Saturday, September 30, 2006
This post is coming a little late, but better late than never: Microsoft, Bungie, and Ensemble Studios have announced the development of an upcoming Xbox 360 exclusive RTS, Halo Wars. Halo Wars is a prequel to the current trilogy, and allows the player to take control of UNSC forces in early battles against the Covenant.
This will be an interseting title to watch, not because it's another Halo title, but to see if Ensemble can pull of a proper exclusive RTS with a console controller. If they are able to, that will probably be the biggest RTS achievement of the last several years, since most PC RTSes, while great games, are simply clones of what's come before.
There isn't a huge lot of details out yet, however you can check the official site for a pre-rendered announcement trailer and some stills, as well as an FAQ.
This past Monday, I've completed the most engrossing novel series I have ever had the privlage of reading. With the completion of The Eagle, I have brought the Dream of Eagles series to a close, and what a literary masterpiece it is.
The Eagle is the final companion book to the series, and a stand-alone continuation of the previous companion book, Clothar the Frank. The Eagle continues the story of Clothar, better known as Lancelot, as he becomes a knight in the court of King Arthur. Along with Arthur's other knights and Merlyn, Clothar struggles to achieve order in Britain as it is continually plagued by outlanders looking to both plunder and settle. The Eagle also see many key events come full circle from earlier in the series, and Clothar finds himself involved in a lengthy plot that deals with a tragic event of Arthur's past.
One thing readers must be aware of with The Eagle is that it is not a story about Arthur or Camulod itself; they are all supporting characters and backdrops. It is the story of Clothar, seen from Clothar's eyes where ever he may be, which often is not from Britain. As Arthur seeks to increase his strength by forming outside alliances, he has Clothar travel back to his homeland of Gaul, and many events that transpire in Camulod are discovered through letters sent to Clothar from Merlyn or Arthur himself.
While some readers might find this unfortunate, it does stick with the narrative perspective of the series and is no less gripping than the other novels while maintaining continuity. There are still many battles and wars, romances, and principles throughout The Eagle, and none of them disappoint.
For a tale that spans five generations, The Eagle is an excellent conclusion to the series and lacks the feeling of being rushed towards the end that I found The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis had. I must confess though that while having a sense of both closure and satisfaction from completing the series, I must also express a sense of loss simply because it's over. I've spent a solid six months of my life being engrossed in the historical fiction of Camulod, and it's unfortunate that it's complete seeing as how there are many other stories that could be told, however I suppose too much of a good thing would ruin it.
The concepts around the legend that The Eagle tackles are fascinating as well. How the concept of the knights came to be, why Arthur married Gwinefer, and how the High King came to be weak enough to be slain. There is even a deep look at Atila the Hun and the chaos that his massive army caused around the globe. Rich with history mixed with legend, The Eagle, as with the entire Dream of Eagles series, will pull the reader in with its strong characters and locations.
In closing, I'd like to thank Jack Whyte for all the hard work he's put into A Dream of Eagles as I've truly enjoyed reading it, and I'm greatly looking forward to a second read-through of the history of Camulod.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Earlier this week, I decided to see how well my improved DSL connection was really doing by downloading the demo for The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (PC). A few months ago when I went to download it, it would have taken me about 24 hours. This past week, I did it in an hour. Not only am I impressed with the speed of my net connection, I'm also enjoying the demo.
Basically, I have this thing where I tend to hate all RTSes that are not developed by Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzard's RTSes are so well put together, that any others I've tried have been crap in comparison. While I did not find The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II demo to be revolutionary, it is the first RTS I've tried in 4 years to really catch my attention, and I was surprised to find that I didn't hate it.
The demo features the basic and advanced tutorial, played with the Men of the West faction, as well as a Single Player skirmish mode allowing the Dwarves and Goblins to be controlled/fought against.
The tutorial was, of course, simple to complete, but it was fun controlling battalions of infantry, archers, and cavalry; to have them all line up in realistic formations, and to simply kick some Goblin ass.
I tinkered with the skirmish mode today, and though I got my butt whooped every time, I found it fun, and easy to get into; I was simply lacking in proper build orders and a solid understanding of the game's resource model.
Basically, I've enjoyed it well enough that my dear parents are ordering the Collector's Edition for my upcoming birth day, though I'll probably get to play it earlier. The game's Campaigns take place parallel to the events of the War of the Ring, and are set in the north. In the novels, and hinted at in the Extended Edition of The Return of the King, it was noted that there was a grand war also happening in the north around the Misty Mountains and the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor neighboured with Dale, a kingdom of Men. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II will apparently tell this tale, and I'm interested to see this part of Middle-earth expanded and fleshed out, even if it isn't perfectly consistent with the source material.
Once I get it I'll post some impressions, and ultimately a review. I'm also interested to try Multiplayer and see how well that stacks up to Blizzard's masterpieces.
As I mentioned last Sunday, I've gotten System Shock 2 up and running on my Windows XP system, and now that I've been able to play it again, I must say I've forgotten how bloody addictive it is!
I started last Sunday, and made it all the way to Deck 3. I covered three entire decks in only one day, and I actually sat there for about 5 hours playing without even realizing it. Jebus, talk about a great environment. Doom 3 borrowed heavily from the System Shock 2 environment, and while Doom 3 is a great game, it stripped out all the RPG elements that makes System Shock 2 so damned addictive.
I also got to check out the new Cyborg Midwife skin, which is featured in these screenshots. Basically, this model is an updated model of the Rebirth mod featured in this screenshot in this post here. The new Complimented model features the terrifying look of the original low-poly model from the regular game, but adds in a more mutilated version of the boobs from the original Rebirth mod model (the right boob now has wires and you can no longer see the nipple clearly).
Regardless, the Cyborg Midwife is still quite freaky in the way she looks and talks, and she's all over Deck 3, Hydroponics where I am now.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Thanks to the help of some forum goers at Sshock2.com, I've finally gotten my copy of System Shock 2 up and running on my Windows XP system. The great thing is I've also gotten the complimented Rebirth mod I mentioned in this post here working as well, so I've got some nice updated character models to look at. This screenshot is from the earliest sections of the game, featuring a poor female crew member who met a bad end at the hands of the Many.
The game is great thus far, just as I remember it. In depth RPG gameplay mixed with survival horror presented in an FPS package. All I can say is atmosphere, atmosphere, and more atmosphere.
I'll probably post some interesting screenshots of the updated character models as the weeks go on, and perhaps my own impressions of this great classic.
I got to thinking last weekend about what a dud year this has been for pretty much any medium I care about. Since I'm mostly a gaming site, let's briefly type about that first: There hasn't been a single title on any platform this year that I've went out and bought. In fact, the only title I'm interested in is LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for my Xbox. Very sad. With Jade Empire and The Ultimate Doom (Xbox) complete, I'm presently playing through Half-Life 2 (Xbox) which was released last year, a co-op play-through of Halo 2, released in '04, and I've started up System Shock 2 on my PC, now that I've got it running, which was originally released in '99. At least next year looks like it has some promising titles.
Movie wise, I've seen very little in theatres and bought very few DVDs. In fact, the only film of '06 that's worth mentioning thus far is V for Vendetta. The Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut was amazing on DVD, but that's about it.
Music wise, well, most of it sucks these days and I simply cycle through my collection. I'll pick up Evanescence's upcoming disc, but that'll probably be all I get released from this year.
I honestly can't recall a year with so little happening in all mediums. Sad. Very sad.
Yesterday, I also completed Jade Empire for the third time. Jade Empire is an action/rpg set in a mythical asian fantasy world. You play as a martial arts student learning his/her abilities as the Empire is being plagued by ghosts and bandits, and you ultimately travel on a quest that unravels a mystery of corruption and power that will shake the very foundations of the Empire. What's more, in a nutshell, is that you get to kung foo that crap out of shit.
This time around, I played as the Limited Edition Monk Zheng character, and I renamed him Kung Foo Moo. I focused mainly on magic skills, using Ice Shard to great affect, shattering many foes. I tried to complete a romance first with Dawn Star, but scared her with notions of revenge, and then with Silk Fox but I simply didn't chat with her enough. Basically, my hero went without a chick on his quest.
I did find something interesting, however. Towards the end of the game, I was going to enslave Death's Hand, one of the primary villians of Jade Empire, and then I'd have to bind several of my goody-goody Followers to me, essentially enslaving them. I was then going to go about completing the Open Palm ending to see how commiting such an evil act for the greater good would play out.
Well, when Death's Hand fought his spirit of Prince Kin, I learned that should Kin be defeated, Death's Hand destroys himself and you don't have the chance of gaining him as an ally. While I played along this interesting path and won the game, I went back and redid that battle, winning it and enslaving Death's Hand as I wanted.
Suprisingly, if you do the Open Palm ending, even after binding many of your fellows, that little moral detail is basically dropped right off and no one seems to care. Sure, they're pretty vocal at first, but in the end they don't seem to give a shit, which was rather disappointing.
Overall, however, Jade Empire is a great RPG to play through with a lot of twists, turns, and character customization to warrant some entertaining replay.
Yesterday, I finished The Ultimate Doom for the millionth time. I've lost count of how many times I've played through this classic, however I've done it twice now on the Xbox, and the game never ceases to entertain after all these years.
The Ultimate Doom is truly a classic, with fast paced shooter gameplay that still gets the blood pumping. A lot of the game's levels are short by todays standards, and certainly simple to complete, but they are no less fun and easy to enjoy. With Shotgun in hand (as well as several other weapons), you simply move from room to room in an infested martian research facility crawling with demons and zombies. Your basic objective is to exit the levels, blowing the shit out of anything that gets in your way.
It truly is a testament to the game that played such a large role in shaping modern day video games that it is still a joy to play after nearly 13 years.
Forgot to post about this last week, but Bungie has revealed the cover and working back cover for their next upcoming Halo novel, entitled the Ghosts of Onyx. It's being penned by Erik Nylund, who's previous Halo novel kicked ass.
You can check out last week's Weekly Update for the details, including an interview with the author.
About a week and a half ago, I noticed how it'd take longer for my DSL modem to connect to the net, even when it was showing a proper connection. It also started getting unstable and would drop me after about 45 minutes of connectivity. So I contacted my ISP's good tech support folk, and the tech suspected my 6-year-old might be giving out, and he sent me a new one.
I got around to hooking it up yesterday, and while I found that it still takes longer than it used to to properly establish a connection, my connection's speed is now on steroids! Before, I used to get around 250 kbps, however now, I'm around 1740 kbps! In english, this is fast, and stuff downloads real quick-like.
I also got my basic email service upgraded for free, which is another bonus.
I'm going to give it a week and see if my new modem will begin connecting faster, and if I still have issues, I'll re-call tech support. If this is simply a sacrifice I'll need to make with the amazing high speed as a trade off, however, I'll take it.
Perhaps my ISP did some upgrades in the area or to the service in general a bit ago, which is why I'm taking longer to connect but having amazing performance otherwise.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
I went to Evanescence's site today and checked out the clip for their new single, "Call Me When You're Sober" which will be featured on their upcoming CD, The Open Door. Overall, it's not bad and it's great to hear Amy Lee's haunting vocals, however it lacked the impact of the original singles of their debut disc Fallen.
Still though, I liked it enough that I'll probably pick up The Open Door when it hits shelves on Oct. 3rd (assuming the Canadian date is the same as the American one). Expect a review shortly after, however in the interim, you can check out the audio clip here.
For the last few months, I've felt like playing through System Shock 2 once more, and for those not in the know, System Shock 2 is an exceptional FPS/RPG that focuses on horror/survival, and was one of the most exciting and influencial games to come out in 1999.
While poking around the net yesterday, I found an entry on Wikipedia that mentioned an enhanced or "Complimented" version of a mod entitled System Shock Rebirth that updates many of the game's character models, and I was intrigued enough to go download it and try it out. However after installing System Shock 2 I've discovered an unfortunate truth: it's not compatible with Windows XP or the NT kernel.
I can install the game, patch it, install the mod, and even get the game to boot up to the main menu and watch the intro movie, but once I try to load the game itself, it crashes. I've tried several work-arounds I've found online, most notably on this forum here, however so far I've had no luck and I only have one or two more work-arounds to try.
If anyone happens to have any suggestions on getting System Shock 2 to run on a Windows XP Home Edition system, please let me know.
It's quite sad that such a great title isn't supported on newer operating systems, as the atmosphere found in System Shock 2 is rivaled by few other titles. Doom 3 tried to emulate it and while a great game in its own right, fell short.
I could, of course, always go to my older system downstairs which is still running Windows 98 and load the game up, but that takes effort.
Screenshot from the original System Shock Rebirth mod.
Clothar the Frank is the second companion book to the amazing novel series, A Dream of Eagles, and its the first of a two book mini-series.
A Dream of Eagles concluded with the coronation of Arthur as the High King of all Britain, however with all the references Merlyn made about events during Arthur's rule, fans were begging for more, and Jack Whyte has delivered.
Clothar the Frank once again picks up the series' traditional narrative perspective, however the tale is not continued by Merlyn, but instead by Clothar, the man the world will come to know as Lancelot. One thing fans need to understand is that though this tale goes into the events of Arthur, it is the story of Clothar himself, just as A Dream of Eagles was a story about Merlyn. For this reason, be prepared for many events to take place far, far away from Camulod and the affairs of Britain.
That being said, Clothar the Frank is a masterfull piece of historical fiction with all the humanity and charm that allows A Dream of Eagles to be as engrossing as it is. Following the traditional formula, the story begins with Clothar reflecting back on his life and writing his own tale, which will also become the tale of Arthur's life as King, however before we can find out those events, Clothar goes into the details of his childhood, his past secrets, and his training and study at the Bishop Germanus' school to become a champion.
Ultimately, young Clothar is locked in a bloody civial war in his home kingdom of Benwick in Gaul, and he must not only make the passage into manhood, but must also distinguish himself as a capable leader of men and a man of warfare. Then, and only then can he embark upon the journey that will lead him to his destiny.
Clothar the Frank is a deviation from the focus of the affairs of Camulod, however it wonderfully expands the views and state of the world itself, providing the reader with a broader, more informed view of what is happening at this point in history. If you want to continue the tale of A Dream of Eagles, if you wish to see old characters and what becomes of them, if you wish to be intrigued by a realistic take on the legend, than Clothar the Frank is not to be missed.
TeamXbox has a preview up of Episode VI for the upcoming sequal, LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. Like the previous Episode previews, it discusses some of the levels and what to expect, as well as a bit of what's been changed from the film for the sake of gameplay fun.
LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy hits store shelves this Tuesday, and is one of the only real games to have my interest this fall.
According to this article on IGN Xbox 360 that I spotted via ActionTrip, it's official: Bioware's next epic RPG, Mass Effect, will be released in the first quarter of 2007.
This is the first of two exclusive titles to the new console that I want to own, which means that I'll be buying both an Xbox 360 and an LCD TV between January and March of 2007. That also means then that I'll be able to debate which platform to get a bunch of upcoming titles for, the Xbox 360 or the PC. Titles such as Half-Life 2: Episode Two and BioShock.
Valve has released 5 gameplay movies for their upcoming title, Half-Life 2: Episode Two. The trailers show off some of the new enemies, as well as a few new gameplay features. You can check them out via Steam here, here, here, here, and here.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two has really caught my eye, and the gameplay in it does look fresh and enjoyable. I'm still surprised that they haven't shown off any new weapons yet (will there be any?), but at least the previewed vehicle sequence looks much more interesting than those featured in Half-Life 2. I wonder if they'll tweak the vehicle's controls to actually make them, you know, responsive enough to have some fun sequences with.
EA has released their September issue of their The Lord of the Rings Insider newsletter, and in it, they show off three images from the upcoming RPG, The Lord of the Rings: The White Council. I believe two are concept art, and the one featured here is an in-game shot (note Legolas in the bottom left).
I'm quite interested to see what EA can do with this title, and if they can make an RPG to rival the quality of BioWare's epic RPGs.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Back at the end of July, I posted about how the Humble Howard Morning Show was fired from Mix 99.9, and that since Howard was gone, I'd needed to find a new radio station.
One of my lovely readers suggested either Q107 or 92.5 Jack FM, both of which I've tried, and when it's all said and done, Q107 has emerged the dominante one with a minor rotation between the two. Why Q107, you ask? Well, it's quite simple really: I prefer the tunes on Jack FM, however its reception is aweful on my alarm clock radio, while Q107's is clear.
Thus far I haven't been a huge fan of John Derringer in the morning, I actually find him rather boring, but he's leaps and bounds ahead of Mad Dog and Billy (why are they still on radio?). I typically have Jack FM on in my car, though since I mostly listen to my CDs there, I only listen to Jack occasionally.
So there you have it. In a nut shell, radio sucks in Toronto. Most of the morning shows are lack-luster at best and a lot of the tunes blow, but hey, I only need something other than a screeching alarm to get me up in the morning, at which point I can switch to something I do like, my CD's.
This past Tuesday, New Line Cinema released The Limited Edition version of The Lord of the Rings to DVD.
They've re-released each film in a two-disc edition. Disc one contains both the theatrical and the extended versions of the film, and disc two contains raw "making of" footage.
Unless you don't already own the Extended Editions or you simply must have both versions of the film, I'd honestly pass on these, as they're nothing you haven't seen before and the "making of" footage looks like more of a cash grab.
The Extended Editions of the films are truely the best packages you can get now, and they're being sold rather cheap to boot.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
In the very near future, Bungie will be adding a piece of Halo 3 mylar artwork to their online store that they've previewed in their Weekly Update here.
Based on the announcement trailer, it's entitled Ark Storm (thereby proving my theory that what we saw in the trailer is the Ark) and looks absolutely amazing. With any luck, they'll also release it as a desktop wallpaper.
On a related topic, I finally figured out why Grunts say "Spoiler" in Halo 2. Basically, they say that when you're either running away or taking cover, and since Grunts are an excitable bunch, they're commenting on the fact that you're ruining their fun. Go Grunts.
Aside from giving the Steam web site a make over, Valve has released a new teaser trailer for their upcoming title, Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
As many of you know, though I've enjoyed the Half-Life series I've been rather critical of its sequels, however I must say that this teaser looks great and actually made me want to play the damn thing. One very interesting aspect is that several of the shots don't look like they could've been made through Gordon Freeman's PoV and instead look more cinematic, which if indeed true, would be a break in style for the series.
More likely, however, this was simply done to make the teaser more visually appealing.
2K Games, the publisher of the upcoming FPS/RPG BioShock, has released 16 new screenshots of the Xbox 360 version of the game, which you can check out through ActionTrip right here.
That hook lady looks creepy indeed, her face reminding me of the Cyborg Midwives from System Shock 2. Lord knows how much they used to freak me out.
I also noted that 2K Games has launched a mini-site for the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game respectively.
Microsoft has released another backwards compatibility update for the Xbox 360, adding a few more Xbox titles to the mix and fixing some bugs emulating some other games. The upcoming LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy is now backwards compatible, and they've updated Half-Life 2, for example.
You can check out the complete list right here. Now if only they'd add Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil and Star Wars: Republic Commando to the list...