Archive for June 2006

Slow Burn

Published on June 30, 2006

I’m taking next week off from work, so hopefully I can use that time to catch up on stuff I’ve been wanting to do for some time (CoLT 2.0, a Firefox profile tutorial, etc.). I may even go nuts and convert this blog to WordPress 2.0.3. I ditched an earlier 2.0 build back in February, but I’m toying with the idea of trying it out again. We’ll see what happens with that.

There are several other miscellaneous topics to discuss: I’ve decided on putting off my computer upgrade for another month or so. With the predicted AMD price cuts coming down the pipeline, I could potentially save hundreds of dollars by waiting just a little longer. So that’s what I’ll do.

I only need one more Prince Valiant book (volume 35, Doppelgänger) to complete my library collection! Volumes 38 and 39 recently arrived in the mail (I purchased them via eBay), but I have yet to read them. Unfortunately, the last volume I need is also the hardest to find. I’ve only ever seen it on eBay twice: once with a larger collection and once by itself. With any luck, one will pop up when I’m looking.

Last week I gave the Prey demo a shot, and was very impressed. I want to run through it again, and I hope to comment further on it once I do so. It’s definitely a game I just might purchase…

Papa

Published on June 28, 2006

My only grandfather passed away on Saturday, June 24. He had been very sick over the past month or two, mostly due to liver cancer. I’m going to miss him greatly; he was a great man.

Unexpected Travel

Published on June 21, 2006

The month of June is turning out to be pretty crappy overall. My grandfather has become very sick, and my sister and I are driving down to Georgia this Friday to join my parents who are already there. That means that I’m taking a day off from work, at one of the worst possible times. I’ve got a number of deadlines looming, each of which has a number of associated problems holding me back. But all of those problems pale in comparison to spending time with my grandfather. So off to Georgia it is.

Game Development

Published on June 19, 2006

I just saw a commercial on TV for a (presumably) local college, and they touted their program by showing a bunch of “video game developers.” This motley crew of students looked no older than 20, and one girl commented “Can you believe we get paid to play games?” The people who put together this advertisement clearly understand nothing about the game development industry. I would hazard to guess that game developers spend less than 5% of their time actually playing games. Few people, if any, get paid to play games; the real glory, as well as the real money, is in development. And game development isn’t an easy task.

In college, I had the privilege to take two computer graphics courses. Both were challenging, and both gave me a new appreciation for game development. The folks who create today’s game engines are literally pushing the envelope in computer graphics. I shudder to think of how complex the math is behind games like Half-Life 2, Far Cry, and Quake 4. To think that your average college kid can do this fresh out of a no-name school is a little hard for me to believe.

Running Hot

Published on June 18, 2006

My current graphics card, an eVGA GeForce 6800GT, has been running very hot recently. Spending time in Half-Life 2 or Oblivion causes temperatures in excess of 75 degrees Celsius, scorchingly hot by most standards. As a result of these high temperatures, video output routinely becomes corrupted, requiring a power-off of the machine to set things right. This occurrence seems fairly recent, and I’m not entirely certain why. My computer has always done a good job of controlling its temperature, thanks to my Cooler Master aluminum case. I’ve inspected all of my system’s fans: three of my four chassis fans (I’ve disconnected the one on top for being too noisy), the power supply fan, the CPU fan, and the fan on the graphics card. Each one seems to be spinning, and airflow doesn’t appear to be blocked.

I’ve been looking at building an entirely new system for some time now, and this problem is only pushing me closer to actually going through with it. Switching to a more energy-efficient AMD processor should help somewhat, and I plan on adding an after-market cooler to my new graphics card (I’m currently looking at a GeForce 7900 GT). Hopefully these steps will bring my system’s temperatures down considerably.

Sweet Kitty

Published on June 16, 2006

I finally found a picture of my kitty cat:

Sugar

I miss her greatly, but seeing a picture of her brings back good memories.

Favorites Plus Phase Out?

Published on June 13, 2006

I continue to use Favorites Plus to manage my favorites page, which I make daily use of both at work and home. And the more I use it, the more I question whether or not I should continue to do so. Having dumped Internet Explorer long ago (so long ago, in fact, that I can’t remember when), keeping my IE favorites up to date has become rather redundant. My main goal is to keep my favorites page up to date; something that might be better suited for a PHP / MySQL application. In fact, I began working on such an application many months ago. I don’t recall why I stopped development; if I pick it up again, perhaps I’ll remember.

So the question is, should I drop support for Favorites Plus? I mean, Firefox is clearly the better browser, and its bookmarks system is top-notch (though the “export to page” functionality doesn’t have all the features I want). I really like having a dedicated web page in which to store my favorites, but generating said page is the problem. And even though Favorites Plus does a decent job in this arena, it’s not as portable as I’d like. All of these issues combined make continuing support seem not worth the trouble.

Note to Self: Never Pre-Order Again

Published on June 12, 2006

This week, Circuit City is selling Half-Life 2: Episode 1 for $8. You read that right: eight dollars. I paid $17.95, thinking I was getting a “pre-order discount.” Although I am aware that I recently said I’d gladly pay $19.95 again for another episode, I’m afraid that this revelation has changed my mind. Never again will I pre-order a game from Valve. It’s highway robbery, plain and simple.

Another thing that I’m mildly annoyed with is that episodes 1 through 3 are Half-Life 3, according to Gabe Newell. What? So why aren’t they being called Half-Life 3: Episode X? Well, it seems that the folks at Valve screwed up. Things seem to be getting a little sloppy over there. Could this be the beginning of the end? I certainly hope not.

Cleaning Up Slashdot

Published on June 9, 2006

I know it has been live for a few days now, but the new design over at Slashdot is a most welcome change. The site had become quite crufty, looking more like a website from the mid-1990’s than a hip, modern site of today. This new CSS redesign has made the site much cleaner, and I have to believe that they are now enjoying significant bandwidth savings since they’ve gone the CSS route (though their markup still isn’t the prettiest in the world). Hopefully this face lift will boost the site’s apparently sagging popularity. I for one, am most pleased with what they’ve done.

Popular Pages

Published on June 6, 2006

Even though the month of June has just begun, it has already been phenomenal in regards to web traffic over at Born Geek. On June 1, the folks over at Lifehacker.com featured my CoLT extension as their download of the day. The resulting traffic was simply tremendous; many thanks to everyone who came from there.

On June 5, a story was submitted to Digg about a tutorial discussing how to write Firefox extensions. Though the story link itself pointed to the tutorial over at Roachfiend, the second comment made on the Digg post pointed to my toolbar tutorial. The comment author remarked that it was “the best reference I have found so far…”

Residual traffic is also coming in through other sources: del.icio.us, diggdot, and others. I’ve already had a total of 8050 unique visitors this month, with over 1/2 of a GB of bandwidth served up. That’s in comparison to the 18,952 visitors last month and 1.94 GB of bandwidth: nearly half the visitors and a fourth of the bandwidth! What’s more shocking is that we’re only 6 days into the month. Hopefully I can keep up with the demand. I hope to have a new version of CoLT out in the next few weeks, and perhaps a tutorial or two will pop up soon. As always, good times.

Comments Disabled

Goodbye Sugar

Published on June 5, 2006

The only pet I’ve ever owned had to be put down this morning. Her liver was failing, her cardiovascular system was shutting down, and she could barely breathe yesterday. My dad took her to the vet this morning and made the decision to have her put down.

For the past 14 years, our cat Sugar has been such a joy. I’ll miss her greatly. If I can find a picture, I’ll try to post it for those who didn’t know her.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. – Job 1:21b

Episode One: Further Thoughts

Published on June 3, 2006

I’ve now played through Episode One a total of three times, having just wrapped up the final run with the commentary system turned on. All I can say is wow! Having commentary really adds to the game, and provides some interesting insight into what challenges the developers at Valve faced when making certain decisions. Make sure to enable this at least once if you own this expansion (and if you don’t own it yet, what are you waiting for?). My main goal for this post, however, is to focus on the “what-ifs” coming up in Episode Two (and possibly Episode Three). If you have yet to play Episode One, or if you haven’t watched the Episode Two trailer yet, you may wish to avert your eyes from the rest of this article. A few spoilers lie ahead, so consider yourself warned.

The trailer for Episode Two makes it appear that Alyx meets a rather early demise. Is this true? Here’s a quote from a recent Episode One review:

Half-Life boss Gabe Newell has revealed that “primary characters” will die over the trilogy of new Half-Life 2 episodes. “People need to feel that characters are genuinely at risk,” he says. “Otherwise they lose investment and the significance of their actions is diminished.”

If Alyx truly is the character who dies in the upcoming saga, I might literally break down and cry. After investing so much in character development over the past two installments, would Valve really snuff her out of the picture? She is the one realistic female lead in computer games today; hopefully that fact alone will prevent such a travesty. Or perhaps the developers have something else up their sleeves. Could Episode Two be to the Half-Life 2 episodic trilogy as The Empire Strikes Back was to the Star Wars trilogy? The dark note before the final, brighter conclusion? At this point, only the developers have that answer. I’m hoping that Alyx lives on for another day, at least so that we might have further opportunities to enjoy her flirtatious personality.

Other questions have also arisen in my mind. The alien beings which talked with Dr. Breen at the end of Half-Life 2 are clearly on Earth (residing in those pods you run across while in the Citadel during Episode One). What are they doing there, and what will they do now that the Citadel has been destroyed? Where is Judith Mossman, and what “Project” has she uncovered? And what does the G-Man have to do with all of this? According to Gabe Newell, he might be behind the demise of whatever primary character gets killed off.

Hopefully Episode Two will shed some light on all of this. Unfortunately, we have to wait another six months or so to find out. I haven’t been this riveted in a long, long time…

Half-Life 2: Episode One Review

Published on June 1, 2006

After about roughly four hours of game play, I’ve finished Half-Life 2: Episode One. I fully intend to go back through the game at least twice: once on a harder difficulty, and once with the commentary system turned on. The following points are those I think most worth talking about.

The Good

  • Incredible Atmosphere: Throughout the entire game, you literally feel like a refugee fleeing City 17. You never have enough supplies, the Combine are always on your tail, and it’s literally one narrow escape after another. I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire game.
  • HDR: High dynamic range lighting in Half-Life 2 is simply awesome. This is the best use of the technology of any game I’ve seen, and it adds so much to the overall presentation.
  • Excellent Level Design: This goes hand in hand with the atmospheric presentation. Each level, although shorter than the ones in Half-Life 2, is incredibly well designed. The locales feel quite realistic, and the attention to detail is astounding.
  • Alyx: Nearly all of Episode One takes place alongside Alyx, and that simple fact adds so much to the action. Not only does she cover your butt a number of times, but you must look out for hers as well. And who could resist fighting to save a girl as sexy as her? Her AI is incredible; she never gets in the way during a firefight and she’s a damn good marksman. Did I mention that she’s really sexy?
  • The G-Man: I won’t spoil it, but the G-Man gets some much deserved comeuppance.
  • Voice Acting: The voice acting is top notch. No other game that I’ve played in recent times comes close to the quality presented here; every actor is convincing to the last.
  • Story Line Advancement: This goes without saying. Episode One answers a number of questions, asks a number of new ones (so exciting!), and advances the storyline considerably.
  • Episode Two Trailer: A sneak peek at what’s coming in Episode Two is included with the game (and it looks wickedly cool).

The Bad

  • Incredibly Short: I want more Half-Life! Four hours just isn’t enough (although I do still have the commentary system to check out, and I’ll definitely play it through again).
  • Too Expensive?: This is a sore point with a number of gamers on various forums that I peruse every once in a while. $19.95 just seems a tad too expensive for this amount of gaming. Make it $14.95 and you’ve got yourself a deal. (Will I continue to pay $19.95 for future episodes? Absolutely. Half-Life is just that good.)
  • Stuttering: Maybe it’s just my system (I wouldn’t be surprised), but the game seemed to stutter more than I would have liked. Most of the time it seemed to be related to loading sound effects.

The Ugly

  • Episode Two Trailer: Once you beat the game, the trailer for episode two is launched. At first, I thought my game had crashed. I tried to exit Steam and got a warning that a Steam application was still in use. A little notice on what they were doing would have been helpful.
  • Character Appearance: How is it that Barney looks like crap but Alyx is still as hot as ever? Doesn’t everyone get a little dirty in this deal?

If you enjoyed Half-Life 2, I think you would really enjoy Episode One. If you thought Half-Life 2 was just a mediocre game, I would recommend avoiding this next chapter. Plenty of people will no doubt complain about the length, but I don’t think anyone can argue about the level of execution. The action is tight, the levels are well designed, and the story gets pushed along nicely, leaving the player with a number of new questions. If you’re looking for a fun little action romp, I highly recommend Half-Life 2: Episode One. I for one am eagerly awaiting Episode Two.

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