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March 30, 2005

Lies, Damn Lies And Dawn of War

For anyone who's interested: My Dawn Of War online match statistics.

For archival purposes, my statistics at today's date:

IMAGinES's Statistics

IMAGinES last played a game on : 3/29/2005 3:43:35 AM

General Stats

Played Games: 21
Losses: 12
Disconnects: 0
Avg. Game Length: 20 (minutes, I assume - does this make me one of the famed Twenty Minuters?)

Races: Wins, Losses
Space Marines: 0, 0
Chaos: 0, 0
Eldar: 7, 11
Ork: 2, 1

1 vs. 1 Stats
Score: 1000
Race: Eldar
Wins: 1
Losses: 2

2 vs. 2 Stats
Score: 1000
Race: Chaos (Must be a default choice, as I've never played them online)
Wins: 0
Losses: 0

3 vs. 3 Stats
Score: 1000
Race: Chaos (see above)
Wins: 0
Losses: 0

March 28, 2005

Warriors of the Kara-Thenn Craftworld

Speaking of Dawn of War, I've been doing a little more monkeying around in Paint Shop Pro (with thanks to some instruction from the Relic Entertainment Forums) and have finally come up with a personalised logo and banner for my Eldar army.

Eldar Guardians of the Kara-Thenn Craftworld

You can't see the logo too well on these guys (it's on their left shoulderplate), but the Dark Reapers don't have such restricted fashion sense (even if they do prefer black):

Kara-Thenn Dark Reapers

The elven ladies of the Howling Banshees are a little more, shall we say, up-front in declaring their allegiance:

Kara-Thenn Howling Banshees

Careful with those stares, lads; she mightn't be able to put an eye out with those, but that's no butter knife in her hand!

Also seen showing the love was this Falcon Anti-Gravity Tank:

Kara-Thenn Falcon

And its launching platform was no slouch either:

Kara-Thenn Support Platform

The actual Craftworld banner can be seen atop this comm station:

Kara-Thenn Battle Standard

So if you see this distinctive logo on the battlefield, you'll know who you're up against! :-D

Man At Work, Pt. 1

Just to prove to you that I am actually doing more than just talking about a redevelopment, here's a quick snapshot of what I've done so far.

Of course, I've not been slacking off in the meantime. Oh, no. Don't let those hours logged on Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War fool you either. I've been out in the garden cutting down trees (well, long grass) and clearing away thorn-bushes (all right, branches) too. So there.

March 25, 2005

Planning a Facelift

The fact that the current IMAGinES website design doesn't look as good in Firefox/Netscape as it does in Internet Explorer has been bugging me recently. I found (well, made, mainly by ignoring chores) myself some time over the past couple of days to do a bit of investigation and a bit of fiddling with HTML, and I'm starting to come up with a design that I like.

So far I have only designed the front page (it has a couple of issues in IE, but they're not deal-breakers so I might just leave them as is). It uses the same basic colour scheme; on one hand, it's a little boring, but on the other, I do appreciate its ease of design.

What I really like is that I've managed to correct a long-standing fault with the old design (regardless of browser); if I have just a few or no current posts, the right hand bar sprawls across the whole screen, looking ugly and horrid. In the new design, the right-hand bar is now broken into two bars on either side of the main text, Log (Categories, Search, Syndicate, Details, etc.) and Links (well, duh), and each stays right where it is even if the main section's empty.

Of course, this gives me another excuse to be lazy when it comes to updates.

There'll be a new footer section with the Link of the Moment, and a new Category archiving previous Links of the Moment. Basically, it's my opportunity to indulge the odd urge to let everyone know about a kewl site I've just stumbled across. Not to worry; as I said, it's a footer, so you can avoid the bottom of the page and ignore my gratuitous link-whoring to your heart's content.

So when will the update be live? I'm not sure. I've just finished the rough of the front page; I need to look at the rest of the standard site pages (monthly archive, category, and individual entry) and decide how I'm going to fit the new design to them. I also want to implement the design concurrently with upgrading to MT3.0 and incorporating some anti-comment-spam measures I've been looking at.

Not to mention doing all of the above (bar the redesign, of course) to Vickie's log.

They Used To Tell Me My Best Friend Was My Palm...

March 23, 2005

And a Face for it, Too!

Since I started The New Job, Iíve had several people tell me that I have a voice for radio. There doesnít seem to be a day at the call centre when I answer an incoming call with ďThank you for waiting. This is Rob. How can I help you?Ē and thereís at least a secondís pause, followed by an ďOh, Iím actually speaking to a person?Ē There was even one caller early this week (or was it last week?) that stayed this far from believing I was a real person and not a sophisticated voice response system for at least a minute.

Which is a worry, I thinkÖ

Anyway, one of my colleagues suggested I get in touch with a local talent agency. I sent off a tentative e-mail almost a month ago, and got a response within a day or two. Between work and business at home, Iíve been too busy to follow it up with a response, but Vickie and I composed an e-mail this evening and got it on its way.

If anything eventuates, Iíll be sure to let you all know!

March 15, 2005

Spore

Now, I know there are at least a few Sims-heads on the IMAGinewS group, and probably a lot among you silent several out there. So what do you make of word on the latest game that Wil Wright is cooking up? GameSpy did a whole article on the damned thing, and it seems to be more about custom content than anything else.

Actually, let's be fair here. What it seems to be about to me is more than just skins. It seems to be more about effectively creating your own game, a custom content comcept right down to the very code. This looks very interesting - and if it can be made to work as Wright intends, it looks to be an interesting alternative to the multimillion-dollar budget games we're seeing nowadays.

Still, let's face it - although the Sims series is pretty much the most popular game around, it's the first-person shooters and the Grand Theft Auto games that are right behind it (followed by the big sports franchises). The concept of Wil's latest game, Spore, doesn't seem compatible with the sort of competitive gameplay that, nowadays, requires the big-ticket development, and I'm not sure whether the design ethos Wright is espousing could take the budget out of those games.

I also get the feeling that there'd not really be any real "multiplayer" in Spore. Sure,you can swap designs and content to your heart's content, but you can't really interact or contend against another player's live world/civilisation.

Finally, as you might've gathered from an earlier post, I'm a little cynical when it comes to "sandbox" games. Maybe I've just not given it a fair shake, but after creating my own custom character, I fond myself getting bored with The Sims 2 very quickly. I have no interest in watching my sim wandering around and doing mundane stuff for ages. I don't really know what I'm trying to achieve aside from have him wander around the fishbowl called his house and (maybe) learn stuff. I don't really care about his goals as there seems no readily-discernible way for him to achieve them, at least, not without a fair bit of meandering and going to the can. And they change every day as well.

Still, the Sims games have always sold like hotcakes, so maybe I'm just in some kind of unimaginative minority.

So for the moment, I think I'll just do what I did when I first read that article, and marvel at Wright's idea - and hope he can make a small game that uses little data sell in the era of the DVD-ROM and the movie budget.

March 12, 2005

Alien Vs. Predator (Extended DVD Release)

Itís 2004, and the billionaire head of the Weyland Corporation (Lance Henriksen) is paying top dollar to gather a team of archaeologists, scientists, drillers and explorers from across the globe. Once aboard his ship in the Antarctic ice pack, Weyland explains his mysterious purpose Ė to be the first to reach a heat source that suddenly appeared deep under the ice. Satellite photos indicate the bloom is some sort of underground pyramid. Archaeologist Sebastian (Raoul Bova) believes the pyramid may be a missing link between three ancient cultures, while climber and Antarctic expert Lex (Sanaa Lathan) is only concerned with the lack of prep time the team is being given before they face the perils of an Antarctic expedition.

When the group arrives at the deserted whaling town atop the ice above the pyramid, they find that someone has already drilled a perfect tunnel down into the pyramid chamber. They start to explore, but itís only a matter of hours before they realise the pyramid is preparing for the resumption of an age-old hunt Ė and before they know it, theyíre being used as breeding stock for acid-blooded creatures, which the pyramidís ancient hunting gods have returned to Earth to do battle withÖ

Alien Vs. Predator has a significant weight of history behind it. Itís the sequel to two films that havenít had an outing in twelve years and the prequel to four films that span three decades. Most members of the audience know as much as there is to know about both its star monsters. Its basic idea has already been seen in Dark Horse Comicsí various Aliens Versus Predator mini-series. In general concept, itís a throwback to the monster matchup movies of the Hammer era. Even with the (theoretical) inbuilt audience appeal of the two franchises, Alien Vs. Predator had an uphill battle for its audience, simply because the second cinematic halves of both franchises were broadly panned.

Viewed on its own, AVP isnít without faults. The production is almost too busy making nods and homages to its movie and comic book history to tighten its dialogue, some of which had me rolling my eyes. I didnít get the time or opportunity to bond with any of the characters, except perhaps Sebastian (and only thanks to actor Raoul Bovaís charisma); the movie spreads itself too thin trying to cover as many of them as possible. (This is bad for a horror movie; if the audience canít connect with the movieís protagonists, it can only shock, not make its audience afraid. James Cameron showed how to handle a sizeable cast in Aliens by letting the plot-vital few speak for the cannon-fodder rest, who become important to the audience because of what they mean to the important characters.) The usually professional camerawork occasionally and needlessly resorts to MTV slow-mo and other such tricks.

Iíll avoid pointless comparison between lead actress Sanaa Lathan and Alien legend Sigourney Weaver. Her character, Lex, supposedly the key heroine, fell victim to the same lack of characterisation that plagues the film. Lathan never really portrayed any sense that Lex was a competent Antarctic guide, simply overlaying her lines with a basic "cool". Her larger-than-life act in saving Weyland was out of place in a not larger-than-life cast. Itís only toward the end, when Lathan ably portrays stark naked fear, that I felt some sort of connection to her character.

Still, thereís little about AVP that stands out as being awful. The high production values are front-and-centre but not in-your-face (except when weíre treated to those aforementioned MTV tricks). It maintains pressure on the characters, even if youíre not quite rooting for most of them. Even when the Aliens go CGI, itís because the director wants a shot that canít be taken any other way (most of the time, the shots make sense and fit with the movie). And, thankfully, they do look better than the last two attempts to portray them with computerised imagery. As mentioned before, Raoul Bova is the standout performer here, and itís nice to see both Lance Henriksen and the Predators back on the big screen again. AVP is at its best when itís focused on the Predators; theyíre still big, theyíre still bad, theyíve got new toys, and there are more of them in the film at once. Theyíre used well, even if fans of the comics have seen the final third of the film before. The big flashbacks are gorgeous, too.

As I wrote earlier, Alien Vs. Predator was always going to have an uphill battle for acceptance. Its two movie franchises have had a chequered history; one hasnít had a cinematic foray in twelve years (and got royally panned in its second outing), and the other, having managed to fend off sequelitis in its first return to screen, caught a cold and couldnít halt worsening symptoms in the mid-nineties. Fox probably had a lot invested in this film, in the hope that it could resurrect two franchises in one go.

In the end, itís the legacy of those very franchises that buries AVP. There are too many fans of the Alien franchise that got burned in the last two outings (even if Alien3 wasnít all that bad), and enough people who hate Predator 2 because Arnold Schwarzenegger wasnít in it. Either party would view anything less than a triumphant return to form as a wasted opportunity, and, unfortunately, AVP isn't. It's just a mediocre-to-pretty-good SFX action film. It tries to favour its easier-going, larger than life dad over its harsher, realism-driven mother, but cannot truly please either.

On its own merits, Alien Vs. Predator isnít really a bad film. Itís just not really a great one either, and when contrasted against its well-done forebears, its mediocrity canít help but stand out. If you didnít splurge on a ticket when it was at the theatre, rent it out before making your mind up about buying it (no matter which way youíre leaning).

SF Nerd Questions:


  • Why didnít the film address some of the franchise-old questions, like where the Space Jockey came from or, since the Weyland Corporation was featured, how Weyland-Yutani knew where to send The Nostromo to find the Alien?
  • Although the ancient pyramid establishes the Predatorsí presence in the Antarctic, the previous two Predator movies make it abundantly clear that the Predators much prefer hotspots, and only when itís hotter than normal. Why do this filmís Predators arrive without any shred of cold weather gear?
  • How did the Aliens gestate in a few hours when the previous Alien movies establish their gestation period as at least a day?

March 11, 2005

So this is what they call "rain", eh?

I'm writing this at the Cairns Centrelink call centre, between calls. It's twenty past three in the afternoon, and although it's been raining almost constantly all day, right now there's this muted roar coming from the roof. We've had rain noise from the roof before, but no more than a rumble. Now, though, it's as if someone moved the call centre underneath Niagra Falls when we weren't looking. Hell, it sounds like a full house at Wembley up there, all applauding.

Coming from the UK, and then Sydney, it's damned hard to conceive that there can be enough rainfall to make that kind of noise. And the call centre is no tin shack, either - it was built barely two and a half years ago, as close to state of the art as these places get. We've got ducts, cable-runs and insulation probably doing double duty as sound-proofing between the roof and the ceiling.

How the hell does so much water get up there in the first place?

(I suppose the answer is: A cyclone.)

No wonder people in tropical latitudes reckon the rest of the world has no idea what rain is...

3.30: And all of a sudden, it's stopped.

3.55: And it's back again! And gone again in a minute!

March 08, 2005

Tropical Cyclone Warning: Ingrid

For the past couple of days, we've had a tropical cyclone haging around off our coast. The Bureau of Meteorology has christened her Tropical Cyclone Ingrid, and she's pretty much my first experience of living in Cyclone Country.

I don't know where she was born, but Ingrid was raised in the ocean around the Cooktown area, and since then she's been slowly making her way south. Right now, the coast north of us from Lockhart River to Port Douglas is on cyclone warning, and the watch region was all the way down to Innisfail (Cairns is pretty much smack in the middle of Port Douglas and Innisfail) until not long ago. Ingrid is heading southwest at around 8km/hr, so it seems likely that if she hits, she'll keep going inland.

Of course, the main thing long years of cyclone watch has taught Far North Queenslanders is that cyclones are damned unpredictable. So Vickie asked me to stop on the way home and bought some supplies; bateries, tape for the windows, bottles of water, that sort of thing. We're pretty much set, and from the looks of the business the local supermarket was doing this evening, so is half of Gordonvale. We're also keeping an eye on the Bureau's Queensland Cyclone page and an ear on the radio for updates.

[UPDATE 7AM 9 Feb:] According to the Bureau website, the warning area has shrunk; it now extends only as far south as Cape Tribulation (north of Port Douglas). Ingrid has also reduced in severity; she's back down to a Category 4.

March 07, 2005

Well, duh.

Finally figured out what was wrong with my copy of Trillian. See, the main Contact List window disappeared a few months ago. My PC was acting as if it was on-screen somewhere - but it wasn't, aside from on the taskbar, and even when I used its taskbar icon to minimise and maximise it, it still wouldn't show up. I tried uninstalling and re-installing, to no avail. I wound up switching back to using the ICQ and Microsoft Messenger clients separately, until the latest version of Trillian came out. Hoping that would fix my problems, I tried installing it. No luck; same problem.

Then the lightbulb went off a couple of days ago. I right-clicked on the taskbar icon again, and this time, selected "Move". Sure enough, the cursor turned into the four-pointed Move arrow... and leapt over to the top right-hand corner of the screen. I tried dragging the arrow back to the centre, but the only thing that would move was the arrow.

So: My contact list was somewhere off the screen, and I had no obvious means of getting it back into the main view. I tried futzing around with my video settings for a while - my Radeon 9700 Pro can support two monitors, and I thought that might have something to do with it - but no joy there. Then I turned to the Windows Help Feature, something that I have almost always found to be no help whatsoever. It was true to form again.

In frustration, I went to Microsoft's Windows XP Support Centre and queried its database. I finally found an entry that explains that if you tell a window to Move, then place the four-pointed Move arrow in the centre of the screen with your mouse, the arrow keys will move the active window around. I tried it. It worked.

So now I can see who's online again - and actually IM them! Thank God!

So yeah, if you see me online and I'm not away and I don't say hello, it's not because of a technical fault anymore. I'm just ignoring you.

;-)

The Usual Suspects

Monday, 8.30 PM: Law & Order
Monday, 9.30 PM: Crossing Jordan
Tuesday, 8.30 PM: CSI
Tuesday, 9.30 PM: CSI: NY
Wednesday, 8.30 PM: CSI: Miami
Wednesday, 9.30 PM: Without A Trace (taped)
Thursday, 8.30 PM: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Friday, 8.30 PM: Blue Murder
Friday, 9.30 PM: Dalziel & Pascoe
Saturday, 8.30 PM: The Bill
Sunday, 8.30 PM: Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Sunday, 9.30 PM: NCIS

Sometimes I wonder how my wife does it.

I just consider myself lucky that she allows me to tape Without A Trace in favour of watching Battlestar Galactica...

March 01, 2005

Dark Stars

While Dark Stars has a few good ideas and a promising concept, it needs more development and polish before itíll inspire or enable a solid SF-horror one-shot.

This review is posted on RPGnet.