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January 28, 2010

Burnout Paradise

After my page-dominating review of Bayonetta last week, the folks at The Cairns Post wanted to know if I had one for today. Having pretty much broken the bank with Bayonetta and with Mass Effect 2 not out until today, I had to tell them no - until I had the brainwave of reviewing an older game from the perspective of (a) picking it up cheaply and (b) it being kept fresh by downloadable content.

Thus, today's review of Burnout Paradise. Download (make sure you have Adobe Reader, naturally) and read!

January 24, 2010

Cyclone Season 2010 Has Started

If you find Vickie and I a little hard to get out of the house at the moment, it's probably because we're working to make sure we're ready should a cyclone come our way. For those of you not in the region, we've already had one, Neville, form briefly North of us; as I type another, Tropical Cyclone Olga, is intensifying in the Coral Sea east of us and slowly making its way toward the coast.

Olga has developed into a category two cyclone - not severe, but still with winds in the 100km/h+ range close to the eye - and strike somewhere 60km north of us. If so, the worst we should get is some heavy rain and a bit of a blow, but being forces of nature cyclones aren't quite predictable and we've already had one experienced forecaster state that Neville would be the last cyclone we'd see this season.

Weather permitting, I intend to be out in our yard tomorrow, cutting some trees back and hopefully taking some assorted garden refuse to the tip; when the wind picks up anything, especially large palm fronds, could become a house-damaging projectile.

Wish us luck...

UPDATE 24 Jan 10 9AM: TC Olga has taken a turn toward the North, so they're now saying she'll ground around Cooktown. The threat area has been shifted so that we're outside of it, but Olga has slowed and is still gathering intensity as it sits off the coast; who knows what it could do next?

While we're in the yard, cleaning and putting away, we're also running backups of our vital data.

January 21, 2010

Getting Sexiness Right in Videogames

While I'm on the subject of Bayonetta, I thought I'd offer a couple of links about the game's most talked-about aspect: its sexy lead character, Bayonetta herself.

  • Bayonetta: Empowering or Exploitative? - Leigh Alexnader, intelligentsiess par excellence, gives a girl gamer's view on Bayonetta.
  • Penny Arcade - His Most Recent Superpower - Tycho's take on Bayonetta, which hipped me to Leigh Alexander's article.
  • On the Ball: Pimping Bayonetta - how Bayonetta differs from almost every other sexy videogame heroine out there - and how Sega's marketing is missing the point.
  • William Huber's Response - a dissenting view on the presentation of the sexy female lead, on the grounds that the only thing that lifts a character above objectification is character, which, in the author's opinion, Bayonetta has little of. (Added 8:50AM 28 Jan 10)

Bayonetta

The newly-revamped timeOUT, the entertainment lift-out in every Thursday's The Cairns Post, now sports a page called timeIN, dedicated to having a good time at home.

Okay, you know, I ought to admonish you dirty-minded lot up the back where you think I can't see you having a rude little laugh at the double entendre there - but I can't, really, because my game review in the second-ever timeIN (it would have been the first except Jesse had already queued up a Darksiders review from IGN before he went on leave) is of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 hit, Bayonetta.

Download and read!

January 16, 2010

Help Bungie Help Haiti

In case you're not already aware, Bungie, developer of the Halo series of first-person shooter games, is putting some cash toward the American Red Cross' efforts to aid those affected by the earthquake that struck Haiti a few days ago. They have special T-shirts on sale and are donating revenue from the Bungie Store, but as they don't ship outside the US, they're setting up a way for the rest of us to contribute just by playing Halo 3 and/or ODST:

We are rallying our fan community to show their support by playing Halo 3 or ODST online next Wednesday or Thursday while wearing a special emblem signifying your commitment to the cause. For every thousand heroes that participate, we will make a $100 donation on behalf of Bungie and our fan community to the Red Cross for Haiti relief efforts, up to a maximum of $77,000. All you have to do is don a special emblem and play a game online and know that you’ve done a small part to help those in need.

Please mark your calendars and help spread the word!

Here are the specifics:

  1. Round up all of your friends and hop online with Halo 3 or ODST any time next from 00:01AM PST Wednesday, 1/20, through 23:59PM PST Thursday 1/21 (that's 6:01PM Wednesday January 20th to 5:59PM Friday January 22nd, Queensland time - Rob).
  2. Edit your appearance settings so your character is wearing the RED HEART emblem.
    1. Press START
    2. Select “SETTINGS” / “APPEARANCE”
    3. Select “EMBLEM”
    4. Select “Hearts” ICON, “Circle” BACKGROUND
    5. Back out to the APPEARANCES menu and select “COLORS”
    6. Set “EMBLEM PRIMARY” to RED (or MAROON / BRICK / ROSE depending on which game you’re playing!)
    7. Set “EMBLEM SECONDARY” to WHITE
  3. Once your emblem is set, play! This can be a custom game or a matchmaking game, just make sure it’s played online, on Xbox LIVE, or we can’t track it.

If you keep playing more games through midnight on Thursday, KEEP THE HEART EMBLEM ENABLED or you may not get counted.

We’ve got our hearts on and we’re looking for a fourth. Will you join our cause on Xbox LIVE? (for screenshot example purposes we’re on system link, your network needs to be “Xbox LIVE” though!)

But wait, there’s more! We want to see your screenshots and hear the stories about your experiences. Take screenshots from your games and tag them on Bungie.net with “HERO” so we can capture the moment. We’ll go through and find screens we like and send some of you the special “Be a Hero!” Superintendent t-shirts we’re offering at the Bungie Store as a small token of our gratitude for your support.

I'm keen to hop on Thursday evening Australian time (Wednesday night/Thursday morning US time); how about the rest of you? Do you Aussie players fancy some Firefight for a cause?

January 09, 2010

Flattery Gets You Nowhere

The community radio station I volunteer for is going through some turbulent times at the moment, and a local blogger has been investigating. I can't comment as to the accuracy of his articles, but I will draw your attention to this one, where he mentions my show, Radio for the Print Handicapped:

To be absolutely honest, the only valuable programming I've been able to find on Cairns community radio 89.1FM is a daily "service" where local news is read...

This is a service designed for those that can't read the Cairns Post, God help them, or other newspapers for that matter. We call them visually-impaired these days. Remember when you grew up, it was "blind." We then turfed out that word. I recall when we stopped saying "handicapped" and replaced it with "disabled."

...

Rob Farquhar is my fav readers on community radio, with a voice so smooth you'd think he'd be a gay flight attendant, or at least help out when they're busy. His other half Vickie assures me he's not. I'll take her word for it.

I'd like to make two comments with regard to this:

  1. "Print Handicapped" doesn't refer to just blind people or folks with other visual impairments, it also means folks whose eyesight is fine but can't read (probably a needless comment, as Mike Moore is a born stirrer).
  2. Honey, you only wish!

January 06, 2010

Culling My Gamer Presences

A couple of days ago, I shut my Xbox 360's blog over on 360voice down. The only purpose it was serving was to pat me on the back for playing regularly; I'm sure there are times in the past where I've fired up my Xbox just to make sure the “Happy Xbox” badge stayed on my profile. Although I'd set the site to track a few other folks' blogs, I wasn't really reading them.

Now I'm starting to look at all the other gaming services I'm signed up on and trying to figure out whether they really serve my purposes. Aside from my Xbox Live and Steam sign-ons, I have profiles on Raptr and Xfire (services that track gaming activity and provide instant messaging clients), the Xbox World, Xecutive Order and Dawn of War 2 Community forums, the Gamespot review website and the BigPond GameArena, a review / online game retail site.

Per my big New Year's post, my main purpose in gaming is to have good times with people whose company I enjoy. My Xbox live friends list is filled with people I either already know on this side of the screen, friends of friends or folks I've met through forums. This means that Raptr and Xfire aren't really doing anything for me. I rarely see anyone on my friends lists for either of these apps and on those occasions they're usually too busy with a game I don't own to chat. I may as well stick with Trillian.

As statistic collectors, the other main thing Raptr and Xfire do is similar to what the 360voice blog did: Tell people I don't know and probably don't care to what I'm doing. Anyone can check my public profile and view my gaming activity. In theory this would allow someone of similar gaming tastes to send me a friend request but as far as I can remember no one ever has. Xfire only tracks PC activity, and while it also provides clan support, the clan groups I've joined aren't of any practical use. I think I'll shut my Xfire profile down, if I can.

I'm in two minds over Raptr. On one hand, it's fun to get my recent gaming activity, whether on Xbox or PC, posted on my Facebook profile which I know only folks on my Friends list can read. I also like its instant messaging client, which combines all the usual IM suspects (ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!) with its own, gaming-dedicated channel.

On the other, I'm not sure how much value having my gaming activity put up on Facebook really adds. It's only of interest to to other gamers and I've had more response on Facebook to my reviews or updates where I actually express a personal opinion than I have to a “SlamDance has played Borderlands (360) in the last 24 hours” status update (I find that other folks' Raptr status updates don't really tell me anything of great value about them either). Add in the aforementioned fact that the IM channel is pretty much useless and Raptr is looking like a candidate for the bin as well.

As to forums, I spend a fair bit of time on Xbox World and Xecutive Order; I have friends on those forums and have made new ones through them. But I've barely ever frequented the DoW2 Community forum, so I can shut that down painlessly.

Then there's Gamespot. I like its general coverage and that it can send me news alerts for games I'm tracking, but I'm not so sure about having my games library publicly available. Privacy concerns aside, it again doesn't seem to do me any practical good; no one's ever contacted me via Gamespot and said “Hey, I see you have Game X, do you want to play?” Finally, GameArena, which I don't touch; I'm more likely to access a GameArena server via Team Fortress 2's browser than through the Arena client.

It looks as though I'll be going through a few “account shutdown” processes tonight. Hopefully, with fewer appeals to my gamer vanity to get me to go and play even when I'd be serving myself better by doing something practical, I'll get more quality gaming in - and get more practical things done in the meantime!

January 05, 2010

Borderlands

My second review for the paper this year (that's two reviews published in under a week) and third published game review!!

The Cairns Post, Tuesday January 5th, 2010, page 16

You can find more info on Borderlands here.

Next up: Mass Effect 2. And if EB Games have a midnight launch for it I'll see if I can cover that too...

January 04, 2010

Conquering 2010

I'd like to open this article by expressing my great regret that the Smiggin Holes campaign for the 2010 Winter Olympics venue was unsuccessful. Curse you, you Canucks...

Now that's out of the way, I think the best way to open this post on the New Year is by noting that the ladies at the office have talked about this year, 2010, as a Year of Change. I'm not sure whether this reflects a stirring in the zeitgeist or just some astrology-inspired gossip, but either way I'd like to be down with the idea, and not just in some cheap “hey, everything changes anyway, so if I go with the flow I'll be a new man by the end of the year” fashion.

Looking at last year's changes and accomplishments immediately gives me some Things To Do this year:

  • I want to write a regular article or review for the computer section of the paper. Reviewing is going to be tricky unless and until the paper starts getting copies of games in for me to review; buying games regularly is definitely way out of my budget. I have several ideas for articles, though, which will need me to do some research and maybe even (gasp!) talk to some people.
  • Speaking of writing, I want to get Slamdance underway as a major project. I need to consolidate all the notes and ideas I've been making, pick out the ones I want to build on, file the rest and get writing. My main idea is to turn it into a novel, but I think I need to look into other ways of getting it before people's eyes.
  • Since I joined the LNP I've been kind of coasting with it; Vickie's been the main driver of our political involvement. That's not good enough, though; I want to work out what I want to accomplish through the LNP and what I can do for it. I have some ideas...
  • I succeeded in losing a lot of weight in 2009, although I wasn't particularly trying. The upshot is that several people have told me that I need to put some weight back on - provided it goes on in strategic places like my pecs and abs (instead of my moobs and gut). This means formulating and committing to a plan to tone and bulk up. Thankfully I still have Karl's gym gear in the garage.
  • If I'm gaming less with randoms, then I want to game more with mates. This has already started, with an old mate in Sydney sending me a gift Steam license for the multiplayer game Left 4 Dead yesterday. I also have some folks I've got to know via Xbox Live whom I enjoy gaming with, and I'd like to hook up with them for Borderlands and Halo 3: ODST's Firefight mode. This, of course, involves some organisation, which gamers are notoriously woeful at. Then there's the FreeMarket game which kicks off in under a week; my players are not only my lovely wife and a mate I met through gaming a couple of years ago, but also a friend from work who's never gamed before in her life! I'm feeling the pressure to ensure her first experience isn't a bad one...

There are some other general things that have cropped up during the year:

  • Keeping house. The immediate issue is making sure we're prepared for cyclone season, which is fast bearing down on us (technically it's already started, but so far no cyclones). Other important issues are curing some dry rot and finishing the renovations to the computer room, namely the new desk and bookcase. Vickie got a desk plan from Bunnings which will make a good start, but it'll probably need some modification. Then there's just making sure I help keep the place clean and tidy, something my darling wife will no doubt appreciate! Let's not forget the garden bed, either, which will need forking over and replanting.
  • Living socially. I'd like to continue the upward trend our social lives have taken in the last half-year. We've both made new friends, and I'd like us to get out and meet them (not to mention get them over our place – more reason for me to help out with housework).
  • Improving our financial situation. We're definitely not bad, and there are many worse than us. That said, though, I'd still like us to have some more wiggle-room in our budget, what with interest rates and the general cost of living going up.

Most of this is pretty scary, especially the political and financial stuff! Tackling all this will require some big steps outside my comfort zone.

All of these changes require one whopping great change: Discipline. Each of these achievements that I want to accomplish require me to establish new patterns and new routines, to make sure I do certain things at certain times of the day, especially in the morning. As Vickie can and will attest my existing, semi-slothful habits can be damned hard to budge, especially when I've just got out of bed. Changing myself from the kind of person who wants the world and all its pressures to go jump into a disciplined... well, do-er of things is going to be the biggest change I can make to myself this year; once done, though, the rest will be easy.

I suppose the best thing about a disciplined approach to live is that I'll be too busy doing something about all these big, looming priorities to be scared of them!

Taking 2009 As A Whole

After highlighting some of the more noteworthy blog posts from 2009, I want to try and get some kind of overall perspective. When looking back, it's always easier to remember the past in terms of dramas and regrets. 2009 was by no means an easy year. There were a couple of issues that I didn't get around to blogging about. They related to our car and pets and both hit us hard in the hip-pocket; as money issues do, they put a crimp on the rest of the year. It was also a tense time politically; we're still feeling the effects of some drama that ensued within the LNP shortly after we joined.

Nonetheless, 2009 was a good year in several respects. For starters, I think Vickie and I got out and about more than we have in prior years. The Ever After book club and the LNP were both big contributors to this, as we got to make a whole bunch of new friends through both.

It was also a year of a couple of large firsts for me personally. I've already mentioned the LNP, but I think it's worth pointing out that this is the first time I've had any kind of serious involvement with politics outside of voting. My involvement wasn't huge, sure; I've been kind of coasting along, doing my allotted duties and feeling my way until I figure out exactly what I want to do with my membership. Still, it's definitely a change for the better.

Also, I wrote an article to a particular size requirement and a deadline and it was published in the paper. After years of noodling with fanfics and blogs, I'm a god-damned published writer. That's huge. I keep taking for granted how huge that is. And the experience was so interesting that I'd like to do it more often.

Family relationships are slowly improving, too. We get on great with Amanda and tensions between Vickie and Amanda's mum Jenny (Vickie's daughter) have largely dissolved; Jenny's gone from thinking her Mum was morally reprehensible for marrying some despicable younger man to telling her that she pushes poor Rob around too much! Brook's up here again for a few weeks and thanks to Facebook Vickie's in regular touch with two of her grandsons with whom she'd barely ever spoken to in the past (a move from Brisbane to Melbourne helped there).

As for my side of our family, I'm getting on better with Dad, especially after he and my aunt Heather came up for a weekend visit in October. Things still aren't perfect – what is? - but I think I've slowly grown (and hardened) up when it comes to me an' me Dad. I also got in touch with a relative of mine to whom I've not spoken with since just after Mum's funeral.

On the topic of growing up, I've become less hung up over games, enough to realise when I'm actually enjoying what I'm doing and when I'm procrastinating over something else, like housework or a personal project. I've also realised that whether the game is a tabletop RPG or the multiplayer mode of a computer or video game, playing with folks I don't know or give a stuff about is worse than not playing.

Finally, I think I'm starting to get a hang of not just fiscal responsibility but also management. We're still digging our way out of some unexpected debts, but even amid the rising cost of living, keeping a dollar in the bank and getting debt-free is starting to feel do-able.

All in all, 2009 has definitely been a good year. Now, what about the New Year in the New Decade?

John Dies At the End

Here's a book review I wrote for the first Weekender liftout of the year!

January 03, 2010

2009: A Year In Blogging

As the New Year Long Weekend draws to a close, I figured I'd take a look at my posts on this web log and Facebook over the past twelve months; celebrate the good and reflect on the bad in order to get me on some sort of course for 2010.

Of course, getting Facebook to spit out your old posts for a twelve-month period is an exercise in tedium, so instead I'm going to stick with the IMAGinES web log. This is going to be a combination of "best-of" links and general commentary.

To paraphrase Bartholomew J. Simpson, let me start from the start and then take it away. The first post of the year is a nice piece of contrast:

I was just reading Wil Wheaton's web log and he's gone and done one of those retrospective thingies wherein he highlights some of his posts from last year. I was struck with two things: One, the thought of doing something retrospective-y and resolution-y for my own log, and two, how coherent thought-destroyingly hot and humid it is in Cairns today.

So bugger it.

I came off my Cory Doctorow binge with a post about piracy and the Internet age (it's interesting to see how the old models have insisted on persisting, right up to the closure of the Pirate Bay) and prepared for the release of The Dark Knight with Bat Blog. Even though it seemed the little blighter drowned in the ensuing rains, we have the feeling he/she was just drying off and flapped his/her way out of the garden later. I hope we get an Australia Day visitor for the third year running!

We also got another grandchild up here! Amanda had a rocky first few months in Cairns , but she's now renting her own place and doing a job she loves. It's been great getting to know her (and her mother Jenny, when she came up for visits) better!

In February, I started a trend which I will hereby dub "Spaceballs 2009: The Search for More Money." As part of an overall trend of putting away childish things, I decided that some of my old gaming paraphernalia could be auctioned off to someone who would use it more than I. Out the door this year were a throttle-and-stick game controller and my Heavy Gear and Sorcerer RPG books.

At the end of February I made a fist at trying to get myself organised. The results have been mixed (maily due to my spotty effort in that regard) but generally positive, although I wound up spending around $100 on assorted organisational paraphernalia.

Come April we were working on improving our health. I wound up shedding around sixteen kilos between swimming at the Lagoon, using the gym gear donated by my stepson Karl and the eating plans Vickie adopted upon joining the Biggest Loser Club. Vickie also wound up losing over twelve kilos!

On the entertainment front, I discovered two authors named Vaugh(a)n: Carrie Vaughn, author of the Kitty Norville novels, and Elizabeth Vaughan, who penned the Warlands and Star series romantic fantasies. I planned my summer blockbuster schedule (pretty good, in the end - of the eight listed movies I saw six at the cinema; we decided not to see Night at the Museum 2 and Wolverine, and Vickie didn't join me for Terminator Salvation) and I continued to review books for the Cairns Post, although the schedule was so all over the place I couldn't keep track of what got published when.

Speaking of reviews, I got my second game review in the paper and also tackled Star Trek, Terminator Salvation and Avatar. I promised a review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen which never eventuated.

We made another attempt at getting the vegetable garden growing again, but it's been a tough one; the weather hasn't been ideal and we've not been able to refertilise the bed as we'd have liked.

I had something of a blank period in June and July, finishing the month with a trio of posts on the same day. The Tron Legacy tech demo premiered on the web and I've showed it to all and sundry since. Having seen Avatar I'm really looking forward to 3D lightcycles in December.

In August, I received the Employee of the Month award for June, sharing it with another Rob in the editorial department. The $100 gift voucher was most definitely appreciated, and while I didn't win the Employee of the Year award it was a great run!

I finally caught up with blogging in mid-September, where I discussed our joining the Ever After Cafe Bookstore's book club. It's been a great night excuse to get out of the house fo an evening for Vickie and I; we've made some great new friends through it, although we've lost two when they moved back down south.

The Book Club was also the prompt that got me back to my long-standing fiction project, namely Slamdance. I've been doing more making and collating notes of late, but the short story I've written so far has already got raves from everyone I've given it to.

On the tech front, I started seriously getting into Linux this year, although it hit a snag when an upgrade removed my installation's ability to play sound. I've been meaning to do a rebuild for months, especially as Windows XP has been very flaky for a while, but I never make time or inclination. I followed pro Halo 3 player Walshy from his longtime team Final Boss to Instinct and then on to Carbon, whom I hope can pull the Major League Gaming National Championship in Orlando in a week's time. I lost my taste for competitive gaming but discovered "got your back gaming", an idea which I managed to turn into my first article published in an actual newspaper. I hoped that my coverage of a midnight launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 would make it into the paper, but that didn't eventuate.

As the end of the year approached, we joined the Liberal National Party right before a rocky period and a resultant long quiet. Although things haven't exactly been smooth with regard to the party, we've made another slew of good mates out of it.

Tabletop gaming made a resurgence in November. I played my first game of the 4th Edition of the venerable Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game and discovered the beta test version of the upcoming FreeMarket tabletop roleplaying game in time to organise a game in the first weeks of 2010.

I also briefly mentioned a surgery in mid-November. Vickie had a gynae issue develop over the year, and thankfully she got a surgery date at Cairns Base prior to Christmas. Vickie's still recovering and I'm doing a lot - okay, a bit - more around the house so that she can relax and recuperate. If you now Vickie, though, you'll know she's never content with just sitting around!

Finally, I wound up 2009 with a wholesale rejection of modern society's approach to the giving of gifts. Interestingly enough, we had a good, trouble-free Christmas Day this year.

No Prep Month

I managed to do something that I think I've not done before when I have a game session coming up, especially when I game. After dragging it around with me nearly everywhere for a few weeks, I took my FreeMarket beta rulebook out of my bag a little under a month ago and put it up on my gaming shelf. And it's stayed there since; in fact, I'm only thinking about taking it down now so I can give ti a fresh read-over prior to Saturday's game.

Now, I know I took a break from gaming for a good while, but I think this is the first time I've been in that semi-active, pre-game state and not treated gaming as study, i.e. pred over rulebooks and sourcebooks and equipment books galore. I decided I wasn't going to start playing before I actually start playing this time around; I don't want to build some pretty picture in my head and get invested in it only to get cranky when the ideas my players have don't fit into it well. Admittedly, being extremely setting-light, FreeMarket makes this pretty easy for me.

The idea that I have no real idea of what's going to happen this coming Saturday is still kind of scary, though.