Monday 18 October 2010

More e-Reader

Interesting ad for Kindle - Buy a book one and read everywhere...

Yeah, everywhere you have an electronic device of some sort to read it on...

This is exactly what you can do with a REAL book, but it doesn't require batteries or mains power or software installed...

Thursday 16 September 2010

Panasonic Viera update

Just before Christmas 2009, I bought a Panasonic Viera Plasma 37" TV.

I was very pleased with it, but said that I would have to reserve ultimate judgement as I didn't have access to HD signals.

Well, that changed a few months ago when I got Virgin Media to upgrade me to HD with a V+ box.

The V+ box is much better than the standard Virgin cable set-top unit, pretty much a match for Sky's box of tricks but with the added bonus of a third tuner that lets you watch a channel and record two others - You'd be surprised how often that happens in our household.

The Viera has proved to be a great match for the V+ service. Although it's only an 720 format TV, nothing is broadcast in anything higher and the clarity of picture in the HD form is nothing short of stunning with all the virtues that made it such a good choice initially.

If was buying today, I'd be buying exactly the same TV.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Brothers in Arms : Hell's Highway

I'd played a couple of earlier BIA games (Road to Hill 30 and D-Day on the PSP) and enjoyed them.

Whilst Hell's Highway is essentially a WW2 FPS, you have the added feature of additional squads (Variably between levels Base of Fire, Assault and MG Teams) which you can direct to engage or suppress enemy forces.

It's not as 'up close and personal' on the whole as most FPS games although there are a few sections where you act alone to clear a building or rescue a comrade, but there are more tactics involved than games like Medal of Honour or Call of Duty.

You soon learn how to suppress enemy forces (a red circle shows above unsuppressed enemy units and gradually clock style segments go grey as the unit is suppressed) either yourself to allow your assault team to attack or using an MG team to allow you to flank suppressed enemy.

You will need to do this as one of the beauties of the game is that you just cannot run at the enemy and kill them. A few hits on you and you're dead, so another element (use of cover) is essential. You need to bob in and out of cover, hitting or suppressing enemy and directing your units to do the same, which is a refreshingly different gameplay experience to the usual WW2 FPS games.

The graphics are OK without being astonishing by the latest standards, but there are few areas that I didn't enjoy that much.

Firstly, there are agonisingly long cut-scenes featuring an ongoing story about the death of some comrades in one of the D-Day based episodes of the game. These are presumably to add a depth to the game, but after a while I found them rather tiresome personally.

Secondly, there are a number of levels where you guide a tank. These are, on normal at least, far too easy and lack the team interaction element that makes the rest of the game unusual.

To me, these sections were an unwelcome (if thankfully short) distraction, much like the aircraft sections seen in some Medal of Honour and Call of Duty games.

As with Road to Hill 30 and Earned in Blood, you fight as a member of the 101st US Airborne, this time along the road towards Arnhem, fighting through various Dutch towns in an attempt to reach the British paratroops holding the final bridge across the Rhine.

Most people with any interest in WW2 FPS will probably know how the game will end, but it does afford the opportunity feature some different landscapes (rather flat) and architecture including windmills although they're not put to particularly imaginative use in terms of gameplay.

The game starts with you in an abandoned hospital, avoiding (and engaging) Germans with one team mate (over whom you have no control) and then flashes back 4 days.

The next stage sees you searching for a glider crash site and getting to complete some fairly simple exercises with lots of guidance from the game, which acts as a training level effectively.

After that, the levels are somewhat samey, with 3 options. Engage the enemy - usually in a village or town - as a team, clear a building on your own or knock out the enemy with a tank.

The whole game is rather short. I finished it inside a week of irregular play.

Overall, the Brothers In Arms games are a refreshing alternative to the usual FPS games in terms of game play (like a more involved and flexible Rainbow Six : Vegas in the use of additional squad members), but are a bit of an acquired taste.

I suppose a good measure of the enjoyment I got from the game was that as it finished with the words "To be continued..." on the screen (and a hint to the next instalment being snow bound, presumably Bastogne/Battle of the Bulge based) I was on Google looking to see if there was any news of the next instalment being released.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

007 Quantum of Solace (PC Game)

I fancied something a bit different from the run of the mill WW2/Modern Warface FPS games and a bit of James Bond fantasy
seemed a good idea, especially as most reviews seemed to suggest this was one of the better Bond-based games.

The fact that it used the same graphics engine as the Call of Duty Modern Warfare games boded well too as the graphical quality and speed of those games on my fairly low spec Pc (AMD Athlon 4200+/Radeon 4350) were remarkably impressive.

I picked the game up for a bargain price (I can't recall how much exactly now, but it was well under a tenner) and installed it.

The opening bars of the Bond theme feature in the credits and once in the game, the graphics looked good.

It opens as Casino Royale ends with you capturing Mr Green in the Italian Lakeside villa. The first level involves you fighting your way through his henchmen and familiarises you with the basic controls and the cover feature which plays such an important part in the game.

This level looked pretty good and performed well on my PC and so all seemed, initially well, as it did through most of the pursuit of rogue MI6 man, Mitchell, in Sienna, but problems started in the finale of that level, when you fight with Mitchell in the bell tower.

This level involves you moving a crosshair into a target which randomly appears on the screen during the fight. After a few frustrating hours I came to the conclusion that this was actually impossible. A check on the web revealed some others had had similar problems.

I had recently updated my PC's motherboard and processor to an AMD Quad Core processor, but was still running the 4350. I decided that the new processor deserved a better graphics card and bought a Radeon 5770.

After checking the Windows 7 performance Index, the first thing I did was try QoS again and, guess what, I was able to manouevre the crosshair into the target during the Siena fight every time, with not a single miss and progress to the next level of the game.

Once past the slow graphics Siena stalling problem, the rest of the game passed fairly uneventfully.

In many ways the 'you against the world' scenario is much more 'credible' in the context of a 007 game than a WW2 (or Modern Warfare) FPS game and the scenes were all quite faithful to the films (in fact most levels relate to Casino Royale, including one where you battle some of the African leader's henchman in the Casino, before the famous scene in the stairwell - another match the crosses 'boss' level - and a re-enactment of the Construction Site chase that featured at the beginning of that film), but after MW games the quality of the graphics, whilst not bad as such, feel a little 'old school'.

The use of cover is good aspect of the game over COD:MW and MW2, meaning you can duck down behind walls and tables whilst blinding firing at the enemy or bobbing in and out to take aimed shots. Without using this feature you will find yourself dead in short order.

The various levels are:

1. White's Estate
2. Siena
3. Opera House
4. Sink Hole
5. Shantytown (Casino Royale)
6. Construction Site (Casino Royale)
7. Science Center Exterior (Casino Royale)
8. Science Center Interior (Casino Royale)
9. Airport (Casino Royale)
10. Montenegro Train (Casino Royale)
11. Casino Royale (Casino Royale)
12. Casino Poison (Casino Royale)
13. Barge (Casino Royale)
14. Venice (Casino Royale)
15. Eco Hotel

The prevelance of Casino Royale set levels makes me wonder whether delays led to a late release for the Casino Royale game and a need to relate it to the second Craig film.

The denouement is a battle in the Desert hotel, with it exploding around you as you deal with people responsible for the death of the Peruvian agent's family and the bird from the first film.

Overall, Quantum of Solace is a reasonably enjoyable game, but I came away a little disappointed. The need for a higher spec graphics card than the COD:MW games seems odd as the graphics don't look as good as those games, despite supposedly using the same graphics engine. The odd game stopping bug (ok I only encountered one, but it meant having to replay the whole level) and stupid moments where you can't kill an opponent or move was also rather annoying.

However, the overtly run and shoot (albeit with the cover element) nature of the game seems a little at odds with the nature of the James Bond genre, there's no cleverness, stealth or problem solving involved in the game, which I think would have added a more Bond-esque feel to the game. Odd, too, that there's no car or boat chase, which is a fundamental of all Bond films.

Certainly worth picking up at a bargain price if you've reasonably good spec graphics card and like First Person Shooters, but I felt this could've been any game, rather than really feeling like a 'Bond simulator'.

Monday 9 August 2010

e-Readers - Who do they REALLY benefit?

I'm a moderate reader.

I've usually got a book on the go and am probably also reading the latest Classic & Sportscar, Motor Trend and National Geographic at any point in time, plus the odd magazine now and then that takes my fancy.

I'm also a fan of good modern technology, although not an early adopter (or a fashion-victim), and my eye has been taken, unsurprisingly by the e-readers that people like Sony and Amazon offer.

I'm not a fan of reading on a traditional computer screen, CRT or flat screen, but I must admit the quality of e-reader screens has impressed me greatly with the e-ink which is fairly hard to tell from well printed books on the better e-readers.

The latest Amazon Kindle is only a little more than £100 and is lighter and thinner than most paperbacks - It seems a great little bit of kit and I succumbed and pre-ordered one.

However, after a couple of days thought I cancelled it. Why?

Well, one thing I enjoy doing is browsing charity shops and picking up novels and the odd non-fiction work. This benefits lots of people. The charity gets some money, I save quite a lot of money and often, when I've read it, the book goes back to the shop.

The e-reader model doesn't lend itself to that. Sure I can get free books, but that doesn't aid a charity. OK, I could just donate some cash to the charity (and indeed I do), but that's not the same experience for me. Also, the free books tend to be extremely old or extremely poor. The latest bestsellers aren't going to be free for the foreseeable future.

The second flaw is that I can lend my books to friends and family. I can't do that with a proprietary Kindle book and not everyone will like the books I do, so taking a chance on a Kindle book is an expensive option.

Look on and you'll find most books are available secondhand (in printed form) for much less than the Kindle price; sometimes book are cheaper than the Kindle edition new.

You can carry 3,000 books with you on an e-reader and get hold of any book anywhere with a 3G or wi-fi connection, but honestly, how often will you need to do either of those things?

Obviously, the requirement to buy a totally new edition for everyone who wants to read a book is very appealing to one group of people, the e-book sellers.

I'll continue to watch the e-reader market with interest, but at the moment it looks like a commercially driven technology which really only benefits the sellers.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Errr - No...

Spotted on Flickr...

Përshëndetje snow******!
Now you know how to greet people in Albanian!

I think it'll need a little more than the letters...!