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Christian. (That means that I know that Jesus is Lord!) Programmer. Gamer. Weak 3D artist. Geek.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

How should I vote?

I found myself considering matters of a political nature this evening, and after some comments from a friend of mine, I find myself wanting to get more involved with local politics - by involved I mean, at least understanding whats going on.

So, having been one of the voters who picks which party to vote for based on who they like the most out of their leaders, and general media representation of them, I have previously voted for the Liberal Democrats, so I figured that their website was a good place to start.

I have no idea what Lib Dem policies are. All I know is that they aren't Conservative or Labour, and I know that the media have told me that they haven't done a very good job, so irresponsibly, I figure let the Liberal Democrats have a go.

Wanting to know more about Lib Dem policies, I went to their website and tried to read their policy on policing and crime management.

The link returned me to the front page of the news section.

All that was available on the website, I've quoted in my e-mail to the Lib Dems below.

I wonder if I'll get a reply. I genuinely hope so.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am merely a generic citizen who knows not very much about politics and for some strange reason this evening found myself desiring to know what the Liberal Democrats think.

The brief summary of your policy on policing, 'The Liberal Democrats don’t rely on tough talk and gimmicks like the other parties: we focus on solutions that really work to cut crime.' doesn't actually tell me what you (the party) actually think about how policing and crime can be dealt with from a governmental level.

I admit, I haven't taken my vote seriously before - but I'm starting to. I've previously voted for the Liberal Democrats but now I'm starting to wonder why.

I also found that when I wanted to download the pdf file that detailed your policy, the link returned me to the front news page of your website.

Where does a generic citizen, who has no knowledge or understanding of politics find out the information that determines how I cast my vote?

Yours faithfully,

David Springate

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The first drop: Impressions of Halo 3: ODST

Anyone who personally knows me or reads this blog knows that I do love to play some Halo in my spare time, so the arrival of Bungie's new 'expansion' to Halo 3 brought a huge smile to face. Obviously, I'd pre-ordered and received my Sgt. Johnson DLC code too :)

My wife, the kind woman that she is, had already agreed that I could spend the evening in front of the TV shooting some Brutes in the face. I rushed home from work (the cancellation of a train not helping) to slap the disc into the drive and embark on a new adventure, with a new hero.

You see, Halo 3: ODST, as I'm sure most of you know, is a stand-alone title (not a typical expansion as such) set between the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3. No longer playing as the signature front-man, Master Chief, you now control various members of an ODST squad, who drop into Earth after the arrival of The Covenant in New Mombassa.

It was immediately apparent from the title screen that this wasn't my usual brand of Halo - the music and exceptionally dark look of the title screen had given that away - there was something about the vibe that had let me know that this was going to be different.

I wanted to approach this game with fresh eyes, so I'd avoided almost all other media exposure to it. I had no real idea what to expect from the campaign or the new 'Firefight' multiplayer mode.

Visually this game is no Killzone 2. It's not even a Gears of War 2.. but you'd be forgiven for not noticing. The artists and designers have made some very wise use of lighting, shadowing and closed environments (especially at the beginning of the game) - creating moody, dank locations, a place where it's very clear that you and the rest of your team are very much alone.

Last night I didn't make it very far because (and I admit I'm not the world's greatest Halo player - I love it but that doesn't mean I'm good!) I made my usual, stubborn mistake of starting the game on Legendary difficulty and found my evening being punished for it.

This game is crushingly difficult. Jen was treated to various yelps and wails as she walked about our apartment as I got my ass handed to me by small groups of Covenant comprising of just one brute and a few of their minions.

This isn't Halo 3 as usual (I know I've already said this but I can't emphasise this enough!).

As I played through the first level, I enjoyed the ODST's use of the new visor - which cleverly draws a nice outline around all the 3D objects in the scene (good one Mr. Shader Programmer!), highlighting the good guys in green and the enemies in red, whilst providing much needed night vision.

My only, exceptionally minor gripe, is that that meant that I couldn't soak up the vibe of a battered New Mombassa as much as I would have liked - the lighting all drained out of the scene because of my visor. The recent Batman: Arkham Asylum also suffered from this problem, offering a nice gameplay mechanic to the player that sacrificed the exceptional look of the game.

I guess the biggest thing that I immediately enjoyed about this game is the new found fear that I had for the smaller enemies from Halo 3.

Jackals, who Master Chief used to laugh in the face of, are now a formidable threat.
Seeing a minion (I can't remember their names right now..) running toward you holding two plasma grenades causes you to rethink your plan and tuck tail and run.

I'm looking forward to returning to this nightmare edition of Halo 3 tonight.

Later on in the evening, once Xbox Live had settled down (it seemed to have been taking a bit of a hammering because of the influx of ODST players), I met up with most of my usual squad who had managed to secure a copy of ODST on launch day.

We didn't even try out the ODST campaign's co-op mode and made a beeline for 'Firefight' instead.

The three of us, usually four, have played something in the region of 500 matches together on Halo 3 - and I think I'm the only one of us now that would like to see it still in regular rotation, the other guys have moved onto other pastures such as COD4.

One of the reasons for this is that, and I don't meant to sound big headed, is that I used to beat them to a pulp every single night of the week.

The arrival of Firefight is exceptionally welcome though as it brings an end to all that.

Where, for a very short while, we embarked on Gears of War 2's Horde mode, for a gameplay premise where we stand back to back, shoulder to shoulder, to face off against hordes (ha) of enemies, I predict that this will last us significantly longer.

GoW2's levels are too small. Their players too clunky, chunky and slow. Their gameplay is more like rock, paper, scissors than chess, with a very limited amount of weapons and manner to use them.

Halo 3 offers us, frankly, ridiculously sized environments with vehicles to mow the enemies down in. The maps offer nooks and crannies, places to hide, enemies who'll find you. Huge enemy vehicles to make the most hardened player stop in his tracks.

Firefight was ridiculously good.

Last night I read on Kotaku, one of their writers describe Halo 3's gameplay to being the closest approximation of a boy imagining to be a soldier, jumping in tanks and hanging out with his squad. As I read the article, I grinned and nodded my head, this guy had totally hit the nail on the head.

Driving around large sandy maps, with my buddies as passengers in my Warthog, one gunning down the enemy (rather sloppily) and the other jumping out at the first sign of a Wraith to plant a grenade on it's back - I can't remember the last time I had this much co-op fun in a videogame.

The hilarity that ensues as a little runt fires the fuel-rod cannon at the front of the car, sending you all flailing in a bloody mess. The laughs as you realise your team-mate has long been out of ammo and is fleeing across a plain from a hammer wielding Chieftain.

I heartily recommend Halo 3: ODST, I really do. Even if H3's campaign isn't your bag, the multiplayer is worth the price of entry alone.

Given that ODST includes every H3 map released to date (all the DLC maps plus a few new ones currently exclusive to ODST), a new campaign (which I have no idea how long it is), guaranteed beta entry to Halo: Reach and Firefight (co-op multiplayer 'Horde-like' mode) I imagine that my credit card almost wants to shake my hand (if it had one) for making such a smart purchase.

(Including the H3 maps also means that I can delete the ones on my HDD - freeing me up over 1GB of space which is obviously very nice.)

If you're looking for a game with an interesting approach to a single player campaign and a sizeable multiplayer experience with both split-screen and online experiences, look no future.

Is it better than Halo 3? I don't know. It's just too early to tell - but the fact that I even wonder makes this a winner.

Halo 3: ODST is now available for Xbox 360.

Monday, 21 September 2009

"When somethings lost I want to fight to get it back again.." - Pearl Jam, the Christians and the lost

The new Pearl Jam album 'Backspacer' was released (as far as I'm concerned) yesterday and having pre-ordered it, it arrived on my desk yesterday morning - at which point I promptly ripped it to my Mac and started listening to it on repeat for the rest of the day.

Now, whilst I am already clear with myself that this isn't the greatest Pearl Jam album ever released, something that every Pearl Jam fan has been hoping for for the last ten years with a desire to say "I was there from the start", I am able to say that this is a 'great' album.

Whilst I feel it's too early for a review, my initial hunch is that some songs are just a bit 'meh' whilst others soar into arenas of greatness that their recent albums haven't been able to reach.

One thing I do want to note is their astute observation as to which song should be released as the debut single for the album.

Most popular (read: successful) artists who are associated with large labels have to debate and negotiate with their label as to which single should be released.

Free from the shackles of Sony Epic, new Pearl Jam are able to make such discussions free of corporate pushing.

'The Fixer', the chosen single, is clearly the right choice to be the first single - and I herald Pearl Jam's wisdom at such a decision - it really is 'single worthy'. (I was most disappointed at Metallica's choice of 'The Day that Never Comes' when clearly 'Broken, Beat & Scarred' should have been the first single for 'Death Magnetic'.)

The real reason I wanted to write this post is to mention some great lyrics on the album.

'I'm a lucky man to count on both hands, the ones I love, some folks have just one whilst others they got none.'
'I hide my disappointment 'cos for years I had been hopin' that when she came, she'd be coming just for me.'
'When somethings lost I want to fight to get it back again.'

How is it that such lyrics echo and resonate so well with the audience?
How does one right words that make the heart pang so hard?

Particularly the line of 'fighting to get it back again' rang true, internally my heart nodded with agreement - that is exactly how I feel about it.

But I also understand that I am a total hypocrite. I agree. I do pine for lost things. But do I act on it?

I recently married my Jennifer, and if for some reason I 'lost' her, be assured, I'd fight tooth and nail to get her back again. I'd go to the far parts of the earth to find her. (I'm quite a protective husband I must confess!)

If someone stole from me, if I had been wronged, I would fight to get it back again. (A friend once told me that I had a strong sense of justice - which is one of the finest compliments I had been ever paid.)

How is it then that the Master has been wronged, many are lost and my heart often remains unmoved?

When I think of lost things and fighting to get it back again it's hard to not think of Jesus.

The lost are everywhere, and were everywhere when Jesus walked the earth - imagine the agony of knowing that so many who you love are 'lost' to you, imagine the hard fight of fighting to get them back again? The pain as they turn from you even when you try to pull them to you?

I find that particular fight that The Lord undertook so hard to comprehend! I guess, this idea does make me say 'Thank you Lord!'.

Even when I want to fight to get something back again, I also know, that I don't always succeed.

Jesus has succeeded and is still watching the lost come back to him.

Pearl Jam certainly didn't intend for me to think of Jesus when listening to this song but I'm glad that it did.

If you're a Christian reading this - I know that some of my (few) subscribers are - please pray that I'd have a heart for the lost. To tell them of the faith I have in the accomplishments of the Lord Jesus, achieved at the cross - and to remember that if I can't find the lost and bring them back again, to know that it is the work of the Master and not mine. To also remember that proclaiming the gospel is a work of salvation and judgement. A dividing line.

I guess it would have been too much to hope that a song lyric would encapsulate the gospel.

Thank you for reading this mornings random post. :)

'Tatsunoko vs Capcom' Wii import controls

I recently imported the excellent Capcom beat-em-up game for Wii, 'Tatsunoko vs. Capcom'.

This is a reimagining of sorts for Capcom, as they return to their Vs. series (previously Capcom had made a series of Vs. games with Marvel characters), this time applying a simplistic slant to the control scheme - which suits it's Wii host platform very well.

One of the things I hadn't realised was that there are no distinctive punch and kick buttons like in the other Capcom fighting games.

In TvC there are merely light, medium and hard attack buttons.

I'll save a review of the game for another time but I wanted to post the control scheme for the classic controller, as it isn't obvious from the Japanese 'Options' menu and I thought it might help others who import this great game before it's Western release.

So here it is, the controls for TvC using a Wii Classic Controller (which I would heartily recommend for this game!)

Y - Light attack
X - Medium attack
A - Heavy attack
B - Partner assist
L - ??
R - All three attack buttons
Minus - Taunt
Plus - 'Start' menu

To tag press B and away from your opponent at the same time.
You can also use the R button as a dash button, both forward and back dashes.
Use A and forward or back to throw.

Does anyone know what L is for?

Hope that helps someone out there, if not, it's great for me to keep as reference!