Archive for Ego

Pure

After a pronounced hiatus from PC gaming for a variety of reasons, among them disappointment with recent PC releases, a stubborn resistance against MMOGs, and a slightly outdated home PC, it seems that my gaming passion returned. Two reasons: Pure and the Xbox-360 Controller.

Realizing that I wouldn’t fill my weekends playing with my amazing new camera, wouldn’t continue my bike tours around Vienna, wouldn’t be happy watching TV series and movies and reading all day when it’s -10 degrees outside, I considered gaming again. For most of my youth I was an avid gamer (always PC, for whatever reason) and equally interested in reading or writing about games as in playing them. This lead to my involvement in two German-speaking sites about PC games, Top of Games (retired) and Gametective (still active, although a bit low on updates and seriously hurting because of its 5-year-old codebase).

Having never been a console gamer, I envied the dynamics and excitement the current gaming consoles attracted during the past few years. While I almost fell asleep playing through the first (demo) level of Crysis, it seemed that all the good people (unless those in MMOGs and simulations) went to consoles first, for whatever reasons – probably market share, working copy protection and platform uniformity. Sure, I still played Civilization 4, had a few months of active racing in Race 07, and was blown away by Bioshock, but apart from that it felt like “more of the same”. I seriously considered (maybe still do) getting a Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, both formidable gaming platforms. My main reasons for not getting one are my cheap TV and (I have to admit) the game pricing. It seems that any new PS3 game, for example, prices between 60 and 70 Euros. A few months ago, that was over US$ 100 for a single game! I could get 10 books or DVDs for that. Also, looking closer at recent Xbox and PS3 releases, my excitement was dwindling. While there are many high-quality releases, few caused enough excitement to justify their premium price for me (although I’d love to do a few laps in Wipeout HD).

Although my home PC is now over 3 years old (I upgraded to a dual-core processor and more RAM for little money), the blocker for current PC games was the nVidia 7900GS card, which simply doesn’t have the power to run all the shaders and post-processing of current games at a full LCD resolution of 1680×1050. The first step obviously was a new graphics card. ATI recently introduced a new midprice GPU with lots of raw power for a reasonable price, the Radeon 4850. I settled for a variant by PowerColor with a silent cooler and wow!, Crysis does look amazing (but still bores me). Also, Adobe’s Lightroom feels a lot snappier.

But the real cause for my excitement is (the console port of) Pure and the Xbox 360 controller for Windows. First of all, the Xbox controller is the best value for money compared to any game controller I ever bought (followed by the amazing first Sidewinder joystick). For less than 30 Euros, you get two analog sticks (which also act as a button when pushed down), an 8-way pad, six buttons on top, two analog “triggers” (ideal for throttle and brakes) and another two buttons above them, and on top of that “rumble” functionality.

Finally, Pure.

It’s been a while since a game made me feel so good by doing all the tiny things which separate great games from good and mediocre ones. Pure is an ATV mud racer by Brighton-based Black Rock Studios. You race against AI or human opponents on fantastic tracks around the world, and get “boost” (some kind of nitro) by doing mid-air stunts. Sounds boring? It’s not.

First of all, being a port from the Xbox 360 Pure is a perfect match for the Xbox 360 controller. Although the button mapping is not entirely obvious, it takes about five minutes to get through the tutorial and and learn the basic moves. Then, instead of tormenting the player with gameplay details, the player is thrown into racing action. Of course, at first you don’t really know what you’re doing (or how you’re doing it), but you score a few points and get a sense of achievement soon.

Pure thrives on technical perfection: the graphics are jaw-dropping and smooth without a single hiccup. The music creates the right sense of “reckless fun” and seems to decrease in volume during long jumps, just to kick right in after the landing (or maybe I’m imagining this?). The controls are both complex and controllable. Everything in this game is optimized for fun: when you get thrown off the bike, the penalty is relatively low. You lose a few seconds and some boost, but return to the game at the crash site and at racing speed. It is almost impossible to lose the racing line. During the jumps the game slightly corrects your direction if you’d land outside the track otherwise. You can customize every part of your ATV, but don’t have to. Pure is not a simulation, and takes advantage from it.

Of course, there’s no light without shadow. The number of tracks is limited, and the three race types offer only so much variety. The online mode seems to be rather deserted, and the loading times could be better. But Pure achieves its main goal: delivering one of the best arcade racers in the last few years, miles ahead of any Need for Speed game for its innovation and pure gameplay quality.

Next, I might give GRID another chance (also much more fun when running at full resolution). Although I’m also a sim racer, these games offer a kind of instant gratification that a real sim can (and should) not.

Oh, and in four days we might have a black Formula 1 champion and a black US president. Times change after all.

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Home Improvement

Thanks to my father’s bed building skills I finally got a loft bed about 2 metres above the floor.

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On unrelated fronts, I actually paid for the new Radiohead Album, didn’t like it on first listening, then got Saul Williams’ The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust for free, and actually liked it. For better or worse, Trent Reznor’s influence is obvious, and there’s a nice Sunday Bloody Sunday cover on it.

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Best of 2006

My personal best of 2006:

Books read – fiction:

  1. Walter Moers: Die Stadt der Traeumenden Buecher
    A marvellous fantasy world where everything revolves around books and stories. Like many of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, the German author Moers asserts the validity of living in a world of fiction, of being absorbed by whatever one determines to be his or her great passion.
  2. Rudy Rucker: Spaceland
    A novel of the fourth dimension. Emphasizes the “science” in science fiction.
  3. Nick Hornby: A Long Way Down
    Another good read from Nick Hornby. My favourites books are still Fever Pitch and About a Boy, but there’s something about the drifting characters of this novel.

Books read – non-fiction:

  1. Various: The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer
    A collection of philosophical essays on the Simpsons, arguably the most successful cartoon show of this decade and the 90s. Multiple authors dissect the hidden agendas, allusions and roles in the Simpsonian universe.
  2. Romeo Dallaire: Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
    The dismaying report of the UN commander of the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide of 1993/94. A detailed account of the cynicism with which the West approached and still approaches the peoples of Africa. Also a forceful statement in favor of an active UN peacekeeping agenda, that helping others in an armed conflict does mean risking “Western” lives, and that in not doing so one presumes that the own life is more precious than the other’s.
  3. Chad Fowler: My Job Went to India – And All I Got Was This Lousy Book
    On a lighter topic, Chad Fowler offers valuable insights why outsourcing software development is not a “magic sword” and how to keep one’s own job in a globalized economy. Tailored to programmers, but probably applicable to other professions, too.

Movies watched – yes, it was a pretty bad year in terms of movies.

  1. Martin Scorsese: The Departed
    Great story, great actors, great pictures, great movie.
  2. Pedro Almodovar: Volver
    Since I did not like Almodovar’s previous movie La Mala Educacion (Bad Education) too much, I was surprised how funny and heart-warming his latest movie turned out to be.
  3. Dayton, Faris: Little Miss Sunshine
    I saw this in a test screening, and loved every minute. It’s probably not the greatest piece of movie making and could use a few less stereotypes, but it is great entertainment.

Bands seen live:

  1. Tool – Vienna and Novarock: besides being my favourite band of this year, both live performances I saw this year were impressive.
  2. Metallica – Novarock: Yes, they’re old, and Some Kind of Monster did confirm quite a lot of stereotypes for metal bands in general and Metallica in particular, but they did an astonishing 3+ hours concert at this year’s Novarock festival in Nickelsdorf, Austria.
  3. Fettes Brot – Donauinselfest: German hiphop, a very powerful and entertaining concert.

Top personal moments – overall it’s been a hard year on me, on the other hand I learned quite some things about myself, and had some truly great times anyway:

  1. Attending the JAX Java conference in Wiesbaden, Germany. 3-4 days of interesting lectures and workshops, making me remember why I like programming so much.
  2. The sailing trip on the Baltic Sea. It wasn’t quite as cool as the year before, but everyone tried hard and made it a great experience again. Our next trip will be during the Easter holidays, which means lower temperatures, less waiting and a free summer to do something else (got some spare days left from this year, anyway).
  3. Jens’ wedding. A great weekend, including a visit to Adrian.

So what’s up for 2007? First and foremost, probably all-new projects at work, moving to a larger flat, addressing some social issues, stop thinking of money, stop thinking of getting older, porting Gametective to Ruby on Rails (including true internationalization, starting with English and German), expanding on my writing both in English and German, learning Swedish, doing more photography, attending the Nine Inch Nails concert in March, and whatever comes around.

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