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Politics, Vegetables and Paul and Storm

For some unknown reason, possibly just the random whims and zephers of ideas that float across my mind, I have become more interested in US politics recently. This means my normal daily diet of The Daily Show (and occasionally Colbert Report if I have time) has been joined by occasional episodes of Countdown and other things. I like Countdown, the presentation appeals to me. I haven’t been watching it long enough to know how balanced it is – He’s pretty obviously liberal, but the other side have been doing more stupid things recently – but finding a balanced news source is like looking for a needle in a club whose major clientelle is pins that dress up like needles every night and get stuck in. I do hope Obama wins. John McCain doesn’t appear to be a bad chap, at the end. When he’s actually speaking as himself – instead of reading speeches or working from incomplete information he’s been fed – he appears to have a solid grasp of reality and a fair manner. My worry is that he appears not to be able to see the balance in the information that he’s accepting, which is a bad position for a president to be in. Also, I do not like Palin. I think he should ditch Sarah Palin and swap her for Michael.

New topic. At the pub last night Tristan was demonstrating his Eee’s ability to run Mame games by playing Karateka) on it. But due to pub noise and accent-parsing, I could only hear it as “Carrotica”, your one stop shop for carrot-based erotica. For Carrots, by Carrots. With a Coleslaw department for those who like Carrot bondage. Etc. I just thought I’d share that with you.

Finally, I went to see Jonathan Coulton on Thursday, although in truth I was as much there to see Paul & Storm – two of what used to be Da Vinci’s Notebook, which has kinda-split-up-ish – as the main act. Neither disappointed in the least, especially with “Soft Rock” devolving into Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were here” as well as “Welcome to the Machine” and various other songs. And, for a £20 bet supplied by the audience, Paul performing most of “Mein Herr”:

Closing off with an epic ten minute version of The Captain’s Wife’s Lament (NSFW. Also funny):

(A full featured and contentful post today)

Computer Games Imported From Epistula

Falling Out

I’ve spent a while playing Fallout 3 now. Most of yesterday, and a portion of today.

Fallout was a turn-based RPG title with adventure elements and a more open plot than most comparative things around at the time. It is notable not only because it was quite good, but because it managed to create and maintain a unique style that it carries to this day, a seamless meshing of 1940s/50s visual and media style and tone with a modern level of technological progress. The style is distinct and very, very cool. The game was produced by Black Isle, who also made Planescape: Torment and other games I count in my top releases ever, but Black Isle no longer exist – a lot of the team are now Obsidian Entertainment – and the IP for Fallout was sold to Bethesda Softworks, most famous for the Elder Scrolls series, and especially Oblivion.

Fallout 3 is a lot like Oblivion. It shares with it, to a large degree, the more organic character generation, the graphics engine (which is pretty), the general game style and even, to an extent, the interface. I would say, in fact, that it shares as much with Oblivion as Planescape did with Baldurs Gate. They are on the same engine, and the general structure works, so this becomes a more focused, better plotted, both broader and narrower version of the earlier game. The story follows the trend of the previous Fallout games. You are a person who has had to leave your Vault for some reason, and you have to make your way and – ideally – complete your eventual quest. In this way it’s more like Oblivion, again, in that while you have the general quest, it’ll hang around forever while you help every tinpot dictator find their dog.

The quests themselves are quite open. You have an objective, and providing you complete it the world continues to be happy with you. In one example, I needed some information, but in order to do this the NPC wanted me to go intimidate someone. So I seduced one of his members of staff who gave me his password, to save me trekking across the desert looking for deadbeats.

The graphics are pretty. One of the things you get to begin with is a radio, which you can tune to things like the local government broadcast, or the pirate radio station, and these will drift in and out of signal, and the music is pretty, and it’s very easy to get immersed in the game for a long time.

I’m not massively impressed with the combat. I didn’t like it in Oblivion, and the same system in FO3 isn’t wonderful. I do like the “VATS” system, where you can pause the action, queue up shots at different locations, and play them out, but it has two limitations. First, the percentages seem off (A 95% hit chance doesn’t seem to hit very often), Second the amount of “Action points” you have to do this is not ever enough to actually down something (You may be able to munchkin this with a character build, that doesn’t matter) and you end up falling back to the old, crappy, manual method. Thirdly, while you do get some pretty slowmo action shots of your queued action, it doesn’t return control back to you quickly enough, and while you’re busy shooting Zombies One and Two, Zombie Three is eating your brains. Which is unreasonable, and then he’ll try and eat your eyes. There are too many monsters for the amount of ammo around. The audio hates my soundcard to the point where I can hear NPCs if they’re to the left or right of me, but not if straight ahead. The entire game slows down to unusablity if I try to change my haircut.

The game itself is excellent for most of the time. The visual design is wonderful, the graphics pretty, the sound well-realised and most of the major NPCs well done (Some of the minors are a bit crap, but not in a game-breaking way). A lot of the dialogue is good, but it’s a bit mixed. The game is pretty combat focused, which is a design choice rather than a criticism, but either I’m crap at the combat, or I’ve gimpped my character, or it’s too random, or something. In the game’s defence, I’m writing this while slightly frustrated at my inability to find enough ammo to get though one dungeon without resorting to a baseball bat and, eventually, my death.

Actually, I do have one remaining bit of ordinance I could try, but firing off a tactile nuke in order to destroy some scorpions seems slightly over the top.

If you liked the openness of Oblivion, but wanted it to be more fighty, I’d recommend Fallout 3. If you’re expecting Fallout 3 to be like Fallout 2, you may be disappointed.

Imported From Epistula Travel

My Extra Hour

Last weekend saw the end of British Summer time, and you could tell it in the weather. I was heading down to Brighton with Clare, to go to a meeting of people I knew over the Internet. I used to do this a lot, spending most of my weekends over university bouncing between Newcastle, London, Durham, Wales, Nottingham, Ayr, Portsmouth. I kind of wish I’d kept all the various train tickets I was going though at the time, especially when my student loan reminders come though.

Brighton, though, I’ve only been to a few times. Once or twice with family and friends of same, last time to go watch the entire run though of Lord of the Rings Extended Editions, and this time to go see people who I normally only see while pretending to be other people, for this was a LARP meet, which means a whole host of people I know better as “Third cat-person on the left, the one with a spear” than, say, “Brian”. My plans, such as I made them, were to catch the last train back from Brighton, for I had been unable to get crash space. Once there, however, I was soon offered somewhere to sleep by Sam and Rhi, who I saw LOTR with all those years ago.

For the celebration of the end of the summer, the extra hour granted to us between 2am and, confusingly, 2am, the Brighton and Hove Arts Commission had organised the White Night, where installations, galleries, presentations, tours and general things of interest were to be open until the early hours of the morning, and various people at the meet – including my gracious and glorious hosts – were planning on going. The swimming pool was open, with underwater speakers broadcasting only to those below the surface, and rubber ducks and boards above. A cardboard city was being built from boxes decorated by the people walking though, The galleries were open, and some of the buildings had been lit for the occasion.

In the middle of the square in the city centre ten foot high letters, painted in blackboard paint, had been erected to spell the word “Love”, and then painted throughout the day:

LOVE by monkeymillions, on Flickr
(The best picture of the LOVE public art thing that I could find. Taken by MonkeyMillions on Flickr)

From there at midnight started the Lit-Lit Trail, a walk around various places in Brighton, each specially lit for the event. At each we heard a story from Brighton’s history read to us by (I think) William Shaw), stories of poisoned chocolate; of Kings, Regents and Lovers; of the first civil partnership in the uk; and the First World War. The Commission have made (terrible quality, unfortunately) MP3s of the tour available at the White Night web site, and I’d recommend doing it. Fascinating stuff.

All in all, a far better way to spend the extra hour of the autumn than sleeping, which was my other option. Though next time, I’ll try not to be in Brighton at – subjectively – 4am wearing a short-sleeved shirt.