Sunday, December 28, 2008

Money vs. Democracy

I've read various news items, and other blogger's posts on the subject of electronic voting machines in the US with a mixture of shock and disbelief. I am constantly staggered at the way the US electorate is allowing their electoral system to be sold off to commercial interests that clearly have no interest in democracy or accountability.... oops, sounds a bit like the US government (regardless of species  party  people corporation(s) in 'power').

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

F1 and the Isle of Man

It's not often that the Isle of Man gets linked with F1, but with Lewis Hamilton's World Championship, they've decided to do a range of commemerative stamps and a first day cover.

I found about this via, a site I visit daily for F1 (and other 4-wheeled motorsports) news. However, they seem to have missed something the nature of the Isle - motor racing is a big deal here: there's racing of various forms throughout the year, not just the Tourist Trophy (TT) for motorbikes in June!

IOM Post did another range of racing stamps earlier this year too.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Here! Here!

Time for me to come clean about where I live... well, a bit anyway. I live on one of those offshore territories that Barack Obama seems not to like. It seems the Financial Times of London doesn't like us much either, but at least a few logical, sensible American professors of business & law do!

I work in the financial industry and am regularly required to attend Anti-Money-Laundering training, despite working in the IT bowels of the company, rarely having contact with customer data, let alone customers. Even so, I am well aware that our company has strict requirements to 'know our customers' - including identity and source of income statements. Long gone are the days when any dodgy character in a trilby and macintosh could show up at the door with a suitcase full of bundled $50s and expect us to do business with them... apparently a few have tried, and have never been given the time of day!

Anyone still accusing at least the Manx authorities of shady behaviour should check out the behaviour of the UK government when they stole froze the assets of KSF in London including legimately held Manx deposits. Or the attitude in the US to corporations registered in Delaware (section entitled "DELAWARE: AMERICA’S OWN HOME TO CORPORATE ANONYMITY" at the bottom of the article).

Hypocracy in international government? Never

Oh, and now the Pope wants to have a turn with the hypocracy hat, Mr-I-run-the-biggest-untaxed-repository-of-obscene-wealth-in-the-world!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Is Hamilton the F1 Champion?

Well, he finished 5th, and that was all he needed to have 98 points to Massa's 97 (having won the final race), but what does it say for the credibility of the FIA and their stewards that I'm just waiting for them to find a way to penalise Hamilton or McLaren such that he looses it by one point instead?

However, a final note on the grace of the runner up - Filipe Massa showed true class when he thanked the crowd for their support, and did not partake of their disgraceful treatment of Hamilton on the run into parc fermé. It's not true that nice guys finish last - he did win the race, and nearly the championship, but it is clear that we have not seen the last of Massa in the top places in the F1 championship table.

An exciting end, to an exciting season. Afterall, how long is it since we've had a season with 7, yes, SEVEN different grand prix winners?

... actually, it was 2003 - one of Michael Schumacher's 7 championship years, but not one of his most dominant. So not so long :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The terrorists have won

For the last seven-plus years, the US government have been chipping away at the human rights of everyone entering or leaving the country. This article is the most eloquent description of the results of this process of security theatre.

Give up Al Qaeda, you've won. Not by destroying things, or spending money, but by getting the idiots on Capitol Hill to destroy the liberties of their own citizens.

P.S. Over 20 years ago I visited the Soviet Union, at the height of the Communist regime, and my experience of travel to, around and back from that famously restrictive and 'dangerous' country was easy. Yes, the boarder guards were quite meticulous in their examination of your passport, but at no time did it feel like someone was about to turn an Uzi on us, or send us off to Siberia forever. I'll bet the victims of the article above couldn't say the same for their experiences at JFK airport.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The FIA (or at least their proxies the race stewards at the Belgian Grand Prix) have done it again: making decisions that appear to almost all commentators to favour Ferrari over McLaren. Some people fired off rants within scant hours of the decision, others have taken a little longer.

In the light of Massa's 'unsafe release' exiting the pits in Valencia (which earned him a mere fine, but a GP2 competitor at the same event a stop-go penalty!), contrasted with Hamilton's 25 second penalty for 'not slowing down enough' (what, a full car length and 6.7km/h slower isn't slower enough?) after using the escape road in wet conditions!

Come on, this may be a perception, but there's more evidence gathering almost every race weekend now. The FIA is rotten to the core - it's clearly more interested in helping Ferrari than being fair. And the Mosley affair hardly adds to the lustre of the organisation, whatever the 'democratic vote' of the strangely represented federation said.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Google Chrome

Yes, everyone is writing about it, but is everyone writing sense?


Thank goodness for people like Ted Dziuba at the Register. Even if his article has little flecks of spit around the edges where he gets a little "wound up", shall we say.

Basically, a whole load of should-know-better tech journalists have been writing all kinds of rubbish and hyperbole about Google's latest beta product, some even going as far as to suggest that it is an operating system... oh my Lord, could they be further from reality? It's an application, in the same sense as Firefox, notepad or Microsoft Excel. An operating system is concerned with hardware and providing services to applications, like those I just mentioned.

Addendum: another blogger's comments on the same TechCrunch article that got Dzuiba going.

Friday, August 15, 2008

RIAA Pays $107,951 to Alleged Filesharer

I post this not because of any personal interest but because it is clear that the RIAA are very good at publicising anything that looks vaguely like a win for them, but are very quiet (as are the rest of the mainstream news media) when things go the other way.

The RIAA has settled Atlantic vs Anderson with prejudice - they accept they brought the case in error, and have accepted liability for Anderson's legal costs (and interest)... the bill: $107,951.

It is time that the RIAA (and their mates at the MPAA, and alied organisations in Europe) realised that, whatever the rights & wrongs of copyright infringment, they cannot simply assume that someone sharing files over a P2P connection is automatically infringing on the rights of those they claim to represent. As more and more musicians come out either in opposition to the restrictive & punitive behaviours of the record companies, or even in direct support of free file sharing, surely they have got to see that the music industry revenue model has to change as consumer demand simply won't support their existing profitteering methods.

The market has spoken, all hail market forces... except where there inconvenient to a big corporation like Disney, Sony, RCA, UMG...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Barbara Bauer Redux

Back in May, I wrote about literary agent Barbara Bauer, and her attempts to sue Wikimedia for comments by a third party in the Wikipedia. A perfect example of the much-cited Streisand Effect.

Now the case has finally reached judgement, the EFF reports that the New Jersey judge has dismissed Ms Bauer's claims as federal law protects online forums and bulletin boards from liability for their (non-staff) contributors' comments. (Section 230 of the CDA)

I told you so.

And, of course, this information will cause another round of "isn't Barbara Bauer ignorant of the law" posts... more negative publicity for the Barbara Bauer Literary Agency.

Ah, the lawyers strike again, and walk away unharmed, and no doubt hansomely paid for their time and poor advice. Can anyone say "professional liability"?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Originally posted at GameBoomers:

What is it?

Anachronox is one of the few games that developers Ion Storm ever actually released. Unlike the massive hype and disappointment that surrounded their best-known game Daikatana, Anachronox had a relatively quiet time on the shelves. Development began, using the aged Quake engine back in 1997. But by the time the game was released in late 2001, the developers had upgraded it to use the Quake 2 engine. To very good effect, as it happens.

The game is now available on the Sold Out label, rather than from the original publisher, Eidos Interactive. In fact, Eidos's website no longer even mentions Anachronox. This is a shame.

Anachronox is a role-playing game with plenty of adventure attached. It isn't just a sequence of fights with bigger and bigger enemies, though the game does contain its share of combat.

Is there a plot?

Plot? What plot? Well, as a matter of fact, there's plenty of plot. That's what happens when you have a game with seven player characters and a wide range of non-player characters. Seven? Yes, seven! The main character to begin with is Sylvester Bucelli or, as he's better known, 'Sly' Boots. He's a detective. You know the drill; private eye, down on his luck, up to his eyeballs in debt to the local crime boss, seems to have a drinking problem (well, he does live above a bar), desperate enough to take any job that comes his way before the debt collectors start extracting payment in 'un'-kind, if you know what I mean.

From such an unpromising start on a weird tech-planet that used to be occupied by an unknown race of aliens, we travel to a number of other planets, space stations and space ships, meeting, beating and greeting a wide variety of humanoid, mechanical and alien creatures. Including a planet! (I'll say no more on this subject, because I want to leave that one as a surprise for you!)

All of the characters have a backstory associated with them. This succeeds in giving them a little more depth than is often the case. Some of those other characters join Boots in his various quests to, you guessed it, 'save the universe from the forces of chaos.'

How do you play?

Okay, enough with the clichés, on with the game.

As I'm coming to expect from these games, the controls are right hand on the mouse (for the camera), left hand on the 'W, A, S, and D' keys for driving character movement, plus a few other miscellaneous keys for menu functions. When there are multiple characters in the active party (there are never more than three in the current party, even though there are seven to choose from), you switch between them by using the 'tab' key. During a later part of the game, you control three sub-parties, swapping between the sub-parties with 'shift-tab'. As complex as this might sound, I found it worked out just fine, as the level of complexity in party control ramps up gently through the game.

If you're a lefty, there's no reason why you can't swap hands, and have the mouse in your left hand, and your right hand on the cursor keys.

Most of the time, the lead character will run around the environment, although there is a walk option (holding the 'shift' key whilst moving forwards). Interaction with the world; opening doors for instance, is achieved by left clicking with the mouse.

Menu functionality - load game, save game, options menu access, quest goals, inventory and character/party status and so on - are activated using the function keys. F1 leads to the menus that are framed in terms of Boots' Life Cursor - the device through which his former secretary continues to 'live' after the fatal accident that is the subject of one of the subplots of the game.
Inventory is handled in a simple manner - each character can equip five items of weaponry and shields, and all other items are held in common. There are a few inventory-based puzzles, one of which involves the smelliest, greenest, most disgusting-est sock I have ever known.

Notable Features

Each character has a 'World Skill' - lock picking, in Boots' case, computer hacking for one of the other characters. Using this requires a Ctrl-click. The game provides a nice 'Seems Interesting' cue when you come across a place where a world skill is applicable. However, it does not indicate which character's skill it is that's applicable, so the indication can come even when you don't have the relevant character in the active group.

These World Skills require the player to succeed in a mini-game to cause the skill to work. In the case of the lock picking skill, the player has to break a combination lock with the aid of a Sonic Screwdriver-like device. These mini-games require some small degree of reactions and dexterity, and so might cause some players some difficulty. Keep a junior member of the household handy if this should prove to be the case, because some of these are essential to getting through the game, though plenty of them are only used to gain extra healing items.

Combat is handled turn-wise. In any given combat situation, you can only have three party members involved - the controls for more would obscure the screen for action. Each character and opponent gets turns in which to shoot a weapon, use a hi-tech device (MysTech), apply an inventory item, use a combat skill or move. Combat takes place in the same view as the rest of the game, but movement for all participants is limited to a grid of positions in the 'arena'. Each of the characters has his or her own set of unique combat skills and weapons, some of which have 'area-based' effects, but most of which are targeted at an individual.

Having played Gooka - the Mystery of Janatris a few years ago, I found the combat system quite easy to get used to as the systems in the two games have much in common. So much so that, despite knowing I'd selected the 'Normal' difficulty level at the start, the combat seemed very easy for about three quarters of the game, only to ramp up quite steeply in the last 10%. All the same, I found it enjoyable to do, and the graphical effects in combat are rather good.

The environments in Anachronox vary widely from the conventional spaceship interior, to artificial worlds with gravity set in arbitrary directions - like an M.C. Esher drawing. There are also natural planet-side, space station, and hive environments to tickle your fancy. Furthermore, there are lots of mini-games, above and beyond the characters' world skills. These include a space-age checkers game, a Galaga clone, a sequence comparable to parts of the arcade game Descent, and river rapid riding. Some are optional, and most of the harder reaction-based mini-games can be skipped if you find them too hard. I skipped a couple when the option was given to me.

Any other novelties?

The biggest novelties in this game were the wide variety of environments, and the (almost) fair balancing of male and female party characters -- 3 male, 3 female if you count the Life Cursor, 1 other, and an android -- all of which had plenty of opportunities for being involved in the adventuring. All (bar one) of the female characters were decently dressed too! And for the other, the costume made sense. Well. Nearly, anyway.

The Anachronox developers, Ion Storm, are no more as a company, but individuals from the team have continued to provide unofficial support for the game, in terms of community building and the provision of patches. It is thanks to them that, amongst other things, the game can be played on Windows 2000. They've also fixed a number of bugs, and provided a more comprehensive configuration program for the game.

A really nice feature, I felt, was the availability in the shops of comments from the various party members as to the usefulness of particular items. Each team member was shown either facing away from the player, or towards, to indicate whether the currently highlighted item was applicable to them. Not only that, but this feature was subtitled with comments like 'Boots really likes this item', or 'Boots doesn't like this item', to indicate whether an item is better, as good as, or worse than the one(s) already in the inventory. I think this one was underused... or maybe that's just because I didn't spot it until some distance into the game.


As with any product, there were a few things that let Anachronox down. The cut-scenes, of which there are many, some fairly lengthy, all play without interruption. This is good if you don't want to miss anything the first time through, but it is particularly annoying if you have to re-load from a save game just before a big cut-scene.

Due to the graphical scaling method used to give the game more graphical modes, there are graphical glitches around text which I found distracting. Some of the text for some areas of the menus was also small and difficult to read - particularly when examining the details and getting the characters' comments for items in the shops. I've since discovered that by dropping the resolution to one of the more original settings, the graphics look much cleaner.


This has been an enjoyable experience. Anachronox may not feature the smooth, high-polygon count graphics of games in 2005, but the storytelling, the variety of settings, the music, voice acting (which was universally excellent, by the way) all combine in a way that is rarely seen to provide an engaging game. In fact, during a long weekend when my family were away, I found myself playing Anachronox for three days straight, and taking an extra day of leave from work to play for a fourth!

One final warning, however, if you have a problem with running around 'a lot of twisty passages all the same', beware. There are times when you are in location A, you realise you need to be in location B, but you have to spend five minutes running through half a dozen complex sections in between, including several loading screens. I suppose there is always a price to be paid for an extensive, wide-ranging and engaging environment.

Grade: A-

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements
  • PII 266 MHz (or equivalent)
  • Windows 95B/98/ME
  • 64 MB of RAM
  • 12 MB 3D accelerator card with full OpenGL support
  • DirectX 7 (included)
  • 4x CD-ROM drive
  • Controls: Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse
Recommended Requirements
  • AMD Athlon or Intel Pentium III processor
  • Windows 98/ME
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 16 MB 3D accelerator card with full OpenGL support
  • DirectX 7 (included)
  • 8X CD-ROM drive
  • Sense of humor

(I used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Obituary for Common Sense

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Someone Else Is To Blame, and I'm A Victim.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on.

If not, join the majority and do nothing.

-- From comments on The Telegraph (with apologies for the heavy-weight JavaScript content of the page).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Insult to Italy & Silvio Berlusconi

Well, the White House might have apologised, but that doesn't mean the quoted text isn't right about international opinion on Italy & Silvio Berlusconi anyway. However, "the four-page description of Mr Berlusconi [that] had been taken from the Encyclopedia of World Biography" appears to have been removed from the site... on the other hand, I can't find any indication in the Internet Archive or Google that it was ever there in the first place!

What's going on here?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Found via Slashdot, Gizmodo have a short article on the Lego archive. I can't believe Lego had the foresight to do this: they've actually stored a copy of almost every Lego product line ever sold still in their original little plastic bags in those brilliant flip-top boxes! Talk about your trips down memory lane! The video shows all my favourite sets - the small space Lego sets, the big Lego Technic car.

Before I discovered role-playing in my early teens (in the early 80s), I played with Lego virtually every weekend, the first gift I ever gave to the woman that is now my wife was a small Lego set (flowers and chocolates are just so passé), and even when I was trying to design a platforming game as a 27 year old, I still went back to Lego as a prototyping medium. Not only that, but my children still have my collection in the toybox, and it comes out from time to time, even though Lego no longer seems to hold children like it used to.

I loved the creativity of building my own toys, and what toy today gives you the tools to make cranes that span a garden? (ok, the string did, the driving & lifting mechanisms were a little smaller)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Originally posted at GameBoomers:

What is it?

We've had to wait seven years for Tim Schafer to create a new game, and this one went via Microsoft for a while, so no wondering about the delay then. (Can anybody see a release date for Longhorn yet?) But now, Majesco have released Double Fine Production's new opus.

Well, it's a biggy! It's been hyped by some, especially those who remember the early Monkey Island games, Grim Fandango (one of my personal favourites) and Tim Schafer's other games. It's new; it's flashy; it's weird; it's manic; it's Psychonauts! For the hard of hearing, please oblige me by imagining big flashy graphics around the name.

This game is a little off the beaten track for 'Boomers, I think. It's an adventure, in that there's a lot of plot, plenty of puzzles and loads of exploring. However, there's lots of action – running, jumping, punching, blasting and flying. Not to mention the RPG element of character development. This is what an action-adventure hybrid should be like, in my (not very, I guess) humble opinion.

Is there a plot?

Yes, in contrast to many action games I've come across, there most certainly is. Razputin has run away from his family, who're Circus acrobats, to the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp with one aim in mind; to become a Psychonaut. A full-blown psychic warrior and secret agent, just like his heroes, Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello, who just happen to be trainers at the Summer Camp.

Raz has to learn all the psychic skills on offer, venture into some of the strangest minds in the psycho-verse, do battle with everything from confusing rats, through catfish, lungfish and censors, all the way up to mad butchers and evil, fire-juggling, acrobats. All the while learning new skills to over come some of the strangest puzzles I've ever come across. For example, how on earth do you persuade painting dogs to overcome their fear of a raging bull to advertise the next fight of a completely self-centred matador? Look out for the wrestlers – they bite!

I liked the story in Psychonauts – somehow it manages to stay quite logical and 'together', despite the twists and turns of the game play, and the non-linear way in which you can visit the different places in the game. Some of the plot elements were predictable, but, like all good short stories (let's not pretend this is War and Peace, now shall we), there's a decent twist at the end.
How do you play?

Obviously, this is not a game that's suited to a point-n-click user interface. Okay, so we've alienated a large chunk of the 'Boomers audience, but wait, there's more. This game is has a mere 13 button controls, not to mention that the camera is controlled by the mouse – no wonder Majesco/Double Fine recommend a game-pad. The default controls have you using your left hand for movement and two selectable powers, plus jumping, 'psi-floating', and other controls for interacting with objects and people. Then your right hand is on the mouse controlling the camera (to which Raz's movement is relative – 'forward' is in the direction the camera is pointing, 'left' towards screen left, and so on) and punching and the third selectable power, on the right mouse-button.

The inventory and skills list are accessed via the '[' and ']' keys, but within those areas, individual items are selected using the direction keys, or a pair of direction keys in a compass-like fashion. Not the most immediately obvious inventory system, but it works.

With there being 8 different powers and only three buttons to activate them (by default, 'Q', 'E' and 'right click'), some of the puzzles require you to think carefully about which powers you want available to you on short notice.

Notable Features

There's lots of psi-powers, lots of items to find (including a scavenger hunt sub-plot), brains to recover (and people to re-brain), psi-cards and markers to achieve – some hidden in some remarkably obscure places, and in all the minds there are figments – translucent icons representing themes from the character of the mind you're in, mental baggage and safes. Finding figments and psi-cards is essential to the development of Raz's powers, whereas finding baggage and safes just fill in back-story on the various characters and add to the overall experience.

The worlds are weird, wild, wacky and very colourful. They're detailed and fun places to play in. When you're not dodging axe-wielding butchers, fiery spiked juggling clubs, beefy censors and Dr Loboto that is!

Added to this mix of graphical excellence is a sound track of enormous extent. This game comes on 5 CDs and installs to take 3.6GB – the sound effect archives take up amost 1GB of that. And I'm not including the cutscene files in that either, because they take another 1.5GB on their own! You might expect, with such a massive amount of data that there's been some mix up, and a lot of duplication, but no, as far as I can tell (in the several weeks it has taken me to play this game), there is very little duplication of resources. This game is huge! Not only that, but it has a remarkable level of replayability – well there's another point in it's favour over almost any other adventure game!

Any other novelties?

I think this entire game review should really be in this section! It is clear that Double Fine & Majesco have put a great deal of imagination and creative effort into this game, and it is replete with ideas and challenges. Even the platforming elements of the game don't seem like something from the 80s (when platform games started), but then, perhaps that's down to the perspective warps and gravity games that they've played. Ah, the benefits of playing a game in a world as warped as Tim Schafer's mind!

Another novelty for me is to find that, without exception, the voice acting is exceptional! And there are some little gems of performances by Armin Shimerman (Quark, from Star Trek Deep Space 9) and Dwight Shultz (Murdock, from the A-Team). See if you can spot who they're voicing.


There were a few occasions when the game crashed to the desktop, despite me having installed the second patch available from, but because of the frequent auto-saves the game makes (every time a 'loading' screen appears), I lost very little progress.

The most confusing thing for me was realising when Raz was in the 'real' world, and when he was in the mental world of someone's mind. Sometimes the 'real' world is sufficiently odd as to be confused with the truly weird places in some of the character's minds. Just wait until you see the world of the Milkman Conspiracy!! That's got to be the most warped and wonderfully conceived game worlds I've ever seen.

The other oddity, for me, is the 'Teen' rating the game has been give. Perhaps the game ratings people think it's not appropriate for under 13's to consider the insides of their own minds? On the other hand, some of the story ideas are quite nightmare-ish. Including the giant bunny-chasing butcher with a pair of bloody cleavers. Okay, so maybe I was wrong... 'Teen' is the appropriate rating, though in reality some under 13's will be fine with this game, and neither of my girls has had any Psychonauts-induced nightmares despite watching me play much of the game, and playing the early parts of the game themselves.


I have to admit it, Psychonauts is a pretty amazing game. It has big worlds, fun game play, a story that beats many traditional adventure games, very good pacing, great graphics, sound, voice acting, and almost flawless performance. Best of all, it has kept me occupied for hours, not just battling with frustration over my inability to perform some combination of obtuse moves, but with enjoying the challenges, and wanting to find out what happens to Razputin and his friends.

If you've ever wanted to blast things, set things on fire, throw things, levitate, see through other people's eyes, be invisible, confuse your enemies, and deflect energy attacks, then this game is for you.

Well, Tim, it seems that adventure games ain't dead, you just helped them move to another level!

Grade: A

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements
  • Windows 98 SE/2000/XP.
  • 1.0 GHz Pentium(R) III and AMD Athlon(tm)
  • 256 MB of RAM
  • 64 MB GeForce (tm) 3 or higher or ATI(R) Radeon 8500 or higher (except GeForce 4 MX)
  • DirectX9.0c or higher (included on game disc)
  • DirectX(R) 9.0c or higher compatible sound card
  • Hard Drive Space: 3.75 GB minimum hard drive space
  • CD-ROM: 16X or better
  • Controls: Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse

Recommended Requirements
  • Windows 2000/XP.
  • 2.0 GHz Pentium(R) III and AMD Athlon(tm)
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 128 MB GeForce FX 5600 or higher or ATI(R) Radeon 9600 or higher
  • DirectX(R) 9.0c or higher and EAX(R) 2.0 or higher compatible sound card
  • Controls: Game Pad (optional)

(I used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cable Madness Redux

Back in November of last year, I wrote about the insane Pear Anjou audio cables for audio-extremophiles (a.k.a. idiots with too much money to spend on audio kit). Now the same kind of idiocy has infected Denon network cables. Below are two images, which link to their relevant product pages:

normal cat-5 ethernet cablepremium cat-5 ethernet cable

Now, what's the difference between these two products? Okay, so the Denon ones are in a flashier package, with nicer cable wrap, and indeed, might be made using a higher quality of wire, but how (given that they're exactly the same length; 1.5m/59in) can anyone justify the 56x multiple in price? The bog standard CAT-5 ethernet cable on the left will cost you £4.45 (including VAT (UK sales tax)) whereas nice blue, fabric sheathed cable on the right, that does exactly the same job is... wait for it... $499 (or about £250 at today's rate, or £499 if Denon do what many electronic hardware manufacturers do in the UK and just swap the $ sign for the £ sign).

So, to take the optimistic view, that's a 5500% markup for little difference in product. And given that ethernet is a digital signal, your network is either there, or it's not, quality barely comes into it.

You have to ask yourself what the mental state is of someone setting such insane prices. Are they laughing out loud (hysterically, perhaps), or do they think their customers are 7 sandwiches, a magnum of champagne, and a crate of strawberries short of a picnic?

If a post like this can prevent just one person from supporting such outright exploitation of a market sector that's clearly under-educated and over-financed, then I've done my good deed for the day.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Mouse that went to the Moon

I love a good underdog story, and in the past the Ansari X Prize (for sub-orbital space flight), and now the Google X Prize (for lunar landing) have both excited my interest. The little guys try to do what it took NASA billions of dollars and a tragic number of lives to achieve.

A few months ago (Sept 2007) Bob X. Cringely (my favourite computing & tech. blogger) announced the formation of Team Cringely to attempt to get a lunar rover to the moon within 18 months (by 1st April 2009), and for only $5million. Fantastic!

Now Bob says they're not going to bother with competing for the X Prize after all, but here's the good news: they're still going to the Moon, only this time they're going to send 24, yes, twenty-four rovers! The man is either mad, a genius, or a mad genius! Now, of course, they're free of the X Prize rules - which, if Bob's comments are anything to go by, are pretty weird - and are real pirate underdogs. The result:

Comment 1:
If you place a micro-dot on one of the rovers with the names of my kids on it ( I have 3) I'm in for a 1000.00. Sell 999 more and you have 20% of your budget! Cheers and good luck. Mike
Comment 3:
Now yur talkin - how do I donate a few bucks to the cause?
Seems I'm not the only one to think Cringely et. al. have done the right thing. All power to you and team, Bob!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The FIA General Assembly

The forthcoming meeting of the FIA General Assembly (on June 3rd) cannot come soon enough. Max Mosley vs. News of the World privacy case does not signify - regardless of the outcome of those court proceedings, and any claims of entrapment, the truth of the BDSM habits of Mosley is clear. He did participate in the activities claimed (and videod).

Consequently, Mosley's position as the chief representative and primary authority figure within the FIA is severely compromised. He is simply not the right figure for the job, especially given his father and mother.

It is time that the FIA voting members stood up to Max and his cronies, and cleaned out the house. And forget about ever appointing Jean Todt in his place. His pro-Ferrari bias is even more obvious than Max's! Perhaps Gerhard Berger (despite his Ferrari-driving past) would be a better choice. have a similar post on this subject.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Broadcast vs. Communication

It seems that most of the mainstream media companies (Viacom, Disney, NBC, CNN, etc) think the internet is a broadcast medium. They put stuff up on their pages, users just consume their pap, just like TV, with very little control other than the channel, or the big red button (the ultimate choice not to bother). They want to control how that material is seen, and prevent anyone from using it in any other way. But immediately, everyone that views it gets a local copy (with the exception of streamed stuff) in their browser if not their cache too. It's not just an ephemeral signal, here now, gone now.

In contrast, the web is, and always has been, a communications medium. I put stuff up (like this blog), you can consume it if you like, but (and it's a big but) you can put up a response of your own, without need for any more license than I. Your response can be a comment here, or in your own space; a blog, a forum, a web-page, on IRC, or some new medium I don't know about yet, or have forgotten about.

Of course, the internet goes much further than the web: email, nntp, gopher (are there any gopher servers left?), ftp, and many more protocols not normally visible to mere mortals like you or I.

The future of the internet as a (reasonable democratic) communications medium depends upon the 'long tail' standing up to the big media companies, the organisations representing them directly (RIAA, MPAA, BPI, I'm looking at you), and those that don't officially (national governments, I'm looking at you!) to ensure that the internet remains a domain of free expression for the exchange and development of ideas.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Addendum on Everest Death Wishes

If you're sat a Everest Base Camp, looking up at the summit region and you see the kind of weather shown in this video, you don't leave Base Camp, unless you and your entire climbing team have a Death Wish.
And the first thing you do on a day when you're looking to climb from Base Camp to the summit is to check with the local meteorologists as to what weather conditions to expect later in the day - and if they indicate that the weather at the summit is going to be the kind of weather shown in the video above, you don't leave Base Camp, unless you and your entire climbing team have a Death Wish.
And if you're part way up Everest and discover you've been let down by some stupid meteorologists, and discover that you're in the kind of weather shown in the video above, you head straight back to Base Camp, unless you and your entire climbing team have a Death Wish.
Were the entire climbing team involved in the fake Chinese ascent of Everest with the Olympic Torch a bunch of suicide cases? Or are they just too afraid of the Chinese security services...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Microhoo! Round Two

The loudest merger of 2008, Microsoft and Yahoo rumbles on. Round One may be over, with Microsoft having withdrawn their bid, now that Yahoo have asked for $37 per share (rather than the $33 Microsoft were offering) but now we have Round Two. Ding! Ding!

The Yahoo shareholders wade into the ring... this is beginning to sound like a WWF tag match!

Eric Jackson (Ironfire Capital, Yahoo shareholder), from the BBC article on this subject, said, "Yahoo's stock has essentially been flat for the last four years while the market has gone up over 30% and Google has gone up 440%. So the comparisons are stark and the board has not been doing its job."

And what is the job of the Yahoo board? To service customers? To bring more eyes to their advertisers' properties and increase their sales? To encourage discourse and the development of the Web into a globally available, multi-cultural resource for the furtherance of humankind?

No! The only legal responsibility of the board, in a public company is "to increase shareholder value." Baldly put, make the rich investors richer.

Guess what, selling Yahoo to Microsoft at $33 a share (the offer from Microsoft) would garner roughly $44.6bn to be split between the current share holders, assuming MS buys all the shares to achieve the takeover. That's an awful lot of 'shareholder value' that's locked up in the company. Ah, but there's the key.... it's locked up in the company, and the corporate vulture set can't get their grubby little mitts on it, unless MS buys Yahoo from them, at a 70% premium over the price at the time of the offer ($19.18) ! The actual trading price on the NASDAQ of Yahoo shares leapt a staggering 48% on the day of the bid (1st Feb 2008) to $28.38. Even now, 3 months later, with Microsoft's bid withdrawn, the stock price is still in the mid- to upper-$20 range. Boo hoo! I want my money back!

Never mind the serious lack of similarity between Microsoft and Yahoo. One uses a lot of real computers, the other is Microsoft. One has a search engine that has some market share, the other has a search engine nobody uses. I'd never even bothered to look at Microsoft's Live Search until researching this post! And now I find that the results pages look like a direct rip-off of the Google pages. I guess Microsoft does love Google after all, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that. Anyway, along with many other commentators, I don't see what possible synergies there are between Microsoft and Yahoo that could outweigh the massive organisational paralysis and technical nightmares that a merger would cause.

Finally, a final note from the BBC article on this subject: "In 2006 [Carl Icahn (another major Yahoo investor)] unsuccessfully pushed for the break up of Time Warner. In a recent interview on America's 60 Minutes programme he said: 'Maybe I made a mistake, but I made $300m on it. So is that so bad?'" Well, if your motivation is purely personal enrichment then, no, that wasn't so bad. Damn the consequences, good or bad.

It would clear my mortgage anyway.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Myst IV Revelation

Originally posted at GameBoomers:

What is it?
The sequel to the sequel (Exile) to the sequel (Riven) of Myst! Just like Exile, this is a point-n-click adventure, in full screen, 360 degree bubbles. Chronologically, this game comes after Exile; Yeesha, the baby at the beginning of Exile, is now a bright, engaging 10-year old, and Atrus (played, once again, by Rand Miller, CEO of Cyan Worlds) is starting to show some age, with a distinguished display of greying hair and beard.

Okay, I have to come clean, right from the start. I've been a fan of the Myst games since 1993. So, you can imagine the sense of excitement and anticipation I felt when a certain package arrived on my doormat! I've been really good this time. I've not looked at the preview screen shots, I've assiduously avoided any Myst-related threads on adventure forums; I know next to nothing about Myst IV Revelation. Until now....

Where does it come from?
Again, like Exile, this game was not written, nor developed by Cyan (the originators of the Myst story) however the first "ident" movie is the wonderful Cyan one that sends shivers down my spine!

This game was developed for UbiSoft by Team Revelation, under license (and with artistic and plot oversight) from Cyan. Development of the project started well before Exile was complete, and you can tell from the quality of the game that it has taken all this time to produce. There's just so much in it. It comes with two whole DVDs of resources -- giving an 8GB (yes, eight gigabytes) full install. Even the minimum install is a whopping 3.5GB!

Is there a plot?
Of course... it's a Myst game! Atrus introduces the story by telling us that his sons, Sirrus and Achenar, weren't killed at the end of Myst (as some people had supposed) but remained trapped. Now we find out how Atrus and his family -- Catherine, his wife, and Yeesha, their lively (roughly) 10 year old daughter -- have dealt with the situation. You're invited to help out.

Those sons of his seem to have been the bane of Atrus's existence, providing the plot and motivation for three out of the five Myst games so far.

This is also the second Myst game to have its plot written by Mary DeMarle. She also wrote the story for Exile, to such good effect, and this one is similarly excellent, fitting the canon of Myst-lore well.

How do you play?
Starting in Tomahna (Atrus's family's home), you solve puzzles, fix machinery, go on wild rides, decode texts & sounds, etc, in four Ages. The Ages are spectacular, but I don't want to spoil any surprises for anyone. So I'll just say that the Ages are bigger, more elaborate and more fully realized than anything in Exile. Riven only rivals this by dint of it being set almost entirely in one Age, rather than four. On a personal note, I have to say that Tomahna is my favourite Age in this game; I could live there myself.

Navigation is simple, being entirely mouse driven. The customisable hand cursor is used throughout, making smoothly animated transitions between idle, pointing, grasping and touching forms. You can change the colour, transparency, and handedness of the cursor in the Options menu. A nice touch, enabling you to control how visible your cursor is.

Hotspots are rarely difficult to find - there's no pixel hunting here. Controls on machinery are clear in their location, if not their function. But then the game wouldn't be true to the Myst genre if Atrus's mechanical wonders were obvious in their layout.

The Puzzles don't interrupt game play and plot...they're essential to progressing the story. They're not just in the style of "here's a fancy puzzle-lock, you don't get to see the Treasure Chamber until you can figure out this sliding tiles game". There are some very novel puzzles right from the get-go. And the final puzzle is a complete doozy!

Just so you know, there are no mazes, nor sliding blocks, but there are sound puzzles and a timed sequence.

Notable Features
The live acting is excellent. Rand Miller is the *only* person who can play Atrus, much as he'd like to escape the role! Yeesha (Juliette Gosselin) is lovely. Sirrus and Achenar were played by Rand and Robin Miller in Myst, and are now played by Brian Wench, (a US TV actor) and Guy Sprung (a Canadian TV actor). Both are excellent, bringing back to life those two apparent psychopaths from the first game with great flair and enjoyable characterisation.

Technically, the live action sequences are integrated very, very well with the pre-rendered elements, animated environment, and real-time effects. Characters interact with objects, pass through doorways accurately, and show up as distant glimpses through intervening structures very smoothly. There's a great sense of the characters being real within this world.

Inevitably, I have to gush glowing praise for the graphics in Myst IV. Every time we have a new Myst game, I am astounded by the leaps forward made by the development teams, be they Cyan themselves, Presto (Exile) or Team Revelation. The Ages are stylish, intricate, beautiful (in their own ways), and fantastically brought to life by the optional immersive features. Even without the optional material, there is life in the environment, with moving water, animated insects, lightning, wind and wildlife. However, if you turn on the optional effects, the overall picture is stunning. To take Tomahna for example, the trees move in the wind, the waterfall is shrouded in mist (not myst, sic!), smoke rises from the kitchen, birds and insects flutter around the vegetation and scattered leaves blow in the breeze.

This game really is a tour de force in world realisation and photo-realistic environments!

As with Exile, the music for Myst IV was composed by Jack Wall. I've always found his material beautiful, haunting, dramatic, and brilliantly applied. He has linked this game stylistically and thematically to the earlier games, without just re-using Robyn Miller's material. There's also a song by Peter Gabriel (who also composed music for Uru: Ages of Myst), which fits in very well where it comes. No spoiler intended.

Any other novelties?
ALIVE technology - most objects and surfaces within range of your hand can be touched to find out what they sound like - walls, books, glass windows, plants, equipment; all sorts of things. Some objects can be used without appearing to have any true part in the game -- lovely extra colour, to bring you deeper into the game. This addresses one of the longest held gripes of many point-n-click adventurers; the fact that the game environments almost always include many objects about which the user is curious, but can never actually explore (for example, in Syberia, all those 1st floor doors in the hotel in Valadilene that went nowhere).

The game also allows you to have objects take on a degree of soft focus based upon their distance from the user. I must say that I really didn't like this feature, and turned it off as soon as I discovered it was optional. I like my world to be as clear as possible; I can get all the blurred images I could possibly ever wish for, if I take my glasses off.

There's the built-in hint system, using hints from Prima (publishers of the Strategy Guide for Myst IV, amongst many other guides). Level I, II, and III hints provide gentle nudges, pointed clues, and complete instructions for the various puzzles. There is a warning every time the hint system is about to reveal more information (almost every click whilst using the hints). This gets annoying very quickly. Yes, I know using this hint may "affect my gaming experience". Enough already!

Part way into the game, you obtain an amulet of memories that is used to give plot and character developing colour, especially by allowing the player to hear the characters read out the contents of their various journals. This makes absorbing the information in the journals a much more enjoyable aspect of the game than it has been in previous Myst games.

A camera may not be a novelty to adventure gamers anymore. There was one in Timelapse and many other games since. But the Myst IV camera is one of the most useful ever. We all know how difficult it is to take good graphical notes for Myst games; the clues can be so subtle. Well, the camera and viewer (with its note taking function too) make taking notes so much easier, it's almost simple to use Atrus's crystal viewer. Not too simple of course, because the clues are hand drawn, but still, much easier than puzzling out clues copied down late at night by someone who's own drawing skills leave much to be desired!

I'm sorry to say that my playing of Myst IV was marred by a number of bugs.

First of all, there's a compatibility issue with ATI Radeon cards (7000, 7500 and in my experience 9000 too) where the 3D environment is masked out by sandy squares. However, UbiSoft have a fix for this on their support site; a modification to a configuration file.

Secondly, the game has periodic crashes to the desktop. The game never crashed my PC, but did quit suddenly at a number of places, and never reproducibly, making it very hard to diagnose the cause. Therefore, save often; but this leads to the third problem I suffered.

As you accumulate save games, the menus get slower and slower. So either limit yourself to, say, ten save slots, or find the save directory and move save files out of the way, or periodically delete old saves from within the Load Game menu.

In a nutshell: magnificent! This is my favourite Myst game yet. There are the awesome Ages, with perilous heights, stunning scenery, fantastical creatures. We get plenty of lifts, cable car rides, amazing machines, intriguing and challenging puzzles.

Flies in the ointment: blurry focus (can be turned off), massive full install, virtual CD/DVD check, and graphical problems that weren't completely solved until I'd finished the game. It's a shame that after three years of development, there are still issues in the game. These issues, including the save game slow-down and repeated crashes to desktop, contribute to a slight tarnish on the overall product. I'll be betraying my fan-dom of the Myst games by saying that I was willing to work around the issues, and have been able, I feel, to see the gold underneath.

Grade: A-

A patch solving the issues mentioned above would convert this into an A+.

What do you need to play it?
Minimum Requirements
• 700 MHz Pentium(r) III or AMD Athlon(tm) or better
• 32 MB DirectX(r) 9-compliant video card (800x600 display)
• 128 MB RAM (256 MB required for XP)
• 3.5 GB free hard disk space
• 4x DVD or faster
• DirectX 9.0-compliant sound card
• Windows(r) 98SE/2000/ME/XP with DirectX 9.0c (included on DVD)

Recommended Requirements
• Pentium(r) IV or AMD Athlon(tm)
• 64Mb or more DirectX(r) 9-compliant video card (800x600 display)
• 256 MB RAM
• 8.0 GB free hard disk space

(I used Win XP, AMD XP 2400, 512 MB RAM, ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)

Thursday, May 08, 2008


China claims that the Olympic torch has been taken to the summit of Mount Everest.

First question : why?

Second question: what distinguishes the location shown in this video from any windy, snowy, rocky, slightly elevated, location in any part of China?

Third question: why is there no evidence of breathing equipment on the climbers? Oxygen support is required for all but the most extreme mountaineers at the summit of Mount Everest.

Answer One, Two and Three : they didn't do it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Streisand Effect Strikes Again

I find it quite amazing the number of people who fall for this lawyer-dream-cum-true behaviour where some offended party chooses to sue an internet site for libel or defamation or just to get them to pull particular content. Many people have done this, but every time they do, all they get is a bloody nose and a whole lot of publicity they never wanted in the first place... example: Barbara Bauer is a literary agent and somebody doesn't like her. So instead of just telling their friends and neighbours not to use her services (perhaps they don't have any friends or neighbours who're in the market for literary agencies?), they created a page on Wikipedia to describe her. Now, that page kept on being restored and deleted, and it actually appears to have survived for 10 months from May 2007 to March 2008 (wiki deletion log).

So Ms Bauer decides she doesn't like this, so she's suing Wikipedia. No, not the author of the defamatory article; Wikipedia. It's about time somebody at whatever passes for a Bar Council or a Law Society in the States needs to hit the entire legal profession upside the head with a big clue stick. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) means you cannot sue the service provider (in this case Wikipedia) for what their members chose to post. I'm sure there's something in the US Constitution on the subject too!

So Ms. Bauer, welcome to the Streisand Effect. You make an ill-aimed fuss about something you want kept quiet, and what happens? Everyone hears about whatever it is you want kept quiet. Me? I'd never heard of you. Now? I'm left with the impression (rightly or wrongly) that you're a poor literary agent with a penchant for scatter-gun litigation. Sure sounds professional to me!

What's worse is that you'll now go down in history (via Google's indexes, Yahoo! indexes, MSN Live Search indexes (maybe), Altavista, not to mention the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive) in that way, but not at Wikipedia because not only have they deleted the article, no-one can create an article with that name any more.

Note: the Wayback Machine will have articles about the Wikipedia case, it doesn't actually have the Wikipedia article itself ... at least I couldn't find it. I'm not sure which is worse in terms of publicity: an article few people are likely to read, or many many articles of opinion scattered across the 'net, based upon journalist's reporting of the case. So we may all be quite wrong.

Scratch that. I do know: Ms Bauer, the correct way to handle this would have been by a simple appeal to the administrators of Wikipedia. Only an idiot involves lawyers where a simple email would more than likely have sufficed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Apparently found on the archives of talk.bizarre from September 1998, here is a fascinating analogy for the stock market. Seems remarkably apt, especially given this article from yesterday on the BBC.

Both go a long way to explain the mess the markets now find themselves in. But the most frustrating thing is that, of course, everyone suffers from the financial fall-out of their adrenaline & testosterone addictions.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

To: Microsoft, Re: OOXML

Shamelessly copied (and modified) from Chris Samuel, down under:

Dear Microsoft,


Due to massive irregularities in the voting process in ISO, the requirement to use patented media formats such as MP3, the enforcement of old date bugs in the standard, and the sheer inappropriateness of using the fast-track process for your massive XML document format OOXML I will not accept it as an agreed ISO standard, even though you managed to con enough people into voting buy enough votes for it.


p.s. please feel free to copy my copy to your heart's content, but please give credit for the original to Chris!

The Moment of Silence

Originally posted at GameBoomers:

What is it?

The Moment of Silence (TMOS) is the newest adventure game from the House of Tales, the German outfit that brought us The Mystery of the Druids. Right away, I have to admit that I really didn't like The Mystery of the Druids, but I stopped comparing the two games pretty quickly. TMOS contains none of the graphical bugs and immersion-breaking missteps of The Mystery of the Druids, so this is the last time I'll mention it.

Okay, so now we've dealt with some of my prejudices, let's get on with the game at hand. The game arrived in a standard DVD-style box and this was the first surprise - it comes on DVD. I had thought that the DVD format was limited to the really big-budget guys like the Myst franchise and Half-Life 2. But, obviously, I was wrong, as it seems to be taking over further down the market. This is a Good ThingTM, because it means developers can offer games that can honestly claim "spectacular set pieces and dramatic action sequences", "over 75 rendered and animated locations", "more than 500 interactive screens". All of which, I must say, TMOS does indeed deliver.

Is there a plot?

Oh yes! Most definitely - this game is completely plot driven. The main character is Peter Wright. He's a communications designer - an ad-man, so to speak - working on the government's latest political campaign for anti-cryptography legislation. His world, as is so often the case in such games, is turned upside down by the sudden arrival of a S.W.A.T. team at his neighbour's apartment. Peter's neighbour is dragged away by armed police, leaving his family stunned in the doorway. At this point, Peter makes what might be considered in the real world to be a critically bad move... he goes round to his neighbour's place to see if he can help. But, I hear you saying, there wouldn't be much of a game here if he didn't! And you're absolutely right. Anyway, the story leads from here in Brooklyn to locations in various parts of New York City -- including Peter's office and Greenwich Village -- and then beyond to the tropics, the Arctic and even off-world for a time. Along the way, some of Peter's recent history is revealed, which makes his reactions to some of the story elements more than a little surprising.

The environments in this game are somewhat reminiscent of Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner'. However, this game has none of the empty spaces, ultra-busy streets, dark drama, or the rain of that film, though it does rain during some of the sections. We're talking 2044 here, 40 years hence; the world is governed by a democratic super-state with Big Brother-like tendencies. Technology has moved on in a surprisingly understated manner - people carry messengers (hand-held video phones), desktop computers look pretty much like the current advanced models with some nice enhancements (like no tower to get in the way), and the Internet has been renamed GlobalNet. Of course, GlobalNet is still used primarily for chatting, email and publicity, very much like today. Public transport has advanced - the maglev train is the subway of the future, and Peter mostly uses automatic cabs to get around locations in New York. Other transport media are used too - aeroplane, zeppelin, space elevator, skidoo and rocket. But most of the time, Peter is on foot.

How do you play?

The third person user interface of TMOS is mainly mouse-driven, with a couple of keyboard controls to summon help (displaying the exits from the scene) and Peter's Messenger, when it is available. Left clicking moves Peter around the world and performs actions (picking up objects, starting conversations, pressing buttons and applying inventory objects to people, the environment or other inventory objects), and right clicking gets descriptions of things from Peter's point of view, or de-selects a held object. As this is a third person game, navigating Peter around the environment is done using the mouse. This has one major drawback. It can be difficult to navigate in confined spaces and there is a particular problem with controlling Peter within his own apartment. This is really rather distracting when the start of the game requires you to spend some time in said apartment finding things.
The Escape key brings up the standard game menu for saving and loading games and setting options. There aren't many configurable options - just the voice, music and sound effects volumes and subtitles. What more do you really need?

Puzzles in this game are varied. There are inventory-based puzzles, including object-combining ones, and as we've come to expect, not all of the solutions are obvious applications of the particular objects. There are conversation trees - some of which are quite deep. Other puzzles include combination locks and dentistry, of all things.

Regarding the conversation trees, it would be nice if someone could finally sort out conversation trees so that you don't get comments from characters before the main character should know the information. Using the multiple choices in an order other than that displayed on the page gave rise to out-of-order information. If there are dependencies between conversation branches, then the dependent branches should simply not show up until the leading branches have been traversed, even if this leads to fewer options appearing at a time. Sadly, TMOS falls foul of this sufficiently often that I gave up trying conversation options in the order that seemed interesting and stuck to the order in which they're listed on the screen.

Notable Features

TMOS comes on DVD. This is important and the DVD-style game box makes this clear in five places, and just so you don't miss it, that's the same number of times as in this review. I repeat, this game comes on DVD - got it? ;-)

To those people who have an issue with StarForce protected games, be warned, this is another one of them. However, the only problem this caused was that the DVD sometimes was detected improperly by the StarForce disk checker if the DVD had been in the drive for a long time before starting the game, so I had to try to start it again.

This is also a big game - 3.4GB full install. It is somewhat unusual in that you install it normally, and then you use an extra button on the AutoLauncher to convert the normal installation into a full install.

The developer has already patched the game; however it is a small download when compared to many others currently available. The AutoLauncher has a "Check for updates" option that simplifies the patching of the game quite considerably. I didn't try the optional GameShadow program that comes with TMOS, as I'm not a fan of programs that scan the contents of my hard disk looking for games to upgrade - even if it is under my control.

Any other novelties?

I'm not sure if this next comment really counts as a novelty; in an ideal world, it certainly shouldn't. The voice acting in TMOS is almost universally excellent. The box claims "over 35 professionally voiced... characters," and indeed there are a goodly number of characters, though I didn't count them all, and they are all well acted.

The one exception, and this may be the reason I had some trouble getting excited by this game, was the voice of Peter Wright himself. Now, given his circumstances, I can understand why he's somewhat unhappy at times, but I feel the game suffers for his downhearted presentation - he needs to show more anger and outrage, and less numb melancholy.


TMOS offers two levels of anti-aliasing in the hardware settings section of the AutoLauncher. However these caused the game to crash to desktop when starting, so I gave up on them. Apart from this, the game was remarkably stable - I can't, in fact, recall any other crashes or hang ups whilst playing it.

I rather liked the developers' idea of how the mobile phone will change over the next 40 years - into the mobile video phone. The device seems useful and usable; with a simple menu and "start call" and "end call" buttons. However, the phone is used very little within the game, compared to how it could have been used. It is interesting that the phone acts as a metaphor for Peter's identity. When he is without his phone, he is a non-person; when he has it, he is a functioning member of society.

What went missing -- beyond the essential excitement that a game of this quality should engender -- were certain sound effects. With such a richly rendered environment, including objects that Peter can comment on but which turn out to never be used (something we adventurers regularly ask for), it seems odd that the House of Tales didn't take the opportunity to include footstep sound effects. There are times when Peter walks on pavement, carpet, vinyl, metal plating, concrete, and puddled surfaces, plus varied indoor spaces where you'd expect some of the sounds to reverberate around the room.


The Moment of Silence is a very professionally made, tightly plotted, well-acted (in the main), good-looking game that would justify all but the highest of price tags. Just one problem -- it lacks the sparkle and excitement I need to really recommend this game. It is a good example of the conspiracy theory genre, and certainly didn't fall into the trap of predictability. I'm usually a pretty good plot-spotter in mysteries and movies, and I didn't predict this ending before I got there, although I did have some of the elements quite early on.

Okay, I lied; one more mention of Mystery of the Druids: TMOS is much, much better than Mystery of the Druids. Finally, this game comes on DVD, so make sure you have a DVD drive before you buy.

Grade: B

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements
  • Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP.
  • Pentium II 450 or equivalent
  • 64MB RAM
  • 32MB 3D graphics card
  • DirectX9 - oddly, DirectX 8 comes on the DVD
  • DirectX9 compatible sound card
  • 2x speed DVD ROM drive.

(I used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)

P.S. Dekker was a replicant, so there!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

AOL & Compuserve

It occurred to me this morning that the Google universe has now become, by growth and stealthy usefulness, an ecosystem rather like AOL and Compuserve once viewed themselves.

AOL and Compuserve were gateways to online content. You connected to their servers, through their browser, and spent most of your time reading their content, providing eyeballs for their advertisers, and contributing to their forums (or email lists). Eventually both providers opened up access to more of that new fangled 'internet'-thingy... and gradually their own content whithered away, so that they're little more than search and portal services.

On the other hand, as we all know, Google started as a search engine with a friendly logo, (Rather remeniscent of the "Don't Panic!" of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) but has gradually grown to provide all sorts of services, and a portal homepage to boot.

Specifically it struck me that I use (in no particular order):
  • Google Mail
  • Google Search
  • Google Homepage
  • Google Reader (RSS feed reader)
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Documents
  • Google Checkout
  • Google Maps
  • Google Earth
  • Google Finance
  • Google Notebook
  • Google Images
  • YouTube
  • ... and ...
  • Blogger (did you know that?)
Check out this list for yourself... you might be surprised just how involved in your life Google has become.

I'm not sure at this point whether this is a good thing or not, mostly because it's never caused me any problem to be so entangled with Google, but that, in its own right, causes me anxiety ... what about resilience, and availability? And can I really trust the big cuddly, cool, fluffy corporation that is Google never to anything evil with my data?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Financial reasons

Something a little unusual for me: my boss sent me a link today to a blog from an analyst in the UK financial sector, and the content is actually interesting. Everyone is complaining about the so-called 'credit crunch'. That self-perpetuating, self-fulfilling prophecy that financial doom is going to cause another global recession.

Whilst Chris Skinner (the blogger in question) isn't actually saying the crisis isn't upon us, but he is at least writing about the real causes: machines being given too much unchecked freedom, people not recognising and managing risks, and the regulators being too divided and ignorant of their own markets to due a proper job.

I especially like the "young pups every 7-10 years" cycle in the second post, and the details of the Northern Rock situation (about half-way down the third post) - Northern Rock's business model was to be carrying over 3 times more debt (as client mortgages & similar) over the deposits of their clients. So for every £1 in the bank, there was £3.25 in debt! On top of that, they only had £1.5 billion in insurance, against that £90 billion debt! No wonder there were problems when they couldn't keep the wheels oiled with inter-bank loans.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Competing with 'free'

Dealing with the fact that music now fits into the category of 'infinite goods' is proving mentally challenging for many in the music publishing business. Not so Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame.

His recent album distribution plan has a number of options for the 'purchaser':

1. download the basic album for free
2. ...
3. various packages of extras and DRM-free file formats: small costs from $5 - $75.
4. ...
5. the exclusive limited edition (only 2,500 copies) primo version at $300 a pop.

Despite the fact that option 1 is widely executed, gross sales in the first week alone are $1.6 million.

Now that's what I call competing with free and still making a living!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Internet is not Especially Dangerous to Kids!

This news from Techdirt needs to be pushed out there as much as possible. All to often the Internet is portrayed as the most dangerous place for kids in the world. It simply isn't true because, well, kids just aren't as stupid and unaware of simple stranger-danger as the more nanny-ish of adults out there would like to think.

Is this a control issue? The adults don't understand what the kids are doing, so get all over-protective?

Come on parents, grow up, and learn to judge risk online like you do in your own lives, not just by using the standards of the circulation-whoring headline-grabbers in the old media industries (newspapers, magazines, television and radio, in case you're confused over whom I'm blaming).

Update: has this disclaimer on their site that also makes the point rather nicely.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fairy Tale

Originally posted at GameBoomers:

What is it?
"Fairy Tale", or "Fairy Tale About Father Frost, Ivan and Nastya" to give it its complete title, is another point and click adventure from Eastern Europe. The developers, Bohemia Interactive Studio, are a Czech outfit, based in Prague. The eponymous Tale is inspired by Russian folklore, and focuses on the story of a young girl, Nastienka (Nastya), and a hero, Ivan.
The game is described by the publisher, Cenega, as being suitable for 'Any child able to switch on a computer' with parental assistance, but 'ideal for children aged 6 years'. This seems to be reasonably accurate. The game is not difficult to operate, nor overly complex in it's puzzles, but I'd be very impressed by a child of 6 who can play the entire game.
Because this game is aimed at people so much younger than me, I'll once more be asking Purple Bear (my 10-year old daughter) for some comments, in an effort to overcome the old fogey effect. Her comments are in bold italic text.

Is there a plot?
Yes. The Fairy Tale is the stories of Nastienka and Ivan. Nastienka is a young girl who has a new stepmother and stepsister to use and abuse her in classic fairy story ways. Ivan is a young hero, leaving home in search of a bride, learning humility along the way.
The two story threads are nicely interleaved; we begin with Nastya before switching to Ivan. They eventually meet, before diverging again to continue their stories. The player must help Nastya to overcome her overbearing stepmother, weak father, and annoying stepsister, and help Ivan learn some degree of humility - he's a particularly obnoxious character to begin with. I don't want to give away any more of the plot because it is about the only element in the game that is surprising. I will say, though, that Father Frost doesn't appear until very late in the game - in retrospect, his inclusion in the title is rather surprising!
I found the game fairly easy. The story was interesting and different from other games I've played. The game was not scary at all, and I think the story turned out right in the end.

How do you play?
When you start the game, you're dropped straight into the beginning of the story; a grandmother is telling a bedtime story to her grandchildren - this element returns from time to time in the game as a break between the four acts. Even to load an existing game, you have to hit the Escape key to get to the menus. The menus are simple - New, save and load, options, credits and exit - what need is there for more? Options are limited to subtitles, colour depth, special effects and sound volumes.
As I've already said, we're dealing with a point-n-click adventure. It is played in a full screen playing area, from the third person perspective, with the mouse only. There is an extensive inventory of objects to use to solve the puzzles in the game. Inventory items are changed by activities; some puzzles require the combination of items. Puzzles vary from knitting socks to extracting bears from fallen tree stumps, from defeating robbers to escaping a fiery dragon. The majority of puzzles are inventory based, but not exclusively.
The inventory is shown on a pop-down, translucent bar across the top of the screen. Most of the time, the inventory doesn't get in the way, but there were times it popped down when I didn't want to see it.
It was fun to play two different people at different times in the game.
I like the bits where Squeaky the Bat was talking and the words were upside down. The names of the characters were very unusual. But my favourite parts were Baba Yaga's dancing, and the .
Human Misery was my favourite character because she was so different from the other characters.

Notable Features
Unusually, in my experience, the manual for Fairy Tale is surprisingly informative! It is a slim affair - a mere 6 pages of information, plus credits and space for notes. However, once the author gets past the installation instructions and the detailed description of the user interface, there is a useful set of hints on adventure game playing strategy, for example, "Think 'game-like.' Improvise. You don't necessarily use all the items you find for their primary purpose. For example, a horseshoe can be used in various ways, such as throwing."
Now the game doesn't actually require you to throw a horseshoe, but if granny just gave an 8-year old child this game (it is suitable for 6 year olds, remember), and the parents have no adventure game experience, consider how useful strategy hints are going to be for all concerned! The same goes for the detailed description of the user interface.
Okay, I've covered some of the nicer features... now the downsides. The graphics and the voice acting.
I know we all say in those polls on the game factors, that the story is king, well that may well be the case, but why are we still dealing with animated games with characters that could have been drawn by a high-school student, rather than a professional artist - and if they weren't drawn by a professional artist, but by a programmer in his spare time, why didn't the developers hire a professional artist?
Now the worst factor: the voice acting. This was a real area of weakness. Most of the characters sounded like they'd been instructed to impart the opposite emotion into the lines than what was needed - or at best that any old reading of the lines would do! I only hope that the characters come over better in the original Czech. That's a do-over, guys - especially Nastya's stepmother.
There is also a key that Ivan has to retrieve early in his story, but there seemed to be bug around this as a couple of times through the game, we couldn't find the key, despite solving the relevant puzzle.
I think that the menus were quite simple to use. The key bug was the only really annoying bit.
The pictures were all quite flat, and even though they were quite colourful the game looked boring. If I could change anything, I'd change the graphics from 2D to 3D. .
I didn't need much help to play the game, except with the missing key problem and when I couldn't find the pub in the town.

Any other novelties?
The biggest novelty in this game is the use of Russian folklore as inspiration. How many times have we been to Atlantis, Egypt, a medieval land of fantasy, or Outer Space? Too many to count. But how often have we seen a game set in rural Eastern Europe? It doesn't sound an exciting prospect, but in the context of this story, it works well.
This game shows some promise. It has a novel (apart from the troublesome stepmother) story, given the current state of the art of adventure game writing. The interface is reasonably solid - though it did hang a few times. But, and this is a big but in my opinion, the game is severely let down by the voice acting. I feel it is especially important to get this right with games aimed at children because of the story telling aspect of the game.
The worst offence against gaming, however, was the dire execution of the voice acting. I know an evil stepmother is supposed to sound bad, but this one sounded like she'd had a stroke.
This is not really a keeper, for me. I would never replay it.
I'd say that some of most of the girls in my class would like the game, but not the boys. Even though I finished the game, I think it was a bit boring. I don't want to play it again.

Grade: C+

What do you need to play it?
Minimum Requirements
• Pentium(r) III 733 MHz or Athlon(tm) 733 MHz
• 32MB nVidia GeForce2 / ATI Radeon video card
• 256 MB RAM
• 400 MB Hard Drive
• CD-ROM or CD/DVD-ROM drive 8x
• Mouse
• DirectX certified sound card
• Windows 98/2000/XP with DirectX 8.1
Recommended Requirements
• Pentium(r) IV 1.5 GHz or Athlon(tm) 1.5 GHz
• 64 MB nVidia GeForce 4 / ATI Radeon 9600 PRO video card
• 512 MB RAM
• Sound card with 3D sound support
• Windows XP
(We used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks, Oh My!

I read the Techdirt blog every day, generally via the RSS feed. Their usual themes are business models, law, and economics, with a US bias. One of today's posts is one of their best ever (IMHO), giving decent definitions of the above concepts: Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks. Oh my, indeed! It's nice to see these terms laid out simply and straightforwardly.

Patents: grant a monopoly to an inventor for 25 years.

Copyright: protects your creations from unauthorised copying, in order to incentivise future creative effort.

Trademarks: protect the public from confusing Bob's Cola with Coca Cola.

One of the most interesting points on the post though, is the 7th comment, where "Jerry in Detroit" points out that property is subject to property taxes, so why isn't so-called 'intellectual property" subject to property taxes? Default on your tax payments, and have your patents/copyrights/trademarks put into the public domain.

How interesting.

I wonder why we've never heard of such a concept from the US government? Perhaps Rep. Howard Berman (the "Representative from Disney") would like to bring such a bill to Congress?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Three weeks!

An update to a post I made on Jan 29th.

My replacement Netgear Ethernet-over-power (or HomePlug) unit has arrived. As expected, it's an XEPS103 unit - with built-in power supply for a Netgear router like my DG834G. This has the benefit of meaning you can plug the router into a socket, and get it's ethernet connection from the same socket.

The whole process was a bit more painful than I'd hoped, but no more than I'd expected. I ended up phoning A-Novo (Netgear's UK rep. for this recall) three times. The first time, the person who picked up the phone immediately dropped it again, putting me to the back of the queue! I was therefore, not a very happy bunny by the time I got to speak to a real person. At which point I discovered that Netgear had failed to supply A-Novo with sufficient replacement kit to cover the returns they were getting. How helpful. Not only that, but A-Novo were getting (& giving) mixed messages about when they had (or had not) been sent kit, and when they were expecting more.

However, all in all, another week of waiting, and on my third call I was informed that my unit had been shipped. Being as I don't live in London (or anywhere close to it!), I didn't believe the girl on the phone who said I would be receiving it 'today'. I received it two days later, but given my location, that was acceptable. So, now, 48 hours later, my network is still working, and I no longer have long cables trailing around doors, and up stair-wells.

I will have no problem choosing to buy Netgear equipment again in the future.

Inaccurate Journalism

I've said for many years that, as soon as you find a news story about which you have first-hand knowledge, you'll find that the journalists reporting it have made fundamental errors, and will often have failed to check their facts.

My Dad appeared on local radio in the city where I grew up, commenting on pre-Christmas retail trading (funnily enough, he worked in retail, and so knew something about this subject!), and usually found, when listening to the recording later, that his comments had been mis-edited, or mis-interpreted by the journalists. There have since been other cases in my own experience, though nothing all that important.

Now I get to point you to a detailed example in someone else's life. Joel on Software was interviewed on the subject of Microsoft's recent release of API documentation, and he has posted a correction for the benefit of anyone unlucky enough to read the journalist's mis-interpretive garbage. Mind you, Joel himself had to later post correction to his own correction! Which perhaps just goes to show how easy it is to screw up in this media business.