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April 20, 2007

Exchanging Addictions

You know, I noticed that roleplaying games seem to be dominating my waking thoughts much less than they used to. I think my last post related to RPGs was, what, mid-March? Strange, only a month, but it seems a long time ago.

As Vickie recently observed, I tended to filter everything social through an RPG filter. If I were organising a get-together, it would be oriented around the local gamers, and although I liked them, it was our common interest in the hobby that I was organising the meet-up around. I’ve been turning that around recently; David dropped over last night for a good chat with Vickie and I (and, I’ll confess, I showed the 360 off), and tonight we’re off to a mentoring scheme get-together and a dinner with some friends whom I met through work. There’re still quite a few folks we haven’t seen in a while and would like to get together with, and some of them are gamers, but the shared interest is only part of why we want to keep in touch (and no longer the dominant part for me, either). Given half a chance, I’d still love to run a Burning Empires campaign, but I don’t, you know, need to. "Successful Gamer" isn't really tied into my self image any more.

Still, I seem to have developed a minor obsession with Xbox games to compensate. I am noticing a few signs of addiction to the Console, and I’m pretty sure it’s got to do with the Gamerscore as much as anything else (graphics, gameplay, etc.) A couple of times this week, I’ve noticed myself getting grouchy if I don’t get a chance to play with the console for a bit (admittedly, I don’t do the obvious thing and actually ask politely for some console time). Also – well, today, I took a little side-trip to EB after getting some new printer cartridges for Vickie from Tandy. I was looking for a copy of the Xbox 360 version of Burnout: Revenge, the fourth game in the Burnout series. They had a couple of copies at $70 each.

Here was the purchasing situation in my head:

  • Against:
    • It’s $70 that I can technically afford thanks to the loan, but I want to practice discipline and I’ve already charged enough expensive fripperies to that account – more than enough, to be honest.
    • When I do get the money, I want to spend it on Mass Effect, Transformers and/or enough Microsoft Points to unlock Worms.
    • I still haven’t finished Burnout 3: Takedown, which plays just fine on the 360, thank you very much.
  • For:
    • Burnout 3: Takedown is an original Xbox game. Playing it earns me no achievements.
    • The 360 version of Burnout: Revenge will earn me achievements. Earning achievements increases my Gamerscore!
    • I’ve already lost all the progress that was stored on my old Xbox. If I’m going to spend time playing a Burnout game from scratch, why waste it on playing the same old game again when I could be playing one that delivers an improved, hi-def experience and increases my Gamerscore?!?!??!!!

So as you can see, the pros outweigh the cons. (twitch)

Thankfully, in that particular instance, sanity prevailed and I walked out of EB, satisfied at least that I now know how much Burnout: Revenge costs and can decide if and how it fits into my disposable income budget (somewhere below taking Brook to see TMNT, I hope). Nonetheless, I’m surprised how this little number, which only gives me bragging rights in some artificial, transitory ranking, has got its hooks into my brain so quickly. I mean, here’s Vickie having a tough time getting over cigarettes, and there’s me, developing an all-new addiction of my own!

Damn you, Microsoft. Damn you all to hell…

April 19, 2007

Living in a Box (Arcade Stylin’ Remix)

What more, I hear you ask? Well, the Xbox Live service doesn’t just offer online gaming, patches and maps; it also offers what’s called Xbox Live Arcade, a mix of recent, web-based casual games like Bejeweled and Zuma and classic games like Defender, Jetpac and Paperboy. Trial versions are available for free, and spending Microsoft Points will unlock the full versions, complete with Gamerscore-increasing achievements and online play. 600 Points will bag a couple of these games, and you can get a thousand points for under $20.

Of the various games on offer, I’m really interested in one: Worms. It’s the classic 2D version, gussied up with cute hi-def (but still firmly 2D) graphics; none of this 3D-accellerated, third-person shit, thank you! I’ve downloaded the demo and am keen to unlock it; I reckon it’d make a fantastic party game!

I’m semi-keen on Alien Hominid HD, and evilhayama hipped me to Wing Commander Arena, a fun looking game due on Arcade later this year.

Living In A Box (Big Money Remix)

This is the first of two posts in which I’m going to get a little silly and tell you what Xbox 360 games I’m keen on getting in the near or not-so-near future. The title outside the brackets is a jab at my current state of mind (living in my Gamerscore and Live Arcade) couched in a semi-obscure music reference; no-prize if you can figure it out.

So what games do I want for the Xbox 360?

  • Halo 3, naturally. I’m harbouring the hope that I can snag the Legendary Edition with the SPARTAN helmet; I think I need to put a pre-order in soon. The good bit is that I have at least six months to stash the rest of the purchase price; I think Bungie are tentatively pegging the release date at Christmas time. Even if there isn’t anything really ground-breaking in the game, I still want to see How The Story Wraps Up, especially after the cliffhanger ending of Halo 2 and that damned announcement teaser:
    • Is the mysterious object uncovered by the Covenant under the Earth’s surface the Ark that 343 Guilty Spark mentioned in the closing cutscene of Halo 2?
    • Does the Gravemind have anything to do with Cortana’s seeming onset of rampancy?
    • Will the Elites, Grunts and Hunters side with Humanity in order to stop the Prophets, Brutes and Jackals commencing the Great Journey?
    • Will we see the Arbiter again?
    • Will the Master Chief survive? You know, aside from dying over and over while I try to beat a particular level?
    • And will the music be as good as it’s been all the way through the first two games?
  • Mass Effect. Cool-looking SF universe, potentially Privateer-level of explorability, Knights of the Old Republic RPG elements polished to a phenomenal degree, “save the galaxy” storyline – what’s not to like about this picture? No firm release date, although the last fan-based FAQ quotes the designers as talking about April and/or May, so I’d better start saving my pennies.
  • Guitar Hero II. At $150 for game and guitar, it’s a “wait until I see how much birthday money I get” proposition. Although I’ve long been ambivalent about the whole guitar-playing rhythm game idea, this post by Wil Wheaton decided me in its favour. Plus, King Podge reckons it’s an absolute blast – when his 360’s working, anyway. (Gives me a chance to catch up on his massive Gamerscore…)
  • Transformers. If you know me, you know I’m keen on this game. From what I’ve read about it, it’s sort of a MechAssault meets Grand Theft Auto. Now, I found GTA3 a bit too emptily repetitive (if they’d included some sort of car customisation/upgrade feature, I probably would’ve been hooked), but – as you can play the Autobots – I like the idea of a GTA with something of a moral compass (okay, yeah, I know, Crackdown and all, but Transformers!). Plus, just look at those screenshots (or don’t, if you’d prefer your cinematic experience unsullied by possible spoilers): nigh-on Gears of War-quality Transformers duking it out! And they transform! I think we’re looking at a June release date, although I think July would make more sense, being closer to the film’s opening date.
  • Halo Wars and Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. Real-time strategy games on a console? Ludicrous, my good man, ludicrous! Yet Ensemble Studios, home of the Age of Empires/Mythology games, and Electronic Arts, owners of the C&C franchise, reckon they can make their respective games work on the 360. The former is a Halo game, so naturally I’m interested. The latter – well, instead of talking gameplay or universe, let me just throw some names at you: Billy Dee Williams. Michael Ironside. Tricia Helfer. Grace Park. All in glorious HD video cutscenes not seen since the halcyon days of the original C&C games and Wing Commander, and I hope the acting is just as hammy!

If you’re following with your calculator, you’d realise I’m looking at around $7-800 worth of games. I reckon, if I were frugal, I can probably stash $40, maybe $50 per month away. I like the challenge, though; I want to earn these games, so I don’t feel too guilty about buying them. The good bit is I’m only really looking at two games in the immediate future; Mass Effect and Transformers. I know C&C3 is due very soon, but I’m in no real hurry to buy it – let’s face it, I bought C&C2 for James Earl Jones and Michael Biehn and couldn’t have been arsed finishing the game.

In fact, if I were to pare the list down, I’d likely excise the RTS games, or at least shove them into next year (by which time the prices should have dropped a little, or there’d be a sale on). For all I know, Halo Wars mightn't even be out until next year anyway. Also, Guitar Hero II is definitely an only-if-I-have-money-to-be-silly-with purchase (i.e. birthday or Christmas money), so that's shaved $350-400.

But wait – there’s more…

April 16, 2007

Gamerscore Is The New EverCrack

I just realised yesterday how clever Microsoft were when they introduced the Gamerscore to their Xbox Live profiles. It’s a neat little mechanism of addiction. If you’ve ever played in any game where you have an improvable ranking, you’ll likely know what I mean. The trick is, the Gamerscore is tied directly into each Xbox 360 game you play. Every game has a list of achievements that you can work toward, and each one you achieve bumps your Gamerscore up by ten-point increments. Nail down a particularly tricky achievement and you can find your Gamerscore has suddenly bumped up by thirty points!

The Gamerscore not only encourages you to play a given game, but it also rewards you for replaying it. Gears of War, for example, gives an achievement for completing each act in the campaign (I think there are somewhere between six and eight acts in total) on each level of difficulty, plus an achievement once you’ve completed the whole game on a given difficulty level. With three difficulty levels, this means that you could quite conceivably play the whole campaign through three times. On top of that, there are various achievements for feats, like five perfect reloads in a row, and high scores in multiplayer games.

What does the Gamerscore give you? Well, although Xbox Live’s Marketplace runs on a point-based currency (you exchange dollars for points), as far as I’m aware the only thing increasing your Gamerscore gives you is bragging rights. Still, that can be plenty. The main page for your Xbox Live profile has a feature where your Gamerscore is compared to that of one of the players on your Friends list. You cannot set this to null; you can only choose which player you’re currently being compared with. It tempts you to log back in and try to beat that level, or nail that perfect riff on Guitar Hero II, just so that you can top your mate’s score. And once you earn all the achievements in a given game, well, there are plenty more achievements in all those other games you don't own yet...

I must confess, I find myself thinking such whenever I look at EvilHayama’s Gamerscore. He’s only got – wait, what? How did he get to 545? He was only 330 not so long ago. Damn. Puts my measly 110 into perspective, and I doubt I’ll improve it by 135 points in 24 hours any time soon…

But I think that illustrates the point, anyway. That Gamerscore tempts you into devoting more of your waking hours to parking your arse in front of the console and spending more money on new games and maintaining your Live subscription, with all the attendant loss of health, spouse time and social life that entails, just to keep up with the 0wnz0rs (which, let's face it, is probably part of your behavioural pattern if you own a 360).

Okay, that's a bit harsh; a Gamerscore can be a source of good-hearted social joshing much as your unbroken losing streak in indoor soccer can be (more about that on the MySpace), and if you're careful with your budget, a Live subscription and the odd new game every so often shouldn't be a bank-breaker. But I still have to give a nod to Microsoft for how well they've subtly encouraged people who own their console to keep playing.

Smooth move, Bill. Smooth move...

April 13, 2007

It Lurks In My Entertainment Unit And Hates Me

Here's a neat little toy for everyone with an Xbox 360 and a Live gamertag: 360voice.com. It uses your Xbox Live profile to generate a web log which appears as if it was written by your Xbox. Mine's here, although as of this writing I've not done enough gaming for it to write about (it seems my Xbox is a classic SF fan, though). In the meantime, check out the blog of the Xbox of evilhayama, the man who hipped me to this site.

April 09, 2007

Frank's Two Thousand Inch TV

It all started on Saturday. We had our three, maybe four-stop shopping trip all planned out. First to Sportscene, for some new joggers for me (the lining of my last ones had come loose and were rubbing against my feet); next to Haven & Space (homewares store) for a browse; then Bunnings for soil and other garden supplies and possibly Melsonrock Garden Centre for some plants and herbs.

Things started to go awry, as they tend to, in Haven & Space. Vickie pointed out the complementary coffee table for our lounge suite (purchased from H&S last year, per the previous comment re: things going awry), which I said we'd think about getting. Then we spotted an entertainment unit nestled under a set of drawers, which went perfectly with our CD cabient in the living room (the entertainment unit, not the drawers). I figured the existing, multi-part, chipboard unit was due to be replaced anyway, and the one-piece looked the goods.

Then Vickie made the fatal mistake of jesting that we'd really need a flat screen TV for it.

And I took her semi-seriously.

See, there's a Retravision across the road from Haven & Space. At the Christmas party my company threw for its favoured clients last year, one of our sales reps introduced me to one of that Retravision's managers, who told me to come see him whenever we wanted anything electrical and he'd do me a deal. So we pootled over the road and browsed, and our attention was immediately grasped by a Sony Bravia KDL-40X2000. The picture was glorious, and we got a nice little discount on the sticker price.

Now, we have enough extra on our loan account to spare, but we're being careful; we don't want to be saddled with a debt that we'll be paying off for decades. Still, we have a few grand's wiggle-room even after we bought the TV (we paid our credit cards off last week, so that's those debts cleared), so we figure, what the heck.

Now, around the time Vickie mentioned "Widescreen", I started thinking "Xbox 360". I asked the sales assistant, who assured us that the Bravia could handle game console output fine. So we splurged. Then we dashed over to Harvey Norman and bought an Xbox 360. Karl got the TV and the entertainment unit home for us in his ute, and we spent Saturday afternoon setting the new kit up and reorganising cables (which are now much neater than before). Karl also got the old Xbox and the games I didn't want any more.

So we missed Bunnings and Melsonrock on Saturday. But we'll pop in there tomorrow - okay, as it's gone midnight, today. And make a quick dash to Earlville, where I'll see aobut a copy of Battlestar Galactica Season 2 on DVD. And maybe Gears of War and a Live headset. I'll also see if I can get a decent photo of the entertainment unit tomorrow, during the day; I took one earlier on, but our digital camera hates night time lighting.

April 04, 2007

Random Acts of Libraryness

Well, as I think I merntioned recently, I've been going through the Cairns Library's stock of SF novels at a rate of knots. I polished Eisenhorn off last night - an entertaining and gripping read, much more than just a product tie-in; it really made the Warhammer 40,000 universe human - and, as I had a little time today, wandered back into the Library at lunch to see what else I could get.

I suddenly found myself in the mood to broaden my palate a bit, and, eschewing my habit, browsed the non-fiction shelves instead of my regular haunt. I decided to just pick up four books that caught my interest. I nearly picked up an autobiography of John Glenn, but decided to stay away from space stuff for the moment. In the end, I walked out with:

  • Judaism for Dummies. This one just caught my eye for some reason. I know less about Judaism than I know about Christianity, and what I know about Christianity could probably fill a couple of A4 pages. I dunno, the thought of reading up about Judaism just - and this is going to sound flippant, I know, but I mean it kindly - tickled me.
  • The Holy Thief: A Con Man's Journey from Darkness to Light, by Mark Horowitz. This is an autobiography whose subject is a man who grew up in the sixties and seventies to become a con man, grifter and crook until, later in life, he experienced a personal revelation and turned his life utterly around. It was close on the shelf to Judaism for Dummies, but I didn't pick it up at first; still, after browsing most of the rest of the shelves I went back for this one.
  • PC Modding for Dummies. Well, it ain't gonna be happening any time soon, I think; I've already got a cool, pre-modded case (and several blue lights in it). But I figure it's still nice to read about, and I might well pick up some new bits of info on PC hardware - well, most probably, as my knowledge of PC hardware pales in comparison to many.
  • The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, by James Logan and R.R. McIan. A little back-to-my-roots stuff, I guess; I really know very little about most fo the beanches of my family, and as soon as I saw this I figured it was high time to get some background on at least one of them. The Farquharson clan is indeed featured. We couldn't find Vickie's clan, Eyres, but she reckons they were a lowland clan anyway.

Based on the first two books, you could say I suddenly seem interested in matters spiritual, and you, gentle reader, mightn't be far wrong. Hell, even the March series can be seen, as well as I somehow doubt I'll actually find religion, as it were, but maybe I'm trying to find my way to something nonetheless.

Or maybe i'm just navel-gazing. Still, there's nothing wrong with broadening one's knowledge while one's doing it!

April 02, 2007

Shakin' Stevens

Well, I get into work this morning to discover that there's been an undersea earthquake this morning near the Solomon Islands, and that Cairns is at risk of a tsunami. Apparently we're supposed to start feeling any effects at around ten to ten this morning.

Of course, this'd have to happen on my first day of jury duty, wouldn't it?

Wish us luck...

UPDATE 12:09PM: The good news is, we're all still here, alive and fine! The judge decided to send the pool of prospective jurors home, just in case. In the end, the earthquake generated some waves, but none of them were strong enough to reach us. I'll be dropping Vickie off for a 1:30 appointment in Cairns then pootling back into work.

The bad news is that, although the waves didn't reach us, they, and the quake which caused them, did strike the Solomons badly. There's been significant damage and, I hear, a few deaths.

April 01, 2007

The Return Of The Grin With Legs

Well, as half the people I know in Cairns are doing it, I figured I maight as well jump on the bandwagon and get myself a MySpace. If you're reading this, Jonathan Geoffrey Hughes, Esq., the name is all your fault.

It's my intention to keep this web log as my main web log (i.e. all about me!), whereas My Space will be all about connections with friends and where (and when) I'm going / I've been out and about. I'll put a post a week up there, at the very least with links to the week's posts over here, ideally also with what I've been up to and what I'm getting up to. So "Events & Get-Togethers" will probably be over there instead of on here.