Saturday, November 15, 2014

Gaming As An ArtForm. And This Is A Masterpiece!

If there ever was any doubt that gaming is an art-form, the Shaddow Warrior shreds it to pieces.

The game offers traditional Japanese settings (from the temples and the castles to the mythology and the paintings), rich late 80's environments (from shipyards and inner courtyards to caves and snowy mountains) and a great collection of interesting guns. It may be only 9 in total yet I got more excited when I got the shotgun or the rocket launcher than I ever was finding any one of the bazzilion guns in Borderlands 2.

Each type of enemy has different strengths and different weaknesses so you will have to try to figure out the best and quickest way to put them down. Each gun comes with three purchasable upgrades and augmentations. No sniper rifle because this game wants you to be up close and personal.

The music is sublime, the dialog witty, the atmosphere mesmerizing, the hidden secrets will keep you exploring every nook and cranny (and try again and again to find your way to that impossible to reach bonus statue) and the story unfolds in twists and turns and double-crosses. And the ending will make you misty.

I know it is not fair to this epic game but it does bring to mind the game Daikatana should had been. See, Mr Romero, if you fail to get it right, someone else eventually will. Now, I usually refuse full marks to games that come with an obligatory online digital distribution platform such as STEAM (required here); however, this game is so good I decided to make a rare exception.

Highly Recommended!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Brilliant Monitor

After more than a decade, my trusted SONY SDM-S was starting to show its age. For too long, I was willing to put up with its slow response time and obsolete geometry because it was a solid, reliable PC monitor and it looked great on my home desk, with its total black and clear-cut design. Yet, all good things come to an end. After a number of warning flickerings, I realized the end was nigh. It was time to find a replacement.

After extensive research I knew I had found what I was looking for when I saw this SAMSUNG S24C750P: a brilliant 23.6" (16:9) monitor with a decent response time and the deepest blacks you can find. The later is due to the fact that this is patented PSA LCD (not a IPS, like most monitors nowadays), and this gives it one of the highest contrast ratios available today (2900:1). Take into account that the screen is matte, not reflective, and you can realize why this is such a great monitor for office work and gaming alike.
Its native resolution is 1920x1080 (2HD) and the thin piano-black frame allows you to experience all of it without any distractions. All buttons are tucked in under the right corner (an easy to navigate menu pops up when pressed) and only a tiny and very discreet blue LED stays on when operating. 

The base is of an excellent quality plastic that looks like metal and feels satiny to the touch. It keeps the monitor higher than my previous one (and the height is not adjustable) but I found this height to be perfect. Not too low for your neck to bend, not too high for your eyes to strain. And this is where it gets interesting. 

Some years ago I saw for the first time a PC monitor (a FUJITSU, if memory serves) that could pivot. I found it a brilliant idea! Working on any document (and especially a long one) it is very convenient to be able to see the entire page by simply turning the monitor to its side. This SAMSUNG does exactly that.  
Hidden behind the monitor is a rotating mechanism that attaches to the arm of the base and allows you to pivot the monitor 90o! However, there are a number of downsides to this. First of all, monitors now are much larger than they were ten years ago. So, in order to pivot a 24 inch monitor one has to first tilt it all the way out and then turn it. Forget to tilt it out first and you will be hitting the desk. The accompanying software promised to swift everything on your screen automatically, unfortunately, this does not seem to work for WinXP. I have to do it manually (using the MagicRotation software downloadable form SAMSUNG) – and it really messes up your icons afterwards. I would advise that 24 inches is the absolute maximum for pivoting monitors, larger than this and the whole concept collapses. 

The first monitor I received came with a pixel stuck in blue. True to its zero-pixel warranty (especially true for its high-end monitors), SAMSUNG and the retailer I bought this from had it replaced within days with no hassles. However, a quick reminder to SAMSUNG: this is what you get when you try to cut manufacturing costs too deep: quality control suffers. A stuck pixel can happen to anyone. But there is also the misfitting of the back frame plastics (I cut my thumb reaching for my glass the first day) and the base screw that had to be forced at an angle. It is all those little things that rob you of the quality you got us used to over the previous years.

All in all, the small number of manufacturing imperfections that are not enough to diminish this brilliant monitor. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why? Because There Is A Sucker Nephalem Born Every Minute?

If paying for a small DLC, adding a single character, 2 hours of gameplay and randomized dungeons (unrelated to the story), the same amount the money you would for a complete full-priced game makes sense to you, kindly stop here. This review of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is not for you. In any other case, please read on.

Charging 66% of the original game's price for only 20% of extra content is disgustingly greedy. This is not an expansion in any sense of the word. It is an overpriced DLC - and a small one at that.
We need to pay as much as a premium game to get randomized dungeons in a game that was way too short to begin with?
And, you are not fooling anyone, the Crusader is basically the Paladin that should had been included in the game in the first place. Does this mean we can expect the next $40 expansion to include an Assassin and then yet another $40 will give us the Druid? With these people at the helm of Blizzard there seems to be no low they will not stoop to.

Let me make this as clear as possible: the problem was NOT the Auction House. That was a brilliant idea. The problem was that the game was designed in such a way to ensure that it was unbeatable unless you payed real money to buy virtual gold from Blizzard's Gold sellers (remember all those PVPbank "friends request? guess what!). After Hell level (and especially true for Inferno) it was impossible to survive long enough without full sets of powerful Legendary items. Blizzard made sure to keep the drop rates of Legendaries into the infinitesimal (a single drop after a complete playthrough. If you were lucky). Even at those small drop rates, it was still very unlikely to get a Legendary with useful attributes and stats! What is the use of a +300 Intelligence Manticore when high level wizards are useless with crossbows? Hence the need for you to keep visiting the Auction House - where the prices were always kept super-inflated. Hence the need for you to pay real money to buy millions of virtual gold.
So, if they were able to milk their own customers for more money, why did they yank it out? Because it got too expensive for them to operate and the class-action suits were amassing like a storm. Because of the wide-spread popularity of D1 and D2, D3 sold millions. Unfortunately for Blizzard, the disappointed gamers who abandoned the game were also measured in millions. So, the Auction House was costing too much to keep open. Especially when the number of people who lost great amounts of real money to Auction House "glitches" approached critical and the lawsuits kept coming one after another.
They did not do us any favours. And they certainly did not decide that the Auction House was "hurting the enjoyment of the game". They just decided to take away a major feature the original game was sold with, just to make some more money for themselves.
You think they "listened to their customers"? Please read on.

After 2 years the verdict is out and it is definite: Blizzard cannot run enough stable servers to properly support a popular always-online game. Or they are not willing to unless they charge you a monthly fee like they do with World of WarCraft. In any case, their servers are fickle as ever, prone to loose connection at any time, in need of weekly day-long maintenance and always ready to kick you out if you leave the game to take a break longer than 5 minutes.
Have you ever lost a legendary because the servers hiccuped just after it dropped, not allowing you to pickup or open anything? Have you ever had to start over an area, missing on the random spawning of a rare event, just because the servers lost it once again? Yes, I am sure you know what I am talking about.
So, now that the Auction House is no more, what is the excuse for not making private/Single-player games free of any need of an online connection? None!
The game takes up 12GB of our HDD. Are they going to lie to us all (like EA did with The SimCity) that it cannot run offline for private/Single-player games?

Without warning,a about two months ago, BLIZZARD forced the Loot2.0 patch on all of us. This is what this much praised by the usual company shills patch did: it made sure that every single hour you had spend on the game up to then was wasted!
Did you grind for hours to get Legendary items (or, even worse, did you pay real money to buy gold and then buy them from the Auction House)? Well, you wasted your time (and money). Those Legendary items were now insultingly weak, much weaker than Rare (yellow) items.
Did you make endless runs of the same areas again and again to bring all of your heroes up to Paragon 100? Again, you wasted your time. Now Paragon levels are shared between all of your characters.
Any time you sunk into the game prior to the Loot2.0 Patch was now wasted. So why would anyone trust Blizzard ever again and play any more D3? Next time they want to release yet another DLC as an expansion, they will not hesitate, once more, to render all of your time spend in the game totally wasted.

Replay Diablo II or Titan Quest. They are real games.
Play Torchlight 2. It is a complete game.
Play Path of Exile. It is free on STEAM.
Or wait for Grim Dawn.

In any case, I am sure you were not born yesterday.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rice Scooped Out Of Steel

I love how these Brabantia cannisters look on my kitchen counter-top. Obviously, transferring your rice (or lentil) out of its bag and keeping it in a cannister is a good idea only if you are using the same type of rice. These cannisters come with a discreet label on the side that can be color-coded as well.
The measuring contraption may be on the small side but you can adjust your scoops. On the other hand, it is convenient to always have a measuring scoop handy and it looks nice.

The quality of the fingerprint-free steel is unparalleled. It looks and feels sturdy and it will not accumulate fingerprints most brushed steel items do. Not the same can be said about the plastic lid though. The clear part at the top came with small but quite obvious molding imperfections. The first cannister I received I asked to be replaced but, when the second arrived with exactly the same defect, I realized that this must be a common issue.

Brabantia keeps offering products of excellent design and made of good materials. That is why I will keep favoring their products. However, they do need to look into bringing their manufacturing back to their old standards.

Straight Out Of Writers' History

Let's be honest for a moment: until a reliable and accurate speech-to-text App comes along, no electronic device can even come close to the practicality of a paper notebook. And these classic-looking Moleskines are a good example of this.

I like the hard covers and the stylish elastic band. I like the rounded corners and the perfect size. I like the handy back inner pocket and the British green colour. And I certainly like the looks I get every time I pull it out my briefcase.

On the other hand, I would have liked the paper to be somewhat thicker, enough to be able to use both sides of the page without having to suffer ink sipping through. And I certainly would not mind paying more to get real leather covers.

It is still quite practical to use but it has to rely on its style to compensate for the manufacturing corners they decided to cut.