Saturday, May 31, 2008

Circle Line Party reminder

This is a reminder post for tonight's Circle Line Party. Barring any last minute changes, we will definitely be there tonight. We will either be departing from Liverpool Station or Bayswater. Check my twitter for possible updates from the field. Hopefully we will do a full circle.

Also head to Oriental City for lunch. It deserves the send-off.

Note: this is a scheduled post.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Notice to Londoners: Oriental City closes next week

As some of you may or may not know already, Oriental City (formerly Yaohan Plaza) will finally close shop at the end of next week. I've been going there for the past eight years and love the place. It is a pity to see such a community being driven away to make way for yet another B&Q, but hei this is business and unfortunately money talks in big business.

Any who, best for anyone who hasn't been there yet to get down there and sample the food from the various stalls at the food hall. It is within walking distance from Colindale tube station. Various buses also goes there (142 from Brent Cross, 32 from Kilburn, 303 from Edgware and 292 from Borehamwood). The Utsuwa-no-Yakata store, the remaining original tenant of the complex, is having a massive clear out sale as well, so at least you get to get cheap Japanese kitchen and table wares.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Parasite Eve retrospective review

Welcome to a retrospective review of what was often overlooked by the gaming press during its time but has since been recognised by many as a classic. Parasite Eve is a survival horror title with role-playing elements that I recently replayed for only the second time, and the first for many many years. It never saw release in PAL regions, but my advise is to do whatever you can to play this gem.

Released in 1998, during a time when Square was at the top of their game with titles like Final Fantasy VII, Xenogears and Final Fantasy Tactics conquering all, Parasite Eve was a breath of fresh air, especially with its modern day setting and its take on survival horror. Its likely inspiration was probably the rise of the genre made popular by Resident Evil just two years earlier. While the storyline, environmental setting, flawed science, fixed perspective and even the FMVs were created to evoke games like Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark, the gameplay is still largely RPG-centric with experience points and turn-based battles taking centre point when it comes to combat. Despite that Parasite Eve's main call to fame is its concise storyline, often told via a then unprecedented cinematic sequences.

The story revolves around Aya Brea, a feisty NYPD newbie copper who while attending an opera on Christmas Eve in modern day Manhattan, witnesses her fellow audience goers bursting into flames due to some unexplained supernatural occurrence. The only people unaffected are Aya, her companion (whom she knocks down in the most comical fashion) and an actress on the stage, Melissa Pearce. Confronting Melissa, who seems to be behind the phenomenon, Aya is told cryptically that her own mitochondria (a micro-organism capable of gaining control of their human host) is awakening. Melissa then escapes, not before tuning into a beast called Eve. Questions are also asked as Aya realises that she is immunised from Eve's power as well as the mysterious apparition of her dead sister Maya.

Parasite Eve is divided into six chapters over six days. During these six days, you are taken through various scenic and famous New York backdrops such as Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, Liberty Island etc. as Aya and her allies attempts to uncover the mystery of why Melissa's mitochondria has gained control over its host as well as the reason behind Aya's own supernatural power and her relation with Melissa. As you progress, Eve will start unleashing her power on the residents of New York, forcing an evacuation of the city as Aya and her allies race to battle the creatures that are spawning through Eve's vengeful powers. To make matters worse, a Japanese scientist has also theorise that Eve is attempting to give birth to the 'Ultimate Being', forcing a determined Aya to defeat her and save the human race from the rebelling mitochondria. The science is a load of nonsense, but nothing you would not expect from a video game or other form of entertainment media.

Like many survival horror games during the time period, as well as Square's own PSone Final Fantasy games, Parasite Eve features a fixed perspective landscape. As Aya, you walk around the environment and investigate searching for key items. Navigating the field map is bearable though the collision detection system can prove annoying. The fact that Aya seems to be the slowest character ever created, makes matter worse. Fortunately because battle isn't action-based, these are minor concern particularly when battling with multiple enemies. Battles are triggered randomly, though only when you enter certain areas. Battles takes place on the field map, similar to the modern title Crisis Core, though invisible barriers/walls exists to prevent you from running away easily.

The battle system is a unique mixture of real-time and turn-based. An Active Time Bar (ATB) indicates when it is possible to attack, but in between you can move around almost freely dodging the enemies attack in real time as well as positioning yourself for the next attack. Every time you choose to attack, a wire frame dome appears highlighting the range of the weapon equipped. Spells can be cast if you have enough Parasite Energy, which recharges over time. Bonus Points, gained when levelling-up, can be distributed however you see fit, for example you can augment your weapons stats or reduce the ATB recharge time. Weapons and armours can also be 'tuned-up', by transferring key attributes (parameters) or effects to the weapons/armours of your choice via tools. With Bonus Points and tools, you won't ever find any problems customising Aya to your heart's content.

Polygonal games from the time period has not aged particularly well, but playing this recently I found the title to be still extremely playable. Obviously it doesn't fair well with today's modern titles, but I wouldn't call it ugly. The use of fixed perspective pre-rendered background obviously helped, and the FMVs are still pretty enough to be still watchable with proportional polygonal models used, no doubt gained from Hironobu Sakaguchi's aspiration for film like cinematography (which led to Square's doomed Spirits Within project). Unfortunately the use of proportional models during gameplay meant that you will spend most of the time watching some pretty clumsy animation of Aya, whose lack of facial expression can be off-putting. To be honest, it could probably be better if they have used some form of super deformed characters, but the atmosphere might not be the same.

The soundtrack was composed by Yoko Shimomura (Front Mission, Kingdom Hearts) giving Parasite Eve a unique sound of its own with a mixture of electronica, piano and opera inspired pieces. But while giving the game an atmospheric sound, the music are not terribly catchy, therefore unmemorable. There are no voice acting in this title, which isn't surprising considering the year of release. Sound effects are above average, certainly nothing to write home about. But they do lend credibility to a game where creating an atmospheric setting for the player is very important. Often during exploration there would be no other audio except for Aya's footsteps, creating an eerie echo as you investigate a quiet New York backdrop.

Parasite Eve isn't a particularly long game. In fact one of the downside often cited by detractors is its lack of length. Experience RPG gamers will likely complete this under 8 hours easily - perfect for a weekend run, though newbies will likely stretch it a little bit, and even then the on-rails linearity and B-movie vibe may put some off. The game features a New Game+ mode, called the EX mode which allows you to replay the game with higher difficulty while retaining your equipments, as well as a bonus endurance mission at the famous Chrysler building. However despite being first released ten years ago, the character driven story still holds up well as being both unique and fresh - perhaps a testament to the decent enough source material, as well as having the scenario writer of Final Fantasy IV and/or the current JRPG staleness. It is a fun and engaging game and despite it cheap scares, is well worth hunting down or for PAL gamers - getting dirty with CFW.

Parasite Eve is no longer in print. You could however read the Japanese novel in which the game is the sequel to, available in both hardback and paperback. The game has since spawned a direct sequel (which scrapped any traces of RPG elements), and a forthcoming spin-off for FOMA-powered phones entitled The Third Birthday.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Last ever Circle Line party

The last ever Circle Line party, until Boris Johnson is voted out, will be held this coming 31st May. It will mark the end of boozing on the Tube when the no alcohol ban comes into force the following day. Rather coincidentally we will be in Central London on that very day on a completely unrelated matter and residing close to a Circle Line station. Chances are we will be attending, and we will be bringing over plenty of stuff. Sorry Boris, you won't be stopping us having one last hurrah. Some etiquette lessons for those who never attended a Circle Line party before. Be nice to your fellow commuters. Many will be extremely supportive - even joining in on the party. Party only when the train hits the tunnels. Most important of all, enjoy yourself. Hope to see you there.

Inspired by the SpaceHijackers, the party is being organised by numerous groups and will begin from 9pm at Liverpool Street Station clockwise platform (eastbound). More info on the various parties here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 review

It may have taken me roughly 2 1/2 months, but I finally completed Persona 3. Rejoice. Now I can remove the masking tape from the PS2's door. Truth be told, it took me quite some time to get used to the mechanics and I was too busy with other stuff to have put much effort into grinding, hence the late endorsement. This franchise has never seen mainstream success, and anyone interested in this will likely already own it anyway. Still if you consider yourself a JRPG fan and have yet to pick this classic title, you owe it to yourself to buy it and play it now.

Much like previous Persona games, the fourth title in Atlus's flagship Shin Megami Tensei: Persona sub-series involves you playing a self-named Japanese high school student over a school calendar year. The unnamed character comes of a generic RPG cliché hero, with floppy hair, and headphones to boot. This emo-looking kid is first attacked by 'Shadows' when he transferred to his new high school. He soon learns about his Persona, a summon, as well as others like him at the school. Unlike his allies however he is capable of using multiple Personas.

The basic gameplay of Persona 3 is divided into two sections. The first involves you participating in various mundane activities on or off-campus, which is an important gameplay element aimed at augmenting your stats. It isn't too far removed from games like The Sims and Harvest Moon where repeated none-combat tasks (such as eating ramen, studying or playing MMOs!) as well as dating improves key attributes. Basically the cycle of the game involves you going to school for the day, do some stuff like dating, eating, watch a movie, do sports, sleep, study etc. Developing your Social Link (S.Link) is crucial to the game as it also affects the strength of your Personas/summons.

The other half of the game is your run on the mill RPG where your participate in none-sanctioned extra curricular night time activities. During this hidden dark hour period the school transforms into an organic shape shifting tower called Tartarus, which is seemingly infested with these Shadows. Joining your character are members of S.E.E.S. (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad), many of whom have significant back story integral to the plot of Persona 3. There are around 200 levels in Tartarus, making dungeon crawling a very repeatable chore, though the randomness of each levels does alleviate the problem a little. While climbing to the top is your priority, each new level introduces increased difficulty. Significant powered Shadows also appear every full moon.

Exploration is similar to Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, in that it features a top-down third person viewpoint. Enemies do not appear randomly, rather they visibly roam the dungeons in real time. Similar to Valkyrie Profile, slashing them first will give your team the upper hand. In any case battles takes place separately from the field map. The battle system is turn-based and and your party attacks with various melee and ranged weapons as well as magical attacks, including the ability to inflict status effects. Similar to Nocturne (Lucifer's Call) and Digital Devil Saga series, Persona 3 features a similar Press Turn combat system called One More, where the you are rewarded with extra turns for exploiting an enemy's elemental weakness (beware, the enemies can do the same).

During combat the player can summon their Personas using an Evoker, a revolver like object, by firing at their own skull. These head shots does not mean anything bar providing the player with visually provoking scenes (no blood or skull fragments are visible - sorry to disappoint you Daily Mail readers). Personas can be gained through out the game, including through the use of fusion. Fusion is very similar the old Persona games dating back to Revelations and is done in the same Velvet Room with Igor, its creepy veteran keeper. As mentioned earlier, socialising is an important gameplay aspect and is a requirement to boost your Persona's stats, in addition to the experience points.

Perhaps significantly, the player can only control the main character where as the other party members are controlled via the A.I., though the player can govern their overall strategy beforehand. The lack of direct control of each A.I. can be a pain as they sometimes tend to make shoddy game altering decisions. It is imperative that one should always analysis (scan) the enemy as it allows your allies to understand the foe, as well as giving your the required knowledge to exploits its weaknesses. Allies can fall sick during battles especially if they work beyond their capabilities. During such events you should avoid bringing them on missions and have them rest for a day or two. Tiredness can also affect the main character, in which case you should avoid Tartarus altogether and get plenty of rest, like sleeping in class.

As far as graphical fidelity goes Persona 3 does not particularly impress. While it does not compare well to late generation PS2 games like Final Fantasy XII, it does not distract from the gameplay as well. On a technical side, it at least improves on the last Megaten game I played, Devil Summoner - which had a fixed perspective engine and a very washed out one at that. Camera viewpoint is top-down and easily allows you to see all active party members on the field map, as well as surrounding enemies. Other than that, the game uses low polygonal character models and simple geometry throughout. While it does not look particularly pretty, it does create a 'Persona 2-ish' vibe to it - which is only a good thing as I love that game.

The lack of graphical punch is offset by the stylistic and brilliant character designs and art direction. Shocking as it may be, these were not handled by veteran series artist Kazuma Kaneko. I was initially disappointed by this, but have since grew to love the new art direction, by one Shigenori Soejima (who is also responsible for the new Trauma Center DS game). The two style differs mainly in the character's fashion sense, not to mention the lack of Kaneko's trademark ghostly character design. Soejima's design is also noted to be more anime inspired. Character sprites, used during conversations, are extremely detailed with their expressions conveyed well. Unfortunately while the new characters are stylish they are still peppered with generic RPG clichés. For example Akihiko is only a mere senior and yet is treated as a deep wise man despite being only an upperclassman. His hair is even painted grey! And let's not forget the orphans...

Thankfully Atlus did not appear to make the same mistake with cultural localisation as they did with Revelations: Persona. Names remains in Japanese and both modern and traditional Japanese cultural reference are abundant. The soundtrack on the other hand is a mix and match of acquired taste. Anyone familiar with the Megaten series may find themselves disappointed due to the lack of soaring guitars (a couple exists, but they are exceptions). The soundtrack mainly consists of urban and 'hip' J-pop not to dissimilar from The World Ends With You and Jet Set Radio, as well as the odd orchestra, jazz and piano pieces. Despite some people voicing concern about the dubbed voice acting, it is superb. Sadly this version does not come bundled with the soundtrack and you can mark that as another 'PAL region sucks' middle finger by a clueless publisher underestimating the market yet again.

Persona 3 contains a New Game+ for after you beat the game. With roughly 70 hours of main content in it (of which 10-20% are likely to be devoted to grinding), I doubt any casual gamer would want to use the option, but it is there for completists, and is ideal for people wanting to further their S.Links as well as wrapping up lose ends. It allows you to start the game over with the same Social Links, stats and equipments, and hopefully is compatible with any future European release of FES (see below). The content, compelling storyline and plot is significantly more entertaining than the majority of games out there and despite the less than satisfying dungeons, the quality is on par with the main Megaten series. Social Link mechanism is a spin of riveting freshness that complements a now archaic (but still playable) gameplay.

My only regret is having to play through the none-FES version, but my anger is mainly directed at the shoddy strategy provided by Atlus and Koei for ignoring the biggest video gaming market in the world (Persona 4 will be out in Japan next month!). On a flip side, perhaps it is time for me to mod our PS2 so I can play FES. Persona 3 is the most refreshing and in-depth RPG title, nay - any genre, in modern times on any consoles - and thus deserves to be played yet again.

What is FES?

Persona 3: FES is an expansion pack/director's cut and was released in Japan a year ago and recently in the US. It contains additional plots in the form of a new chapter, as well as gameplay tweaks. Quite why Koei/Atlus did not skip the vanilla version of Persona 3 and went straight to FES for PAL release is beyond even my comprehension, but I wouldn't put it past them for being utterly lazy and/or ignorant of the market here.

Persona 3 is out now in Europe. NTSC PS2 owners should instead get the FES version here.

Update: The PAL version of FES is out now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fedora 9

Fedora has got to be one of my favourite Linux distro since I migrated from Red Hat and Mandrake years ago. I occasionally use their Live CD, though to be honest Windows XP works fine and is stable enough for me. The Register has a nice write up on some of the new features of Fedora 9, of which I agree the most interesting news with it is the ability to create a persistent Live USB stick with Fedora 9 on it. Documents created will be saved on the USB drive and so are any updates and software installations. I may have to buy that 8GB USB drive I saw at last week in preparation for this. Seriously this will be a boon for me when it comes to other PC. Plug in and fire up Firefox 3 or some of the new features, then save your setting when you shut down. You just can't do that with a Live CD.

Make sure to fire up your torrent client of choice later today, the i386 and x86-64 DVD images should be live soon.

Nokia 5310 XpressMusic quick-review

The following is my super quick review of Jennifer's Nokia 5310 XpressMusic feature phone, her main mobile for the past couple of weeks.

The Good
- At £80 (plus £10 top-up credit) unlocked from Carphone Warehouse, it is a bargain.
- Very thin (9.9mm) and light (71g).
- Sync'able address book, calendar, task list and memos with Outlook.
- Above average speakers.
- A light sensor automatically adjusts the screen's brightness.
- Dedicated TI AIC33 sound processor providing sound quality that is actually better than even some branded dedicated digital music player.
- Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP profile, ruh ruh Apple? Sony's BT10CX bluetooth stereo headphones works great with this.
- Comes with 2GB microSD card.
- microSD card slot is compatible with high capacity microSDHC - works with 8GB card, possibly 16GB, also hot-swappable.
- Stereo FM works well, but requires to be connected to Nokia's headphone adapter.
- Industrial standard 3.5mm headphone socket ensures compatibility with our Sennheiser phones - they even placed it on the top, which is ergonomically the ideal position!
- Support for USB mass storage (yay!).

The Average
- Industrial standard microUSB port is better than Pop-Port, but the prolific miniUSB is even better.
- Series 40 5th edition is speedy and user friendly, but I wish for a Series 60 version.
- Youth orientated design may not appeal to all.
- Battery life is average lasting 2-3 days per charge with light text, calls and music playback.

The Bad
- Music does not resume after terminating a call - shameful.
- Camera performance is awful - may as well been removed.
- Music player automatically updates the library every single time - a waste of time.
- Keylocking the keys to prevent accidental dialling will also lock the dedicated music keys - pretty dumb.
- Music software occasionally causing the phone to restart itself, once every couple of days (this has been fixed with the latest v5.81 firmware).
- Soft buttons keys are 'squeaky', though the rest seems to work fine.

The Ugly
- Latest version of Nokia Software Update keeps crashing when updating via Vista making us believe we bricked phone twice (we didn't)!

- Utterly desirable and skinny mobile for people seeking a budget quality music phone. It isn't perfect, but at the price point the 5310 beats even more expensive phones in terms of audio fidelity and features. The 3.5mm port shows where Nokia's priority lies especially in an age where other manufacturers like Sony Ericsson are still keen to promote their proprietary ports.

Update: The 5310 XpressMusic has been selected as the first Nokia phone to qualify under their Come With Music program. I think it is an excellent choice considering how great the 5310 is as a music player.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

echochrome review

Ever so often comes a title that deserves praise, but in spite of all it can offer fails to live up to its potential because the reviewer does not get it (instead preferring to work on their daily talk about GTA IV quota). One such title is Japan Studio's (the same studio that brought us LocoRoco and the ridiculously addictive Patapon) latest - echochrome, a gaming that features a deep gameplay and physics over a canvas of simple textureless visuals and geometry.

echochrome's difficulty is often cited as a pitfall, which explains what is wrong about contemporary video gaming journalism. More titles are now willing to hold the player's hands and guide them throughout - something that I view as a disturbing trend. But it does get them 9s and 10s, so maybe people today just can't handle more than people used to. echochrome isn't particularly easy especially the much later and complex levels which were designed to break the player down. Trial and error is part of the game that actually encourages the player to actually plan ahead rather than shooting, or in this case, walking ahead. It can frustrate the player, much like Final Fantasy III's final dungeon can - but we all love the challenge (at least some of us).

As you probably already know, echochrome is inspired by Oscar Reutersvard's art of impossible objects and M.C. Escher's impossible architectural work (though Phil Harrison claimed it was more Rubik's Cube) and is based on the OLE Coordinate System engine developed by Jun Fujiki. Basically you attempt control the movement of a mannequin traversing a series of geometrical planks, to its goal(s). You guide the camera around to change the viewing perspective therefore altering the level to suit the mannequin's need. It can be said to if the player can't see it, then it doesn't exist. For example by hiding a gap with a vertical pillar, the gap ceases to exists. In essence, what may seem like an utterly complex and impassable path can be made passable through manipulating the camera. In gaming terms the closest I can think of is it's like Portal mixed with Lemmings and Crush. Levels are accompanied by a continuous string orchestra that I personally believe to complement the visual style perfectly.

Three game modes are included in the game - Solo, Pair and Others. The simplest of the three is Solo (which happens to be the sole mode included in the US PSN version), where the player's objective to to steer a single mannequin to arrive at it's goals (echos, also known as shadows). In Pair mode, you will have a two pairs of mannequins, one black and the other white. Here you will have to guide the two pair of separate coloured mannequins to meet, creating two grey mannequins. Then you will have to guide both of them to meet each other. It sounds difficult in theory as you can't control the individual mannequins, but is a rather easy mode I reckon. Finally the Others mode have you dodging the others whilst attempting to look for echos. This is by far the most difficult mode and one can see why it was eliminated from the western release. Time limits exists on all modes and you can select the levels and modes individually.

With each new levels come new frustration that at times forces me to switch to something more mundane - like the repeated chores of a certain title where the novelty wore off back in 2003, just to relax myself and quipped - hei I am "still hardcore". The difficulty hurts my brain, but I keep coming back for more. Part of the problem is in relation to the PSP's hardware - like the imprecise analogue pad which needs to be completely overhauled in the next hardware iteration. Also whilst you can't control the rotation sensitivity, you can invert the controls. But once you get through, you will find that your mug bears a satisfied grin that no title can possibly give. Sure, there are no "Achievements Unlocked" message and GamerScores to compare egos with, but it does not matter. You will still come extremely satisfied, and really isn't that enough? The game records the time it takes you to complete each mode and level so at least you will have something to show for all the efforts. Replayability is high as the game offers a Canvas mode that allows users to create custom levels and share them with other echochrome owners.

echochrome has been (wrongly) compared to Tetris, though it falls more along the line of brain teasers titles like Professor Layton. It feels very much like an 'indie' title (yes, I am aware it comes from Japan Studio), and a very sophisticated one at that. Much like other brain teasers like crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, echochrome isn't meant to be played under a sitting, but over many. You will occasionally fail, but have you ever threw away a crossword because it is too difficult? No you attempt at it again. echochrome is an accessible title that deserves great success. Whether or not it does is a different matter altogether and its success greatly hinges on whether Sony can market it well (if at all!) and whether today's modern gamers are receptive of unique games like this. My gut feeling is it won't and that would be a real shame.

echochrome for PSP is now available on the US PSN for a budget friendly US$10 and comes with 56 levels and one game mode (Solo). The PS3 PSN version comes with a completely separate 56 levels. The real meat is however the imported Japan/Asian UMD version where the game comes with two additional game modes and 96 levels. However the forthcoming European version will supposedly arrive with 228 puzzles, so that may be the version to hold out for.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Oh ITV...

The main part of the awards show, which was produced for ITV by independent production company Michael Hurll Television, went out live on ITV1, but the broadcaster cut away from the event at 10.30pm to broadcast its news bulletin.

However, the awards carried on and were recorded to be broadcast "as live" once the news had finished.

While the news was being broadcast, Ant and Dec were presented with the people's choice award for their Saturday Night Takeaway show, even though viewers had not been told this and were continuing to be allowed to vote.

Remind me again why I don't watch ITV? And of stupid viewers voting via telephone... Personally I believe ITV got off very lightly considering the amount scammed, and the fine isn't big enough to deter other broadcasters or indeed ITV themselves. Like one commentator on The Guardian pointed out, steal from a shop and you are expected a hefty fine and a spell in Her Majesty's Prison Service. Why should a large cooperation be treated any different?

via Guardian

Boris says no to booze (on Tube)

From next month drinking (and possibly carrying - the policy seems vagued) alcohol on London's public transport network will be banned. While I tend to dislike binge drinkers, mainly because they tend to puke all over the place - I have yet to be bothered by them. And that's from someone who regularly rides on the Tube late at night or makes use of those 24 hour night buses - which I am 99% certain the Mayor probably does not.

I have seen plenty of perfectly sober people dressed in Gucci loafers causing more trouble than drunken louts. These are of course merely anecdotal evidence, so take that with a tiny pinch of salt if you rather - though I am sure I have used the Tube far more than Boris and his team of advisers. Just that now future Circle Line parties and the next four years of New Year's Eve tube rides will boring events. And summer's just around the cornet too - imagine that, no cold lager to cool you off. But I guess people itching for a drink should just drive seeing how social drinkers are now discouraged from taking public transportations...

So this is the first gimmicky, reactionary and populist policy passed by the new Mayor. Fact is enforcing this will be a nightmare and the majority of TfL's staffers will likely to just ignore harmless offenders. And I am not so sure the police would want to waste their time chucking innocent offenders into jails for having a casual drink, especially when they and SO13 can have fun participating in gun battles with lawyers. (Yes I am aware of the irony)

Also lol at the media seemingly treating Tuesday's shooting as bizarre. It's like they are implying that these kinds of things only happens to the less wealthy...

Picture by tompagenet's on Flickr

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

LaCie Mobile Disk review

It was about time I upgraded my five year old SmartDisk FireLite 40GB mobile drive. It was constantly locking up Windows XP and when I found that about 20 of my digital images were corrupted I almost flipped. Fortunately I live nearby a Staples and instead went and bought a replacement - the LaCie Mobile Disk 160GB. Call it a bank holiday treat. It was a toss between this and an Iomega, but I am a bit apprehensive of their brand after being forced to go through loads of failed Iomega Zip disks. Also I decided to forgo the massive storage that 3.5" external hard drives provide for increased portability for various reasons, as my desktop already contains close to 200GB of free space to play with plus I may consider investing in a NAS server once prices drop further.

The LaCie drive contains a 2.5" Seagate SATA hard disk with a rotational speed of 5400rpm and 8MB cache. It supports USB 2.0 and comes with a mini USB cable and a USB power cable for low powered USB ports. Those I left in the box as I have like ten USB cables just lying around, and my ThinkPad's USB ports provides sufficient juice power even two portable hard drives. The drive has been preformatted and comes with LaCie's own synchronisation and encryption software. I immediately formatted the file system into NTSC as FAT has proven to be too unreliable to me in the past. A blue LED blinks when the hard drive is used.

The curvy enclosure is made of matte metal and comes in black. It remains warm to touch even after I copied 30GB worth of files under one sitting, so it obviously performs well. It is a little thicker and wider than Jennifer's Freecom Classic Mobile HD, but slightly shorter. At 170g it is a pretty light drive, though it is heavier than my FireLite drive. It feels solid and thus 'expensive'. A pair of rubber legs ensures that it doesn't slide around the desk should you accidentally knock it about. Still one should always practice extreme caution when dealing with portable drives with moving parts.

Data transfer speed is reasonable. It took me around 50 minutes to transfer 30GB of files (mixture of tens of thousands of videos, music and pictures) from the old drive to the LaCie disk over two USB 2.0 connections, which I believe is reasonable considering all the bottlenecks. As you can see from the HD Tune benchmark results that I ran on both the LaCie Mobile Disk and FireLite drive (which has a Fujitsu hard disk), the LaCie is substantially quicker on all rounds. Note that both were optimised for quick removal under Windows XP USB device properties, so the LaCie's performance could have been higher without the bottlenecks and/or restrictions. Despite the SATA interface, it was always going to be bogged down by USB 2.0.

The price of the drive is £50, which is significantly less than what I paid for the old drive back then (£120) or some proprietary 360 drive. They also sell a 250GB version for £90, but I didn't think it was worth it. For £50 it is a pretty good deal. On the downside, it only comes with a one year warranty - but I hardly pay attention to such things anyway as no amount of warranty can protect your data. I am aware that SSDs are the future, but you can't beat the price ratio on this. As for my old drive, I am probably going to shred the disk inside and try to source for a cheap IDE replacement.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bluebell season in Whippendell Woods

From yesterday's stroll around Whippendell Woods, a location that is perhaps famous among Star Wars enthusiast as a set in The Phantom Menace.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Congratulations London...

You have voted in a clown.

We now have our very own Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Update: The fuck, you even voted a BNP cunt in. London, you are now officially the laughing stock of the world. Fact.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Metal Gear Solid: Shadow Moses revisited!

MGS remake on PS3? Playable flashback sequence in MGS4? Hype hype hype! Make it happen Kojima! Make it!

Tsk tsk Capcom

Apparently the Wii port of Ōkami had the credits cut from the version, and this has been confirmed by Capcom themselves. The reason? Some legal issues regarding the usage of the now dissolved Clover Studio logo. Which to me seems to be a none issue, other than the fact that Capcom is being lazy yet again. Ōkami's credit sequence is one of the most beautiful that I've ever had the honour to sit through and is integral to the experience of the game, so to found out that the credit film (and epilogue) has been cut out from an allegedly shoddy Wii port and not been replaced, saddens me. The very fact that Capcom did not bother to transcribe the names of the people who originally made Ōkami and put them into a new credit sequence is, as Ōkami's director Hideki Kamiya puts it, utterly deplorable. For shame Capcom, you can even get the list for free from MobyGames.

Here's the low quality YouTube video of the credit for you to enjoy, with Ayaka Hirahara's Reset. After watching it go buy and play the definitive PS2 version of
Ōkami - one of the finest games ever created. I hope Capcom does the decent thing and include the credits with the Wii EU release.