Saturday, March 15, 2008

more game thoughts - The Orange Box

I'm pretty sure I've blogged on this one before, and it's already received its share of love in most mainstream sources, but I'm trying to be complete here.

Great deal for the $50.

I have never been into online gaming before, but Team Fortress 2 provides a very fun experience that is simple, easy to pick up, and yet satisfying for hours at a time.

Half-Life 2 is a well-made shooter with a pretty cool story, and the additional "episodes" 1 & 2 are included in the package as well. I'm actually still working through Episode 1 at present...mostly because I don't have time for a lot of games.

Portal is an excellent puzzle game that tells a story very well, revealing bits and pieces through the process of solving puzzles; the final chapter of the game is very satisfying opportunity to apply all the skills you have learned in the first part of the game. It's also pretty short (in a good way) - which was nice considering that I only had limited opportunities to play

Anyway- this whole compilation is notable in that I first bought it in October last year and I'm still playing through it now in March, which is additionally good as I feel I'm really getting a lot for the money I had spent on it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

game reviews, part 1 - Civ IV Beyond the Sword

Felt like I might as well give my impressions of the few games that I've acquired & played over the past 6 months; I guess I might as well do that in blog post form over the next few days this weekend as I have/find time for blogging.

Anyway, the first game I got since returning from China and getting a household established was Civ IV: Beyond the Sword.

Yes, it was more of an expansion than a full-on new game, but I had heard all the hype surrounding this and thought it would be really worth a try.

Indeed, it gives you a real bevy of options for new game variants to try - you have an adjusted-rules "regular" game with new cultures and leaders to have and fight against, and there are also 20+ different mods.

Considering one game of Civ IV can take at least 2-4 hours to play through (even on "fast" mode), this can get pretty involved.

I hadn't really felt like I played through the "old" version entirely, but this really, really gives me more options.

This sort of game doesn't ever offer much in the way of a narrative story; but it does offer a pretty immersive experience that can draw one in very fully from the start.

As others have said before, it's a "desert island" type game in that if you were stuck with only one game to play, this is probably one of the best picks that one could make.

That being said, I've found that:

1. I like playing games with a story, so if I'm looking for something that is more escapist fare, this isn't always what I'm looking for.
2. The game experience is so immersive that I can't really find a good time to play it - after work is hard as that time tends to be for the wife and I together; before sleep is also not a good time as I'll stay up late playing it. The weekend is good, but if it's sunny I don't really want to be spending all my time inside in front of a computer.
3. My PC set up uses our LCD TV as the monitor - and given that while playing, the screen can get pretty cluttered with a lot of small-font text - and it's not comfortable to play at a distance. This is a game that (for me) works best with a real laptop or desktop setup.

Anyway, it has a lot of replay value and I will play it again and again, just not that frequently.

Apparently the online multiplayer is good too, but I haven't ever tried it.

iphone? - SDK coolness? - I don't know

If you read this article by David Pogue of the New York Times, you may be inclined to believe that the iphone + app store via itunes model that is being proposes is going to be HUGE.

I do not buy into the hype, in that the proposal is sounding pretty restrictive in that apparently 3rd-party apps will be restricted from multi-tasking. Thus, if you are using an app and then need to answer a phone call, text message, or email, you'll actually exit & shut down the 3rd-party app...this is basically the same thing that any piece of software on the Palm platform must do (and that is an OS that was created in 2002) - my point being that this is an old-school model of doing things.

Not that I'm a Microsoft fanboy, but comparatively, with Windows mobile, one can have 5 things running at the same time, which is actually useful - you could be downloading something, writing a text message, and talking on the phone (via bluetooth) at the same time.

I guess I'll likely not be getting a new iphone anytime soon (although the 3g version coming this summer is appealing since it will be shiny, pretty, and hopefully have fast data downloads)...

Neocha - NEXT?

This is sort of cool - a dedicated online player for Chinese indie music.

There is some good stuff on here; although it's certainly not all rock all the time.

Currently listening to a band that seems to have never learned how to tune a guitar (not the first time I've encountered that issue, but a little surprising that they bothered to record it that way, especially on an acoustic track).

Regardless, seeing this site and hearing some of the non-crappy stuff here makes me happy - reminds me of my days in China and I'm thrilled to hear that there are some cool bands making their own original music here!

Was alerted to this via Lostlaowai or

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The spice must flow

Just wrapped up viewing the "Children of Dune" miniseries (and I had watched the 2000 miniseries version of Dune prior to that).

Wow...pretty decent adaptation of the books. I am glad that I read the series (Frank Herbert books anyway) prior to watching the adaptation, but I was pretty satisfied with it - they did a good job, and even Marsha got into watching it.

I had been waiting a long time to see the series, since I had heard about it while I was in China but it proved very difficult to obtain.

So yeah, well over half a year after moving back to the US, I'm still catching up on things.


Caught a bit of the news while flipping through channels at the gym as I had finished my workout...ever get the feeling that CNN is for children?

Firefox 3 Beta - Yay!

Have installed Firefox 3 beta on my Mac - not too shabby!

Only complaints so far (which are relatively minor) - the scribefire extension doesn't work yet, and my system hasn't yet totally adjusted yet.

Webpage rendering is much faster compared to firefox 2.

Seems pretty good so far. Considering that outside of gaming (at home) and excel sheets (at work), nearly everything I do is based out of a browser now*, it's good to see that things are developing quickly and working robustly.

The extensions on Firefox are also still pretty useful to me; I've started to use (it's blocked in China so I was late in ever trying it out) in addition to Foxmarks, scribefire, and download status bar.

*It's interesting noting really to what extent this is coming true. My company runs their official email application and groupware suite via a web-based client, and most of our internal systems are web-based as well. While I'm running a Vista laptop at present, to me there really isn't a compelling reason for why I'd ever need a windows OS at work (I guess Office for running Excel...that's really about it). At home, I'm running most of my personal stuff on my laptop, which runs OS X but 95% of the time is used for web browsing, which is most often done with Firefox. Anyway, I guess my point is that I have no compelling reason to use Vista, and given the performance hit it tends to require + the need to upgrade to significantly beefier hardware in order to use it for gaming, I do not see any reason to upgrade anytime soon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

seeing the wife off

Well, Marsha has started her new job and since her work start time is earlier than mine, now I'm the one seeing her off to the door in the morning.

Interesting reversal from the status quo for the past 6 months or so - but it's okay.

She was a little nervous before heading out; readjusting and checking one of the professional outfits we had put together earlier in the weekend.

Maybe this is a little bit what it feels like when one first sends their kids to school?

We'll see how things go for her - I imagine that it will be an interesting week for her as she gets introduced first-hand to work culture in the USA.