Archive for January, 2007

Arsenal dent Spurs’ Carling Cup hopes

January 25th, 2007

Julio Baptista was both villain and hero as Arsenal’s youngsters dented Spurs’ Carling Cup hopes by coming back from 2-0 down to finish with a 2-2 draw last night in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane. Arsenal were 2-0 down at half time following Berbatov’s header and an own-goal by Baptista. However, Arsenal gradually started to dominate the match, and produced some fine football, especially in the second half. Spurs were dangerous on the break, and Almunia had to make a couple of fine saves, but as the match progressed it became all Arsenal.

Fabregas was excellent as usual, and Baptista made up for his earlier mistake by scoring twice. For the first one he showed great strength and determination to get through the Spurs defence and fire past Robinson. The equaliser came shortly after with a lovely pass from Fabregas over the defense to meet Hoyte’s run, who placed an exquisite cross into Baptista’s path to tap in for the equaliser.

It was a great comeback in a match that never became dull, and yet again the youngsters showed why Arsene Wenger places so much faith in them. With two away goals and the return leg to come next week in The Emirates stadium, it’s looking more likely that Arsenal will be meeting Chelsea in the final.

The only downside from the match is injury worries. Aliadiere was playing well but had to go off injured, to be replaced by Eboue, who played in midfield. Diaby was later replaced by Hleb, after having a hit-and-miss match with some good spells, but getting caught in possession too often and too many passes going astray. He still needs some work to complete his return from his nasty ankle injury last year. Later in the match Hleb himself had to come off, after pulling up injured. Flamini came on to replace him, and played well as usual. Things got a little worrying towards the end as Eboue seemed to get injured again – possibly the same injury as seemed to affect him towards the end of the Manchester United match on Sunday. Unfortunately he had to play on, and seemed to run off the worst of the affects, but that may have worsened the problem in the long run. It will be interesting to see who plays in Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Bolton, and who may be rested for the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final next week against Spurs.

Robin van Persie out for at least six weeks

January 24th, 2007

Last Sunday’s victory by Arsenal over Manchester United has come at a cost – Robin van Persie fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot while scoring the equaliser, and is likely to be out for at least six weeks. As Arsenal’s leading goalscorer this season this is quite a blow.

The only consolation is that Henry’s other strike partners such as Adebayor, Aliadiere and Baptista are all having runs of good form. It’s likely that Adebayor will get preference over the others. Arsenal will need all the strikers we can muster during this busy period while they compete in four competitions. However we may well see Aliadiere leaving during the January transfer window, despite his great performance against Liverpool in the Carling Cup.

Tonight sees the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Spurs. Wenger looks set to field his usual selection of reserves/youth players, but if they can repeat their performance against Liverpool they should be fine. Last night Chelsea secured their place in the Carling Cup final, so it’s going to be tough for the young Gunners to go all the way. However, Arsenal’s team spirit is great at the moment, so they have that over the Blues :)

Halo news catchup

January 23rd, 2007

So, the big news is that Halo 3 was officially announced, with a release in 2007 confirmed – though no specific date. At E3 in May a new announcement trailer was shown for Halo 3, and I updated my screen saver program in its honour. You can download the trailer and the screen saver over at Halo Screen Saver.com – nearly 26,000 downloads so far since June!

Later last year at the X06 event, there were several other Halo-related announcements. Halo Wars from Ensemble Studios was announced. This will be a real-time strategy (RTS) game based in the Halo universe at a time prior to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Ensemble Studios are responsible for the successful Age of Empires franchise, so there’s a good chance that this will turn out to be a good game. There are concerns over how an RTS will play on a console with a controller, rather than on a PC with a keyboard and mouse. However, the recent Lord of the Rings RTS on the XBox 360 showed how it could be done, so I have high hopes. No release date has been announced for Halo Wars yet, but there is a CGI trailer available over at the official Halo Wars site.

The second announcement was that Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings and King Kong fame, would be teaming up with Microsoft to create a new games studio called Wingnut Interactive, and that they would be working on a series of games based in the Halo universe. Jackson was vague about the details, but talked about a new type of gaming experience that could be more like a movie. Perhaps this means episodic content delivered via XBox Live, or something akin to the old laserdisc arcade games like Dragon’s Lair. I think Jackson doesn’t necessarily know exactly how to do what he wants, but feels that there is an opportunity to do something different. Only time will tell if anything comes of this, and if the end product will be any good.

Late last year Bungie also annouced that there would be new a set of maps for Halo 2 available in Spring 2007, and that they would be available over XBox Live Marketplace for XBox 360 owners only. They also announced that they would be holding a multiplayer beta for Halo 3, also in Spring 2007, with various ways of getting into the beta. It looks like I may have got into this – confirmations will be going out this week. There will be more chances to get into the beta later this year. North American players can play 3 hours of Halo 2 online in February and then rush to register on halo3.com – the first 13,333 will get into the beta. Also, there will be special copies of Crackdown, a new XBox 360 game out shortly, which will include invites to the Halo 3 beta. Also, community sites outside North America have places on the beta available, and some are still giving them away. I got mine from an Irish gaming site World Gamer Live, and I’m very grateful to them. These announcements were accompanied by a CGI ad for Halo 3 that appeared on US TV. While it’s not generated using the game engine, it was based on actual models and game assets provided by Bungie, and it looks beautiful.

Since then, Bungie have been releasing bits of information over at Bungie.net via the Weekly Updates. Some information on new multiplayer maps, new weapons such as a revamped Assault Rifle, and new vehicles such as the Mongoose ATV has been released, and this was fleshed out with a “viddoc” called “Et Tu, Brute”. This 7 minute video showed footage from alpha builds of the Halo 3 engine, and showcased the Brutes. Bungie staff admitted that the Brutes were not very interesting in Halo 2, and in Halo 3 they will play a large part. There will be new squad behaviour that will make all enemies more believable, new weapons such as the Brute Spiker and the Spike Grenade, as well as all the eye candy you would expect from a next-gen game. Even in the alpha build things look impressive. The video also gives glimpses of an elite with armour similar to the Arbiter’s, so it looks like he’s returning, and may well be fighting alongside the Master Chief. We also glimpse other weapons, and see rough animations of dual-wieldable swords and a Brute tearing the arms off a marine. I can’t wait for the beta!

In other Halo news, the Halo movie has hit some snags. Mainly it seems to do with money, and disagreements between the studios and Microsoft. The relationship has broken down, so Microsoft are looking for someone else to help fund and distribute the movie. They have stated that they will not do it themselves, since they are not in the movie business. It does look like they are serious about doing it properly and not compromising the creative vision of the Halo story. Peter Jackson is also in dispute with New Line over money related to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to the extent that they are saying he will never be involved with The Hobbit. I hope they sort that out, since it would be a real shame if he wasn’t involved. As for the Halo movie, I would rather it’s done right or not at all, which seems to be the way it’s going.

The Halo Graphic Novel came out last year, as did the latest novel Ghosts of Onyx. The HGN had several stories, with one main one, “The Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor,” showing how Half-Jaw (the spec-ops Elite commander) got his name, and giving insight into the Covenant and their relationship with the Flood. Other, shorter, stories show the latest Mjolnir armour being tested by an apparently retired female Spartan; a story set in New Mombassa as the Covenant start their invasion; and “Breaking Quarantine,” which shows Sgt. Johnson escaping the Flood on Installation 04.

The HGN also contains a gallery of Halo art by several artists, and this includes a single page by Robt. McClees from Bungie. This page shows what looks like a chat transcript and details of a file download, surrounded by photos and other details, that in sum seem to suggest that Sgt. Johnson may in fact be a Spartan-I, and that Dr. Halsey was fed false information about Johnson having Boren’s Syndrome – which was supposed to be why he was not infected by the Flood. There’s also passing reference to characters from I Love Bees, so it looks like Bungie is trying to bring some of the story elements from that into the Halo “canon”.

Ghosts of Onyx, the latest Halo novel, also gives us more information on the Halo universe, talking about the Spartan-III program, and tying up several loose ends in relation to Dr. Halsey and the other Spartan-IIs. It also introduces us to a Forerunner “shield world”, and further illustrates the advanced technology of the Forerunners. The way the story ends probably means that there’s no real scope for Spartans other than the Master Chief appearing in Halo 3, though you never know.

So, 2007 is shaping up to be a busy Halo year, with the multiplayer beta and Halo 3 itself due to be released. Beyond that there’s Halo Wars on the horizon, Wingnut Interactive’s project (whatever that will be), the Halo movie, a couple more novels in the pipeline, and talk of a Halo comic also. Not all of these will arrive this year, but there’s sure to be enough information about all these to keep our appetite whetted.

Arsenal news catchup

January 23rd, 2007

OK, so season 2006-2007 is over half-way through, so there’s lots to catch up on since my last post about Arsenal. First up is transfers in and out. During the summer the two main stories were the final farewell to Dennis Bergkamp, and the sale of Ashley Cole to Chelsea. DB10 bowed out in a great testimonial in the first match in The Emirates stadium, which I was thrilled to get tickets to. I will do a proper write-up of it at a later date. Ashley Cole went to Chelsea on the last day of the transfer window, with William Gallas coming to Arsenal as part of the deal. I for one am glad to see him go, since his attitude had gone wrong, and I don’t believe he was welcome at Arsenal any more. Plus it’s great to get a defender of the calibre of William Gallas to join the side.

Other departures during the summer included Robert Pires, who went to Villareal on a free transfer, who were prepared to give him the two-year contract that Arsenal wouldn’t. Shortly after his move he got injured again, so while it’s sad to see him go, it’s probably not a huge loss for Arsenal. Also leaving was Sol Campbell, who ended up in Portsmouth after lots of speculation that he would leave England. His loss was ameliorated somewhat by the arrival of Gallas, but Campbell was a great buy for Harry Redknap, and he has performed really well for Pompey this year. Campbell has just been joined on the south coast by Lauren during the January transfer window. Lauren has been out injured for months and months, and during this time Eboue and Hoyte have had the chance to show their worth. Apparently Wenger could not justify bringing Lauren back into the squad ahead of them, and so Lauren went somewhere that he would get regular football. I’m sure it helped that Kanu was also there as well as Campbell, plus Tony Adams is helping Harry Redknap on the coaching side of things. I wish them all well, and it’s great to see them having success in this years Premiership.

During the summer, Jose Antonio Reyes left for Real Madrid, with Julio Baptista coming the other way. It’s supposed to be a one year loan, with presumably the option to make things permanent at the end of the year. Since returning to Spain Reyes has been much happier, but has been giving out about Arsenal and London. He really didn’t like it there, and does not look like he wants to come rushing back. Baptista has taken a while to get going, and still has some rough edges, but he put 4 past Liverpool in a recent Carling Cup match where Jeremie Aliadiere played out of his skin, so he looks like he might be worth keeping. Wenger was after him during the summer of 2005, and we’re getting glimpses of why Arsene valued him so much.

In terms of performances, Arsenal were runners-up in the Champions League Final last season, and have progressed through the group stages pretty well. They now face PSV Eindhoven in the next round, and should be able to overcome them. In the Premiership they got off to an uneven start, with several home draws in the new stadium to teams they should have beaten. Coupled with some away defeats to the likes of Sheffield United before Christmas, and an extended period with Henry out injured, pundits were writing off the Gunners early in the season. It didn’t help that Chelsea and Man United were pulling away from the rest of the teams. However, things are definitely improving, with Henry back, the youngsters stepping up the the plate, and two recent cup wins against Liverpool in Anfield to dump them out of the Carling and FA cup competitions, topped off with coming from a goal behind on Sunday to win 2-1 against Man United courtesy of two late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry. Arsenal have now done the “Leage Double” on Man United, beating them away courtesy of Adebayor’s single goal and a great team performance, and Sunday’s victory.

However, Arsenal currently lie in 4th place, a point behind Liverpool, 6 behind Chelsea, and 12 behind Man United. The team are still saying they’ve a small chance, but realistically at this stage 2nd place may be the best they can hope for. Chelsea are having problems internally, with a rift supposedly opening up between Mourinho and Abramovitch, and long-term injury to John Terry damaging their defensive capabilities. They look vulnerable, and Liverpool easily beat them 2-0 at the weekend. So, the second half of the Premiership season looks exciting, with Arsenal having an outside chance of a top two finish, progression in the FA Cup where they face Bolton on Sunday (I’ll be there!) and the Carling Cup with the first leg of the semi-final against Spurs on Wednesday night, and hopefully relatively easy progression into the next round of the Champion’s Leage. The team are growing in stature and understanding, the young players are developing into a strong, cohesive unit, and looks like a team that will really come of age in the next season or two. For a “transition” season, it’s not shaping up that badly.

Let’s get this show (back) on the road

January 23rd, 2007

So, as you can tell, this is the first post in a long while. I’ve been doing lots of work in the background moving to use WordPress, and consolidating posts from several Blogger blogs into this blog. Plus I’ve been doing work on My Halo News.com and Halo Screen Saver.com, which has taken up a lot more time than expected. I’ve found WordPress nice to work with while setting up this blog, so I decided to use it for the CMS for My Halo News.com. As part of doing that I’ve been trying to import the 20,000+ articles into WordPress – with mixed success. Mostly there in there now, but there’s around 2,500 duplicates I have to sort out, plus I have to change the automated news aggregation job so that the articles get posted to WordPress automatically. Hopefully that will be sorted out soon. Apart from all that, there’s still some look and feel work to do here and at My Halo News.com, but I’ve decided to stop letting that get in the way of posting here, since there’s lots of stuff I keep meaning to talk about. So, let’s get going – again!