Sunday, May 28, 2006

Half-Life: Source Impressions

I've started playing through Half-Life: Source, which is a port of Half-Life to the Source Engine that powers Half-Life 2, and so far my impressions are positive.

To start, I should say that Half-Life is one of the best shooters I've ever played. It was revolutionary for its time, and re-defined the layout of how an FPS should be. It is with all that in mind that I go into Half-Life: Source, hoping for the best after a strong sense of let-down with Half-Life 2.

Basically, Half-Life: Source features the enhanced physics, rag-doll effects, lighting, and water created through the Source Engine. I've presently played through the first three levels of the game, and I must say things do play a bit different, and for the better.

The first thing I noticed was that the game world is darker due to the enhacned lighting, and light sources are now much more realisitic. Surfaces, especially metal, also reflect light much more realistically (Gordon has one shiney Crowbar). The physics are also adding a lot of fun to the game, and I must point out the big difference with this enhanced version of the first game and its sequel: Since Half-Life: Source is a port, Valve wasn't able to level design it to scream at the player every 5 seconds that it has enhanced physics. So, unlike Half-Life 2, the physics is an additional element to the game world instead of the star in a spotlight; instead of a tech demo. Shoot a Headcrab while you're on a balacony, and its corpse might fall off to the ground below. Crates on wires swing as you try and keep your balance, and enemies (especially Zombies) have great, random death animations due to the physics acting in tandem with the ragdoll physics. Water has also been improved greatly since you can see into it before going into it.

Now for the bad. I'm disappointed to see that the High Def models were not used, so you'll be looking at the same old-style models the game first featured in 1998. You can pump up the AA to cut down on the jaggies though, so it'll be a bit easier on the eyes, but Valve should have incorperated the better character and weapon models. I've also noticed that certain sounds (Gordon's footsteps while walking) are very muted, and some sounds seem missing altogether, like the Headcrab death sound. Half-Life: Source does take better advantage of positional audio over the original title, however, adding a stronger sense of realism to the game world.

Overall, my impressions of Half-Life: Source are positive. Save for the lack of better character models, the Source Engine has really complimented the established design of Half-Life. Now, if only Valve could have remembered that gameplay should be at the forefront and complimented by technology instead of the other way around for Half-Life 2...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Half-Life 2 Coming to the Xbox 360 in Early 2007?

IGN Xbox 360 has an article up reporting that two different retailers have posted an Xbox 360 version of Half-Life 2 to go on sale during February 2007. At present, both Valve Software and EA have made no comment, and while Valve has stated in the past they are working on Source Engine powered titles for the Xbox 360, they have not specified what those titles are.

If this is true, than an official Xbox 360 version would render the backwards compatible Xbox version obsolete for owners of an Xbox 360.

Screenshot taken from the PC version.

New Screens and Trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (Xbox 360)

EA has released some new screenshots and a new trailer for the upcoming Xbox 360 version of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, which you can check out here and here respectively.

Half-Life 2: Episode One Gone Gold, 2 New Gameplay Trailers

Valve Software has announced that Half-Life 2: Episode One, the first of three episodic expansions to their hugely successful Half-Life 2, will be released on time this coming June 1st.

They've also released two new gameplay trailers, mostly featuring Alyx killing stuff, that you can view here and here. You will need to have Steam installed to view these trailers.

Update: You can also find these trailers in Windows Media Player and Quicktime format at various game sites if you don't want to use Steam.

New Trailer and Plug-In for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Bethesda Softworks has released a new trailer for their hit RPG, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. You can download the high res version here, and the low res version here.

They've also released a new plug-in for the game, entitled Thieves Den. You can find out the details, including cost here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for May 25th

10, 14, 19, 60

I used the coupon I got from my McDonald's combo to get a free PayDay ticket. I didn't win anything (I know, shocking), but it was free so I didn't loose anything either.

Just note that if you use the McDonald's coupon to get a free ticket, the numbers will all be randomly chosen for you; you can't specify your four numbers.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Google is Funny

As you have no doubt noticed, I have some Ads and such on this site, which have been in place for about 10 months.

I also had this lovely little paragraph towards the lower right of the site:

"Please donate to the Arbiter's Judgement Charity Fund (TM) by using the Search Bar at the top of this blog or by clicking on the ads below. All proceeds go towards a needy cause: Us. Beer costs money you know. So start clicking, I'm thirsty!"

However, apparently Google frowns on humour. I got an email from them today stating that this paragraph is in violation of their service, and that I must remove it within 72 hours. Now please note that I have done so, however my question is: Why wasn't I notified about this, oh, around 10 months ago?

Thus, I feel I should take Google's policy one step further: Please DO NOT click on any of my Ads or use my Search Engine to find stuff! This would be a gross dis-service to the ads, the search engine, and to Google themselves who profit off those clicks significantly more than I do.

Not that it's a big deal mind you, I'm not going to be retiring off the cash from Adsense, however I just find it really funny. Anyway, I might be killing those Google Ads in the near future anyway since, at my present rate, it'll take about 29 years for me to get a cheque from them.

There might be an Ad free Arbiter's Judgement in the near future kids...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Half-Life 2: Lost Cost Review

So with the purchase of Half-Life 2: Game of the Year Edition for my father, I was finally able to play Half-Life 2: Lost Cost, a bonus level for the PC version of the game available via Steam. Half-Life 2: Lost Coast features cut content from the Highway 17 Chapter of Half-Life 2, and takes place around a church on the outskirts of a town to which the Combine are laying siege. They've set up a gun that is firing Headcrab missles into the town, and it's up to Gordon to stop them.

Now, the main purpose of the level is to showcase some enhancements to the Source engine and its lighting system, however my old video card couldn't handle any of those, so I simply played the level to enjoy it unto itself. Overall, as a free level, it was enjoyable, and I actually found it presented something that was absent from most of Half-Life 2: a bit of a challenge.

The level starts with Gordon falling onto the ground near this fishing town, St. Olmes, I believe. You start the game with an assortment of weapons and some ammo, and you immediately come across an old fisherman who shows you the way to the stronghold the Combine have set up, which is on the top of a hill in an old church. From here on, you have to battle your way, mainly against Combine Soldiers.

Now, I played the level on Hard, and to my surprise, the Combine Soldiers were actually fighting well. They were not only seeking effective cover along hilltops and pathways, but they were also using grenades to try and flush me out, and these weren't scripted sequences. I think they did that last part all of twice to me on Hard in Half-Life 2.

Another first was with the music. Once you enter the church, the game plays this interesting choir-styled piece that is different from the music thus-far featured in the Half-Life series, and by that I mean it was actually good! It applied itself nicely to the theme of the area to help immerse the player instead of blowing any suspension of disbelief with some BS techno junk the series usually has.

While it's too bad I couldn't check out the new lighting effects, I must say that I overall enjoyed the level. Granted, being cut content, its not part of the official story and there' really no story to speak of, but as a stand-alone download, it's well worth its price.

Half-Life 2 Plush Headcrab Toy

This is old news, but I never posted about it: Valve Software has released a plush toy of the popular Headcrab found in Half-Life 2. You can hang it around any room, and it also has an actual mouth (underside). It's about a quarter-scale to a real Headcrab, and you can find the details at Valve's Store here.

Please note it can only be purchased in the US, and is presently sold out. I know, you're crushed.

Half-Life 2: Game of the Year Edition (PC) Purchased

Lately, my father has been mentioning that he has nothing new to play since I've switched to gaming on my Xbox from a PC, and he can't stand to use the Controller. Seeing as how my father really enjoyed Half-Life and its expansions, and how he expressed interest in Half-Life 2, I picked up Half-Life 2: Game of the Year Edition (PC) for him as an early Father's Day gift.

Though I'm running a four-year-old computer system, I knew it'd run Half-Life 2 seeing as how it ran the Half-Life 2: Demo on most Medium graphic settings without too much difficulty. While my father is enjoying the title (and putting up with some minor framerate issues and the stuttering bug), I'm going to share with you some general differences I noted about the PC version compared to my Xbox version:

The PC version comes on 5 CD's, as opposed to the 1 DVD of the Xbox version. While this isn't anything bad unto itself (and Half-Life 2: Game of the Year Edition, published by EA, comes in a nice DVD case unlike the original Sierra-based retail version), the install time took forever! Simply installing the game off the CDs took a good 45 minutes! After that, of course, I needed to register the product on Steam, Valve's content distribution system, and it forced me to update Half-Life 2. Seeing as how I was forced to wait on this, I decided to download the free bonus level, Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, since I've never played it before.

After a few more hours that was finally done, and I was able to set up Half-Life 2 for my father. Graphically, even on my aged PC, the game seems to look better than on the Xbox; though this may be because I'm running it at 1024x768, while the Xbox version is running at 480i (I dropped the game down to 800x600, and this had a very noticable impact on the game's image quality, bringing it down a lot closer to the Xbox version). From what I've seen though, the Xbox version has a smoother frame rate and thankfully, less bugs. There is something to be said about being able to optimize for a specific platform.

Half-Life 2: Game of the Year Edition also came with Half-Life: Source, a "special edition" of the original Half-Life. Basically, it seems Half-Life: Source is nothing more than the original Half-Life enhanced with various effects from the Source Engine: Enhanced physics, effects (including water), and Half-Life 2 styled menus. The game's character models and environments look mostly the same, the High Def. graphic models weren't even used (though many of Gordon's weapons are shinier).

Anyway, Half-Life: Source might be fun to go through, but I'm not expecting any ground-breaking re-inventions with it.

At present, my father is enjoying the PC version of Half-Life 2, however it seems to me the Xbox version is a lot more hassle free (and it's Steam-less), so for myself, I'll stick with it at the moment. I have played through Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, however, so I'll post my review of it soon.

A Dream of Eagles: The Eagles Brood Review

Have I mentioned how much I love the Dream of Eagles novel series? The simple fact that I've gotten through three of the 600+ page novels in such a short time should tell you something. Last week I finished the third novel, The Eagles' Brood, which takes on a different perspective from the previous two.

While The Skystone and The Singing Sword were written from the perspective of Publius Varrus, it appears the remainder of the series is recorded by a very important mythical character, that of Merlyn himself. The Singing Sword ended with the forging of Excalibur, the birth of Uther Pendragon and Caius Merlyn Britannicus, and the withdrawl of the Roman Legions from Britain. It also saw the death of Caius Britannicus and Cladius Seneca, as well as Merlyn's young mother, Enid.

Now that both Cay and Publius' greatest fear has come to pass, the withdrawl of the Eagles and the lawless anarchy that follows, the series has indeed taken on a darker tone. The Eagles' Brood follows the relationship and maturity of both Merlyn and his cousin Uther, the future father of King Arthur, and as the armies of Camulod train and prepare for the harshness ahead, they are inseparable; or so it would appear.

Suffice it to say that an unfortunate event occurs that casts doubt between the two childhood friends, and is ultimately the driving force behind the entire legacy of this particular novel. Merlyn must ultimately come to grips with the responsibilities placed upon him as one of Camulod's greatest Commanders and warriors, the gaining and loss of many near to him, and the realization that his cousin may not be the man he always thought he was.

Once more, Jack Whyte pulls his reader in with such an engaging and unpredicatable narrative, that The Eagles' Brood is difficult to put down as you learn all about these new yet familiar mythical characters. As I've already mentioned, the series takes on a darker tone, and this is wonderfully demonstrated by the decay of the urban centres in Britain, the more detailed sexual encounters of various characters, and most importantly, the fury of war, for war there is a plenty in The Eagles' Brood. With the Legions gone, raids increase ten-fold, and certain British residents seek the domination of the entire island. There are several large scale and richly detailed conflicts in the novel, all amazing to both read and visualize.

One last aspect of note would be the extensive examination of the changes in the Christian Church at this time, and what they mean not only to the people of Britain, but to the ideals of Camulod itself. Suffice it to say, the themes discussed here-in are both controversial, and in my opinion, an excellent examination of man's lust for power at any cost.

If you've enjoyed the previous novels in the Dream of Eagles series, than you will not be disappointed with The Eagles' Brood. It is an excellent continuation of the series, dark as it is. Though from darkness, there may always spring a new light...

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords (Xbox) Completed

Just under a week ago, I won Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords (Xbox) for the 4th time, which took me around 60 hours if I recall correctly. I started off as a Dark Side female character and was ultimately redeemed to the Light. I can't stress just how much fun, and how deep, this game is. While yes, it was a bit disappointing that the ending was rushed and certain story elements were somewhat incomplete, the Party Members, the Influence System, and the overall dark and complex storyline are so intriguing that the game is simply a joy to play through. I really did care about my Party Members much more so in this game than its predecessor, and the overall gameplay enhancements were great improvements.

So, at present, the only game I have going is The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (Xbox). When I started playing it again, I realized that I had taken an exact month break, and now that I've gotten back into it, I must say my impressions of the game have changed somewhat. I'm beginning to find that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition's greatest strength is now becoming its greatest weakness: the non-linear, free roaming world.

While yes, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition allows total freedom and excellent exploration opportunities, I must say that it's overall lack of focus is becoming frustrating; I don't feel like I'm accomplishing anything. Also, for such a free world, it's a shame there's no Party Members as I have no attachements to anyone in the game world itself. For all these reasons, I'm going to start quickening my pace, less exploration and idle chatter and more Quest completion.

By no means am I saying that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition is a bad game, far from it. What I am saying is that its unique style has its own set of unique ups and downs. Once I start getting through more Quests and further into the meat of things, we'll see if my opinions rise or perhaps lower some more. Given the insane length of this title though, I wonder if one play through is all I'll do before moving onto the Xbox 360, which I'm expecting to pick up this Fall.

Changes for the Blog

Hi Faithful Readers,

Yes, that means all three of you. Work has become very time consuming once again, and the Staff, after his triumphant return, has vanished once more (unreliable slacker). Thus, posting time has been more limited as of late.

Because of this, unless some really big news comes up, I'll be posting mainly on weekends, gathering up the past week's news and putting it up. I'll probably end up splitting things like news on Saturday, and editorials, articles, and reviews on Sunday as I've already unofficially established in the last while.

Basically, you, the reader, can expect to see updates on the weekends, but very little during the weekdays.

That is all.

New BioShock Screenshots

Irrational Games and 2K Games have released even more screenshots for their upcoming FPS/RPG, BioShock, which is due out on the Xbox 360 and PC in 2007.

You can check them out at TeamXbox here.

Some New Halo News

Some new Halo themed news has been released:

Bungie has posted a full interview regarding the upcoming Halo Graphic Novel here, which also includes some new artwork. Looking quite nice, however I hope it can justify its $24.99 (US) price tag. The article also includes a new wallpaper based on the Graphic Novel's cover art.

Bungie's Weekly Update also includes a new screenshot from Halo 3, as well as some minor Multiplayer info and a cut-out Mister Chief. You can read all about it here.

The new screenshot gives a very clear look at what I believe to be the Ark, as well as a nice side view of the Chief. Based on the Teaser, Halo 3 is looking like a very nice title indeed.

10 New Mass Effect Screenshots

BioWare has released 10 new screenshots for their upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Mass Effect, and a few of these shots show us our first glimpse of the game's user interface!

You can check them out at TeamXbox here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for May 18th


PayDay also has a promotion going on with McDonald's, where you can get a free PayDay ticket if you purchase a few specific combos. You can check out the details here.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Halo 3 Teaser Trailer Analysis

Well, the Halo 3 Teaser Trailer has been out for just under a week now, and I'm a little late in my analysis of it, but that's work for you. Anyway, every major gaming site out there has posted their thoughts and impressions, and I'm not going to bother linking to them, however I am going to give my opinion, at least from a story perspective since the tech stuff has all been covered and is factual.

The first question most people think of is what's going on in the Teaser, what's the story behind it. We know that it's from roughly a third of the way through Halo 3, and we also know that Earth is now Covenant controlled. At present, we also have no evidence to suggest that Cortana and the Master Chief have been able to link up; she may still be in the ruins of High Charity.

So what is going on? Well, aside from the Master Chief walking (and a mighty fine job he does of it, to), we see many Covenant Capital ships and a bunch of Banshees around a Forerunner artifact that appears to activate.

Anyone who's played Halo 2 can take a good guess as to what I think that artifact is: The Ark. At the end of Halo 2, all the remaining Halo installations were placed into stand by mode, and could only be activated form the Ark. While it wasn't directly revealed where the Ark was, the cutscene immediately cut to the Master Chief (and thus the Prophet of Truth) returning to Earth. Seeing as how the original Covenant expeditionary fleet lead by the Prophet of Regret came to Earth seeking a great artifact, logic dictates that the Teaser is showing the Ark, and if it's activating, the entire galaxy is about to be purged of all life (save the Flood).

But, is that really what's happening? It's obvious that Cortana is trying to tell the Chief something, but what? As our Staff pointed out, she's also speaking very cryptic, not in her usual sarcastic, know-it-all manner. Well, for starters, who does Cortana sound like? Assuming she's still on High Charity, who is she stuck with? That's right, the Gravemind. Her style of dialogue is presently very much like his. Now what does that mean? Does that mean Cortana and the Gravemind are one, or perhaps that the Gravemind is influencing Cortana? Not exactly. I think that while the Gravemind has been trying to get information out of Cortana, she's been getting information out of him as well; especially the history on the Halo installations, so perhaps she's warning the Chief about what she's learned.

Another thing to consider is if the Teaser is really happening, and by that I mean: Is it possible that the entire Teaser is a communcation from Cortana, meant to show the Chief what will happen if he fails? Look at things from this perspective: The Chief is walking very casually through that desert and reckage, so casual, in fact, that he doesn't seem to notice that Banshees or even that huge Crusier until they're on top of him, yet they don't seem to notice him either. Not very characteristic for the Chief or the Covenant, but very dreamlike in a traditional, cinematic sense.

So, in a nutshell, I think the whole Teaser is actually a vision or communication of what _may_ happen.

Regardless, I expect we're in for some excellent story telling and plot twists, as well as some great action. Oh, and it's great to see the Assault Rifle back, even if it's apparently a non-standard issue one.

Widescreen LCD and an Xbox 360

So I happened upon Best Buy again yesterday, and the Samsung LCD I was looking at last weekend (the 23") has already dropped by about $100.00; it's now going for around $899.99.

Now, until I want to get an Xbox 360, there's no point for me to get one; however it's nice to know prices are dropping (and by that time, perhaps a 26" will be cheap enough, or a newer, better model will be of comparable price).

Anyway, now that E3's done, I can get a good idea of the current and upcoming Xbox 360 library, and yeah, I do want the system, but not yet. Games that hold my interest that are already released:

- Quake 4 (I'll try the demo first)
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (See below)

Games that are in development:

- The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (Demo or rental)
- LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (Demo or rental)
- F.E.A.R. (Demo or rental)
- Halo 3 (Must buy)
- BioShock (Must buy)
- Mass Effect (Must buy)

I think that about covers it. All my "must buy" titles are scheduled for a 2007 release sometime. As for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, some of you might be wondering why I didn't place that as a "must buy" seeing how I've gone on about it and its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition, which I'm currently playing.

The fact of the matter is yes, I want The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The problem is, if its predecessor is any indication, it will be a very high commitment game; extremely time consuming, and I really don't have the time for something so damn lengthy anymore. I only bought The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowing - Game of the Year Edition for $20.00, so if I only go through it once or don't even finish it, I've still gotten my money's worth seeing all the time I've sunk into it. However if I buy The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion at full retail price and get a new system/TV for it, a cost of about $1600.00, then I'm gonna wanna play through it a lot to justify that cost.

I'm not saying I won't buy the game, perhaps it will be the first Xbox 360 title I buy, time will tell. Or perhaps I'll wait for a substantial price drop and pick it up cheap like I did with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition.

Anyway, until I get an Xbox 360, I still have my Xbox to play on. I want to play through Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil again, and Jade Empire as well. I figure I'll be busy enough over the summer, so I should be fine.

Bungie's Weekly Update

In Bungie's most recent Weekly Update, they discuss the Halo 3 Teaser Trailer by answering questions they've received. All the answers are, of course, official, however it's also spoiler free. If you're looking for the official word on the trailer, check it out here.

Bungie has also released a brand new wallpaper, which you can get here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mass Effect Official Site Updated, New Screenshots from E3

BioWare has updated their Mass Effect page with new screenshots and some new info that was featured at E3. More info and a new trailer are coming soon.

IGN Xbox 360 has also posted their impressions of the game here.

F.E.A.R. (Xbox 360) Preview

IGN Xbox 360 got to try out the upcoming Xbox 360 version of F.E.A.R. at E3, however instead of the Single Player game proper, they got to try the Xbox 360 exclusive "Instant Action" mode, which drops the player into a level and challenges them to get through it as quickly as possible to compete and compare stats over Xbox Live.

You can read about it here, and they also have some new screenshots posted here.

BioShock Previews and Screenshots

Both TeamXbox and IGN Xbox 360 have previews up of the 20 minute demo they saw of BioShock at E3, which you can check out here and here respectively.

The game is indeed a spiritual successor to System Shock 2 and not a sequel, but that's fine by me. It looks like BioShock will feature a horror/suspense atmosphere like it's spiritual predecessor, interactive items, audio logs, hacking, weapons upgrades, and most of the things that made System Shock 2 such a great, immersive, and scary title.

Another interesting note is that the general monster AI will be very task-based, and by that I mean the monsters will have their own tasks, or day-to-day behaviours, that they'll be attempting to complete and many of them will ignore you unless you interfere or agitate them in some way.

Due out in 2007 for the Xbox 360 and PC, this is a title I fully expect to pick up.

New Screens for LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy

LucasArts has released some new screenshots for LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, and you can check them out at TeamXbox right here.

New Version of the Windows Media Player Halo 3 Teaser Trailer

On Wednesday, Bungie released an "uncropped" version to replace the original version of their Halo 3 Teaser Trailer.

I've had framerate issues with the Large version, but I'm assuming that's because I'm playing it on a four-year-old system. The Small version (which for me seems slightly larger than the Cropped Large version) works just fine though.

You can grab it on their official page, or from their news post here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for May 11th

39, 50, 66, 68

I broke even this time, so at least that's something.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Halo 3 announcement trailer unveiled at E3

Okay, so We, the Staff (TM) thought we were being all smart-assed and had beaten Fearless Leader to the punch for posting about the Halo 3 announcement. So We won't get into repeating what Fearless Leader said.

We, the Staff (TM)'s two cents? Looks quite interesting, and the 360's engine is certainly showing itself off well, but We hopes to hell they work on the music for the final. It sounds like it was produced well enough, but it seems like rather a departure from the previous games. Perhaps too symphonic and higher-key, compared to the generally lower-key stuff found in the first two games. That, and Cortana's dialogue here is coming off as somewhat melodramatic. Where's her usual sarcastic wit? We thinks that aspect of her character has become so idiosyncratic that its absence is quite noticeable, even in a brief teaser such as this.

Nevertheless, it'll be good to finally get the conclusion of this (mostly) well-developed story.

-The Staff

Halo 3 Officially Announced

Microsoft (and Bungie) have officially announced Halo 3 for the Xbox 360, to be released in 2007. You can read Bungie's official announcement here, and check out the official site (with screen shots, a teaser trailer, and an FAQ) here. The Halo series is indeed a trilogy, and this is the final chapter (of this storyline, anyway).

All I have to say is wow. I've watched the trailer half a dozen times, and I'll probably watch it half a dozen other times tonight alone. What a great teaser, what great music, and what great graphics. I remember the days of watching Blizzard Entertainment's cinematic trailers, thinking how amazing they looked, which is a lot like this Halo 3 teaser. The difference? The Halo 3 teaser uses the in-game engine; we're looking at in-game graphics! Simply stunning.

This, my friends, is the major announcement of E3, not the PlayStation 3 junk I posted about below. And mark me, with Halo 3 on the way, a cheaper next gen. console, and ultimately a year lead on Sony, Microsoft is in a very, very good position for the next gen. console war.

Finish the Fight.

PlayStation 3 Cost and Release Date

Sony held it's pre-E3 press conference today, and revealed the officialy release date, cost, and the final controller design of its upcoming PlayStation 3 console, which you can find at TeamXbox here.

Basically, the PlayStation 3 will launch in North America on November 17th, and cost between $549.99 and $659.99, depending if you want a 20 or 60 GB hard disk.

Overall, this press conference was a major disappointment, with very little new news learned, no huge launch titles to look forward to, and nothing to match up to today's real announcement (see top of page once I get around to posting it).

TeamXbox comments on the PlayStation 3, and also discusses the pre-E3 conference with a Microsoft rep. here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Jade Empire Coming to PC

BioWare has announced that Jade Empire, the most successful Xbox RPG of 2005, is now coming to PC. It will include enhanced graphics and effects, as well as new enemies and Fighting Styles.

You can find out more details here, including a few screenshots. They also have a contest going where you can win a brand new Alienware computer!

New BioShock Screenshots

I'm not certain what platform this is for (I'm guessing PC), but ActionTrip has several new screenshots up of the upcoming FPS/RPG, BioShock.

You can check them out here.

Doom 3: Limited Collector's Edition for $29.99

I saw over at that they're selling the Doom 3: Limited Collector's Edition for the Xbox for only $29.99. This is a really great deal if you haven't checked Doom 3 out yet, and I highly recommend it. Even with the few extra bucks for shipping, it's well worth it.

You can order your copy here.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Dream of Eagles: The Singing Sword Review

Last weekend, I finished reading the second novel in the Dream of Eagles series, entitled The Singing Sword, and like The Skystone, the book is amazing. The Singing Sword is a direct continuation of The Skystone, once again following the perspective of Publius Varrus and the continuing evolution of the colony that ultimately becomes Camelot. Raids by the various Saxon, Pict, and Frank forces are ever increasing in Britain, and the soliders of the colony find that their newly formed cavalry is ever put to the test, and they quickly realize the revisions needed to form a truly devestating fighting force.

A quick note about the beginning of the novel: For those of you who have read The Skystone and the prologue to The Singing Sword that came with it, please note that it was an earlier draft and the prologue actually featured in The Singing Sword has undergone a good bit of revision, so make sure you read it.

As I've always said when reviewing novels, it's difficult to go into detail as you don't want to give the plot away, however I will assume you've read The Skystone. Publius and Caius continue to further the stability of the colony and the responsibilities of the council while dealing with the repercussions of Publius' failed attempt to kill Claudius Seneca, and of these there are ultimately many. The bond between the colonists and the Pendragon Celts grows ever stronger, and of course, the Roman pressence continues to weaken in Britain as the Empire continues its steady internal decay.

Whyte once again inspires and captivates with the same writing style of The Skystone, and both family values and honour are ever at the forefront of the themes of the series. Of course, what would a continuing series be without new characters, and while I don't want to give away spoilers, I can say that Caius' son Picus, whom we read about so briefly in The Skystone, makes a very important return in The Singing Sword, a return that will have a long lasting effect on the colony and its rising military.

The Singing Sword has a lot of ground to cover as it furthers the overall story closer to the Arthurian legend, and as such, Whyte often fast tracks many years but doesn't dissappoint with key moments, both crisis, military, and emotional. Unseen tragedies will happen in the colony that forces everyone to remember the danger that has truly begun to embrace Britain. From one perspective, however, it is quite sad to see so many characters that you grow attached to simply age, as you know their time isn't long left as the story evolves towards a newer, larger scope. Whyte also expands on some very interesting political and religious discussions, concepts that, in my opinion, well apply today and to the views of many young people.

The Singing Sword is an excellent continuation of the Dream of Eagles series, and culminates in some very critical events for Britian, both politically and socially. If you did enjoy The Skystone, than you will enjoy The Singing Sword. In fact, since the two flow together so smoothly, you'll probably start to forget exactly which parts happened between the end and beginning of the two, but that obviously makes sense being a series by the same author. With new characters, revelations, and a new future, both good and ill for all involved, The Singing Sword makes for an excellent read.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

LCD TV Prices

I popped into my local Best Buy today, and was taking a peek at some LCD TVs. While I presently have several games I'm playing through on my Xbox, once I'm done I do figure I'll snag an Xbox 360, however that means that I'll want a widescreen high def. TV so I can play in 720p.

Right now I'm leaning towards a Samsung model, seeing as how I'm happy with my current Samsung Flat CRT PC monitor, however Samsung 23" Widescreen LDC TVs are going for around $999.99, which are still too damn much, in my opinion.

I chatted with a sales rep., and she said prices are expected to drop between September and December of this year, however by how much she couldn't say.

So, it looks like this fall I may end up picking one up along with an Xbox 360, which is probably a good thing since it'll give Microsoft a good year of having their next gen. console out, and hopefully any of its major bugs and junk will be worked out.

Original Star Wars Theatrical Trilogy Coming to DVD on the Same Day as LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy

On September 12th, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will release the theatrical versions of the original Star Wars trilogy to DVD. Each film will also contain the recent Special Edition, and each DVD will be a 2-disc set.

You can read the full press release here.

Also on September 12th, LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy will hit store shelves, and the game is also being released on the Xbox 360 as well as current gen. consoles (as confirmed by TeamXbox here). A teaser trailer for LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy has also been released, which you can view on the main page here.

Finally, IGN Xbox has a preview of LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy which you can find here.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Rating Change

This came out of the blue: The ESRB has ordered Bethesda Softworks to change the rating of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the Xbox 360 and PC from Teen to Mature, due to potential partial nudity and intense blood and violence featured in the game. Bethesda has commented on this sudden change with a press release here.

The ESRB has concluded that the game deserves a rating of Mature because: 1) partial nudity in the PC version of the game can be created by modders; and 2) the game contains excessive blood and gore that go beyond a Teen rating.

So basically, if you read the press release, you'll learn that the ESRB decided to up the game's rating because third party modders can create topless female models in the PC version of the game; something Bethesda and its publisher has no direct control over. Way to slap a good development company for something that isn't even their fault, ESRB.

F.E.A.R. Officially Announced for the Xbox 360

Saw over at TeamXbox that F.E.A.R., Monolith's creepy PC shooter hit, has been officially announced for the Xbox 360 and will hit the shelves this fall. You can check out TeamXbox's report here.

This is a title I do want to play, and since my PC can't handle it and I may have an Xbox 360 by the fall, I'll hopefully be able to.

Winning PayDay Numbers for May 4th

01, 15, 30, 48

If I ever do win this thing, I'll buy something real nice, something like her. What? I figure a guy like me could swing that.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Half-Life 2: Episode One Pre-Loading and System Requirements

Half-Life 2: Episode One, the first episode of the stand-alone PC expansion for Valve's Half-Life 2, is now pre-loading via Steam, and should you wish to acquire the title this way, you can pick it up here.

At the bottom of the page, you'll also note Half-Life 2: Episode One's system requirements, which are the same as Half-Life 2's.

So if the Hulk...

... was having sex as Bruce Banner, and she moved the wrong way, hurt him, and pissed him off... would that like, kill her?

New Screenshots for The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (Xbox 360)

EA has released some new screenshots for The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (Xbox 360), and you can check them out at TeamXbox right here.

E3 Presenter List at IGN Xbox

IGN Xbox has posted up a list (that they're updating regularly) of the presenters and their games for next week's E3.

You can check the list out here.

Cheap Official Sword Mount

So, if you've been reading my blog at all, you may know that I own a sword; this sword as a matter of fact (Morthoseth - Sword of Shadows).

Now, when I first purchased it, I wasn't sure what the best way to mount it would be, so I looked around, and the best thing I found was a cheesy plate wall hanger. Though my sword hung on the wall vertically, it didn't look so hot seeing as how it was, you know, on a plate hanger.

Over the last 3-ish years, I've been looking on and off for something better, a real sword wall plaque, and finally I found one. My sword is by United Cutlery, and I found an official United Cutlery Sword Plaque for about $40.00. We'll I bought the thing, and it stunk. My sword started to bend the metal hooks down, and the wood was so cheap it was already scratching.

I ultimately decided to return the plaque, however not before I had a revelation. I was looking at the anchors I installed to secure the plaque to the wall, and figured why don't I just screw in the metal hooks directly without the plaque. Not only did it work, but it looked great! So the next day I returned the damn plaque and got two anchors and hooks from Home Depot for about five bucks.

The whole point to this little ramble? Aside from finally cluing in on how easy it is to mount a sword, I also found the next sword I want to buy (the bottom one in the link and at the top pic). It's called Avaquar, and part of the same Kit Rae series. Beautiful, isn't it. Now, I don't know when I'll buy the thing, probably a while from now, but I honestly think this one would be more comfortable and easy to wield than my present long sword, seeing as how it's about 10 inches shorter.