The Child

Batman - Kotobukiya figureFor years I’ve always enjoyed reading and watching Batman. I remember ages ago seeing a Batman figure in the window of Forbidden Planet (sad sacks shop) and for weeks wanted to buy it but I was a poor student at the time and just never got round to it. Shakeel pointed out some vinyl figures made by Kotobukiya although they were mostly Star Wars.

However by the magic that is EBay I tracked down a Batman figure from the same firm – I now have it in the house and it looks great. Although it was pretty pricey I think it was worth every penny and goes nicely with the Matrix APU. The trick now is to not buy too many more – EBay is far too easy to use.

 

360 - The Games

The most important aspect of any console is the games themselves. Launch titles are notorious for being short on gameplay while focusing on visuals knowing that second generation titles on the same platform should look a lot better. I picked up three games for the 360 that returned mixed results.

Project Gotham Racing 3Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3) is the follow up to PGR & PGR2 which in turn were the follow up to Metropolis Street Racing on the Dreamcast. You know what to expect from this – fast city based arcade/sim racing with exotic cars. I loved the last three versions and this is no exception.

Graphics are lovely and show what to expect from the 360 in the future. Special mention to the actual cities themselves as the detail they contain is amazing. The cars themselves look great especially when you switch to in-car view – the level of detail is amazing but I find the game feels a bit sluggish in this view so I always race from the bumper view. The sound of the engines also gets special mention as it’s a real step up from previous games.

Importantly, handling feels just right with a great solid feel. You really can feel your way around the track and know after a few turns exactly how the car behaves. Like previous versions PGR3 concentrates on Kudos points – not just winning, but winning with style. I would have also liked to have seen lap times and other time based stats as well but they are missing unless you specifically race time trials.

Online works really well – little to no lag and most cars and all tracks are available from the outset meaning you don’t have to spend ours offline to unlock the fast cars. Niggles – no anti-aliasing for starters means the graphics can look ‘jaggy’ from time to time. Also the game is true hi-def but to be honest it’s hardly noticeable. There was a lot of fuss pre-release that the game ran at 30 frames per second and that this was an outrageous decision. Since release I’ve not heard one person complain.

Couple of gameplay flaws. There’s an online career mode that is enjoyable except for the cheats that ram into your car at every corner. Learn to brake people. At the same time learn to use manual gears as it makes for a far more enjoyable game. There is also a track build mode which allows you to design your own tracks within the 4 cities rendered in the game. Nice idea except the barriers placed by the game are transparent unlike the ones used in the real tracks – a fatal flaw which makes custom track racing difficult – patch please!

For a first day release this is an astounding game and well worth a purchase for any 360 owner.
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iTunes Signature Maker

Shamelessly copied from elsewhere I present my iTunes signature – itsm.mp3 (2 Meg download). The program that generated the file can be found on at Jason Freeman’s site. It has a few options and will generate your own signature based on this. The only requirements are that you use iTunes and can run Java apps on your pc.

So can you name all the tracks in my signature? I couldn’t but the app creates a list of the tracks used….

1 – So I Begin – Galleon – I Believe
2 – Love Will Come Through – Travis – 12 Memories
3 – Landed – Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman
4 – Whatever, Whenever – Groove Armada – Vertigo
5 – Kiss This Thing Goodbye – Del Amitri – Waking Hours
6 – Fix You – Coldplay – X&Y
7 – 1 Thing – Amerie – Touch
8 – Don’t want to Fall in Love – Chris Issac – Chris Issac
9 – All I Need – Air – Moon Safari
10 – Toca’s Miracle – Fragma – Dogs Balearics Disc 2
11 – Creep – Radiohead – Pablo Honey
12 – Bad Day – Daniel Powter – Daniel Powter
13 – Are You Gonna Be My Girl – Jet – Get Born
14 – Vertigo – U2 – How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
15 – El Salvador – Athlete – Vehicles and Animals
16 – Somewhere Only We Know – Keane – Hopes And Fears
17 – I Can’t Be With You – Cranberries – No Need To Argue
18 – Shiver – Coldplay – Parachutes
19 – Further – Longview – Mercury
20 – Fake plastic trees – Radiohead – The Bends
21 – Drop The Pressure – Mylo – Destroy Rock ‘n’ Roll
22 – Give It Away – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Greatest Hits
23 – Oh My Gosh – Basement Jaxx – The Singles
24 – Amsterdam – Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
25 – Go – Moby – 3 for 1
26 – Electric Mistress – Jamiroquai – Dynamite
27 – ’95 aka Make Things Right – Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95
28 – Catch – Kosheen – Catch
29 – Free – Estelle – RnB Essential Spring 2005 CD2
30 – Mr. Brightside – The Killers – Hot Fuss
31 – Between Angels And Insects – Papa Roach – Infest
32 – Run – Snow Patrol – Final Straw
33 – American Idiot – Green Day – American Idiot
34 – Girls – Prodigy – Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned
35 – You’re Beautiful – James Blunt – Back to Bedlam
36 – Leave home – Chemical Brothers – Exit Planet Dust
37 – What Sound – Lamb – What Sound
38 – Any Day Now – Elbow – Asleep in the Back
39 – Feel Good Inc – Gorillaz – Demon Days
40 – Hush – LL Cool J feat. 7 Aurelius – Now 60
41 – Black And White Town – Doves – Some Cities
42 – TwoMonthsOff – Underworld – AHundredDaysOff
43 – The Blower’s Daughter – Damien Rice – O

Worthwhile playing around with the settings to see what different sigs can be created.

360 - Software and Connectivity

Live BladeSo the hardware’s good – what about the software and also the claim that this is really a digital hub which can play ‘everything’. The 360 has the concept of ‘blades’ – basically a screen for Live, Games, Media and Settings. This works well and there really is a lot you can do from each screen.

Live screen lets you see and customise your Gamercard, see who’s online and manage any messages or invites you might have. It’s also easy to launch whatever is in the DVD drive from here. You can also jump into the Marketplace which is Microsoft’s media version of iTunes Music Store. From here you can download (not free) gamer tiles, extra levels, themes for the 360 and arcade games. For free you can get promotional videos and movie trailers and also game demo’s. The trailers are mostly in high def and also there are different marketplaces for each region as the USA has a high def trailer of X-Men 3 available unlike the UK. The downloads are slow though and with the demo’s peaking at 500Meg it can take a while – pity you couldn’t download in the background while listening to music or playing a game.

The arcade games also feature in the Game blade. You can demo the games but most need to be bought using marketplace points. The games are a mixture of old arcade classics like Gauntlet and Smash TV and new games like Geometry Wars 2 from Bizarre (makers of PGR). Geometry Wars features in PGR2 if you walked around the garage – this is a follow up and for a simple arcade game it’s amazingly good. The nice thing about these ‘simple’ games is that they are live aware. Geometry Wars has an online scoreboard. You can play 4 player Gauntlet over Live or 2 player Smash TV. Very smart.

The Media blade is at the heart of the ‘digital hub’ Microsoft have hyped about.
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360 - The Hardware

Front of the 360After just two days of play it’s obvious that despite the doubters this is a next gen platform that will be a serious competitor to Sony. In some ways the hardware is really just an enabler for the great services that Microsoft have added to the Xbox platform but it’s where I’m going to start my ramblings.

The console itself is big. The design certainly helps to hide the size and standing the console up masks it slightly more than when it’s on it’s side. The console is also heavy which you notice as soon as you lift the box. The biggest shock despite the press coverage is the power supply – it’s HUGE at over eight inches in length. The cables are also very thick which exudes quality. Connections are also chunky which gives you some reassurance that you have a beast of a machine in your possession.

The premium pack contains a 20Gb hard disk – the core comes without. To take advantage of the 360 you MUST use a hard disk. You can download demo’s, smaller arcade games, videos and music to the disk. You can also get downloadable content for games (new maps for instance) and it’s the only way to play you old Xbox games. It is essential and one of Microsoft’s poorer decisions was to have a Core pack that didn’t contain the hard disk.

Switching on (in standard definition with RGB scart) and you can see instantly that it is graphically ahead of any current gen console. At first the console didn’t seem to noisy but that all changed once I put in a game and a second (maybe even third?) fan kicked in. I thought the Xbox would have floated harrier like there was that much noise. Once the sound from the game kicked in you didn’t notice it but it certainly noisy.

Inserting the game highlighted what I think is the weakest part of the console. The DVD tray is flimsy and does not inspire much confidence – you definitely do not want to hit it with any force. The eject button is also of poor quality. However the remote control should help.
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It's Here

Finally got my paws on the 360 today. After having some doubts, a not bad show and a few hardware scares I didn’t really know what to expect. After a few hours with PGR3, Live arcade and the interface in general I am overwhelmed – it is an amazing console.

Graphically above anything today (including high end pc’s) it’s the interface, connectivity and flexibility that wins over everything else. I’ve got so much I want to write but I’m too tired, want to play some more games and in between that I’m reading up on which LCD I should buy this weekend. Yes – I have fallen for it in a big way.

So – more detailed guff to follow and some nice piccies when I get my behind in gear. The only negative is that it’s such a good machine yet anyone reading this will be struggling to get one. Shame.

The Banhammer

Ouch – after boasting about playing well in Halo and folk reporting me for cheating I logged onto Halo tonight to find I’ve been temporarily banned. Bastards. I wouldn’t mind if I had cheated but I haven’t – no mods, no standby by nonsense – nothing. Not even the occasional super jump like so many others tend to do.

If it was a one off then so be it but at the Bungie site they say that a repetition of the cheating will mean a permanent ban. Totally agree when your cheating – harsh when you’ve done nothing wrong except play well. I’m now looking forward to the 360 more than ever – might even dust off PGR2 for a spot of ‘in anticipation’ gaming.

Hard Yards

Yesterday was the first round of Christmas shopping. Jenny & Rasool were visiting so to the shops we went. Ouch – feet still sore from the 8 hours of shopping that we did. The main point is that we were pretty successful so only another couple of small trips are required.

I know folk think I’m mad doing real life shopping when Amazon can make it so much easier but it is so impersonal to order Christmas gifts that way. I hate to think of presents arriving at the house like that when I can easily pop into town and make an effort to buy them – makes it feel more like a gift. Also allows you to browse and see things you just wouldn’t see online.

Online I tend to go to certain sites, search for specific items – I find it hard to just browse. Shopping in the real world….things catch my eye, idea’s pop into my head, apple cake tastes really nice. Today was also another task that I HATE doing. Wrapping presents. It’s such a pointless exercise but we all still do it. Better watch – ghost of Christmas past will be visiting if I keep this up.