Archive for ‘computers’

13/08/2013

A Poor Girls Guide to buying Electronics.

Everyone loves shiny new electronics. Opening the packaging on a brand new laptop, peeling off the screen protector on a new phone, that first booting up moment when you just want to jump around from joy. The problem is that electronics are expensive. Terrifyingly so sometimes, so for the girl on a budget new electronics, even if they’re desperately needed, are often nothing more than a pipe-dream. (I was lucky enough to receive a loan of enough money to cover the cost of a brand new laptop last January; if that hadn’t happened I’d probably still be struggling along with a half-knackered netbook, which could barely boot-up, much less run any of my graphics programs. As of last month I have half of that money paid back.)

So for the girl on a budget, how can you replace that netbook that smells distressingly of ozone? Or that cellphone with the cracked screen?

1: Save.

Saving is not always easy, but sometimes it’s a necessity. When I bought my current laptop, the one I’m typing this on in-fact, I had saved up a little over 1/3rd of the cost myself. It had taken me over 6 months to do so. Okay, I still had to accept a loan from my Partner in Crime to cover the last 2/3rds; but thanks to that period of saving I’d already gotten used to giving up the money needed to repay her each month. That’s the key, making saving a habit. Once it’s a habit, it becomes easier to maintain, even if it does mean less in the way of day-to-day fun-stuff.

2: Sales.

Watch the websites of your preferred electronics stores like a hawk. Most of those stores will have something on special each week, or month. So with patience you can pick up what you want at a hefty price reduction. I once picked up a netbook which had been almost 400 Euro the week before, for just over 210 Euro. It wasn’t an end of line, or any other special type of sale. It just happened to be on special that week, and had been massively reduced. Of course I’d been sitting on that money for a few months at that stage, so patience and self-control are key to this working.

3: End of Line.

Almost every year, or at most every second year, most electronics companies will release a new version of each of their various lines. This is great even if you can’t afford those prices, because the stores have to get rid of last years line, fast, if they’re to have any hope of shifting those newer up-to-date models. (Never mind that sometimes the only difference is a slightly different casing.) Often this means that to get shot of those last few examples of last years model the stores will have end of line sales where the sales price is often just barely over cost-price. Meaning huge savings can be made if, as usual, you can be patient enough to wait, and quick enough to get in there first.

4: Display Models.

I love Hewlett Packard’s Ipaq line. I’ve owned two of them, and I quite simply think that they’re the bees knees, the rats arse, the…they’re really great. My last one gave me four years of sterling work, being carried from one end of Ireland to the other as an aid to my writing, an ebook reader, and even an emergency MP3 player on more than one occasion. It was also bought as an ex-display model. Bought in the box off a shelf it would have set me back 300 Euro, but as an ex-display model I got it for just over 100. It was undamaged, unmarked, and needed only a replacement battery (8 Euro plus 3 postage and packaging at the time) to make it absolutely perfect. This sort of find needs a lot of luck, as well as patience. But are well worth looking out for.

5: Accept Charity/gifts.

I have a house rule, “No unwanted computer goes without a home.” Simply this means that if someone offers me an old PC, tablet, laptop, or mobile phone I will always accept.

Why?

Because until my current laptop, all of my performance computers had been built from the best parts of older machines. My current ebook reader, is a gratefully accepted donation of an old Pandigital 7″ tablet which had been rooted; which may be reaching the end of it’s serviceable lifespan, but still gives me hours of joy every single week. I haven’t had a “new” cellphone in almost a decade. My friends know that if there’s an old mobile that they’re replacing, well Amanda will find it a loving home.

Charity is not a bad thing. Especially if it means that an old machine doesn’t wind up rotting in a landfill, or lying gathering dust in some forgotten corner of a home. And really especially, (I know, bad grammar.) If someone, if you, might find great use, and greater joy in using it until it finally just has to be taken behind the woodshed for a close encounter with a deer-slug to the processor. Of course you should do the same to with anything that may be useful to someone else, sharing is caring.

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02/07/2013

The Hellgate has returned to London. Templars assemble!

The sky is eternally bruised, ash floats on every breeze. The streets no longer ring to the sounds of human voices, or the laughter of children. The scents of smoke, and sulphur fill the air. In the distance you hear shuffling feet, low moans, skittering noises come at you from around every corner. Your sword feels heavy in your hand. Sweat runs down your face inside your helmet. And far ahead you see a flicker of movement as cadavers in various states of decay shuffle aimlessly.

This is the London of the future. Stripped of virtually all life by the demons which poured out of a Hellgate years before. And you are one of the last defenders of the human race, a Templar. And now it’s time to shred zombie flesh to get to the heart of the infestation. Well that or die trying.

Hellgate:London was originally released in 2007. I was lucky enough to receive the gift of a copy a year later. And it quickly became one of my favourite games of all time. It was exciting, sometimes scary, always action packed. In structure it was a little odd.

You had the 3rd party/1st person display modes available in World of Warcraft, and other similar role playing games.

The item gathering, and inventory management of the Diablo series.

The ability to be melee, ranged or a reasonably balanced mixture of the two.

So far, so normal, so how was it odd?

Well first of all, it also felt rather like a 3D environment take on an old school Hack’n’Slash game. Think Golden Axe, with zombies, demons, and demonic beasts all set in a post apocalyptic London. A rather different take on the role playing game, for that the time at least.

And secondly, the maps were largely very, very, linear. You’d have a series of tunnels, or a street level map. It would have an entrance, and sometimes an exit. Fight to the exit/target. Hand in quest.

In truth it’s very hard to describe Hellgate: London in any way that makes sense. But I can describe it in three words, for myself.

Fun.

Addictive.

Infuriating.

Fun because, well you’re wandering London’s streets, underground, and sewers hunting demons with swords, guns, and magic. And parts of the game are very recognisable places. Even some of the tube stations are recognisable, even if the scale is really, really off. It meant for me that the first time I ever went to London, I was fascinated to see the real world places I’d hunted down imps in on my PC. The fun followed me in to reality. And experience I have yet to have repeat itself with any other game.

Addictive, there’s so much to see. Yes, many maps are randomly generated, but some are always the same. The mix means you’re never totally sure what you’re going to see next. The sheer volume of items is mind boggling. You can spend hours just hunting, looking for that perfect sword, or gun, or focus to drop, to round out your equipment.

Infuriating, you can spend hours looking for that one piece of equipment, and never see it.

Well Hellgate: London has been re-released as a Free to Play, micro-transaction based online game. And after playing five hours of it so far I can share with you the follow feeling. It’s Hellgate: London. It plays, and feels almost identical to the original. The missions/quests all seem to be the same, though some are now repeatable so you can raise faction friendliness. The items are the same. It’s the same.

But it’s also a little different. As I said there are now micro-transactions in place with in the game. These vary from inventory size boosts, to the ability to unlock, locked mod slots on your equipment. New, but so far as I can see, not in any way intrusive. It certainly does not feel like you HAVE to spend money to get further.

In addition, it is now online only. That’s not to say it’s mandatory multi-player, though you do have the option to play with others if you wish to. More that the single-player campaign has to be played while logged in. Which can be a slight drag now and then if you end up on a laggy channel, or if your connection has gone down.

Also there are now daily quests, for various items. A nice, and unobtrusive addition to the game. And finally the, sometimes, terminal graphics overload when too many creatures, and special effects were going off on screen seem to have been ironed out.

Apparently this new release also includes the two expansions from the original as later stage content. As well as the Hellgate: Tokyo areas. I can’t confirm the latter as I am still crawling through Covent Garden at the moment.

It’s a pretty enough game. With reasonably good character creation options, certainly on a par with World of Warcraft prior to the Cataclysm expansion. Though the colouring of the game is rather more muted than most gamers might like. That said, I do think that the graphics may have had something of an overhaul, as I don’t remember there being quite this level of model detail on the creatures and NPC’s. Though that may just be my failing memory.

(Image via www.Islabit.com)

The sound quality is pretty average. The music is, nice. There’s not much more to say about it. But the voice acting is fairly okay, if a little annoying at times. Seriously, I wonder did the original developers actually bother listening to real Londoners, or just watch Mary Poppins a few times.

So about now you’re asking yourself is this worth my playing it?

And I have to answer, maybe.

If you were a fan of the original then I would have to say, absolutely yes. This is, again from my perspective, the Hellgate: London we all remember, with a few tweaks that actually make it better. And if you liked it back then, but if like me you missed the expansions then definitely go for it. After all, it’s free to play. And as it comes in a relatively small, 5 Gigabyte download it won’t have you waiting days to play it either.

Otherwise, well I don’t think you have anything to lose by trying it out. The storyline is good fun, and has an interesting ending for the “single-player” campaign unless it’s been changed. And as I said it is free. But this is not WoW. There’s not a lot of carefully thought out attack rotations. Though it does have 3 characters classes with 2 sub-classes each, and each class has a wildly different play style, so that combined with the many randomly generated maps does make for some replay value.

All said I truly believe this game matches up reasonably well against Star Wars: The Old Republic, Aion, and most definitely Rappelz or the other Korean grindfest games. So maybe give it a try, and let me know what you think of it yourself.

Graphics: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Gameplay: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

It may only compare as okay to more modern titles, but I feel it wipes the floor with most other free to play games, with the possible exception of Star Trek Online.

(But personally 10/10 because I am a Hellgate addict. I even read the comic, and the novels after all.)

30/04/2013

I love Borderlands, just not for the boss fights.

Borderlands is possibly my favourite first person shooter of all time. It seamlessly blends the looting fun of Diablo style games with the fun of scoring head-shots against non-player characters from truly ridiculous distances. It is in a word, awesome, and on Saturday morning I finished my first play through of it. It took me about 20 hours of play time to run through the game, I insisted on doing every single side-quest, and I can say I enjoyed 99% of the game.

But am I alone in feeling that after the first level boss fight that they quickly became…unsatisfying?

In the first area your weapons are kind of weak-sauce, they generally do very low damage, rather anemic elemental effects and the fact that you have built up precisely no level of proficiency in them means you’ll pound away forever at both the mini bosses, and the end of level one. You shields are laughable, and your health-points vanish so fast that you almost want to scream out “I’m melting, I melting! What a world, what a world!”

By the time I found myself taking out an insane boss and his equally insane rocket firing car at the end of the second main area there was no struggle. One death on my side, and he fell. The third boss I didn’t even die, I just scored a few very long-range head-shots against him with a rocket-launcher and boom, the loot be mine.

And you know what? I was alright with that. They were just level bosses. Important story-wise, but not much more than that. They were after all simply overpowered versions of the standard bad-guys. I knew, just knew that the end-game boss would be EPIC!

And I was both right, and wrong. I won’t spoil much, just in case like me there’s someone who is a latecomer to both the worlds of Xbox, and Borderlands out there reading this. But I will say that the last boss is frikkin’ HUGE. It’s e-fucking-normous! It has multiple attack forms. Multiple damage types. And a pool of health-points that Cthulhu would be proud to possess.

Some reviewers feel that this is an example of lameness, are they mad? Borderlands was better for the inclusion of eldritch horrors such as this. And yes, there are more including a giant living nest, with a vagina for a face. I fuck you not, a vagina for a face! (image via www.gaminglives.com )

It also unfortunately, for me at least, has a fatal weakness that is incredibly easy to exploit. I died twice attempting to kill this monstrosity. Twice. The third attempt I never once worried about my character dying.

And so I walked away from my favorite FPS, to date, feeling unsatisfied. The ending movie was…sweet I guess. I mean I still know nothing about the hot chick with the blue eyes, though I am reliably informed that I will by the end of game 2. And yup I still have four whole DLC levels to play through, as soon as I get them. But Borderlands itself let me down with its bosses, though strangely not the mini-bosses most of whom were utterly bad-ass.

Area one = Sheer Terror, multiple deaths, and loot I cheered for having.

All other bosses = Load up, cross-hair on target, squeeze trigger, don’t let go til you hear a click. Repeat if, and I do mean if, needed.

All that said, if you have an Xbox, or other machine that Borderlands is available for you should buy it. And you should, while saying goodbye to a full day of your life, play the ever living crap out of it. It is insanely fun, stylish, beautiful, and just incredibly playable. But the joy of it is definitely in the areas themselves, and not in beating the bosses.

09/04/2013

Easy to use character modelling for the budding comic artist?

Had a moment of, what passes with me for genius, the other day. Of course it’s something that I’m totally, absolutely, completely certain every artsy-sketchy geek type person has had before, but just in case it’s a trick that has passed some of you by, here it is.

If you’re kind of an inexperienced artist like I am, creating the look of a character, faces, body-type and all the rest  from imagination is kind of tough challenge. I mean sure, once you know what they actually look like you can, with considerable effort, do it. But it’s creating that first, something lifelike from nothing, that kills brain cells.

Well anyway, there I was playing Skyrim. I’d decided to make a new character and had just made it through the opening. I was standing in front of the executioners block, and the game had just asked me to create my character. So I started building how she looked, dark hair, white eyes, pale-dirty skin, kissable  lips, ox-blood war-paint and of course a nice sexy scar running down her right cheek, when it suddenly hit me. The games character generation, and even more so the preceding game Oblivion, gives you the ability to create life-like faces that you can screen-capture and use as baseline references for drawing character faces, and even bodies.

You can then modify them as you wish to make them unique, but the crucial part, creating the basic face has been made much easier. Best of all even creating the models themselves will give invaluable experience in understanding what makes a face look more or less real.

And while I am sure there are plenty who will moan and say that this is cheating. But is it really? Yes, you are using an existing system in a way it was never intended, but you are creating the look of the model even if you don’t necessarily understand how the system itself works. And don’t most artists use references? What makes a photograph purer? Surely it’s better to use an image of someone who never existed. To learn by manipulating a malleable, resettable model when a character starts, and stops looking real?

Anyway thought I’d share that. Maybe it’ll help someone else out.

Oh and an afterthought. So many games have this sort of character creation now, but there’s actually one particular free-to-play PC based MMORPG named Perfect World International. It’s okay to play, a pretty standard Korean grind-fest. But it has the most near-infinitely adjustable character creation system I have ever seen. You can with effort make character models which are anything from divinely beautiful to hideously ugly with it. And as I said free to download, free to sign up, and free to play (if the grinding madness happens to strike.).

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