Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Power of Q Closing Down

The Power of Q, the pool hall that myself and the staff have been going to since Christmas '02, is finally shutting down. It's been around for 10 years out in suburban Pickering, and the strip mall it's in is being torn down to be replaced by homes of some sort. Instead of relocating, the management of the Q just decided to wrap things up.

While the Q is open until June 30th, they had their closing party this past Friday night and last night as well. The staff and I met some friends up there on Friday, and it was a great time with free pool all night long! They were also giving out a deck of cards and a keychain.

Some of the drinks were limited since they weren't restocking, however they had kareoke going on, and I must say, some people shouldn't be allowed to sing. No, really, make them stop.

I had a lot of fun times at the Q over the years, playing with different groups of friends, going brain-dead while watching back-to-back Rocky films, and laughing at the mullet guy playing Big Buck Hunter.

However, all good things must come to an end, and now we're left having to find another pool hall. Thanks for all the good memories, Q. You'll be missed.

New PC Purchased

Yesterday I finally had the time to review the quotes I got and purchase a new PC. It should be ready on Tuesday, and here's the specs:

An Intel Pentium 4 930 3.0 Ghz Dual Core, an ASUS P5LD2 Intel 945p Chipset Mainboard, 1 GB of DDR2 Ram, a GeForce 7600 GT 256MB, and Windows XP Home Edition. I'm also having them install my previous sound card, a Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live! 5.1. It'll be good enough for what I need.

Once I have the system, I'll tinker with it for a few days until the long weekend, and then I'll determine whether I want to format it and start it from scratch or not. Since I've really missed out on Windows XP during its life cycle, there will be a bit of a learning curve for me.

The good news is I got all the above at a very good price; it's still hard to believe how cheap hardware is these days. I'll be able to play some great demos I couldn't touch before, and Half-Life 2 should look really great for my old man.

Winning PayDay Numbers for June 22nd

05, 42, 50, 71

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil (Xbox) Completed for the 4th Time

I've just completed Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil (Xbox) for the 4th time, and I must say it's still a very enjoyable (though somewhat short) experience.

The game's new weapons are all quite useful, and the enemies and bosses present enough of a challenge with the game's creepy atmosphere to keep things fun.

I played through on Veteran (didn't feel like doing Nightmare again), and I noted a few more Commandos this time than the last; nearly double the amount, though it's possible I simply got caught up in surviving before and didn't notice them in the mix.

Both the Hell Time Hunter and Maledict were also quite a challenge, the former being frustratingly so, but it's all in good fun.

I also still swear that the texture quality through a lot (though not all) of the game is higher than in Doom 3 (Xbox). Simply watch the game's intro in-game cinematic; none of the ones from Doom 3 ever looked that crisp. It's too bad they can't be upscaled in Doom 3, especially on the Xbox 360.

My only real gripe with Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil would be the story. Honestly, it makes no sense to me that the UAC would have completely re-opened and re-furbished the Mars Research Facility. Based on all the trailers and ads for the game, I figured that an expeditionary force, mainly composed of Marines, was sent to Mars to investigate the new signal they were picking up from the planet. I expected the facility would have been left ruined and abondoned after the first invasion, and Dr. Elizabeth McNeil would have lead a small research and military force (think like Ripley in Aliens). Most of the Zombies you would have encountered would have been left over corpses reanimated from the original game, so they should have been really decomposed instead of Z-Sec Zombies and the regular bunch. The story that's actually presented, however, feels very contrived and kills some of the atmosphere, but once you get into the gameplay you can kind of push that aside.

I also played through with the in-game Brightness and Contrast reduced to half, which more closely mirrors the darkness of the PC version, and like with Doom 3, it adds greatly to the atmosphere, jumps, and fun.

Anyway, it was still great fun and a solid add-on if you're a fan of Doom 3. I have a feeling that I will ultimately be playing through it again.

Valve Broke my Computer

This past Thursday, my third computer system clocking in at just over 4 years and 1 month old died.

My father came home from work, turned the system on and loaded up Half-Life 2. He then started loading his saved game, and the system shut down on him akin to a power failure (the monitor and speakers stayed on). The system would no longer turn on, and once diagnosed, we found out the Mother Board and CPU were fried.

So, either Valve found a way to break my system for all my Valve bashing, or there was a power surge.

Anyway, I'm now working off my company laptop at home, however it seems I need to buy a new computer. I find it rather sad, though, as this is the first computer system to ever die on me; even my first system from 12 years ago is still running!

I started doing some shopping yesterday, and it looks like I can pick up an Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz, 1 GB of DDRam, a nVidia GeForce 6600 with 256 MB of VRam, a Creative Labs SoundBlaster Audigy, and Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition for only $775.00 plus tax, all pre-haggling! That's not a bad deal at all.

At present, I'm not going to bother getting a new monitor, speakers, or keyboard and mouse, just the tower.

I'll be able to download and try a bunch of new demos for games my previous system couldn't handle, and I'll also be able to try the PC version of Doom 3 and see how it looks in all its glory.

Question for you all though: What do you think of the above system specs? Should I go with one of the new Intel Core Duo's instead? Are there any issues with those right now being new tech? Should I also perhaps take a different video card? The GeForce 6600 is above mid-range right now, but that will change by end of year, I'm sure.

Oh, I might actually be able to pull my Ram out of my fried system and have it added to my new system. If so, I'll be at about 1.5 GB of DDRam! Now that would be something.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Half-Life: Source Review

When Valve Software released Half-Life 2 in November 2004, they also released a digitally remastered version of the original Half-Life entitled Half-Life: Source. Half-Life: Source features all the enhanced physics and effects brought to the sequel via the Source Engine, however the real question is if it's worth the $9.95 (US) price tag.

If you've played through Half-Life, then you've played through Half-Life: Source. The layout of the levels are exactly the same, however don't expect the exact same experience. Despite a few bugs, this is the definitive version of Valve's original masterpiece.

First and foremost, the game is harder. I played through on Hard, and unlike Half-Life (or even Half-Life 2), this was hard! The enemies now dish out a substantial amount of damage, but they can also take it. Most enemies that used to take two shots from the .357 Magnum to drop now require 4, and often head shots aren't even one-hit kills! The biggest AI change though is to the Marines. Overall they've been improved, and while they don't use Grenades as much, they work a bit better in squads, but combined with their enhanced damage and durability you'll be hard-pressed in some of the larger battles.

Friendly AI has also been improved, in that allies following you tend not to stop or get "stuck." You can also have more than 2 people following you know, which is a good help.

The enhanced physics that was the spotlight of Half-Life 2 compliments the gameplay nicely in Half-Life: Source, which, if you ask me, is what something like physics should do: add to the game instead of becoming the game. Half-Life: Source also features greatly enhanced lighting, so I must admit it's too bad Valve couldn't have improved the illumination of Gordon's sub-par flashlight.

Now for the bad. I've noticed some audio doesn't play, such as many Headcrab sound effects. While not a big deal, missing sounds do suck. I also found that underwater is way too dark, even with the flashlight, however thanks to the great new translucent water, I could take my time and kill all the Ichthyosaurs from the safety of regular ground or walkways!

Finally, though the environments look better, I must say I'm disappointed that Valve didn't use the High-Def models for the game; instead they used the originals featured in the 1998 release. While not game breaking, it did leave me scratching my head a bit.

Of course, as I mentioned, the big question is if Half-Life: Source is worth your money, and I have to say that, even though $9.95 (US) isn't a lot, it's not worth it if you've already played through Half-Life. I got it for free along with the PC version of Half-Life 2: Game of the Year Edition that I got for my father, otherwise I would never have played through it.

If, for whatever reason, you missed out on this amazing shooter, then I say yes, pick up Half-Life: Source and see where the modern shooter got its roots from. Just don't start on Hard.

A Dream of Eagles: The Saxon Shore Review

The amazing A Dream of Eagles series continues in The Saxon Shore. With the war against Cornwall finally over, and with the baby Arthur orphaned after the death of his father, Uther, at the war's conclusion, Merlyn must take up the task of raising the boy and protecting him to achieve his destiny.

The Eagles' Brood took a very dark turn for the series as the Romans left Britain leaving it open to invasion and conquest, culminating between the great war between Cornwall and Camulod, however it ended with a ray of hope: The discovery of the young baby Arthur Pendragon, future High King of Britain.

With The Saxon Shore, it seems Merlyn's fate is to be further intertwined with that of the Scotts and the kingdom of his adjutant's father, King Athol. It is to this foreign land that Arthur must lead a small group of men where Arthur waits in ransom, but before he does so, he must cleanse the beginnings of corruption within the colony of Camulod that arose during his amnesia, and he must prepare himself for the great tasks that lie before him.

With this, Merlyn will not stand alone. With the aid of his adjutant and friend Donual Mac Athol, the physician Lucanas, and his half-brother Ambrose, Merlyn will begin upon his true destiny that will ultimately lead him to become known as a sorcerer.

As with the rest of the series, Whyte is a master story teller, taking the plot in directions one would not expect. He continues to flesh out his existing characters thorough both hardship and tragedy, and he brings several more prominent faces to the mix.

If you've gotten this far into the Dream of Eagles series, then you really don't need me to provide you with any motivation in continuing to read it. You know how strong, how human a tale this is, so go continue following the legend.

Winning PayDay Numbers for June 15th

19, 37, 58, 65.

I won $2.00 of this ticket. Go me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Backwards Compatibility Update for Xbox 360 Released

Today, Microsoft released an update to the Xbox 360's Backwards Compatibility Software, enabling over 20 more Xbox games to be played on an Xbox 360. This includes such great titles as Doom 3 (including the Limited Collector's Edition) and LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, however it does not include Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil. With any luck, that title will be added in a future update.

According to various gamers, Doom 3's performance is improved greatly on the Xbox 360, with faster load times and smoother frame rates. Even the Classic titles found in the Limited Collector's Edition runs smoother.

For a concise list of added titles, check TeamXbox here. For the official list of all titles, check Microsoft's official site here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Found Quake II (PC)

Very late last July, I vowed to find a copy of Quake II (PC), since I missed out on that classic FPS back in the '90's, and today, I finally found it. It was at Walmart, however no price tag was on the package.

Though I finally found it, and though I want to play it, I did not pick the title up. Why? Well, it was part of a bundle package, the Quake Collection, I believe it was called, and it comes with both Quake and Quake III: Arena. Since Quake III: Arena is all Multiplayer focused, I have no interest in it, and I had a pirated copy of Quake when it was new and played through it a few times, and honestly, it sucked (in fact, Quake's crappy Single Player game is the reason I missed out on Quake II).

I have no desire to get those titles along with Quake II. However, at the time, I also was hoping that the Xbox 360 version of Quake 4 would come with a copy of Quake II, as when I pick up an Xbox 360 I figure I'll be getting that game, and it does.

So, since I expect to pick up an Xbox 360 in 2007, I'll be waiting that long to get Quake 4 and thus, Quake II. Instead, I just bought LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game for my current Xbox.

New Backwards Compatible Titles on Xbox 360

Microsoft has announced that with this week's upcoming backwards compatibility update, both Doom 3 and LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game will be playable on the Xbox 360, as well as 18 other Xbox titles.

This is excellent news, as Doom 3 will look great in widescreen 720p, and I just picked up LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game.

I hope this also means Doom 3: Ressurection of Evil, as well as all the Classic Doom content.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) Co-Op Completed

For the last while, Telly and I have been slowly making our way through Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) in co-op play, something we've never done before. We started off on the Legendary difficulty, only to find out that we really suck; so we started again on Heroic and had a great time.

It's a lot of fun the kind of tactics and team work that two people can do, and how certain battles play out very differently with the two of you. It also helps when you're working together instead of being run down by your idiot ally's Ghost. Dumbass.

Having generally played Slayer matches, we already had a good understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, so I typically engaged enemies up close while Telly was great at picking enemies of with a Sniper Rifle. In all truth, Telly's a better shot, but his driving skills suck ass. No, really. He couldn't even take a Wraith out with a Scorpion, so I had to show him how it's done with a puny Ghost, no less. I don't want to brag or anything, but I really am Uber.

Anyway, we did find certain levels harder since we were sharing ammo and such, most notably the Library, everyone's least favourite level. The ending Warthog getaway was a blast with an ally though, as someone could actually mount the chaingun for once.

Playing Halo: Combat Evolved through with co-op was a lot of fun, so now I guess it's time to move on to Halo 2.

Half-Life 2 Episodes are the Third Half-Life

So in a recent interview, Gabe Newell of Valve commented that the Half-Life 2 Episodes, which began last week with Half-Life 2: Episode One, is really not an expansion to Half-Life 2 and should be considered Half-Life 3.

Considering the vast lack of new content featured in Half-Life 2: Episode One, that's not a very impressive beginning to a third installement. I also find the whole naming concept dumber than Doom 3, which really is the fourth title and a remake of the first.

So Google Beat Me To It...

I've been so busy with work lately, I didn't have a chance to pull Google's ads from my blog as I said I would, and they beat me to it.

I noticed yesterday that no ads were showing up, and I tried the Google search bar it wouldn't work, stating the web site didn't have permission to use it.

So, seeing as how Google can kiss my sweat ass, I've removed the code from my template and gotten ride of the possibility of their ads coming back.

Welcome to an ad-free Arbiter's Judgement... which is pretty much like the old Arbiter's Judgement...

Winning PayDay Numbers for June 8th

The winning PayDay numbers for June 8th are 04, 26, 70, 77.

I didn't win anything this time.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Kingdom of Heaven: 4-Disc Director's Cut Impressions

A few days after it's release two weeks ago, I picked up Kingdom of Heaven: 4-Disc Director's Cut. I'm a huge fan of Ridley Scott, and I must say I had high hopes and was disappointed by the theatrical release of that film. The plot seemed very rushed, and the character's lacked any real motivation to move me.

Well, this has all changed with the Director's Cut, and this is the movie that should have been released to theatres. I haven't checked out the special features yet, so I'm not reviewing the full product here and now, but I will tell you that this is an epic film you should see, plain and simple.

The Director's Cut is like a completely different film from the theatrical release. It weighs in at just over three hours and the feature is spread across two discs. The purpose of each character is much more fleshed out, and the plot is quite engaging. Without giving too much away, there is now more depth to Balian and his reasons for seeking redemption after murdering the priest in his village. Sabilla's son, who was completely cut from the theatrical version, is present and has a major impact on the events of the film. Just for me to scratch the surface of all that was added is time wasted from you sitting down and viewing this masterpiece of a film.

And with only a $24.99 price tag, you can't go wrong picking up the Kingdom of Heaven: 4-Disc Director's Cut. I will go into further detail once I review the product in the coming weeks and outline the greater differences between the versions, however I'm telling you now to check out this film, or you will miss out on a great piece of work.

Weekly New Update

Sorry about the lack of updates this weekend kids; I was swamped with work all Friday and was burnt through the weekend.

Not a whole lot happened last week, so you didn't miss much anyway. The biggest news item would be the release of Half-Life 2: Episode One to the PC, which is generally getting scores in the mid-80's. Basically, it's a short romp through areas you mostly saw in the original game, features more forced use of the Gravity Gun, and has no new weapons and only one new enemy which you saw but didn't fight in Half-Life 2. Huzzah.

I think I'll wait for the complete package of all the Episodes, and then see if it comes to the Xbox 360.

Winning PayDay Numbers for June 1st

36, 39, 56, 57

I won two bucks of this one.