Posts in category entertainment - page 6

A German Christmas

This year I broke with my life-long tradition and spent Christmas not at my parents house with my family but with my girlfriend and her family in Germany.

The flight there was uneventful but dull thanks to Aurigny’s one-flight-per-day to Stansted at mid-day. This means 5 hours + of milling around. Thankfully Stansted isn’t quite as bad as I recalled and there are a few book and game shops to browse around in and I managed to keep my shopping down to a mere 3 books… Shame I already had 3 in my backpack.

After the introductions and a good nights sleep I put on my best “oh please” face and Clarissa drove us to Media Markt to see if they had Xbox 360’s in. Unsurprisingly they didn’t so we headed into Nuremberg to check out the shops and experience the Christmas market.

Having spent hours exploring the streets and stores of Nuremberg on a previous trip I stopped by EB Games in the mall and quickly acquired one of the two 360 core’s they had in stock as well as a wireless controller, Project Gotham 3 and Need for Speed Most Wanted. The box weighed the same as a small child but alas was not equipped with legs and so we dropped it back off at the car before my knuckles reached the floor.

The Christmas market was very atmospheric and the white lights the Germans favor over the English disco-fever multi-colour bonanza felt less tacky and helped keep the descending chill of sunset at bay for a few minutes longer. We ate hot waffles and caramelized nuts whilst wandering around the multitude of stands before my feet eventually protested to further activities and we headed wearily back to the car.

Back at home we played a bit of 360 (I’ll post more on this in a future post) where I found that while the console and PGR3 will auto-switch to the language my NFS Most Wanted was decidedly German only and Clarissa had to help me every stretch as my German currently consists of telling people my stomach is empty or that I have hiccups.

We met the morning with tragic news… Clarissa’s parents had set-up the Christmas tree in the lounge where the only TV in the house and my 360 were. This meant after weeks of waiting to get one I would now have to wait 2 days before I could get back into the lounge to play it!

We had Christmas shopping to do and some friends to visit and between those two events I sunk into The Time Traveller’s Wife (a very good read so far and a similar core to something I had in mind a while back). Clarissa’s father had taken the plunge and installed a WiFi ADSL connection so I kept up with emails and repeatedly checked for my assignment score.

On the 23rd we had a mini-grill/fondue night with friends where we ate lots and played some games. Unfortunately my German is still minimal despite evening lessons and Clarissa’s help and her friends were only occasionally speaking English so the night went by with a rather detached feeling.

The 24th here in the UK is Christmas Eve, generally people rush around getting the final gifts they need for people before retiring for a few drinks with friends or family before a big meal and gift exchange on the 25th. In Germany the gifts and big meal happen on the 24th.

Clarissa’s parents cooked a fabulous dinner which we ate with her sister and brother-in-law and we all exchanged gifts. We even got her brother-in-law and father to have a quick go on PGR and NFS respectively with… well, mixed results.

Boxing day was a quiet affair but we took in some snow and a meal at a Chinese restaurant before packing as much as we could into our suitcases, grabbing 3 hours sleep and setting off at 4am for our flight back which involved an even longer sit at Stansted, falling asleep in departures, a nice sandwich at Pret and some woman throwing her coffee over my 360’s box.

Sony fans.


The hunt for a PSP in time for Christmas

My little brother just decided he’d like to merge his November birthday present and his Christmas presents in the hope I’d get him a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP).

The hunt

I decided to beat the seasonal rush and get one now and checked out my usual on-line suppliers of merchandise… Amazon, out of stock despite their Google advert claiming otherwise, Play and MX2 out of stock (Play now have it back in stock for £179.99 including Donnie Darko UMD). A few other stores I’d not used were also out of stock or rather vague on the whole issue.

I hit our main town known as St. Peter Port – or just “Town” – and found that Woolworth had sold their last one today, Guernsey Computers had a waiting list that would probably be two weeks at best, Gruts had a head-shake and a shrug. Number 19, known for it’s overpricing policy and twangy curry smell, had decided to sell grey Japanese import models for a whopping £179.99 (bear in mind we don’t have VAT here….) This is the same place that last week had Red Dwarf VII for £21.99… while Woolworth had it for £13.99 – a 57% mark-up over another shops retail price!

A quick trip to the secondary town area known as The Bridge led me to Southside Computers and NSEW (formerly PC Island) which yielded similar useless responses.

One might wonder if these stores are not capable of putting an “out of stock” notice over their huge piles of empty Sony PSP Value pack display boxes that adorn their window displays.

I recalled that The Bridge is home to a smaller less well known store called Big Byte. They deal with the usual gaming gear as well as a sizable retro and used section and so I headed there.

Here a PSP Value pack, genuine UK edition set me back just £145.99, in-stock there and then. They also have a deal where you get two games for an extra £30 bringing it to £174.99 (these two games are listed at £29.99 each on Play).

They’ve still got a few PSPs left as I type this and are expecting a few more in but I don’t believe they do mail order so Guernsey residents only. Call them on 01481 240444 – they are opposite where Microgames used to be.

Intentional stock shortages?

All this lead me to wonder what Sony is playing at. I can only imagine the problem with consoles and the manufacturer subsidizing the cost of the system is that they don’t want to sell too many at Christmas. Perhaps it’s a hit on their accounts or maybe the slightly disinterested receiver of such a gift doesn’t pay back the cost of the console buy purchasing a few games.

This probably explains why Sony is offering the current “Giga packs” which seem to be much more readily available for £265 (ex VAT) and include the PSP value pack contents, two games , a USB cable and a 1GB memory stick. The price of these components individually comes to £280 (ex VAT) hardly much of a saving but then this isn’t about giving you a good deal it’s about Sony minimizing that subsidy by ensuring you buy some products with a positive profit margin.

Subsidizing the console is a pretty standard affair, the Xbox360 is loaded to the hilt with the latest techniques to prevent you from running anything unapproved.. or more specifically not helping Microsoft claw back their massive per-unit hit. Sony’s PSP has been bypassed a couple of times, the latest technique allowing you to downgrade the 2.0 internal software back to exploitable 1.50 so you can run third party games and tools.

This can be a bit of a pain with some titles such as requiring 2.0 software. I’m only actually interested in one piece of third party software, ScummVM, which lets me run my favorite old point-and-click adventures on lots of hardware and as of v0.8.0 that list includes 2.0’ed PSPs :)

The whole concept is in total contrast to the mobile phone market where the networks subsidize the price of the phone and the manufacturers (including Sony) are clambering to make it as easy as pie for anyone to develop for their phone going so far as to provide tool kits and samples to do so.

Maybe Sony and Microsoft should satisfy the geeks among us with non-subsidized versions of the consoles that will happily run unsigned code as well as the legal stuff. Sony have done something similar with the hobby-developer PS1 Net Yaroze and the Linux kit for the PS2.

Now that would be a nice Christmas gift…


Fahrenheit & The Movies

It’s been quiet here of late and while I did want to post I didn’t have anything ready nor did I want some whining apology with no content.

For the last few weeks I’ve been a recluse getting my Open University TM427 project wrapped up and delivered and now that’s out the way I’ve been kicking back and relaxing with a few games and a bit of retro computing.

Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy)

A murder takes place within the confides of a small wash room in a down town American diner and you are left holding the knife very unsure as to what just took place. And so begins the start of a point-and-click adventure affair interspersed with sections where you need to hit buttons rapidly as they are shown. Your actions, while not throwing the story much off it’s linear path, are at least reflected upon and determine dialogue and actions available later in the story.

From the forums and hype you’d believe that French studio QuantricDream has created a whole new genre, and you’d be quite wrong. We’ve had adventure games with much more freedom in the past – even in 3D – check out industry legend Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece Shenmue for something similar but much larger in scope and execution.

Where Fahrenheit does score highly is in the storytelling and atmosphere – taking control of multiple opposing people within the same story is just icing on the cake. The story leads through a few emotionally and physically charged pieces story telling more adult in nature than the standard affair, no doubt contributing to the 15+ rating on the box.

The experience is refreshingly much shorter than the 35+ hour fest that the gaming industry insists on pushing onto us for plot-driven games. With game production costs now getting out of hand it would make sense to produce shorter games for less money. This would surely allow companies to better absorb the cost of a flop here and there too.

David Cage, the Frenchman behind this little escapade, has already stated there is a sequel in the works. Here’s hoping they concentrate more on the game’s content itself by dropping their own inferior game engine in favor of something like Source or Max Payne 2’s… Then we’d be able to experience decent sized levels you can actually interact with.

The Movies

I’ve been waiting for this one since legend Peter Molyneux started talking about it in interviews. Taking the same principles as Sim Hospital and Theme Park it sees you operating a Hollywood style film studio and lets you go down as far as editing the shooting scripts and even lets you export your movies out to put online.

Initially the game was quite fun, setting up in the usual fashion of introducing you a few concepts and buildings at a time but within about 8 hours of game-play things had gone awry.

The main problem, and one that is common to this genre, is that there is no way of delegating control of the aspects the player isn’t interested in or become repetitive over to the AI. Soon you find yourself clearing up litter and dragging individuals around to do the job they were employed to do (perhaps it was the quality of the staff I employed but frankly I had to employ everyone the game threw at me just to meet the positions I had. I could still have done with many more).

Perhaps I could live with that if it weren’t for the fact that the game simply moved at such as pace there was barely time to do anything. Inventions and scenes were flying out faster than I could get them in scripts and award ceremonies were coming up before I’d had even chance to dress my stars in attire suitable for the decade.

I guess that’s another disappointment from Peter – Fable had so much promise too. While features were dropped it had me hooked with the opening scene showing the mysterious abduction of a loved one. The game then proceeds to send you on unrelated trivial exercises that do nothing to advance said plot. Attention lost, game consigned to the dusty drawers.


TV in the Channel Islands

I’ve been thinking of giving TV another shot, especially if I can get a lot of free channels and PVR functionality with no subscription. I’ve been looking about at the current state of television out here:

Analogue terrestrial (normal TV, UHF)

Free but a mere four channels and no apparent plans to give us even channel Five.

Digital terrestrial (Freeview, DVB-T)

Freeview as it is branded in the UK promises some 30+ channels over your existing TV aerial for just the price of a receiver box or even PC card like the Nova-T with built-in PVR functionality. You even get E4, UKTV, Sky Travel and Sky Sports News which are not available for free elsewhere.

Not yet available in the Channel Islands because the frequencies conflict with ones used by the French. This will have to be sorted out by the 2012 analogue cut-off but there seems to be little progress thus far.


Cable TV is available in selected parts of Jersey but not in Guernsey and starts at £28.50 a month.

Satellite (DVB-S)

This can get complex, but basically there are three types of channel on satellite

Free to Air (FTA)

An impressive number of channels are entirely free and have no encryption so can be picked up by any satellite box or even a PC card such as the Nova-S+. There are a LOT of channels available but not yet ITV, ITV2, Channel 4 or Five.

ITV plans to follow the BBC onto the Astra 2D UK-focused satellite which will mean they too can drop the pesky encryption that they needed to prevent their content being watched outside the UK. Hopefully Channel 4 will follow soon.

These channels are free but encrypted with Sky’s own technology.

Sky will sell you the complete package of hardware and card for £150 or alternatively you can buy just the card for £20 if you have an old Sky Digibox kicking round.

The real problem here however is because they refuse to license their encryption technology to anyone else you can not use a third-party box or PVR, even Sky+ requires a subscription.

Subscription/pay (Sky etc.)

Sky obviously will be happy to take your money for their somewhat expensive packages but it is a 12-month commitment and you can expect regular annoying phone calls and mail-shots if you ever cancel.

Again the problem here is because they won’t license their encryption you are stuck with the Sky box and while Sky+ is a nice system they expect a whopping £10 a month to use it unless you subscribe to a movie or sports package.

I’m going with the Nova-S+ if I can get hold of one, that will be sitting inside my Shuttle box that sits quietly in my lounge acting as my server :)