Office Ultimate 2007 for £40

What a great offer. Microsoft is selling it’s top of the range Office package for £38.95. The Ultimate Steal website allows students to buy the full Office for that very cheap price or a years worth of Office for £12.95. I think that’s a great deal and it’s not only for the next few days. The offer is open until April 30th 2008.

I’ve always held the view that if major software packages like Office, Photoshop, even Windows was sold at more affordable prices then people would buy it and piracy would drop. It wouldn’t be totally gone as lower cost items like CD’s and DVD’s are pirated all the time but more people would be comfortable buying Office at £40 rather than a pirate copy. I certainly would. Even a Word, Excel, Powerpoint package for £40 would be great value. I wonder if this is the start of a shift in how Office will be priced? Maybe Google Docs, it’s online cousins and Open Office are starting to make ground.

The Ultimate Steal

One little error I forgot to mention. The Ultimate Steal website was blocked by Windows when I first tried it. Irony.

iTunes UK - TV Content at last

I think it’s around two years since TV shows were first available on iTunes in the USA. Finally some content was made available to purchase in the UK this week. First thing you notice is how little there is – it’s all American and there’s not much off it. There’s rumours of BBC and Channel 4 content to come later but there’s nothing at the moment.

Then you notice the price. It’s high. £1.89 per episode. That would be £43.47 for Lost series 3 which sounds a lot but the whole series can be bought on iTunes for a reduced price of £32.99. Currently the box set is available on Amazon for £44.98 so there are savings to be made however it’s almost double the American price, like most things here in the UK. While I’m saying there are savings to be made on DVD’s, that’s for latest box sets only. Earlier box sets are available for much less than the iTunes price, and would you really want to pay more for lesser quality?

I’ve just spent £1.89 to test just how good the iTunes TV shows look. Continue reading “iTunes UK – TV Content at last”

Bioshock Demo

It came out yesterday but I only managed to finish the download today. Fantastic graphics and sound but most important is an environment dripping with atmosphere. The demo scratches the surface and actually promises so much more with some cutscenes at the end of the demo that really wet the appetite. A must have purchase for the 360…again. I wonder when the PS3 will finally get a killer title? It’s out next week, single player only and here’s hoping it really matches up to the hype of system shock successor.

The graphics while not only great are also very stylish and totally different to anything out there at the moment. Ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but they are very good. The developers have now released a PDF celebrating the visuals within the game. The post warns of spoilers so I’ve not read the text within the PDF yet, but the images are superb. A great freebie and well worth a look even if your not buying the game.

Game Quickies

In no particular order…

  • Heavenly Sword demo was released today. It’s quite possibly the largest (almost a gig) shortest (lasts less than 10 minutes) demo I’ve played but afterwards I pre-ordered the game so I guess the demo worked for Sony. The graphics were stunning and this looks like something the 360 could struggle matching. Game on. I know there was some bad press about the gameplay being short (12 hours from memory) but I’d rather have a corking 12 hours than a spun out 30 hour game that I don’t complete.
  • Bomberman is superb on the 360 and well worth 800 points.
  • Played the Moto GP demo on the 360. What was once THE game on Xbox Live is now a shadow of it’s former self. Talk about milking an original format and regurgitating each year, this is little more than a bug fix from last years release.
  • GTA IV – only complete experience on the 360 according to Rockstar themselves. Made me grin thinking back to the exclusives that the PS2 had for so long. Not any more.
  • Had a large room on GRAW2 last night – blind siege with > 6 players is sooooo much more fun
  • Another firmware update on the PS3 – Sony are developing aggresively for the PS3 now and ar catching up fas on the 360. Music playback and X bar available in game for firmware v2.0?
  • Forza Leagues is going well and we have over 30 members with little or no advertising. Biggest issue has been lag within Forza. We struggle to get anyone to host a stable room with more that 6 players which is very limiting. It frustrates that the console model for online gaming is still mostly peer to peer which limits the amount of players you can realistically play with at any one time. I would quite gladly pay extra for server based gaming if it allowed 16, 24, 32 player gaming while limiting lag. I would love Sony to do more with server support in the hope it would encourage Microsoft to move in that direction as well.
  • Resident Evil 5 – another game that looks amazing!
  • The Metal gear Solid gameplay video was very impressive. Some nice touches, great humour and a graphics engine that looked up there with the best around. There was also a nice array of weapons. If Sony have lost exclusivity on this one they will be kicking themselves.

Finally

Microsoft have come clean and admitted they have reliability issues with the Xbox 360. They are setting aside over $1 billion to extend warranties to three years (flashing red lights) for 360 owners and also compensate those that have had their consoles repaired since launch. This is good news and well overdue. With failure rates of only 1% rumoured on the PS3 and more and more bad press surrounding 360 reliability there wasn’t really any other course of action.

Shame it wasn’t done sooner though.

Achilles Heel

The 360 is a fine console with excellent games, great online community and a fine multi-media machine. However it’s failure rate is atrocious yet Microsoft have always denied there is a big issue with returns. Now comes news that the UK repairs team is receiving 1500 – 2500 per day according to this article published on 360 Gamer.

1500-2500 per day in the UK alone

That sounds really high but tie’s up with my own findings. I game regularly with a group of guys and almost all of them have had at least one 360 fail. Two of the group are onto their 5th 360. That’s five machines in less than 20 months. If it happened to one guy only you would put it down to bad luck but not two. I’ve also had mine fail, Shakeel’s has just gone, Graham’s on his third and as already said most of the guys have had theirs fail two. If it’s not the red ring of light it’s scratched disks, which is definitely caused by the 360 as the guys that I know it’s happened too haven’t even removed the disk from the machine for two weeks. It started to fail and on inspecting the disk concentric scratches were clearly visible.

These problems have now transferred to the 360 Elite which was Microsoft’s chance to address the issues which look to have been sadly missed. A couple of folk I know are now thinking it’s time to ditch the 360 and move to PS3 despite that platforms lack of current games – at least it seems more reliable. Time to come clean Microsoft. Early adopters deserve better than this. Consumers deserve better than this. You no longer have a monopoly when it comes to HD games and a busy online console community and gamers are becoming tired of the failure’s.

Broke

That’s the 360 now dead. Bugger!

More annoyingly is that the warranty ran out just last month. I’ve never known a console to fail so often as the 360. Amongst my usual gaming friends it’s running around 25% failure rate, some replacing it twice. Mine was one of the first batch and it seems likely that if you use (at least the first batch 360’s) regularly then there’s a good chance of failure. Hopefully for you it will fail in the 12 month warranty period. Now it’s decision time – get it repaired (probably at my expense) and hope it lasts or buy a new Core pack and get another 12 month warranty.

I’m not having a good run at the moment…fence, car scratch, sky box and now this. I thought things came in three’s?

Gears of War - where's the depth?

The post title is pretty negative so let’s get the good stuff out of the way…

  • Gears of War (GOW from now on) is a fantastic looking game – not seen anything on the 360 that gets close. Some of the textures and effects are very realistic. Loving the rain in act 3!
  • The single player mode has got me gripped more than I expected and certainly more than Halo 2.
  • Online co-op adds so much to this game. Playing through chapters with friends over the last few nights has been great – hopefully more games in future will allow you to play any level via co-op.
  • The look and feel of the levels so far (half way though the game) has been varied with some stunning cityscapes and architecture on display. You can easily see the influence that cities and in particular London have had on the game.
  • Lack of story. Yep – thats a positive for me. I’d rather a company focused on gameplay and good content throughout the whole game than a good story, great cinematics towards the start and then a rehash of old content and textures towards the end of the game as publishing deadlines start to bite.
  • Weapons! The chainsaw on the gun is inspired – I’ve still to tire from killing and covering my screen in blood. The active reload of ammo is also far better than I expected. As you reload you need to time a button press to get a faster reload and increased ammo power. Miss it and your gun will jam – get it right and you do more damage. On paper it sounded really tacky. In practice it makes for a great feature that adds to the pressure in the heat of the battle.
  • Online has been fun. Loving the destructible furniture and the encouragement of good team play. Been some great finishing moves to the matches too.

Sounding good so far but now my moans…

  • Biggest and loudest is multiplayer. Three measly options which are all derivatives of team deathmatch. Through play we tend to end up only playing warzone which really is team deathmatch.
  • Online Maps – although there is a fair number there isn’t much variation, probably due to the style of gameplay. Hide, shoot. Hide, shoot. Hide/Camp, chainsaw.
  • Best way to play the game is with friends. Can really take advantage of people’s strengths and weaknesses and employ some tactics. Think a slightly dumbed down Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six. So it’s good to know that I can’t play ranked games with friends. Only with randoms. Thats very poor, especially when ranked games with friends is rumored to be a feature being worked on while another story said you couldn’t do ranked games with the True Skill features in Xbox Live. Thats just bull.
  • Ultimately a lack of depth. Although I’m enjoying the single player mode and co-op, and online has been fun, I’ve been finding it a bit tiring after an hour or so. Very samey gameplay with not much variation. It’s got some teamwork depth but thats about it. Halo was is far more satisfying.
  • Forward rolls are the new jump. I remember when Perfect Dark Zero came out. rejoice – people can’t jump. True but they can forward roll all over the place. Has lead to some quite bizarre fights with 3 or 4 players rolling, shooting, rolling away, taking stock, rolling, shooting etc etc etc. What a pain in the arse. Far more annoying than jumping.
  • Downloadable content is inevitable. How much?

Should you buy the game? Absolutely. Fun will be had, the single player mode rocks and the online side is fun but limited. Just don’t expect to be playing this in two years time. A recent interview with Bungie shows why I think Halo 3 will still be the game to beat on the 360. Can’t wait.

Anniversaries

5 years since the Xbox, and hence Halo was launched…

4 years since Xbox Live was launched…

Just over 2 years since Halo 2 was launched…

I guess it’s not a big stretch to expect Halo 3 to launch around this time next year but there was some news today of upcoming developments. Firstly there’s a multiplayer Halo 3 demo coming next spring and to wet the appetite a new screenshot was shown.

Halo 3

More of a surprise is that there are new maps for Halo 2 coming next spring. I still regularly play and enjoy Halo 2 so it’s great to see a more than two year old game get extra content, even if it is paid content and a final chance to extract some money from Halo 2 players. The only restriction is that you need a 360 to enjoy the new content.

Reading about the Xbox Live anniversary brought back memories of my first time on Live. I was beta testing the UK service and it was a Friday afternoon when I first plugged in the headset and booted up the beta Moto GP. I had no idea what to expect so picked a random game (there were only a few available) and joined. Only three people in the room, one of which was a Climax developer. This was amazing. Silky smooth, no lag although it felt a bit odd talking to other gamers. The next Moto GP session had around eight players. Still great although the voice chat was brought to a crashing, jarring stop. ‘Who’s that fanny thats in front’ could be heard…from the mouth of a wee Glaswegian ned. Unmistakable. ‘Oot the way ya prick’. Ouch.

Funnily enough those two sessions sum up all thats been good and bad about Xbox Live. Great online gaming with real and virtual friends with the occasional (slightly more than occasional on Halo) annoyance of some wee turd running his mouth off. Americans in particular. Still, it was a revelation and revolution that is now being copied by Sony and to a certain extent Nintendo. Console gaming just wouldn’t be the same without it. For all the abuse that Microsoft received (and still gets) it should be applauded for bringing out Xbox Live. Roll on the next four years.

I've Moved

It took a long time to deliver but I’m finally there – I’ve moved to Mac. They say a picture is worth a thousand words…

iMac up and running

I’ve posted a full Flickr set of the unboxing of the iMac and iPod – not too many pics as it’s been done already. It’s too early to feel settled with OS X although I’ve so far managed to do everything I’ve wanted to, including an almighty struggle to get my iTunes library over to the mac from the pc. I ended up hacking the library xml file to get it to work. However the iMac hardware is stunning. Quiet, fast and bright – in fact too bright much like when you view a TV in a store and it’s set to 100%. I ended up reducing the brightness to just over half to make it easy on the eyes. Even then it was brighter than my last LCD. Still can’t get used to using the Apple key for cut, copy, paste and there are obviously lots of oddities that will take time to understand. Expose is stunning though and makes managing multiple windows a painless task – windows could learn a lot and that still hasn’t been addressed in Vista which is an issue as more people move to larger and larger desktops.

The iPod is as impressive as ever. Screen is bright, video’s look sharp although I still think it’s too small to watch TV episodes and movies on. Most noticeable are the new earbuds – comfy and sound good. Gapless playback is also welcome…at last.

Downsides. Only one at the moment – the Mighty Mouse. It is OK but not a patch on my old Logitech which will be pressed back into service. The virtual right mouse button is awkward and the side buttons require a lot of pressure to activate. Not for me and it defies logic as to why Apple couldn’t design something better.

Seeing as I’ve spent only a day with the iMac I’m surprised how easy it is to perform basic tasks although I do feel vulnerable due to my lack of knowledge. If something went wrong I would probably struggle badly. With Windows I felt comfortable that no matter what I did I could rectify the situation – it will take a while to get that feeling with the Mac. Hardware has also worked like a dream, both new and old. Joy of joys – I don’t have any dead pixels (well none that are obvious and although I’ve scanned a few times and can’t see any I ain’t going hunting). Thoroughly delighted that I finally made the move. It will be interesting to see how the next few weeks go as I scratch beneath the surface. To be honest I can’t wait.