should be replacable, as probably the most likely component to seize up. But then, who'd pay $500 for an extended warranty if they let you fix things yourself for less than $300?

Making the whole experience worse was that nearly every person I talked in the course of the five thousand calls had a fairly thick Indian accent, such that spelling anything out absolutely required "charlie tango victor" format, and even then there had to be three repetitions in either direction.

By way of revenge for that, today when I called, I called with a mouth full of pie. Perhaps coincidentally, today the call was resolved successfully in under two minutes, rather than taking three hours. So if you ever have to call Dell's customer service lines, do it with a mouth full of pie. [10:18] [7 comments]