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Thursday, September 30, 2004

9:02 PM - Roomania!

He's only 18 years of age. He hasn't played competitively in three months. He's got the burden of living up to a 27 million pound price tag. He's making his debut in front of 60,000 expectant fans.

So what does Wayne Rooney do? He produces the first hat-trick of his senior career as Manchester United thrash Fenerbahce 6-2 in a Champions League Group D match at Old Trafford. (Reports: BBC, Soccernet, Guardian, ManUtd.com.)

(We'll ignore the Guardian reader who mischievously suggested the 18-year-old's first hat-trick came at a Liverpool house of ill-repute.)

In the unlikely event you're unimpressed by that achievement, I point you to David Meek's assessment. Meek's been covering Manchester United for 46 years and he says Rooney's explosive debut was better than Beckham's, Best's, Law's or Cantona's.

The Old Trafford crowd were chanting "What a waste of money" with tongues firmly in cheeks but I'm fervently hoping Rooney doesn't end up squandering his talent the way others did.

Link  | 

9:02 PM - D&D meets the BSOD

CRPGs with a /. twist.

Link  | 

9:01 PM - Who shot first?

If life hands you a lemon, you make lemonade. Case in point: the trial of Han Solo. It's the single best thing to result from that Greedo-shoots-first muck up.

(Link obtained from MeFi.)

(For a look at why that change was stupid, see the 10 other things Solo shot first.)

Link  | 

9:01 PM - Bugged

Infinite Interactive, the developers of Warlords Battlecry 3, describe the design process of the game in a series of articles on IGN. (The articles are linked on Infinite Interactive's site.) I got a kick out of Lead Designer Steve Fawkner's anecdotes of oddball bug reports he's received for past games. A sample:

If I unplug my network cable, monitor, mouse and keyboard while a multiplayer game is synchronizing, the game hangs.

Link  | 

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

8:58 PM - The docs are in

What a difference a day makes.

I was bemoaning the lack of documentation in Warlords Battlecry 3 yesterday and I discover today my complaints were being addressed.

Infinite Interactive's site is back up today and while there's still a paucity of useful material right now, it's a start.

I particularly liked the overviews of the races in the game.There are 16 playable races in total and casual gamers are unlikely to become familiar with each race's strengths and weaknesses without these write-ups. There are only three races covered at the moment -- Knights, Plaguelords and Dwarves -- but it's a start.

There's also a map pack consisting of the four maps used for the IGN preview. Hopefully, more maps will be made available in the coming months.

In the pipeline are several utilities including a hero data extractor and a music editor. Neither sound exciting to me but intriguingly, the utility download page also promises "many other things that haven't even come across your minds" will be released in the coming months.

It's a shame Infinite Interactive didn't bother to create a unified reference document with everything updated to reflect changes made in patches but one player has taken the initiative to do just that. The 103kb PDF file is a work in progress -- it's missing unit data right now -- but again, it's a start.

Link  | 

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

10:03 PM - Arr Tee Eff Em

I've mentioned some of the positive aspects of Warlords Battlecry 3 and I think it's time to address the some of the negatives.

First and foremost, the game is poorly documented. The manual does a fine job in introducing you to the main concepts but it doesn't help you get well-versed with the nitty-gritty aspects of the game.

There are bits and pieces in PDF documents on the official site, various online FAQs and forum posts. (There were also some useful posts sticky-ed on the publisher's forums but these were wiped out when the forums were upgraded.)

However, it's exasperating to have to sift through all of them to get a particular snippet of information. F'rinstance, if you look up a Doom Knight's abilities in the Units PDF document, you'll discover they sow Chaos but that naturally raises the question of what Chaos does. Where do you begin to look for that information? The manual? Another PDF document? In-game? The forums? The readme.txt file? (Answer: manual.) I would have loved a single comprehensive document (or alternatively, a bunch of hyperlinked HTML files) that's updated to reflect game balance changes made in the patches.

The game manual also promises:

Further information, including FAQs, extra scenarios, battle reports and other extra material can be found on either the Enlight website: http://www.warlordsbattlecry3.com or the Infinite Interactive website:http://www.infinite-interactive.com

Or not.

http://www.warlordsbattlecry3.com redirects to the publisher's web site and unfortunately, there's little there aside from a single FAQ, the patches, one desktop wallpaper and a few dozen screenshots. There's no sign of the promised bonus scenarios, battle reports and other extra material.

Infinite Interactive, the developers, are in the midsts of switching ISPs and their site is currently unavailable as of writing.

Despite all that, this is an enjoyable game and this equally enjoyable battle report by game reviewers Tom Chick and Bruce Geryk serves to highlight that fact.

Link  | 

Monday, September 27, 2004

8:46 PM - Ruud on the spot

United beat Tottenham 1-0 at White Hart Lane on Saturday. (Reports: BBC, Soccernet, ManUtd.com.)

It wasn't the most memorable of matches but it was the kind of unspectacular, workmanlike performance United need to come up with if they're to keep up with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea.

Scholes was left out after suffering a groin injury and was replaced by Smith but otherwise Ferguson stuck with the same eleven that played against Liverpool.

Tottenham were very defensive in the first-half despite fielding three strikers. It appeared Santini was content to stifle United and earn a point. (He did the same thing against Chelsea much to Mourinho's irritation.)

Unsurprisingly, United dominated the play but they didn't force Robinson into making too many saves in the first-half. The Red Devils had to wait until the 40th minute before making the breakthrough. Tottenham defender Edman pulled down O'Shea in the box and van Nistelrooy converted the resulting penalty. (As usual, he blasted it to the keeper's right and while Robinson guessed correctly, he couldn't get a hand to the ball.)

Silvestre and Bellion both came close to doubling United's lead but the match ended 1-0. The result meant United moved up to fifth place in the Premiership table, seven points behind leaders Arsenal.

It appears Rooney will make his much-anticipated debut in the match against Fenerbahce at Old Trafford. He's probably going to replace Smith and play behind van Nistelrooy. I cannot wait to see how Rooney gels with the equally talented Ronaldo.

Brazil once boasted of its "Ro-Ro" combination of Romario and Ronaldo (ver. galactico) but I have a feeling it's going to be eclipsed by United's own Roo-Ro-Rooy trio.

Link  | 

8:46 PM - Variable

Gullwing has a nice Japanese action figure fan site up and he displays a quirky sense of humour as he makes some neat observations about figures.

(The kibble-riffic Big Convoy was actually a Pretender figure? Well, who knew?)

Link  | 

8:45 PM - Ultra-fusion

What do you get when you mix Native American culture with Japanese tokusatsu?

Why, you get the Ultraman totem pole.

Link  | 

Sunday, September 26, 2004

8:11 PM - Drive

I've mentioned (1, 2) having problems when installing games with my DVD-ROM drive and it appears it's not that uncommon a problem.

Link  | 

Saturday, September 25, 2004

9:36 PM - For kicks

A low-budget Star Wars reenactment? No, it's Robert LeJeune's photos of a karate demonstration.

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9:35 PM - Kerry and Bush meet Slashdot

Slashdot is soliciting questions for the US presidential candidates from its readers. Hilarity ensues.

Link  | 

9:35 PM - Rio's back, United win

United beat old foes Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford to register only their second win in the Premiership this season. (Reports: BBC, Soccernet, ManUtd.com.) It was a welcome relief after an extended blip featuring some lacklustre performances.

Some notes:

  • To no great surprise, Ferguson dropped both Djemba-Djemba and Howard. (Howard didn't even make the bench.) I was surprised to see O'Shea playing in central midfield. He has played in that position before and his performance in this match would suggest Ferguson isn't going to shy away from playing him in that position again. He got forward a lot, leaving Keane to concentrate on defensive duties.

  • Speaking of Keane, I've lost count of the number of times I've had to eat my words after claiming he's no longer capable of producing the goods at the highest level. This was another fine performance from the United captain. He may not have got forward that much but he was always ready and available to make that tackle to save the day.

  • United's defence, bolstered by the return of Ferdinand, redeemed itself in this match. There were occasions early in the second-half when the foursome of Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre and Heinze looked tentative but for the most part they dealt convincingly with Liverpool's offense.

  • Gary Neville is probably going to reclaim his place when he returns from injury, but I hope Brown gets an extended run out at right-back. He was always on hand to mop up on the rare occasions Ferdinand made a mistake and he got forward frequently to support Ronaldo.

  • Heinze impresses more and more each time he appears. When he makes his mind up about making a tackle, he dives in full throttle even after he's been yellow carded. He's also apparently good enough at taking free-kicks to convince Giggs and Ronaldo to let him try a shot.

  • Both United goals came courtesy of Silvestre headers from set-pieces. Liverpool's marking was awful but you have to credit Silvestre for his timing, positioning and heading power.

  • Ronaldo was absolutely rampant in this match. He was in such fine form, it was not unusual to see three Liverpool players converging on him whenever he had the ball.

  • Gerrard was taken off in the first-half after breaking his metatarsal. Breaking that particular bone seems to be a rite of passage for England internationals. Beckham, Gary Neville and Rooney have all had the same injury.

  • Liverpool's goal had more to do with luck than poor defending. Finnan's header hit Carroll's shin and the ball rebounded off O'Shea to trickle into the United goal. Luck aside, you have to wonder who was supposed to mark Finnan when the Liverpool man made his run.

  • Xabi Alonso almost produced the goal of the season when he unleashed a Beckham-style howitzer shot from the halfway line. The attempt had Carroll backpedalling so furiously he had to slap the ball down instead of grabbing it because his momentum carried him past the goal line.

Link  | 

Friday, September 24, 2004

8:50 PM - Micronations

A micronation isn't a particularly grandiloquent web site based on a Japanese action figure line. It's actually a tiny country. Really tiny. Take for example the short-lived Republic of Minerva:

The Republic of Minerva was set up in 1972 as a libertarian new country project by Nevada businessman Michael Oliver. Oliver's group conducted dredging operations at the Minerva Reefs, a shoal located in the Pacific Ocean south of Fiji. They succeeded in creating a small artificial island but their efforts at securing international recognition met with little success and near-neighbour Tonga sent a military force to the area and annexed it.

Oh, and there are instructions for creating your own.

(Do you remember a time when people just collected stamps if they had too much time on their hands?)

Link  | 

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

8:12 PM - Gold

Booster Gold

A digi-doodle of Booster Gold.

Link  | 

Monday, September 20, 2004

11:48 PM - Dead alive

"Make way, villainy! Hero coming through!" - Minsc, Baldur's Gate II.

The big hook in Warlords Battlecry 3 is its RPG-inspired hero development. There are a lot of choices available and the choices made will impact gameplay.

I decided to go with an Undead Necromancer hero as per Ben McDonald's Undead FAQ. As he puts it:

Your armour and damage are way up there, you can replace your elite troops instantly, and if your Necromancer is still alive you can create armies in the blink of an eye. The battlefield is yours. Go claim the skulls of your enemies.

In other words, the Undead Necromancer will slay his enemies, resurrect them as skeletons under his control and then transform them quickly into juggernauts of destruction to be used against his remaining foes. He is your typical Complete Utter Bastard.

The hero is an important unit but aside from a few missions in the campaign, a dead hero doesn't necessarily mean game over. However, it's in your best interests to keep him alive as his ability to obtain resources for manufacturing buildings and units is essential early on. You can carry on without him but it's more than likely you'll fall behind your opponents in the arms race.

Keeping my Undead Necromancer alive un-dead is easier said than done. Being a spellcaster, he's not really cut out for frontline face-to-face combat and I have to make sure he stays out of more trouble than he can handle.

Doing this is made slightly easier because you can assign Attitudes which govern unit and and hero behaviour. Among other things, you can get individual units or groups of units to guard your hero or have your hero run away whenever trouble rears its head. It's not a perfect system -- I wish I could combine two or more Attitudes -- but it does help reduce the tedious micromanagement common in RTS games.

Players have a lot incentive to keep their non-hero units alive as well since units improve as they gain battlefield experience. In addition, high-level units and Generals (elite units that can capture resources) can join a hero's retinue to be carried over to subsequent battles. The number of units in the retinue depends on your hero's charisma. My Level 15 Necromancer has a pitiful charisma -- being undead is hell on your socialising skills -- so he gets only two units for his retinue. I usually reserve one slot for an elite melee unit and assign the other slot to a General. The melee unit (typically, a Slayer Knight or a Doom Knight) usually functions as my hero's bodyguard while the General ensures I'll have two units available at the outset to capture and convert resources. As McDonald points out in his FAQ, the Undead are a very resource-hungry faction and you need any edge you can get in the early phases of the game.

Link  | 

Sunday, September 19, 2004

6:53 AM - And I quote

Russell Turpin:

The smiley is an attack on writers and readers alike. If it is funny, it doesn't need a smiley. If is not funny, a smiley won't help it. The smiley teaches writers that anything they write will pass as humor as long as it is punctuated properly. It teaches readers that they must ignore their better judgment, and look only at punctuation to determine intent.

Wikiquotes erroneously attributed that quote to Jim Showalter but a check with Google Groups reveals it was posted on Usenet by Russell Turpin in 1991.

Link  | 

6:53 AM - Queer eye

Another amusing snippet from Warlords Battlecry 3's documentation (specifically, the readme.txt file):

The Flamer (one of the floating eyes from the Plaguelords race) was renamed to the "Eye of Flame". Apparently Flamer is a slang term in the USA.

I installed the game a few days ago and have been playing it since. The game hasn't been highly-rated by reviewers but I think most of them were disappointed the game was more of the same instead of something that moves the real-time strategy genre forward. I've been enjoying the game quite a bit on its own terms.

The game does have a dated look and could easily pass for a title from 1997. (On the plus side, it does have absurdly low system requirements.) I don't confuse great graphics with great gameplay so I don't really mind.

That said, the sprite-based 2D graphics do make it difficult to distinguish and select individual troops in large melee battles. There's no way to zoom in and there's no way of repositioning the "camera" to get a better view. You will need to assign hotkeys to keep track of critical units.

There have been three patches issued for the game since it was released. I had to install both the 16.4MB 1.02 patch and the 12.8MB 1.03 patch since the latter isn't retroactive. The bug-fix list is lengthy but I'm encouraged by the fact the developers have been continually tweaking gameplay and providing additional bonus features.

One oddity: my firewall keeps warning an application called "AutoPlay Media Studio 4" is requesting net access whenever the WBC3 CD-ROM is inserted in the CD-ROM drive. According to the company that makes it:

Indigo Rose's AutoPlay Media Studio 4.0 is the industry standard for creating professional interactive CD-ROM AutoPlay and AutoRun menu systems.

I'm not sure why the game's AutoPlay launcher would need internet access.

Take note that in addition to the 920MB of game data installed in the installation folder, WBC3 dumps saved data into the My Documents folder of Windows XP. The readme.txt states this is "pursuant with the standards set by Windows XP" but this is the first game I've played that does that. It's something to keep in mind should I need to back up my game data.

Link  | 

Thursday, September 16, 2004

10:52 PM - Strike a pose

September

Microman MagnePowers Robotman Baron.

Link  | 

10:45 PM - Let off

United were extremely fortunate to earn a 2-2 draw with Lyon. (Reports: BBC, Soccernet, ManUtd.com, Guardian)

Several United players put in horrible first-half performances. Djemba-Djemba, in particular, produced what was potentially a career-ending performance in the first-half. The Cameroonian frequently gave the ball away and when he wasn't doing that he was busy giving away freekicks.

To be fair, he wasn't the only one guilty of that. Giggs gave the ball away in the Lyon half and then conceded a freekick in a dangerous area in his attempt to halt the resulting counterattack. Juninho's free-kick seemed simple enough to save but Howard spilled the ball and Lyon's central defender, Cris, reacted quickly to give his side the lead.

It got worse a minute before half-time. O'Shea's sloppy pass to Ronaldo was intercepted and the Lyon counterattack that ensued was finished in style by Frau. United really looked dead and buried at that point.

When the going gets tough

I was somewhat shocked Ferguson kept faith in the same 11 that had let him down in the first half for the second. The only change he made was to switch Giggs and Ronaldo and it looked like a masterstroke when the duo combined to create United's first goal. Ronaldo did very well to keep in Giggs' overhit cross and the young winger manufactured an excellent cross of his own into the centre of the Lyon penalty area. The quality of the cross was nothing compared to the header van Nistelrooy produced. The Dutchman leapt backwards and had to flick the ball sideways to put it out of reach of the Lyon keeper and into the corner of the net. It was a finish that had Sky colour commentator Andy Gray purring with delight.

United's second came five minutes later. A deflection off a Lyon player fell fortunately into van Nistelrooy's path but there no was element of luck about his finishing which was again of top quality.

United had once again fashioned an implausible comeback and it was enough to bring United fans to their feet. Hell, if it wasn't about 4AM at that moment I would have been yelling in delight and relief.

Even the most die-hard United fan will acknowledge Lyon should have won it, though. Their young Brazilian player, Nilmar, improbably squandered a golden opportunity to win the match while his compatriot Juninho hit the upright in the final moments of the match. There were also occasions in each half when Scholes had to clear the ball off the line. Scholes even got away with deliberately using his elbow in the box to deflect a freekick away from the United goal.

United were very, very lucky to come away with a point and it's clear Ferguson has a lot of work to do before Monday's match against old foes Liverpool. The defence has looked fragile and porous for some time now. Everyone is expecting Ferdinand to be the qwik-n-easy fix once he returns from suspension on Monday but I'm not as optimistic. It's going to take him time to get back in the groove.

The midfield is another area that needs tweaking. Keane isn't the force he once was and that other central midfield slot hasn't been filled to satisfaction. Djemba-Djemba just isn't capable of bossing the midfield and indeed, going by this match, he is something of a liability.

See no evil

The Guardian's The Knowledge section is always a good read and the latest edition has some fascinating United-related trivia. One of the readers also asks if there's ever been a deaf professional footballer. I can't recall any and am of the opinion that it would be unlikely. For one thing, a deaf player would be oblivious to the referee's whistle.

That's not to say there aren't any individuals who work in English football despite disabilities. For instance, the Premiership does have a selectively blind manager in Arsene Wenger. (The Frenchman has never been able to see one of his team's transgressions.)

Link  | 

10:45 PM - Udder destruction

I got Warlords Battlecry 3 from Gamers Dotcom today after paying for it yesterday. I think the main reason for that quick turnaround is Pos Malaysia's improved service.

I'll post more about the game later but I'd like to leave you with this fascinating snippet from the manual (page 38, fact fans):

Animals can be present on any game map. While they are harmless creatures, they have their uses. For example, cows can be hurled by Catapults, and cause greater damage than usual ammunition ...

What a way to go. You're strutting about, brandishing your weapon, ready to take on the world and the last thing you ever hear is, "Moo."

Link  | 

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

11:29 PM - Shock, suspense, mystery

No, the title doesn't refer to a Korean horror flick.

This is actually about the latest Windows security scare.

I had my own problems when I tried to download the patches from Windows Update. I had no problems updating Windows Update but I couldn't seem to get the critical OS updates I needed.

I snooped around Windows trying to figure out why and was startled to find a program called PowerReg Scheduler V3.exe in my Startup folder. I had no idea how it got there and more ominously, I had no idea what it did.

Googling about it set alarm bells off initially but additional checking revealed the program is relatively benign. PestPatrol rates PowerReg Scheduler V3 a 5 (which is still safe) and both Ad-Aware and Spybot-S&D 1.3 seem unconcerned about it. According to Leader Technologies, the company that makes it, PowerReg Scheduler V3.exe is merely used for online product registration.

But that raised another question: how did PowerReg Scheduler V3 get on my system? What was it bundled with? A bit of digging around revealed it had been installed on my PC on June 10. Hmm, what did I install on June 10 that would require product registration? The blog revealed I had received the Neverwinter Nights expansion, Hordes of the Underdark, and had reinstalled the entire game plus the two expansions that same day. The penny dropped. That game did indeed ask me if I wanted to register with Atari and if memory serves, the two valid options were "Never Register" and "Remind Me Later." I must have clicked on "Remind Me Later" and this resulted in PowerReg Scheduler V3 being dumped in the Startup folder. Removing the program seems simple enough but this annoys me a little. I had uninstalled Neverwinter Nights so why was that registration reminder still on my system? Shouldn't PowerReg Scheduler be automatically uninstalled when users uninstall the product it was bundled with?

Anyway, once I solved that mystery, I turned my attention to discovering why Windows Update wasn't letting me download updates. I kept getting the 0x8024402C error and Microsoft's solution wasn't applicable in my case.

Google to the rescue again. Someone else had the same problem and evidently it occurs when users rig the firewall to prevent Generic Host Proces for Win32 from accessing the net. I managed to update Windows without further problems once I remedied that.

Link  | 

Monday, September 13, 2004

11:59 PM - Armies of the night

Code red! Terrorists spotted!

Link  | 

11:36 PM - "Chumbawamba ABBA A-Ha"

Unsurprisingly, I had trouble when I attempted to install KotOR earlier. Upon inserting the first installation disc (of four) in my Sony DDU1621 DVD-ROM drive, I got this error message:

Dirty, so dirty

I had already begun mentally composing an e-mail expressing my outrage over the dubious quality of the product when it occurred to me to try my CD-RW drive, a Sony CRX225E. It worked this time and I somewhat reluctantly deleted the e-mail draft from memory. (All that outrage ... wasted.)

It's worth mentioning the same thing happened when I tried installing the Neverwinter Nights expansion, Shadows of Undrentide, using the DVD-ROM drive. (Oddly enough, the drive had no problems reading the CD-ROM when playing the game.) I would have assigned blame to the DVD-ROM drive if not for the numerous reports of folks who had similar problems installing that game.

Incidentally, a fresh installation of KotOR took up 3.35GB of space and the seven save game slots (including quicksave and auto-save) I've used thus far took up about 50MB of space. That's probably an unimportant piece to trivia to most but if you're short of hard disk space, that might help you determine if you've got enough space to play the game.

SecuROM

Annoyingly, I next had a problem when trying to launch the game for the first time. The CD-ROM spun in the DVD-ROM drive, the mouse icon changed to that rotating CD icon (I think it signifies SecuROM is in action) and then ... nothing. The system apparently hung on me. I gritted my teeth, rebooted and began mentally composing another e-mail while waiting to try again.

I tried the CD-RW drive once again and I got the following message on my first attempt:

SecuROM!

I should point out I do not have Disc Emulation Software.

Fortunately, my second attempt was successful and the game has been well-behaved since then.

Mostly.

"A long time ago ... (plus 4,000 years)"

I'll post more about the game later but I'd like to mention a few things based on the three or so hours I've played so far.

The game was developed with the XBox in mind and I think its console origins are obvious when you consider the dodgy character movement controls. In most PC games, you select a character, point the mouse and click at a spot to get the character to move there. You can only do that in KotOR if there's an interactive object like an NPC, door or footlocker in the vicinity. Otherwise you'll have to use the SWZC keys to move the character around. There is an option to move characters around with the mouse but by default you have to click and hold the right mouse button in the direction you want to go and then click and hold the left mouse button to move there. It's an absurd combination that's bound to shorten your mouse's lifespan. The game does allow you to define the controls so perhaps it's possible to simplify movement via the mouse.

Sadly, the game is still buggy after three patches with a gamestopper in the Endor Spire. I took out a Sith Trooper with a long sword only to discover I couldn't move my character. Even the mouse-killing combo move didn't help. I tried reloading and replaying the sequence several times but the same thing occurred consistently. The workaround is simple enough -- just use a ranged weapon when killing that particular Sith -- but this does not inspire confidence.

The game has full digitized speech for dialogue and this includes that for the aliens. I thought Marl, one of the duellists in the Upper City Cantina, sounded uncannily like Morgan Freeman but there was no mention of him in the credits section of the manual. There are some recognisable names in the game, though, including Ed Asner and several names familiar to Transformers fans e.g. Welker, Berger, Ross, Kaplan, etc.

Listening to the aliens natter on, I felt slightly sorry for the voice actors. Several years at Juilliard to study voice and speech and they end up spouting lines like, "Wooboo Choo Choo Wakka Bakka."

Link  | 

Sunday, September 12, 2004

10:47 PM - Aim

Alpha Ranger

A photo of a Xevoz Alpha Ranger.

Link  | 

10:34 PM - The Force

I finally got my hands on a copy of Knights of the Old Republic. The PC version of the highly-rated game was released last November but as is my wont, I waited until BioWare put out a couple of patches before getting it. (It also took me this long to get over my Prequel-caused aversion to All Things Star Wars.)

I had quite a bit of trouble finding the game locally. There are only a few local retailers that sell original copies of games and most had sold out their stocks of KotOR. I was close to getting one of those Thai-packaged versions on eBay when I managed to find a local retailer with stocks of the game. I ordered the game from Klang-based retailer PCGame Dotcom on Thursday, deposited the amount due (RM119, fact fans) into the company's bank account on Friday morning and got the game the very next evening.

The game comes in a compact box. Being something of a packrat, I keep everything -- I have quite a collection of twist ties -- so I appreciate the fact this doesn't take much space.

The back of the package has the following blurb:

Choose Your Path
It is four thousand years before the Galactic Empire and hundreds of Jedi Knights have fallen in battle against the ruthless Sith. You are the last hope of the Jedi Order. Can you master the awesome power of the Force on your quest to save the Republic? Or will you fall to the lure of the dark side? Hero or villain, savior or conqueror ... you alone will determine the destiny of the entire galaxy!"

What goes unmentioned is that no matter what you do, no matter which path you take, one thing remains the same: Han no longer shoots Greedo first.

The lower left-hand corner has the following statement:

Asia Pacific Edition
Not for Sale in North America, South America, Europe or Japan.

The statement goes on to sternly warn:

Any attempt to export or sell this product in America or Europe will result in criminal and/or civil action under applicable laws.

Ominously, they don't specify whether the threatened civil action includes George Lucas making further revisions to the original Star Wars trilogy.

The bottom of the package lists the minimum and recommended system requirements along with the supported graphic chipsets. There's also this message:

Copy protection

It's difficult to make out -- dark red fonts on a black background is a colour scheme you usually associate with an angsty teenager's livejournal -- but that isn't my main beef with it.

I don't really see the point of that notice since it doesn't state a) what copy protection technology is being used -- it's SecuROM -- and more importantly, b) what hardware or software is incompatible with that copy protection scheme. That would go a long way in preventing this sort of situation.

I'll post more about the game once I've installed all 4GB of it.

Assuming, of course, SecuROM doesn't screw me.

Link  | 

5:36 AM - The Farce

United scored another late goal to draw 2-2 with Bolton at the Reebok Stadium. (Reports: BBC, ManUtd.com, Soccernet.)

Van Nistelrooy and Brown both played their first matches of the season while summer signing Gabriel Heinze finally made his debut. (The Daily Mirror tut-tuted that the Argentinian defender had cost United over half a million pounds in wages before playing this match.) Van Nistelrooy wasn't as sharp as he usually is but I suppose that's understandable considering he was rushed back into action. Both Heinze and Brown fared well, though.

The match itself would have been forgettable but for two remarkable goals in the final minutes. United once again had a lot of possession but couldn't get any penetration in the final third of the field. Indeed, United barely tested the Bolton keeper in the first half. Scholes had a shot charged down in the 34th minute but otherwise most of United's attacks petered out when passes went astray or one-twos went one without the two.

United finally broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute when Silvestre headed Giggs' corner invitingly into the six-yard box for Heinze to hook into the net (pix). (Gary Neville will no doubt feel his status as United's highest-scoring fullback will now be under serious threat.)

The lead didn't last long as Bolton levelled six minutes after the break. An Okocha pass found its way to Nolan who scored with his head after his first attempt was saved by Howard. United's defenders were left claiming in vain for offside but I don't think they had a case.

Defence that offends

United's defence just went to pieces after the goal with Silvestre being the main culprit. Ferguson should keep a videotape of the Frenchman's horrible second-half performance to use as leverage during contract renegotiations. The defender gave the ball away in dangerous positions twice and then had a hand in one of the most farcical goals United have ever conceded.

Ferdinand, challenging Heinze for a header in the United box, clattered into Howard when the keeper tried to collect the ball. Silvestre tried to clear the resulting loose ball but he was inadvertently dispossessed when Howard instinctively swatted the ball away. Ferdinand reacted the quickest to that comedy of errors to gleefully score one of the easiest goals of his 17-year professional career. Howard was left pounding the ground in frustration with his fists while Silvestre could only stare in disbelief at the ball nestling in the back of the net.

Game over? No, Bolton managed to come up with something equally farcical to gift United the equaliser in the final moments of injury-time. A short corner by Giggs led to a Ronaldo cross and Smith dove to head the ball into the middle of the packed six-yard area. The ball rebounded off Bellion's arm and this led to another comical piece of defending. Bolton defender Hunt, shielding the loose ball from Bellion, was expecting his keeper to collect the ball while his keeper was expecting his defender to clear it. Both were left nonplussed when the ball spun, hit Hunt and rebounded into the net.

United snatched a point but worryingly, this is one of the worst starts the team has made. I know, I know. It's not how you start, it's how you finish. But United aren't playing well right now and the league leaders, Arsenal, look absolutely rampant. The gap is now nine points and you have to keep in mind Arsenal went undefeated last season and they're thus far unbeaten in this campaign as well. United meet Arsenal on October 24 and I think the result of that match will be absolutely crucial.

Hair apparent

One final note: Ronaldo was the only United player to stand out in this match (and not just for his attacking verve). The kid from Madeira came on in the 63th minute and earned ooh-aahs 10 minutes later. He displayed his repertoire of tricks to sucker Campo into a futile tackle then cut inside to smash a shot which Jaaskelainen did brilliantly to save (with an assist from the crossbar). ManUtd.com reports that piece of skill was sufficiently sublime to earn applause even from Bolton fans and I could understand why they were thus moved. It's a pity ESPN's Football Focus doesn't have an Almost Goal of the Week award.

The other notable thing about Ronaldo today was his hairstyle. Having taken Beckham's number and position, Ronaldo has apparently taken it upon himself to outdo Beckham's various exotic hairstyles as well. I'm not sure what the Portuguese teenager's current hairstyle is called but it was very ... "challenging."

(That's the word art critics use when they don't get it, right?)

Link  | 

Saturday, September 11, 2004

9:46 PM - Words don't come cheaply

A photo of a student's electronic English-Chinese dictionary. It's a Chinese brand and unfortunately, I couldn't get a clear shot of the logo.

It's about 12cm by 9cm and easily fits in a pocket. It certainly beats carrying around a hefty paper-based dictionary.

Hit the button on the side and a latch springs open to reveal a monochrome LCD screen, a keypad and navigation buttons.

I was disappointed to learn the Oxford Advanced Learner-based dictionary only provides Chinese definitions for English words. Ideally, it ought to have provided definitions in both English and Chinese.

Interestingly, there's also digitized speech. It's billed as "Bestalker" -- "Best talker" or "Be Stalker"? -- and claims to have a "Natural Voice" but it sounds like a Mandarin-speaking Soundwave. Which is cool, actually. (Memo to myself: Record Bestalker saying, "Prepare for oblivion." In Mandarin.)

Some of my students have another model which has both Chinese and English definitions as well as additional features such as stylus input, voice recorder (to record pronunciation or to play tricks on an English tutor) and an expansion slot. The price tag? RM1000.

Ten-year-olds walking around packing a grand's worth of hardware.

Link  | 

5:03 AM - Minsc-isms

Quotes (1, 2) from the Baldur's Gate series. (There are spoilers so be sure to cover your eyes when you read them. Or something.)

Unsurprisingly, the best lines come from Minsc. It's not just the words; it's the delivery as well. But don't just take my word for it. Sorcerer's Place has a zipped file with 43 non-spoiler Minsc WAV files so download away and judge for yourself.

And when you're done listening to those, be sure to check out the Xzar, Tiax and Lilacor's voicesets as well.

"Great fun! Heh heh! Right, Boo? *squeak*"

Link  | 

Thursday, September 09, 2004

8:36 PM - Bhaal state

"You must gather your party before venturing forth ... you must gather your party before venturing forth ... you must gath- ... ."

I've been replaying the Baldur's Gate II expansion, Throne of Bhaal, over the past three weeks in the hopes of actually completing it this time around.

I opted for full installations of both BGII and ToB but despite depositing 2.7 GB of data on my hard disk, the game still requires the ToB CD-ROM in the drive before you can play.

That's probably a minor inconvenience to most but my DVD-ROM drive is acting up; it's faulty but not faulty enough to warrant replacing it. A press of the eject button results in the tray sliding out but it retracts immediately. I have to retry several times before the tray stays out. I initially thought the Eject button was faulty but this happens even with a software Eject command.

It's weird but then I've come to expect weird behaviour from my PC.

Infinity and Aurora

It's been said BioWare improves with every game and I have to agree. The RPG quotient might have been lacking in NWN but it otherwise improves on BGII/ToB in so many ways.

For instance, to check the effects of an enchanted item on a character in BGII/ToB, you'd have to first check the inventory screen then check the character record screen and then it's back to the inventory screen to equip the item and finally to the character screen to see its effect. By contrast, you can have both the character and inventory windows onscreen simultaneously in NWN.

NWN's Aurora engine doesn't get many props from gamers -- some sneer at it now and it wasn't exactly stunning back in 2002 -- but it does overcome the limitations of the BGII Infinity Engine. Characters and summoned creatures in BGII/ToB are sometimes obscured by other objects and this can prevent you from clicking on them individually. You can still select party members by clicking on their hotkeys or their portraits but you can't do that with summoned creatures or doppelgangers. It's not a gamestopper but it's an annoyance that's thankfully absent from NWN thanks to its multi-position, rotatable "camera."

Party on, dude

I've often bemoaned the lack of a party for the NWN single-player game. You have but a single henchmen. The second NWN expansion, Hordes of the Underdark, allowed up to two henchmen (and even briefly allowed a third at the end of the first chapter) but it still falls short of a classic six-character AD&D party. However, I've been reminded of the hassles of commanding a six-character party during combat in ToB.

I'm a turn-based combat fan so that's how I play ToB. I set up the game so that it automatically pauses whenever a party member completes a turn or casts a spell. It's not quite classic turn-based but it's close enough for me. It also happens to be the easiest method of keeping track of your party's actions during a pitched battle with multiple foes.

And you will need to keep track and micromanage because the battles much tougher in ToB. Encounters often require a lot of tactical thought especially when it comes to spellcasting. Some opponents are only susceptible to certain spells while others may need their spell resistance and spell protections reduced or removed before you can cause any damage. You'll have to learn what spell to cast and when to cast it to avoid seeing this often:

Dead again

Scripted

ToB does ship with some scripts to help manage combat but they aren't particularly comprehensive and you'll often find yourself cussing as your script-controlled party members display some awful judgement in batttle.

Thankfully, there are some good fan-written AI scripts available. I'm currently using Erik Kerr's eSeries scripts. These AI scripts require additional downloads which modify some game files but they seem well-behaved and they're easily uninstalled if they're not to your liking.

While I do find the scripts useful, I still spend time on tedious tasks that should ideally be automated e.g. post-rest and pre-combat buffing. The eSeries scripts include hotkey-activated buffing but it falls short of what I want. I suppose I could always modify the scripts myself.

More on ToB in future entries.

Link  | 

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

11:08 PM - Crush

Crush

A photo of a Xevoz Sledge Trooper.

Link  | 

Monday, September 06, 2004

7:59 PM - Beat

Protesters, hippies, chanting poets, an old guy surrounded by naked medical students and a Hell's Angel staring at the sun. It's Larry Keenan's photos of the Beat Generation.

Link  | 

Sunday, September 05, 2004

9:34 PM - ebook

I can't actually remember the last time I've read a book. I do read a lot; I just haven't been reading books. An honest to God book. As opposed to a manual. Or a FAQ.

It's odd considering how close I live to a library. Thousands of books for free so tantalisingly close yet I steer clear. I do have a good reason, though. Four, actually. Specifically, the four library books I haven't returned since 1989. I'm sure the total fines are in the five digit range now. Sometimes, as I lie in bed, I wonder if this will be the night the librarians kick down my door and drag me off. I expect my body would be eventually found with date stamp marks all over it and I would be used as a cautionary tale to warn children about crossing the guardians of books.

Anyway, one of the reasons I was keen on getting a PDA is the amazing amount of free ebooks available.

I'm delighted to report reading ebooks on the T|E is an absolute joy as the text is crisp on the bright backlit screen. (And as I pointed out earlier, the screen is bright enough for you to read during a blackout.)

However, I have been frustrated by the number of different formats and readers available. It would seem you'd need three (or more) ebook readers installed to get access to a decent variety of ebooks. I have ereader (which was bundled with the T|E) and Plucker, and I still need one or two more ebook readers.

"The soul of brevity"

I've just finished Barry G. Galvin's Mini-Sagas for the mind, a free ebook collection of haiku-like vignettes, each written in 50 words.

(I snagged the 650kb ereader version from memoware but you can get the PDF version if you don't have a Palm OS ereader.)

So what are mini-sagas like? Here's "Delegate" from Galvin's collection:

"John, can you organise my travel itinerary please. Sally, type this letter for me please and put it in the post. Wiliam, call Nelson and tell him I'll be late for our meeting this afternoon."

"What reason should I give him?"

"Tell him I've got a lot to do."

That's a mini-saga in its entirety.

(Brian W. Aldiss, who Galvin credits for introducing him to the form, has his own collection of mini-sagas online. Check out The Uprising.)

It's an intriguing form requiring technical skill for brevity and storytelling ability to provide the hook necessary to engage the reader. It's fiction for a generation used to quick cuts and sound bites, and I wonder if it will eventually evolve to microsketches the length of RSS reader summaries. Fire up your RSS reader and bam, five microstories from a single RSS feed.

Link  | 

9:34 PM - Not a good fit

Gifts for gamers you hate: #2

(Link obtained from the Quarter to Three forum.)

Link  | 

9:34 PM - Yo-yo

Yo-yos are the fad of the moment here and the kids I tutor are constantly practising tricks like the ever-popular "go up and down and then up and down again" and "make a loud whirring noise that annoys everyone within earshot."

Here's a (poor) picture of a high-tech Goku-adorned "Superyo" yo-yo. The tacky factor is boosted immeasurably by an LED which lights up the clear blue plastic when the yo-yo is in play.

And here's a picture of a yo-yo enthusiast's custom-made yo-yo grip. It presumably provides superior performance -- mo' yo for you.

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Friday, September 03, 2004

10:59 PM - Watch the birdie

A rare picture of the aptly-named Malaysian Wooden Garden Ornament Stork in its natural setting of plastic leaves.

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Thursday, September 02, 2004

9:15 PM - Best of show

Simple-minded sheep. Greedy little pigs. A whole lot of bull.

The Republican convention? No, it's Yann Arthus-Bertrand's wonderful gallery of prize-winning farm animals (and their owners).

(Link obtained from Ask MeFi.)

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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

8:40 PM - Bunny!

Honeybunny

The irascible Honeybunny.

Link  | 

8:39 PM - Blue turns Red Devil

Manchester United, having a vacancy in the strikers department after Forlan moved to Villareal, have filled it with Wayne Rooney. It shouldn't be too difficult for Rooney to exceed Forlan's sorry United record. Forlan was mainly notable for having a preternatural ability to miss the target and he took 27 matches before scoring his first goal for United. (Exasperatingly, Forlan managed to score in his first match for Villareal.)

So Ferguson, having got rid of the Beckham media circus, now finds himself saddled with Roomania. If the media attention focused on the transfer saga is any indication, the Rooney show could easily surpass anything the manager had to live with during Beckham's time at United.

The media weren't the only ones excited. I'll admit to frequently checking the BBC, Soccernet and Guardian web sites over the past two days to get the latest updates on the situation. Rooney is an exciting player and I think he'll add a lot to United's attack. He's quick, talented, strong and like Cantona, the Scouser is confident bordering on arrogant when he's on the field.

United's strikeforce of van Nistelrooy, Rooney, Smith and Saha are going to put the fear in God in defenders yet the club still has deficiencies. As Phil McNulty writes, the midfield unit needs shoring up.

The problem now is the Rooney deal -- United paid 10 million pounds with another 10 million pounds due in August 2005 -- has scuppered any chance of procuring a big-money replacement for Keane until 2006 at the earliest.

I was hoping Ferguson would make an irresistible offer to Liverpool for the increasingly unsettled Gerrard but that's unlikely now and Kleberson, Djemba-Djemba and Fletcher don't seem to have what it takes to replace Captain Marvel 2.0.

But here's a thought: Real Madrid eye van Nistelrooy as a prospective galactico next season and United sell the Dutch Master in order to get Gerrard.

Bye-bye, good knight

And what of Newcastle United? It was their shock bid for Rooney that spurred Ferguson and Gill into making a last-minute and ultimately successful bid for the player. That wasn't the only Newcastle loss.

ESPN's Football Focus showed how Bobby Robson was driven out of a club he supported as a youngster and I cannot believe how shabbily he was treated by Freddy Shepherd. The former England manager first heard his contract wouldn't be renewed in an interview with the media and you just had to feel sorry for him as he had to digest that fact in front of the camera. Woodgate, Newcastle's most impressive defender, was then sold off against the manager's wishes.

Now Newcastle do not have Rooney.

They do not have a manager.

They do not have a dependable central defender.

They cannot buy anyone before January.

Situations like this make you appreciate how sensible the decision-makers at Manchester United are.

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