Sunday, April 30, 2006

..He also knows KUNG-FU!!

I love rainy Sundays.
No, seriously. Sometimes the creature comforts necessary to weather a shitty day (meteorologically speaking) are blissful in and of themselves.

Personally, I'm getting to:
  • look out upon the grey and rain-soaked world from the 12th floor of my apartment
  • with the Ministry Of Sound Chillout Sessions 7 streaming to my Xbox360 and filling the room
  • luxuriously sipping upon an unending supply of cafe latte's (with thanks to my Senseo coffee maker, a wonderfully thoughtful xmas pressie from Annaleigh)
  • heater blazing away on 'thermonuclear' setting consuming enormous amounts of energy, unethically wearing a t-shirt and shorts to compensate and keep comfortable (hey I pay for power, so I'll damn well use it - bah)
  • cigarettes polluting my lungs and the atmosphere inside my apartment
  • making the best use of my new-found wireless connectivity by deftly massaging my wonderful Mac's keyboard from the couch
Plus, I actually managed to get up before midday for once, therefore allowing me to enjoy the moment for even longer, before I have to reluctantly return to my heinous workplace tomorrow morning.

Given the above, the usual net-trawling occurs. And like all sessions of this nature, one ends up being link-hopped to some fascinating corners of the webverse.

Quite possibly one of the best internet finds I have stumbled across since I can remember, is demonbaby.

This guy is ruthless, sarcastic, intelligent, and yet is threaded with a keen sense of morality, and is unabashedly self flagellating and opinionated. Hell, he might just even surpass Malcolm Reynolds as my antihero of choice (high praise, trust me).

I don't remember the last time someone's blog had me physically laughing out loud (I live by myself remember) nor had the ability to glue me to their commentary for as long as I have been today.

A couple of highlights that I highly recommend from his site:
  • The 2nd Annual Stupid Haircut Awards are the results of him "digging through the bowels of MySpace in search of the worst of the worst". Sadly, my recent 'trendy' haircut is the first thing he features!! Waaaaah! He aptly names it the "Magical Grid Of Bad Emo Hair®". Damn.

  • Equally (if not more) funny is his original entry from two years ago, The 1st Annual Stupid Haircut awards. A quick scroll through some of his comments:
    • Hair Style: The No-Really-I-Wanted-It-To-Look-That-Way
    • Stylist: Stevie Wonder
    • Known Allies: Bjork

    • Hair Style: The Drag Queen Wig
    • Stylist: Clearly, nobody.
    • Base Of Operations: Behind the cafeteria
    • Arch Enemies: The popular kids

    • Hair Style: The 'Who Needs Vision When You Look This Fucking Cool'
    • Stylist: Lord Dark Helmet
    • Arch Enemy: Walls
  • will doubtless have you chuckling out loud if my reaction is anything to go by. Hell, I couldn't even suppress a giggle just typing these in. Too good.
  • Another little gem is his article named Irresistible dating prospects from THE GOTHIC PERSONALS. He simply goes to town on them, utterly and ruthlessly. It's just pure gold.
    My most favourite is the entry he makes about a goth named 'Kymus'. (Scroll down about a third of the way to find this.) To quote the article:

    "Now, Kymus may look like your run-of-the-mill Marilyn Manson concert patron, but there's more to this catch than meets the eye...

    ...He also knows KUNG-FU!!"

    You gotta read the article in full to truly appreciate the piss being taken, but it's worth a visit, and your time, I assure you.
    (Annaleigh - a little too close to home..? *grin)

  • Another cool little link out from his site is this one, where a guy has sourced entire maps from some classic videogames and put them together to form unique desktop wallpaper. Quite neat if you're a fan of some of the old-skool games. Brings back some great memories for me..

  • And finally, his Curiosities from Japan's porno shops article is both curious and bizarre. Having said that, anyone who's travelled to Japan will know this all to be completely true, but his treatment of the subject had me in tears of laughter. (not safe for work, but hilariously well worth the read.)

Be sure to also check out the 'miniblog' at the top right of his page.. some absolute classic moments in there.
I swear I wanna meet this guy.

Quick Xbox Updates

For those of you that haven't seen the news, there's a planned Xbox Live outage occurring this coming Tuesday May 2nd. The Xbox Live service, and the Xbox Live forums will be unavailable from 02:00 until 15:00 Pacific Time. You can check here to view how that translates into your timezone. (For us Melbourne users, that means Tuesday night at 7:00pm thru to Wednesday 8:00am.)
According to the news I've read this could be very exciting; a few people who have happened to call Microsoft for tech support on their 360 have reported that one of the announcements on their IVR states that there IS going to be a dashboard update on May 2nd - woohoo! About time. Can't wait.

Also, note the new link down the right side of my blog: "My Xbox360's Own Blog!" Yes, you're reading it correctly. The site involved basically takes all of the activity from your Xbox 360 use (what games you're playing, whether you're watching DVDs or listening to music, when you gained an accomplishment, whether you turned it on via your controller or the power button on the front, etc) and turns it into a blog as if the Xbox 360 has a personality of it's own.
Mine's only just been registered, so entries won't start appearing until Tuesday (it takes two days to collect enough usage info to get it going) but be sure to check back and see what it's saying about me. =)

And finally, a possibly 'historic' moment has occurred in the land of SaMbO. Perhaps more of an uh-oh moment than anything else, I decided to buy a trial version of World Of Warcraft.

Eek. What have I done.

All those stories you hear of people losing their jobs (and their wives/partners) to the game.. I've deliberately kept myself away from it, knowing what an addictive personality I have, but something simply made me feel like taking a look at it to see what all the fuss is about.
That, and the fact that it's one of the few (good) games that runs natively on my Mac, and that the 14 day trial only cost $2.00 from JB's.

I must admit I've had fun in it so-far. I leveled up my character to L5 very quickly, and am enjoying the friendly nature of the other players in my particular PvP (safe) realm, just having a bit of fun doing the very basic quests that get handed out at the beginning.

I've been good in that I'm only playing it for the odd hour here and there, and given that the trial will expire in 14 days time there shouldn't be much of a risk to becoming enslaved by it.

I truly hope those are not to be my famous last words..

Okay that's enough rambling for today. I want to go and conquer some more of Kameo on Xbox 360. Been having a ton of fun with the game since buying it late last week, and am looking forward to playing it co-op over Xbox Live, with anybody that'll join me, to check out this new feature.

"I have a life."
"I have a life."
"I have a life."...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Full Fool

Time for an update on all things Xbox 360. Been a while:

Well, I'm buggered if I truly know why the Xbox 360 would randomly lock up every now and then. (More often than not, it would be right at the end of a very long level in Perfect Dark Zero with no checkpoint save) But believe it or not, the best solution I've come up with so far (measured by the distinct lack of lock-ups) is this:

Yep, that's right. Putting the HUGE AND VERY HOT power supply up on the window-sill, right against the cool breeze flowing in the window. Ever since I moved it there, I've not had one single freeze. Go figure.
I'm still extremely skeptical about Microsoft's release policy, in terms of QA (given the sheer amount of reports of overheating), but like it is with all big corporations, whatta we gonna do about it? We (I) bought one despite all the rumours, right?

Interesting however, is this news announcing officially that the Xbox 360 is to receive a CPU upgrade. To quote the article:

"Currently the CPU is being produced with 90 nanometre technology, after the upgrade it will be 65nm. Translation for the less-technical people is that the new processor will use smaller transistors thus getting less hot and cheaper to produce."

"Microsoft didn’t respond whether this had something to do with the reported ‘heat issues’ they get every now and then. The new CPU is not faster than the original one, and is fully backwards compatible, so don’t worry."

Sounds a lot to me like M$ are backpedaling very quickly and doing everything they can to eradicate the likelihood of any further lawsuits.. (Quote: "One US buyer has initiated a class action suit against the company, alleging that both the CPU and power supply were prone to overheating.") That and, of course, the new chip will be cheaper to produce. Whether those savings are translated into a reduced RRP will be interesting to watch, especially come November this year when the Playstation 3 is due to be released.

(PS: Is that a really silly looking controller, or is it just me..?)

Anyhow, things are a little cooler for the Xbox 360 and she seems to be behaving a lot better. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Xbox Live / Networking
I thought I'd give it another go today. For those of you not up to speed on my networking issues, here it is in a nutshell:

I'm having to use my old 10-Base-T non-wireless router to run all my devices through (3x computers and my Xbox 360). If I remove this old clunker and replace it with my Linksys Wireless Router, (which is new, and obviously operates at 100-Base-T for wired LAN connections) everything works except for Xbox Live.
Live just simply disconnects at random. It can be whilst navigating the dashboard, or while in the middle of an online game.

So yeh, I thought I'd have another go a getting it working today. I fleetingly enjoyed one moment of hope when I stumbled upon a setting in the router which puts it into 'router' mode rather than 'gateway' mode. This, along with disabling the internal DHCP server (as I already have one running from my DSL Modem), was sure to work!

But no. *sigh

However, I've come up with a totally non-elegant but semi-functional solution as a result. Without boring you to tears, I now have Xbox Live working just fine (on a 10Mbps LAN connection) and wireless working for my laptops (albeit also only on a 10Mbps connection). Whilst the main purpose of buying the wireless router wasn't actually for the wireless, but instead so I have a 100Mbit LAN running in my bloody house, I guess I'm now better off via actually having wireless up and running, even if at only a fraction of it's capable speed (up to 54Mbps).

Better than nowt? And handy for guests who have wireless capability in their laptops.

Tomb Raider Legend
If you've read any of my more recent blog entries, you'll recall that I unceremoniously 'dumped' Lara for being so poorly designed and implemented in the end boss section of the 'England' level (now available on video to download and view here - 10mb).
Well, like all things, time heals old wounds and I decided to give her another chance. *grin

In actuality, I had to lower the resolution of the console to 720p (from 1080i) in order to get the controller buttons to respond to my presses in a timely manner. Once I figured this out, Lara became far more responsive to my commands and I very easily knocked over the challenge, thus enabling me to carry on and complete the game.
All told, aside from that particular section, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I'll be returning to her some time soon in order to unlock all of the additional content and achievements available, plus of course to play it through on a harder difficulty setting.

I'm also in the Top 10 ranking for registered players of Tomb Raider Legend in Australia as a result - yay!

Xbox Live Marketplace Content
Just a quick one to advise that there's been a couple of noteworthy updates on Marketplace recently:
  • There's a new demo available for Kameo:Elements Of Power. The older demo had you working your way through the Thorn's Castle level, which didn't really show off the game engine to it's fullest. The new demo is 1GB in size and allows you to do 4 things:
    1. *Fight in a massive battle (Charge through the troll army and explore the badlands on your horsey. Bite it PS3 and your superior CPU. Duration: 1 minute)
    2. *Explore a fantasy world (Explore the enchanted kingdom and see what secrets you can learn. GTA but with fairies. Duration: 4 minutes)
    3. *Invade a crumbling castle (Survive the top of the tower and defeat the Troll battalion. This was in the first demo. Duration: 3 minutes)
    4. *Destroy a huge monster (Destroy Old Mawood, the legendary demon, and save your uncle. Your average level-boss sweetness. Duration: 6 minutes)

    These great (but short) sections allow you to see the larger game in all it's technical glory. I think I'm gonna have to purchase it.. bugger. Especially for the co-op update that has been released recently. Nothing like playing through a game with a mate (like Halo2, right Exor? We have to get on to that, now that you've purchased it!).

  • A Perfect Dark Zero demo will finally become available for download today. According to the news sites, this is the update that will allow bots for more gametypes:
    1. Venge bot - targets the last player to kill them
    2. Judge bot - goes for the player with the most kills
    3. Bully bot - goes after the player with the least kills
    4. Bots that will be usable in the Darkops modes (yay, at last!)
    Plus (unexpected) there'll be some new Multiplayer maps included in the update, named Rooftops, Plaza, Trench and Gasplant.
I'm looking forward to this particular update, having finished 99% of the single player game, and wanting to get into the Multiplayer side of PDZ.

Gotta say that it turned out to be a great game, despite some of the somewlacklusterstre reviews out there. In particular, the Jungle levels, and the weapon modeling and animation is superb. Just took quite a while to get the hang of the controls, which differ a great deal (in the way they feel) from all other FPS's on the Xbox 360.

Oh I nearly forgot - Street Fighter 2 is coming to Xbox Live Arcade early next month (May). That'll be good for some retro fun.

Well, that's about it for now. Unfortunately tonight marks the end of another four-day long weekend (Anzac Day for those of you not from around these parts) which means no more public holidays for quite some time. How depressing.

Having said that, I'm not the only one from my work who will have been playing Xbox 360 over the weekend and cringing at the thought of having to go back tomorrow..
..right, REDNX and wtftrauma?

Time for pizza.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Somebody Find Me An Easter Egg

I love Easter.

No, not due to any religious slight on my behalf (those of you that know me will attest to my rather agnostic viewpoint on life), but merely for the four days of unadulterated, blissful, and lazy Sitting Around On My Ass that can be enjoyed at such a time.


Disgustingly (but joyously all the same) I spent Easter Friday with Lara Croft. As in, 14 hours straight. I didn't once look outside, let alone go out into it - I mean hey; even Vick's (the convenience store on the ground floor of my building) was closed, so why would I venture into The Outside?

Lara was, on that day, all she promised to be. I had her deftly maneuvering via my fingers' slightest touch, and I totally creamed the first five levels with only a few minor design niggles encountered along the way. Sadly, this all came crashing to a burning heap later in the weekend; more on that later.

Saturday was also spent In Side. More Xbox360 games to be played, more disgustingly-bad-for-me food to be consumed, and more Vodka and Coke to be ingested. To be honest most of Saturday is a blur now, however it served it's purpose for me, being able to perform slovenly and slothful acts of nothingness, as befits a religious-inspired holiday. Right?

Saturday night however, was most fun, spent playing Morrowind Oblivion on the Xbox360.
For those of you who don't know what this is - tough. I can't be bothered explaining it fully. Aside from saying it's the most amazing, life-sucking experience to be had on the couch (with a controller in your hand). *ahem

Basically, it's a game with incredible life-like environments, is totally free-form (meaning you are able to go wherever, whenever, you like amongst the immense game world), where you have a main quest you can follow but can also simply wander around and see what comes across your way. The game page is here.

Bart, my good friend from the Netherlands, happened to be on Xbox Live at the same time, and so we chatted away over our headsets whilst both playing Oblivion. He's put a good many more hours into it than I, so far, and therefore he's already seen a lot of what the game has to offer.

For me, however, it was all wondrous and new.
So taken aback, was I, by what was unfolding in front of me, that I was regularly stopping to take pictures (with my actual camera, off the TV) like some kind of Oblivion Tourist. The poor guy (Bart) had to politely listen as I continuously stumbled across jaw-dropping sights in the game and stopped to take a snap (and explain them to him in detail). I swear I could hear him quietly chuckling away to himself, and we quipped that if the game were co-op (two player) he would've left me behind a long time ago whilst I continuously stopped to sniff the roses!

Anyhow, the fruits of my photographic labour can be found here should you wish to take a look. I highly recommend you do, the game is simply amazing.
Think of an environment where there are day/night cycles, where the sky turns pink above the wispy grey clouds in the morning, and reflects off the water. Where at night the stars come out (alongside the sounds of crickets and other night creatures) and they track across the sky in a fully working astronomy. Where you have the living bejeezus scared out of you as you're the unfortunate victim of a sudden thunderstorm, complete with bolts of lightening, torrential rain, and claps of thunder storming at you through all 5.1 channels of Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Where fauna, flora, and wildlife abound for your reaping pleasure.

All this, and I haven't even got to the first part of my main quest yet!! (Visiting a monk's settlement to deliver an amulet). However, this is testament of the free-form nature of the game. The creator's tag line is "we create worlds for you to live in".. couldn't agree with them more. There goes my life (again).

You can view a list of review accolades here.

And finally, at about 5am, I decided to call it a night. I left myself resting at a shrine until I return to the world of Oblivion.. can't wait.


Normally the Day Of Rest, this particular Sunday was instead simply Day Three of a Four Day Holiday. After an annoying trip into town (the shops were all shut!? bloody religious rubbish!) I decided that more gaming was on the cards. I'd got my exercise for the day (hehe) so now I could lounge about and not feel guilty.
But, rather than leap back into Oblivion, I decided to attack the next level of Tomb Raider Legend.

Oh dear.

Lara has betrayed me. She made out to be something she is not, and therefore I've officially dumped her. It's over.

Why is it over? And what on earth did she do to me?

Well, obviously it's not really her, but the designers (as Bart correctly pointed out to me last night) who are to blame. I'm stuck at the end of the 6th level, where one traditionally fights the 'boss' of the level. In this case it's a massive Hydra (water snake). In a nutshell, there are four posts in a cave, made of metal, each with a hanging weight on them. Here's what's supposed to happen:

You shoot at a post, making a noise. The Hydra gets curious (in between spitting toxic liquid at you, and thumping down on top of you) and comes over for a closer look. Whilst he's investigating the noise, you're supposed to stash your guns, grab out your grapple line, hook a lever, pull it, and have the hanging weight drop on the Hydra's head.
Times four. As in, do it FOUR TIMES (four posts).

Trouble is, the game rarely registers your attempts to pull out your grapple line in a timely manner. So, whilst you're fumbling about mashing the buttons, having Lara look like she's experiencing an epileptic fit, the Hydra's curiosity of the noise is satisfied and instead he see's you messing about with your gadgets below him and attacks you! AARRGHH!!

The absolutely horrid part of it is that sometimes you manage to get it all done in time, and therefore you gain a glimmer of hope that you can do the same for all three other posts.. but sadly when standing in front of post #2, instead of repeating your success of the previous post, Lara just stands there performing some kind of spasmodic dance as the Hydra smashes you to a pulp.

I cannot tell you how many times I've attempted this. What also doesn't help is that the framerate drops to about 15fps due to the sheer size of the room, and the huge size of the Hydra, thusly confounding any efforts on your behalf further.

**The irony is, that quirky bugs, or things that a software developer puts into a game for their own sake, or to enable them to fly around the levels testing without getting hurt etc, are called 'Easter Eggs'. If only one existed to get me past this fkn incredibly annoying and pathetically frustrating stage, to allow me to continue on. I was literally scouring the net on my own 'easter egg' hunt. I found zero. How did you fare with yours?

I am totally annoyed, and utterly frustrated, so much that I now refuse to play the rest of the game. This particular spanner in the works has completely spoiled the entire game, and I refuse to pay, let alone play, any more.
Lara's going back to whence she came: my local EB store for a full refund.

I HATE CRYSTAL DYNAMICS, the developers. Did they even bother to playtest it before they published it? FUCK YOU.

(That feels better)

Today, in fact. After a leisurely awakening at about 12:30pm, I decided to go into town for some more exercise, and to make up for the fact that all the shops were at Church yesterday (presumably).
Trouble is, my wallet ended up getting more of a workout than me. Bugger.

I finally took the plunge and purchased the latest title in the fighting series Dead Or Alive (DOA4) for the Xbox360. Haven't had a chance to chuck it into the console yet, but I shall do as soon as I've finished typing here.
Apparently the 'physics' are extremely life-like.. *cough

..but of course I'm gonna be playing it for the tactical and competitive aspects. *ahem

Aside from jiggly bouncy-ness, I also sadly happened to wander past my favourite budget clothing store: JayJays. And, as usual, I purchased a number of garments that I most probably didn't need, but hey it's winter coming up and I'll need to stay warm, right?
You can see the fruits of my shopping labour here. I also decided to buy a beanie from Rip Curl (more-so to cover up my bed-hair!) for days coming that are cold, and where I can't be fucked doing said hair.
There's also an awesome Mooks jacket (the ones with the fur on the hood) on sale at Rogue in Melbourne Central which I think I'll have to return for.

And so, after a quick visit to a local Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown, I'm home to enjoy the last few hours of my long weekend.
The wind outside is blowing a storm (I guess this warning from the BOM is correct:)
Warning Summary: A gale Warning is current for Port Phillip and Western Port.
A severe weather warning is current for the Central District for localised damaging winds.

So what better time than to batten down the hatches, pour some Vodka down my own hatch, and give my fingers a workout.

Happy Easter to you, and yours.
Bah humbug.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tea for One

What is it about me and tea bags?!
Or more specifically, why do I, and the design of them, not match?

I used to buy the ones with the little tag on them. You know, these ones.
Trouble was, that every time I'd make a cuppa, the little yellow tag on the end of the string would fall into the fkn cup.
Meaning, that I would end up fishing around the cup, scalding the ends of my fingers, trying to get the damn thing out before the lovely taste of printer's ink infused it's way throughout the brew.

(**Note that, in hindsight, I do realise I could've fished it out with a spoon, but my brain would illogically engage in a manner that said "hey - you've lost the tag, now youre gonna have to grab it out with your fingers"'s me we're talking about here. Logic has no place in this discussion..)

Anyhow, you can imagine my joy upon spotting ads on TV promoting the new 'squeezable' teabags. These ones.
Brilliant! (..thought I)

Finally, somebody's been thinking smart, and has challenged the age-old tradition of tea drinking procedures and brought them into the 00's.

Except of course, this is moi we're talking about here:

Dear Sir/Madam Lipton,

Thank you for dreaming up the idea of teabags that have a mechanism with which to aid in the minimalisation of 'tea drip' from your bags.

Or, as you put it:

"Lipton Squeezable is specially designed not to drip after squeeing, which allows you to make a great cup of tea anytime, anywhere without any mess. The squeezing action also ensures you can draw every last delicious drop of Lipton tea from the bag."

I, for one, am extremely grateful that your Research and Development Department have been busy implementing feedback from your loyal customers, and that you are dedicated to continuing the quest towards innovation and increased product efficiency.

I must admit to not knowing what '
squeeing' is, but I am most certainly sure that I, as a loyal consumer of your products, will no doubt benefit.

May I suggest, however, that the design of such is accomodating to the action of being pulled under stress, and that perhaps thorough testing before being released to market might be a consideration for you in the near future?

With the Kindest of Regards,


In other words, have you tried these for real, actually, yourSELVES?!
FFS! Wet string plus wet paper plus wet bag equals disaster!!

I live in an apartment which is extremely white:
White walls, white doors, white cupboards, white drawers, white applicances, and a white ceiling.

Lipton 'Squeezable' Tea Bags, for quite some time, provided me with a lovely splash of light-brown highlighting to compliment this stark white decor.
No matter HOW MANY TIMES I TRIED, and no matter HOW MANY DIFFERENT TECHNIQUES I UTILISED, the fkn things would come apart just at the moment of peak pressure, and end up being flicked, flung, and otherwise propelled to all sorts of places around my apartment. AARGGH!

Once, the teabag even landed smack in the middle of this Powerbook's lovely shiny keyboard, about 10 feet to my rear.


In fact, even now there remain remnants of this brown redecorating, to be seen on my ceiling.

I don't own a ladder.

Or a chair stable or tall enough to get a cloth to the ceiling.


Today, I decided to revert back to the old-fashioned 'tag' type. The non-squeezable type. The ones with the paper tag on the end of the string.
I sat the teabag in the cup, and then put my teaspoon down on the tag to make sure it didn't get sucked into the cup like a leaf in a whirlpool.

I poured the water in.. (looking good so far!)

I waited for it to brew for a minute, then poured in the milk.. (woohoo I've got this thing under my belt now!)

I gave it a stir.. HOLDING ONTO THE TAG.. (nice!!)




..but that's okay. I'm calm. I can do this.
Count to ten, and try again. Keep it together Steve.

teabag in cup.. teaspoon on tag to hold it in place.. water in.. brew.. milk in.. (all looking great!)
Lift the tag.. dunk it up and down a couple of ti.. WHAT!?!?

The freaking STRING CAME APART FROM THE TAG AND FELL INTO THE CUP, leaving me holding on to nothing but a yellow tag with the REST OF IT (string and bag) wallowing at the BOTTOM OF MY FKN CUP!!


Is it just me? Am I of some fundamentally different mechanical design than all other human beings? All I want is a goddamn cup of freakin' TEA!?

I think I may switch back to coffee. hmmph.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

'Microsoft Points' Explained

A lot of people seem to be either really confused, or really annoyed, around Microsoft's points system on Xbox Live. I thought I'd take the time to detail what they are, why they're used, and exactly how much they cost in real terms.

Microsoft Points (read this to find out the details of why Microsoft uses 'points') are used as scrip in the Xbox Live Marketplace, which includes the Xbox Live Arcade. These points may be purchased in bulk with a credit card drawing on legal tender and may then be exchanged for various downloadable items and services. Such an implementation allows Microsoft to collect interest on unused credit and as a side effect also reduces the amount of interchange fees paid to the credit card acquirer since it reduces the overall number of credit transactions.

This system also has benefits for the end user. On the original Xbox Live, transactions had to be around $8 to $10 (the minimum for most credit cards). But with Microsoft Points the price for almost anything (maps, skins, levels, demos, etc) can be much lower than that. This can translate into being a big deal financially.
For example, let's say you want to get one of the new maps for your favorite shooter, but you're not that interested in some of the others. Marketplace can offer each map individually for just a few points, rather than you having to download $8 worth (an entire map pack), meaning savings to you.

You are able to purchase Microsoft Points on Xbox Live, or at various retail locations, and redeem them in the Xbox Live Marketplace for downloadable content, games, demos, trailers, and more.

Points cost per region
Each region is billed for Microsoft points in their own local currency.
However, the pricing does not necessarily reflect current exchange rates. This means that some regions pay more than others.
Take a look at the chart below. It contains the pricing information for five different countries in their respective currencies, but it also shows how much 500 points costs in US Dollars converted from each country's currency. This chart was made using the current market currency exchange rate (April 11th, 2006). Day-to-day converted prices will fluctuate depending on the exchange rate, but the chart can be used as a rough estimate of how much each region pays for content.
Note that the table does not reflect on the purchasing power of a given dollar amount in that country.

500 Points1000 Points2000 Points5000 PointsPrice Per Point500 Points (USD)

From this, you should be able to see that us Aussies have, by far, the best deal on MS Points at the moment due to currency rates.

Note also (to those who are complaining about MSP's) that this sytem provides for an incentive for developers to publish downloadable content. You'd be the first to complain if there were none, I'm sure.

Let me put it this way (it's a fairly simple concept): If you have an issue with it, don't fkn download it!
Vote with your wallet ffs. Nobody's forcing you to pay.. so quit complaining.

Besides, it's actually up to the publishers to set the price, if any, not Microsoft. MS only host the content, and do not have wholesale governance over the content pricing. Most of you complainers will happily fork out for an add-on map pack for a retail game (like Battlefield2) on the PC @ $49.00 to get half a dozen maps and a couple of extra weapons or skins.. most Xbox Live content is between 40 - 400 points. That's $0.60 - $6.00 in the real world, let alone the content up there that's actually FREE right now.

Bring it on say I.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Return To Splendor

Tomb Raider; mention it to almost any Playstation2 or PC owner and they'll tell you of 'the good old days' of Tomb Raider 1 on the Playstation1, and they'll tell you all about the abortion that was 'Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness'.

They'll tell you about the countless hours back in 1997 spent in Lara's company in TR1, thrilling to the story, scratching their head over the vexing (for the time) puzzles, staring slack jawed at the 'lifelike' 3D environment, and standing on their tongue as they angled the in-game camera to just that right position to truly study Lara's curves in all of their polygonal glory.

They'll also remember the outstanding soundtrack, and the incredibly ambient sound effects.

That is, in between diving off cliffs 100's of feet tall just to get the sensation of falling, and between mates sessions of 'Lara Aerobics' where a bunch of guys could entertain themselves for disturbingly long periods of time merely getting Lara to do the 'split leverage up' move that was only discovered by accident.

A true marvel of the time. Although, looking at it now, you'd be forgiven for wondering what on earth all the fuss was about. You just had to be there. =)

And then came Angel Of Darkness.

The team at Eidos and Core really screwed her up, and ended up breaking the franchise all together. (In fact, Core lost the rights to Lara as a result, with Eidos handing over development of any future titles to Crystal Dynamics.)
Released in June 2003, it was a shocking and embarrassing blow to all of Lara Croft's fans, rating a global average score of only 5.4 out of 10, effectively pouring cold water upon the lustful desires (for adventure, of course) of many male gamers.
Lara had become somewhat of an icon for the (male and female) gaming community, and indeed had been responsible for bringing many newbie gamers across to the dark side, dragging them in from the great outdoors and fixing them firmly in front of the warm and friendly phosphorous glow of their TV screen. Lara had become someone they felt they 'knew', and most certainly fantasised about; whether those daydreams be adventurous or purely of the flesh.

Given that this was the 'big one' (Tomb Raider on the new Playstation2!) anticipation and hype were at a fever pitch, to say the very least.

Sure enough the graphics looked awful pretty:

..but sadly the gameplay seemed to have regressed from the days of old. Countless tales of horror litter the internet about the terrible controls, the frustratingly pixel-imperfect physics, the crazy save system, and the terrible storyline and voice acting.

It seemed that Lara's fans had been dealt a blow of Mayan proportions. Not only was it simply awful to (attempt) to play, but where were the tombs? What on earth was Tomb Raider without temples and Indiana Jones environments? 'Warehouse Raider' was a more appropriate title for the game, and no sooner than Eidos had released it, did they realise that a large part of the magic for players was to be held investigating artifacts and ancient cities.

We all wanted to be an archaeologist when we grew up, remember?

And so, for the past three years, we've all been patiently waiting.
Yes, the movies did their bit to maintain the character (and I'm a huge fan of Angelina Jolie being cast in the role; she was born to be Lara in my opinion..) although there was even speculation about those as well, with Core Design blaming poor box-office takings of the movie for patchy sales of the AOD game.

(Guys, if you release a title that strays from the original formula too far, has bugs and glitches, and is delayed due to creative conflicts with the original designer for over six months, bad sales can't really be pinned on the movie, yeh?)

Yep - three years. Waiting, patiently. Until.. now:

I was wandering around town on the weekend, and I remembered that I needed to go into my local EB to put down a pre-order deposit on the upcoming release of Tomb Raider: Legend.
I've been following it for months, reading everything I can on the net, watching anything closely resembling a trailer, and trying not to get my hopes up at the same time.

Just as the woman behind the counter had taken my money, she passed a DVD to me, and said "I presume you'd like a copy of the Playstation2 demo of the game?"

Pardon moi? There's a demo??

I raced out of there with more anticipation for getting home than I care to remember. Could this be happening? Did I really have a demo of the game in my hot little hands?

You bet.

All the way home my mind was churning over the possibilities; what was it going to be like? Will this be the return to splendour of Lara, at last? Will the developers have listened to all the criticism of the previous title? Will they do due diligence to the themes and mechanics that made us all fans in the first place? Or will this be another cash-in, driven by the execs, who have absolutely no idea what a 'great' game is all about?

Straight inside, shove the disc into the PS2, and fire her up!!

The first thing that struck me, was the amazing soundtrack - even in the menu's. Extremely well done, with even a motif paying homage to the original Tomb Raider theme music. Excellent start!

Next, the graphics:

Well.. erm.. 'everything' seems to be in place? *cough*

And what's this..? OMG - actual TOMBS and AZTEC BITS! Yay!!

Things are looking up! Sure, there are some pics out there which depict Lara in non-cavernous, ancient, unexplored environs:

..but the outfit more than makes up for it. *ahem

And finally, the gameplay. Surely, this is where I will be let down with a resounding thump.

I enter the demo level and immediately get presented with a typically 'Lara' cutscene of her rock climbing without a harness. Much 'MI:2' action abounds, afterwhich I eventually get plonked at the top of the mountain, with Lara under my grimy control. (muhahahahaaa!!)

I am pleased to report that, based on the 30mins I spent finishing the demo level, everything is in place.
The controls are solid and reliable. You can walk, run and crawl with accuracy. The control layout is extremely logical and easy to pick up. She does all of her wonderful moves, just like the old days. The aiming system is fantastic - there's an over the shoulder 1st person view, plus the old skool 3rd person lockon view, plus the strafing view for dodging oncoming attacks.

All of her climbing and shuffling skills are back with gusto - navigating around cliffs and ledges feels entirely natural, and pulling yourself up and letting yourself down is absolutely perfect, a far cry from Angel Of Darkness' infuriating mistakes.

And, ALL THE PUZZLES RETURN! Levers, switches, ropes, vines, boulders, pressure plates, fulcrums - you name it! I haven't had so much fun progressing through a level in a LONG time. I simply couldn't put it (her) down. Good Lara. =)

Given also, that this is only on a PS2, you can absolutely colour me impressed.

They've done it - it feels exactly like a Tomb Raider should.

So, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Lara's back with a vengeance, and I'm excited.
Perhaps excited just a little too much for a normal, healthy mind of my age, but I don't care. Bring on the winter so Lara and I can raid tombs together, me with my ass glued to the couch, and me with my eyes glued to her ass.

Hey - I am a male afterall! Sheesh!

Thing is, it doesn't end there: Yes, it looks utterly fantastic on the humble 'ol PS2, but my pre-order money is slapped down on the Xbox 360 version of the game. And let me tell you, from the screenshots that are out there, I'll simply be in non-pixelated heaven.
Take a look for yourself: (make sure you click on the pics below to see them in their full glory..)

I can't wait. Apparently it's out in 10 days time.. don't bother trying to call me after that.

Meantime, hop on over to the official website (which is done really well) and take a look around at the screenies and information there. You can download a 'desktop Lara' animated alert thingy, plus all the wallpapers, screensavers, and trailers, and listen to the musical score as you browse. A downloadable demo for the PC is available there also.

Interesting fact: Tomb Raider was recently nominated as one of the top 25 British designs by the BBC2 Culture Show and the Design Museum. Unfortunately, she didn't win, but you can view the esteemed company she shared in the competition here.

And so, without further adieu, I must return to Lara. I think I left her at the top of a waterfall; here's hoping she got bored and decided to take a swim..

"..I'm commiiinnnggg!" "..Sorry about that, I had to write about you.." "Oh! You are taking a swim?!" "..No, no, I'm not looking.. I swear..."