Archive for May, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III

May 20th, 2005

I saw Star Wars: Episode III last night, and I came away having enjoyed it more than I expected to. After the disappointment of Episodes I and II, I had set my expectations fairly low for Episode III. Now, in some respects, I was right – the dialogue is rubbish, some of the acting is poor, and Natalie Portman’s role is diminished so much she might as well not have been in the movie.

However, the technical aspects of the film cannot be faulted. The special effects are great, the locations well rendered, and Yoda looks better than ever. The whole fight scene between Anakin and Obi Wan on the lava planet looks spectacular. I found the opening space battle scene a bit confusing to watch yet impressive, but I think I hadn’t adjusted properly to the angle I was looking at it from – front row, over to the side.

In the end, Anakin’s fall to the dark side was not convincing, especially the particular scene when he switches allegiance. The script can be blamed somewhat, and Hayden Christensen doesn’t have the acting ability to carry the scene without a good script, so it seemed somewhat anticlimactic. Even his final transformation into Darth Vader seemed to lack any real drama. Christensen didn’t seem able to fill Vader’s boots either physically or metaphorically.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy the movie. There’s lots of detail in there for the Star Wars fan to notice and enjoy – the Millenium Falcon (or a ship just like it) can be seen docking in one shot, there’s early versions of various spacecraft, including the Emperor’s shuttle, and many more things like that. I did get carried away by the story, with only brief moments where a clumsy line or inconsistent behaviour from the characters jolted me back to reality. It does bring closure to the story, and no doubt these prequels have brought the Star Wars universe to the attention of a lot of new fans.

XBox 360 backward compatibility will not require re-compilation

May 20th, 2005

According to Major Nelson, the backwards compatibility for the XBox 360 will not require re-compilation, nor will it require purchasing a new version of the games. Apparently the goal is that every XBox game will work on XBox 360.

What this says to me is that backwards compatibility will be implemented through emulation. Now, they may use pre-compiled binaries to complement this, however that could be more complicated than useful. I think that they will get the emulator working with the top titles (including Halo and Halo 2), and endeavour to get it working with as many other titles also. The games that bypass APIs and go direct to hardware will be the ones that cause the problems, and they may end up being impossible to emulate. In these cases, pre-compiled binaries may be the answer.

In the end of the day, whatever method they use, it means that you will be able to play Halo and Halo 2 on the XBox 360, without buying a new version of the game.

Red vs Blue – Season 3 comes to an end

May 17th, 2005

Red vs Blue bring Season 3 to an end with Episode 57. Finally they use a feature from Halo 2 multi-player that I have been waiting for them to take advantage of. For you non-sponsors, hang in there, it’s worth the wait 🙂

I miss the fact that sponsoring doesn’t entitle you to a free DVD this season. Mind you, for the small fee they charge, it’s probably a bit much to ask for hi-res videos, early access to them, and a free DVD in a proper case with box art – with easter eggs included – to be shipped to Ireland! I suppose I’ll just have to order it via the store just like everyone else to ensure my collection is complete 🙂

Playstation 3 details announced at E3

May 17th, 2005

The Playstation 3 details have been announced at Sony’s press conference at the E3 expo. You can see the details for yourself over at Eurogamer. However, two items in the specs caught my attention. First, this:

Communication: Ethernet (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T) x 3 (input x 1 + output x 2)

Why would the PS3 need 2 Ethernet output ports? Does this mean it is effectively a 2-port hub? Along with its Wi-Fi capabilities, this is an interesting feature, though I can’t quite think of an exact use for it right now – except maybe daisy-chaining your Xbox and Xbox 360 through your PS3 🙂

Secondly, this:

Controller: Network (over IP)

This would appear to mean that you can control the PS3 over your LAN – somehow. Does this mean that it will be suitable for placing somewhere in a comms room in your digital multi-room multi-media home, and use the controllers over IP, well beyond the range of Bluetooth? Who knows – but it’s intriguing.

The XBox 360 is going to have a real fight on its hands.

XBox 360 will be backwards compatible – sort of

May 17th, 2005

At last night’s pre-E3 Microsoft press event about the XBox 360, it emerged that only the “best selling” XBox titles will be compatible with the XBox 360. Eurogamer has the details here. This sounds to me like the hard disk will include pre-compiled binaries of the most popular games. The program code for games such as Halo will be recompiled and made work for the changed hardware (both CPU and graphics chip have been changed for the XBox 360), and when the XBox 360 sees that you have inserted the disc from one of its “compatible” games, it will run the compatible version of the code from the hard disk, and read the game’s data files from the DVD as usual.

This approach is quite a good one. It means that you will still be able to play Halo and Halo 2 on your XBox 360, along with all the big name games from the XBox, ensuring that the XBox 360 has some existing games to compliment the relatively small list of launch titles so far announced. It is also possible that more games will become compatible over time via downloads over XBox Live. Publishers may be able to provide a XBox 360 “upgrade” for their existing games which can be downloaded as desired.

However, the PS3 details have been announced, and it’s looking very good. The XBox 360 will have a big challenge on its hands, and I don’t know if the Master Chief will be enough to win the contest this time round.

Henry ruled out of FA Cup Final

May 17th, 2005

According to Arsenal.com, Henry aggravated an Achilles tendon injury in the match against Everton last week, and so will miss Saturday’s FA Cup Final against Manchester United in Cardiff.

Wenger will make a decision regarding Reyes’ fitness in the next day or two, but it looks like everyone else will be fit for the match. Arsenal will be wearing their red strip for the match, and will be using the North dressing room. I can’t remember if that’s the “lucky” dressing room 🙂

Who will make Halo 3?

May 17th, 2005

narcogen over at rampancy has an interesting take on the question of whether Bungie will be doing Halo 3. Based on the precedents that Bungie have already set with Marathon: Infinity and Myth 3, he raises the possibility that Bungie may not develop Halo 3 themselves, but that some other developers will continue the franchise.

Having read his piece, and mulled it over, it led me to think about this question – who exactly are Bungie, and what makes a game a Bungie game? For me personally, Bungie are the people that made Halo: Combat Evolved – that’s my first experience of their work. That Bungie is different from the Bungie that made Pathways Into Darkness, Marathon, and Myth. For a start, they had become part of Microsoft, but also they had grown in size, and some of the personnel had changed. And again, the Bungie that created Halo 2 was not the same as the Bungie I first experienced. The team assembled to create Halo 2 saw new faces join, and some old ones depart for pastures new. If you look at the credits pages in the Halo and Halo 2 manuals, you can see how many more people had become involved with Bungie in the creation of Halo 2.

But then, this is to be expected. Change is the only constant, nature is a Heraclitean fire. If Bungie hadn’t changed, there would be no Halo. And I expect Bungie to change again, and produce something new, and hopefully it will be at least as great as the Halo franchise.

But what about Halo 3? Does it actually matter if Bungie does not make it? Well, it depends on what you mean by make. For me, the key thing that has made Halo stand out is its story – and I’m not alone. Bungie has a history with Marathon and Halo of creating games and placing them in universes that are realized enough to support literally years of speculation.

The creative forces behind these stories are a big part of what Bungie is to me. And it is these forces that would be missing if Bungie do not make Halo 3. However, I believe that the story of Halo 3 is already created to some extent. There’s a shot from a video taken in the Bungie offices during the Halo 2 development that clearly makes reference to the Master Chief and the Arbiter at The Ark – something that does not appear in Halo 2, but would be likely to occur in Halo 3.

I think that when Bungie set out to create Halo 2, they had the full storyline in mind, and there wasn’t necessarily going to be a Halo 3. However, time constraints and other factors meant that they could only tell half the story – leaving us with the somewhat anti-climactic ending to Halo 2 that has enraged so many.

Now, conspiracy theorists may suggest that Microsoft knew that with the XBox 360 coming along, and with the PS3 as its main competitor, that they would need something big with which to fight off Sony. A console is only as good as its games, after all. So, having Halo 3 ready to release when the PS3 is released would be a good marketing strategy – Bill Gates has indicated in Time magazine that when the PS3 is released, it will run smack into Halo 3. Perhaps they “asked” Bungie to divide the game into two, leaving the final installment as not just a battle against the Covenant, but against Sony too. Personally, I don’t think this is what happened, but then I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a factor that was added to other reasons to divide the game.

So, given that the story for Halo 3 could already be written, and that the game engine and many of the artistic artifacts would already be in place, it would not be that hard for other developers to take over and finish the job, freeing up Bungie to work on something else – maybe the real PS3 killer 🙂 I can imagine the situation where in Jason Jones’ mind, his story of the Master Chief is told, even if the wider public haven’t heard the final installment yet. He may be feeling that it’s time for a new story, a new challenge.

The fly in the ointment in this scenario is that the story is not enough. Halo and Halo 2 are as good as they are because of the whole team at Bungie – artists, level designers, and very importantly, Marty O’Donnell. A Halo 3 without Marty’s music would be missing a vital component. And there are others about whom you could say the same.

Also, the multi-player aspect of Halo and Halo 2 is as important as the story. The only thing about this is that Halo 3’s mutli-player features may be no different to Halo 2. I can foresee a situation where Halo 3 players can take on Halo 2 players using XBox Live, playing the same levels, using the same match-making lists, etc. There is no need to have a different multi-player experience for Halo 3, and it would make a huge amount of sense in relation to the XBox 360 to allow Halo 3 and Halo 2 players play against one another.

In a way, the multi-player aspect of Halo has taken on a kind of separate existence. Now that the engine is in place (and can be tweaked via Autoupdate), new levels can be created at any time and released via XBox Live. There doesn’t need to be a Halo 3 for more levels to be created – as shown by the arrival of the new levels recently, with more to come in July. And it’s not likely that any new weapons or any of the game mechanics would be created for Halo 3, especially if that would prevent co-existence with Halo 2 players on Live.

So, from this perspective, Halo 3 is really about finishing the story, the single-player campaign. This story is probably already written. The engine is in place. Many artifacts are already created – they’re the same ones used in Halo 2. The levels may already have been sketched out, and storyboards for cutscenes created to some extent. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone else could come along and finish off the job.

So, would it matter if Bungie didn’t make Halo 3? I think that they have already made a some of it, and those pieces are some of the key pieces that would give the game that Bungie feeling. As long as whoever makes Halo 3 can kidnap Marty and anyone else that would be needed to ensure that it stays true to the Bungie Way, then I think we won’t be able to tell the difference.

Halo Story Page updated

May 17th, 2005

Jillybean has been keeping an eye on the HBO Forum and the HSP mailbag, and has posted some more signposts to the Tru7h over at the HSP.

Birmingham beat Arsenal on the last day of the season

May 16th, 2005

On the last Sunday of the 2004/2005 Premiership season, Birmingham beat Arsenal 2 – 1. Bergkamp equalised for the Gunners after Pandiani had put Birmingham ahead, but Heskey pounced on a Campbell pass to snatch the game for Birmingham.

Full match report here (Arsenal.com).

In many ways this was another meaningless end-of-season match, with nothing to play for for either team. It was an opportunity for Arsenal to give Freddie Ljungberg a run-out, and give Sol Campbell some more match time to hone his fitness for Saturday’s FA Cup Final clash with Manchester United. Apparently, Henry and Reyes are both injured, and their situation will be reviewed on Thursday. Henry had a slight reaction to last Wednesday’s match against Everton, while Reyes received a kick during training on Saturday. However, if they can return to full fitness, it looks like Wenger will have a full squad available for selection for the match in Cardiff.

Lets hope the match finishes with the right team in red holding up the trophy!

Fable, and getting whupped with Halo 2 on Live

May 16th, 2005

On Saturday I picked up a new XBox, primarily to play on XBox Live, since my old one can do so no longer. I also picked up Fable, which is a fantasy RPG which sees you start out as a young boy who survives the destruction of his village and is brought into the Hero’s Guild to be trained to become a Hero. Once trained, you can take on various quests, become well known, and depending on your actions, be loved, hated, or even ridiculed. The game looks great, and the gameplay is very intuitive. So far, I’ve managed to complete the training part of the game without much difficulty, and have graduated as a Hero. Apparently my first quest is to deal with a nasty wasp problem at a picnic area 🙂

I also had a session on Saturday night playing Halo 2 on XBox Live. This was my third online session, and I hadn’t played online since November. Needless to say, I sucked big time 🙂 After a little while playing in the Rumble Training matchmaking list, I was managing to get a few kills in, and ending up somewhere in the middle of the end-game stats, so I thought I’d try a few ranked games.

I first had a go at the Head to Head matchmaking list, where it’s one-on-one Slayer. The map was Warlock, my opponent knew it like the back of their hand, and spent most of the match using the active camo. I lost 10 – 0 🙂 So, then I reckoned that a larger group of players would be better, since I could possibly pick up some scraps from a bunch of players shooting each other. The Rumble Pit matchmaking list threw me into Ivory Tower against 9 other opponents – and again I was outclassed. I got one lucky kill when I threw a grenade half-way across the map and finished someone off, but that was it. My average lifespan was 20 seconds 🙂

I think that maybe my foray into the ranked matchmaking lists was premature, and a bit – or even a lot! – more training is required. However, it was fun – though it was more fun in the Rumble Training matchmaking list, where I was actually surviving for longer than 20 seconds! The only problem is that I don’t have a lot of time to play online, so the chances that I’ll improve enough to ever leave the training grounds are slim – but I’ll still have fun 🙂

I also want to take some time to explore the multi-player levels, without getting shot at. There’s always the possiblity that there’s some clues to the Tru7h hidden there somewhere.