Friday, July 31, 2009

Many Faces Of Me

After posting some images of my Avatar in my last post, I was inspired to have a look at the many in-game avatars I've created. This is just a sampling of what I grabbed, and are missing some fun ones, in particular, my character from Saints Row 2.

From Left to Right:
Top: Rock Band 2, Fallout 3, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Guitar Hero: World Tour
Bottom: Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Mass Effect, Guitar Hero: World Tour, Fallout 3

The top row R6:V2 character is my Snake Eyes inspired clothing, while the one on the bottom row is showing off the face underneath the mask.

Sorry for the appalling quality of the images that go into making this collage, but they're photographs taken of the image from my projector against my wall. If you look at the full, giant sized image, you can make out the individual pixels!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Testing The New New Experience

Considering that the present Xbox dashboard is still referred to as the New Xbox Experience, or NXE, I'm not sure what to call the newest update, due some time next month. NXE was introduced some time in November of last year, and brought with it a whole new clean dashboard, party chat options, and, most noticeably, Avatars. One of the biggest additions that the new NXE update will include is the ability to purchase full Xbox 360 games from the Marketplace storefront, storing and playing them directly from your hard drive. All this, and much more will be available for every Xbox with an internet connection from mid to late August onwards.

But I have it now!

A few days ago I was informed through one of the many computer game websites I read that there was a site set up by Microsoft where you could apply for access to the new update early, on a Beta test basis. I signed up, and yesterday evening, minutes before going to bed, I received an email informing me I had been accepted. Turning on my Xbox this morning, I was greeted with the query "Would you like to update now?", and I excitedly accepted! Some six minutes later and I was looking at... oh... the same old dashboard.

At first glance, visually, there is nothing new. The dashboard remains the same as the NXE style, but then, that wasn't what was getting an update. I clicked into my Achievements list and found my first new feature. The first blade now shows a cumulative Achievement score for every game that is registered to my Xbox, titled Achievement Progress. Every game I could possibly get Achievements in. I now know that I have 12065 Gamerscore out of a possible 46645G. That is 632 Achievements unlocked from a potential 2088. I have less than a third of the Gamerscore available to me. Wow! I'm not entirely surprised. I've only experienced a brief period of being a Gamerscore whore, and I've only gotten over 1,000G in two games. The Achievement Progress blade also shows an icon for each completed game, of which I currently only have one; Avatar. Despite having over 1,000G in Burnout, as well as unlocking all the Achievements that come on the disk, I don't get an icon for that because I have yet to complete all the Achievements from downloaded content (DLC).

Realising that the update was at least working now, I dashed off to the Avatar editor. One of the most discussed new additions to the dashboard was an Avatar Marketplace, where you can spend real money to buy virtual clothes for a tiny digital you. My friends and I had chuckled about that for some weeks now, debating the kind of person that would do that.

Turns out, I'm that kind of person. Dammit! Don't judge me! They had Steampunk gear! My Avatar now dresses the way I'd love to dress in real life. I'm jealous of tiny virtual me! He flaunts his cool goggles and clothing at me every time I see him.

Apart from the new Marketplace, the Avatar editor seems to have been given an overhaul. It now runs much, much faster, with the various panels opening as soon as you click on them. And there is an Awards area, where you can get the clothes you won in games! Yes, thanks to the newest update, we now have the feature every Xbox player has guessed at since Avatars were introduced. Games can now award you clothing for your Avatar, making little you into an advertising board for your favorite games. Not something I'm complaining about at all. In fact, I'm be only too glad to show off to friends what games I love to play!

One of the final additions to Avatars that I can see is the ability to purchase Props. While playing in the Marketplace, little Quaid played with a radio controlled Warthog from Halo. He looked so gosh darned cute. can't wait to see what other Props appear over the coming months. Obvious ones such as guitars and drums for Rock Band and Guitar Hero spring to mind, but I'd love to see how creative and inventive game companies get with their Props. As well as the Warthog, the Monkey Island store has a huge cotton bud stick and the obligatory chicken with a pulley in it, among others. Far too cool!

There are loads more little updates that I'm sure I'll uncover as I go along. For now, I'm off to play with the new Gears of War map pack, Dark Corners! I got me some Horde to chainsaw!

Monday, July 20, 2009

From The Earth To The Moon

July 20th is generally considered to be the anniversary of mans first steps onto the lunar soil. But much like the idea that the millennium began in the year 2000, it's a bit ambiguous. You see, in the US, it was indeed the 20th, but here in Ireland, and most importantly, in Greenwich in England, it was already into the early hours of Monday, the 21st of July, 1969. Regardless, we chose to celebrate the occasion with the US, and had a special movie night tonight to mark the historic event.

Opening the evening early at 7pm, we watched Mythbusters NASA Moon Landing Special, wherein they bust some of the bigger so-called "reasons" that conspiracy theorists give to "prove" that the moon landings were fake. By then, a few more people had shown up, and before we started into the trailers, we had a grand crowd of nine people in our living room, watching the big screen. The lights went down, and I started up the trailers.

It has become almost a tradition now that movie night at my place always opens with a number of new trailers for upcoming cinema releases. Tonight was no exception, and we watched trailers for Planet 51, Zombieland, The Last Airbender and District 9, among others. All in all, we got through nine trailers, ending with Moon, right before the feature presentation.

The room went silent as I placed the disk in the Xbox drive, waited for the menu to appear and pressed "Play". The music swelled, and The Dish began.

Claire and I went to see The Dish on release way back in 2000 in the cinema, and have loved it ever since. We bought the DVD as soon as it was released as well, and watching it tonight, I realised I haven't seen it enough. I remember the silence in the theater as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface and uttered his immortal line. The joy of watching a DVD with friends is that you can chat and joke about scenes, characters or events, and we did. But once those grainy images of a ladder and suited-up spaceman appeared on the big screen, everyone was silent. There was hardly the sound of breathing from all nine of us.

40 years on, mans first steps onto the dusty surface of another world still have the power to silence us, and inspire us to dream.

To everyone involved in the Apollo program, from the men who walked on the moon to the people who built the machines to do it, from those who programmed the computers to those who stitched the spacesuits, thank you all for making a wondrous dream a reality.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe

Seeing the unequaled talent of Sir Anthony Hopkins delivering the final monologue from Bladerunners Roy Batty, played by the incredible Rutger Hauer, sent shivers down my spine when I saw it just now on TV. The dialgue is haunting and beautiful, and to hear Hopkins recite it so naturally is surprisingly emotional.

Ironically, despite the fact that this is an advertisment for Sky HD, there is no HD version around! Harhar!

The original Bladerunner scene is easily one of my favourite moments from cinema history.

All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Still Awake

It's gone 10:30pm, and I've now been awake for an astonishing 18 and a half hours without even so much as a nap. In normal circumstance, I would be dead on my feet by now. But, while I feel like I'll be enjoying my sleep tonight, I'm not feeling exhausted. I played 12 songs in Rock Band back to back around the 6pm mark, and got 100% in several of them. I'm almost treating these last few hours like some warped experiment. Testing my reaction times in games like Rock Band and Scene It!, as well as N+ on XBLA, I seem to still have a good level of coordination.

Regardless, this whole event has been a wonderfully strange way to pass an otherwise uneventful Friday. And I made a t-shirt!

Tomorrow I head home for a few days of home cooked food and pampering. Later!

Showers Don't Help

  • Just had a nice cool shower to try to slow down.
  • Spent entire time fine tuning RPG plot details.
  • Need waterproof markers and notepad for shower.
  • Still buzzing.
  • Don't feel that this needs it's own individual post, but I just yawned for the first time since 4am this morning. Seems lying out on a super comfy couch watching Mythbusters might just slow me down. It's certainly taken my mind off of any RPGs. Not because Mythbusters in boring or slow, but just because I love watching it so much. Maybe I'll get a catnap this afternoon after all.

Things I've Learned From Being Awake Since 4am

  • My brain and mouth are moving at a mile a minute. I can't stop talking. And when I talk, it's non-stop stream-of-conscience.
  • When I logged into Gmail this morning, I had three unread mails from three different people that I actually know! At 4am! I have to go back to June 4th before I find three mails together on the same day from different people, and even then, two of those three are automated system mails! Going back as far as the start of 2009 I can't find another day that I have three mails on the same day from three people I know! Weird!
  • I realised I hadn't read my Reader Feed at all on Thursday, so I had over 100 posts to read. Good thing I was up at 4! Maybe, subconsciously I knew I'd forgot to read my Feeds and that's what was keeping me awake?!?
  • I got hungry long before anywhere was open. I even got into town 30 minutes before Puccinos opened! Ended up nursing a coffee in O'Briens until nine o'clock.
  • There is a lot of wet stuff falling from the skies.
  • It's 10am, six hours after I first got up, and I show no signs of slowing down. Updates as they happen...

Insomnia Sucks

Yes, in a revelation that is sure to shock no-one, insomnia sucks. Not only am I wide awake at the ungodly hour of 4am, having had very little sleep since I went to bed a little before midnight, but I can't even muster enough enthusiasm or inspiration to come up with a witty title for this post. Instead, I'm just being blunt and to the point. Also, expect numerous grammatical errors and incorrect spelling.

I'm not usually the one to suffer from insomnia. As soon as I crawl into bed, I can be out like a light in minutes, especially if I attempt to read anything in bed. It's like a Pavlov's Dog effect at this point. Bed+reading=sleep, guaranteed. Usually. This is probably the first time in recent memory that I've been so bad I just had to get up and do something. Normally it's Claire that wakes me from my deep slumber to tell me she can't sleep and is going to get up, to which I do my best Frankensteins Monster impression, reply "mmmurrhhh" and roll over.

So, what's keeping me up this morning? I could easily blame poetic justice. Just a few hours ago, after finishing up playing DS at Robs place, I mocked Neill for his inability to sleep the night before. In response to "I got to sleep at 6am and was awake again at 9", I said "I got to sleep around 11pm and wandered out of bed just before 10 this morning. Hah!" So... yeah. I totally deserve this to be honest.

But based on my erratic, yet speedy, heart rate I'm going to go out on a limb here and blame the Mars bar and one-and-a-half liters of Lucozade I had while playing DS at Robs place for my currently alert but unstable status. Yup. Yeah. That'll do it all right.

On the upside, my sleep deprived state has driven me to insane, yet crystal-clear thoughts. I have decided to entirely kill my attempted Tuesday evening RPG for the time being. I shall have to wait until a far more sane hour to text my players regarding this fact. Chances are, a few of them will read this before they get that text anyway. On the other hand, I am now considering running not one, not two, but three RPGs over not four, not three, but two days!! Yes. That means running two games on one day. Insanity, I hear you cry!! Allow me to explain.

Previously to this early mornings events, I had offered to run an RPG on Monday evenings for Kris, Neill and Gar, though this has yet to be confirmed. Recent Mondays have found us sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, either playing Xbox out of boredom, or watching a movie, also out of boredom. The biggest issues with these are that Xbox ends up excluding some of the people present, and movies are a very passive activity, at a time that I would be much happier doing something with. So an RPG fits nicely. Also, the prospective players have been turning up when there has been nothing of interest on, so surely when there is an RPG on (which will hopefully be interesting), they will continue to be around.

A similar situation has grown around our Sunday afternoon group. Meeting for breakfast in town is great, and I do love getting together to catch up with the weeks news, but afterwords, we've been at a loss with what to do. As with the Monday group, the Xbox has been fired up out of boredom, but it doesn't last long. It seems that everyone apart from myself has grown tired of Rock Band already. Card games and board games got dragged out, but I'm fairly sick of replaying Battlestar Galactica and Fluxx (both awesome games, but I need an extended break for a while), and it's hard to get everyone to agree on a game with just a few minutes notice. So I got thinking, why not run an RPG? I usually think of RPGs as evening events, running after dinner, from seven until late, but that's not really necessary unless it's mid-week. On a weekend, why not start at, say, two, and finish at six. In fact, that would seem to suit my friends better. They still get home nice and early for work on Monday morning.

And that's where the third game comes in. Some of the players from my first Spirit of the Century campaign (have I mentioned before what a huge success that was?!? I have? Oh... well... it was. Huge!) can't really make it mid-week, due to a variety of commitments. But a Sunday evening game might suit them nicely. Say, from seven until half ten, eleven o'clock? That gives me an hour leeway between games, time to grab dinner and re-energise (without Luzoade from now on), and get the two player groups swapped around. Easy.

I think I could totally do it. Yes, it is now creeping towards 6am as I continue to write, so that may have more than a little to do with my hyperactive state, but my games are very much player driven, requiring very little work on my part. Events are moved forward by what they want, expect or make happen. Apart from a small number of special event sessions, my previous Spirit of the Century game (huge!) required almost no preparation between sessions, and I usually only worried about what I was going to do each evening an hour or two before everyone turned up. To quote Mythbusters, I think two games in one day, and three games a week is... "Plausible!" And we all know that it'll only be through scientific testing that we can learn if this myth is "Proven", or "Busted".

The next thing to decide is what game when. Currently, I'm happy to attempt a second run at my Spirit of the Century game, Mouse Guard and Dogs In The Vineyard, three dramatically differing games, but each based on the episodic style of play; adventures are usually wrapped up in a single evening rather than extending over several play sessions. I'd love to run a superhero game, but I find it unusually difficult to come up with an arc, which is usually where I start with my campaigns, breaking it down into sessions, or events. Whenever I try to think of an arc, I just end up with one I've read in comics already. Dammit! Why must I be such a comic nerd?!?

So there we have it. A kind of manifesto against boredom, and in support of creativity and hyperactiveness. Now all I have to do is gauge interest of everyone apart from myself. Unfortunately, I'm not actually around this weekend, which would be the perfect time to start asking, while my excitement towards such a big undertaking is at a high, and my brain has failed to truly realise how completely, utterly, stupidly insane it's being.

Insomnia sucks but it can be strangely productive.