Archive for June, 2011

Homefront, Part II

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

So I’ve just finished playing through Homefront a second time, and it has grown on me.  In between my last play through and this one I’ve upgraded my video drivers and also invested $20 in a laptop cooler pad.  It’s not a very high quality unit, two plastic pads with a pair of thin fans, a couple of stops at the front and a pivot.  It’s actually doing a pretty decent job at keeping the heat levels down, and a majority of the graphical glitches in the game have gone away.

After the second run through, I’ve got some more appreciation for the gameplay, it’s still a fairly generic shooter based on the Unreal 3 engine, but I’m half tempted to go back in to fight the NORK’s again.  Eventually I got tired of playing Modern Warfare 1 and 2’s single player missions, and I’m sure I’ll hit the same wall with this title as well.  All in all, worth $25 – not the full $50 it was originally sold for.  It’s too short, and has an almost Red Dawn type ending where the final battle is the beginning of the US starting to push back the Korean invaders.  Personally I’d like to be able to invade Oakland fully armed and start taking down some bad guys.  Maybe that’ll be an expansion pack?

The environment is actually pretty good, shattered cities and suburbs, Americans struggling to survive enemy occupation.  Cover is key in this game, get cocky and you will be dropped.  Accuracy and patience is rewarded, while a guns blazing all out assault will generally have you reloading the level numerous times.  I also appreciated one of the easter eggs I caught in my last run through – during the final mission where the player is assaulting the Golden Gate bridge, you hear that ‘we own the rock’ – if you look you see green flares, just like the ending to The Rock.

So I’ll definitely recommend picking this up if you can get it on sale… not quite worth $50, but not a bad game at all.

Zen and the art of laptop cooling…

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

For about the past 2 years I’ve done a majority of my home computing on laptops.  Initially I used an Acer netbook which my wife still uses – but my need for gaming in a house where I couldn’t really use my 360 as much as I’d like anymore lead me to pick up an ASUS G51Jx gaming laptop from Newegg.  Great system, plenty of power – a year later I can still run most games on max detail settings and get an acceptable frame rate.

The problem is that from day one, this thing has generated some wicked heat.  Recently I’d started to experience graphics glitches and lockups.  I don’t exactly have the money to buy a new machine right now so I need to get as much life out of this one as I can.  That lead me down the road of active cooling for my system.

I looked at a bunch of the options online and in stores, all had varying reviews.  Eventually I ended up buying a “Gearhead” 15.4 cooling pad for $20 at Computer Discount of West Milford.  It has a pair of thin fans that pulls cooler air from below to aid in feeding fresh air to the existing cooling system on the machine.  It works fairly well – but I still find it a little cumbersome, and am anticipating either the USB cable or fans wearing out at some point.

My plan in the interim is to build a simple USB powered accessory cooling unit for the system.  Basically, I’m going to build/buy a small plastic box capable of holding two or more standard high-speed cooling fans that pull its air from the side of the unit.  On top of the box, I’m going to have an aluminum sheet (good for heat transfer) that either will or will not be perforated.  I figure with one fan pulling in and one pushing air out, it may be able to offer a fairly cool surface for the laptop to rest on, allowing the existing feet on the system to provide adequate clearance for air to move by the laptops built in fans.

Another option would be to use a perforated aluminum sheet that the laptop would rest on, and the side-fans would pull air into the box and route it to the built-in vents under the laptop.  It’d likely be thicker than normal pads – but it would keep both my lap and laptop more than a little cooler.  Also, I would avoid the whole ‘pull air from the bottom’ issue whcih isn’t really effective when I’ve got the system resting on my lap, or a bed… anything but a hard flat surface.

Queue Macgyver theme….

Homefront – OK but not great.

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Picked up the game Homefront off Steam last week for $25 (50% off).  It’s a FPS with some vehicle control.  From the write of Red Dawn, you’re placed in a plot line where the US is occupied by a hostile united Korean force, the economy has crumbled, mass graves are filled with dead Americans – the plot and visuals are outstanding.  You’re a member of the resistance, fighting a guerilla war against the occupying forces.

Weapon selection is fairly standard for a modern military style FPS, normal gameplay is tough – my first round I went through on Easy just to complete it without pulling my hair out.

The game is plagued with bugs.  For starters, the graphics are entirely too glitchy.  Their FPS smoothing which is on by default cuts the frame rate and makes the presentation choppy as hell.  Forget about v-sync, that cuts the frame rate even further.  I was able to run the game at the highest detail levels at a decent frame rate once both settings were disabled.  The flow of the game is completely scripted – not unlike most games today, however the NPC’s are like walking roadblocks meaning you can’t walk through them and they will push you along if you get in front of them.

Also, should the path of the NPC be thrown off for any reason, the AI isn’t smart enough to move around obstructions and continue forward, it will simply run head long into a wall and keep running against it – the only way to push on is to suicide your player and start the scene over again.  A few times, this glitch actually caused the NPC to blow a mission by walking directly into an enemy squad instead of sneaking around them.

Other things, like locking zoom on the weapons was very frustrating.  Anyone whose played a Call of Duty title enjoys the ability to use right click to zoom in, and then zoom back out after releasing the button.  You’re forced to lock the zoom in this game, it can’t be toggled.  The single player mission is pretty short, and I’m not very big on multiplayer – so tie all of that together and I’m not even sure a 50% price cut will give a buggy game the edge it needs to make it a real contender.

THQ is responsible for some great titles such as the Red Faction series, but Homefront – despite the intentions and well constructed plot – suffers from a genuine lack of refinement.  Without the bugs, it would have been a really great game – not quite Modern Warfare or Medal of Honor, but a solid FPS.  Instead I paid $25 for a beta release – considering that the game has been out since March 2011 and uses the Unreal engine – there’s no reason that it couldn’t have been better refined by now.

How about a real game based directly on Red Dawn, mullets, mortars and FPS – that sounds like a real recipe for greatness.

Had a thought…

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

By no means is this an original thought, as I’m certain that others have come to the same conclusion…  A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to drive my friend’s electric Mini for a bit around town.  The car handled very well, had gobs of torque, and was just plain fun to drive.  The problem of course with any fully electric car is that they must be frequently recharged, such is the case with the Nissan Leaf which has an approximate 73 mile range according to the EPA and takes 8 hours to fully charge from 0.
My local Price Chopper has an electric vehicle charging station out front, which isn’t a bad thing if your groceries will fit in your electric car and you are there long enough to leech a significant charge off the grid.  Some corporations also have electric charging stations available for those workers who choose to drive on electrons rather than gasoline (yes, I know gasoline has electrons too, everything does).

The problem as I see it is that the electric car in all its glory cannot be used for long road trips – and that’s where the greatest benefit to the US economy would be found.  The economy doesn’t benefit as much from simple trips around town as it does from Americans getting out and exploring the open road – something which has declined over the past 10+ years as fuel prices have gone from reasonable to ridiculous.

Here’s my private industry solution to the range issues of electric vehicles – and it has nothing to do with the government…  Forget charging stations…  What manufacturers such as Nissan need to do is configure their vehicles with easily interchangable battery packs.  See, not only is the process of replacing the entire pack, or individual batteries within the pack a cumbersome task, it can only be done at specific Nissan Leaf dealers.

Forget that.  Tap into the mind of Preston Tucker here.  Engineer the battery pack so that it can be removed and replaced within 10 minutes at any Nissan dealership in the continental US, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Right there, your range goes from 73 miles per trip to… lets drive to Florida and stop every 70 or so miles.  That’s 15 stops on an 1100 mile trip from Warwick, NY to Daytona Beach, Florida.

What happens at every stop?  An opportunity to explore the local scenery of the localities you are briefly visiting.  Take a leak, stretch the legs, see the world.  The local and state economies benefit at each stop by the services and products sold to traveling consumers.

Now if every single automotive manufacturer with an EV option did this – the sales and use of EV’s would explode overnight.  Would it add some cost to the vehicles?  Sure.  Picture an option package which includes free swaps for the life of the vehicles powertrain warranty.

Take this one step further – standardized power supplies for EV’s.  Stop at any dealer and swap it out.  Free at your manufacturer, $15 (approximately 1/6th of the average $90/hr labor rate) at any approved dealer.  Utilize the existing network of auto dealers across the nation, pump more cash into local economies, and all it would take is an investment by each dealer (greatly subsidized by government tax breaks for those manufacturers that utilize standardized EV battery packs) to have charging stations capable of keeping an appropriate number of packs on hand.  Hell, put efficient solar cells on the roofs of these dealerships and its a completely clean and green setup.

For short trips, use available charging stations.  For road trips, use the dealer networks.  Mark my words folks – the first manufacturer to implement quick swap battery packs will be the first to completely dominate the EV market and seriously put a boot in the ass of OPEC.

Demand for gasoline will drop, cost per gallon will drop as supply exceeds demand, and those of us who choose to continue on with our traditional gasoline powered vehicles can do so without spending hundreds of dollars per month.

As new and more efficient power sources emerge – they’ll likely be smaller and lighter than the previous generation – make them compatible or adaptable to the previous generations EV’s.

Anyhow… that was my thought.  Quick swap / standardized battery packs for EV’s that can be changed at any dealership, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Duke Nukem Forever = WIN

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

I haven’t read any of the reviews on this game yet, but on release day I picked it up from Steam for $50.  Setting aside the 12 year long drama that took place to release this title – a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D – I like it.

See, I’m tired of the FPS genre altogether.  To get me to play one for more than 20 minutes is an accomplishment, and DNF does that in droves.  It’s lude, crude, irreverent, and could probably make Joe Lieberman’s hemorrhoids flare up like Fat Man over Nagasaki.  Foul language, naked women, blood and guts, pop culture and the endless wit of Duke Nukem rapidly bring me back to the days of repeatedly handing a virtual stripper some digital cash to “shake it baby.”

Have no doubt, Duke is back to chew bubble gum and kick ass.  From the moment the game fires up, you’re hurtled into a battle with a massive boss in a decimated football stadium and it doesn’t slow down from there.  The enemies are challenging, the puzzles are simple yet fun, and it definitely “ups the ante” as far as the modern FPS is concerned.  The game consists of several acts, each consisting of various missions leading up to a major boss battle that generally involves figuring out how to hurt the boss, then hammering the crap out of them while trying to avoid being killed.

No tromping around for hours through dark corridors to solve a mystery, or spending most of your time walking and searching instead of killing – this is a classic FPS along the lines of Serious Sam or Bulletstorm.  Kill or be killed, while enjoying the ample C and D cup scenery.  The best analogy I can come up with for DNF is that it’s like Metallica took a break after the black album, and 12 years later dropped Death Magnetic on our heads without the rampant douchebaggery of blood soaked semen album covers ,the post rehab oil-drum symphony that was St.Anger, or Lars Ulrich’s one man stand against the .  Duke 3D raised eyebrows, pissed off the censors, then came back after a long and drawn out break to raise the bar yet again on just what is possible with a FPS when the developer really doesn’t give a shit what people say beyond providing a GAME that’s actually worth $50!

Ignore the pundits and reviews, try it out – you won’t be disappointed unless you’re a twat.

Zen, and the art of the close call…

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Heading home from work today, I’m coming into Florida doing about 40mph, a couple carlengths off the Mitsubishi in front of me…  Up ahead, a UPS truck is waiting to hang a left out of a parking lot, and a tractor trailer is waiting to hang a right into the parking lot.  Then someone decides to do a courtesy stop.  Now normally, this isn’t a problem… but on a Friday afternoon when everyone is heading home from work on a busy road, it’s not too bright.

So the Pontiac stops short, and comes to a complete stop to let the UPS truck out.  The Mitsubishi behind them stops short and slams on the brakes.  I start to emergency stop behind the Mitsu, but I can’t slow fast enough, so I start to veer right and head for the grass, ready to take my first fall.  The Mitsu of course, still can’t stop in time for the Pontiac, so it starts to cut right at the same time I do, cutting me off.  I veer even harder right, into the grass.  After a bit of wobble I manage to slow and stop on the grass…  Mitsu on the grass behind me.  I slowly start to move again and the Mitsu AGAIN starts to cut me off after the Pontiac is already driving past me.

At this point I’m downright irate, so I just get on the gas and head down to turn around in the parking lot, when this jagoff puts his arms up at me like ‘WHAT THE !@#$’ – so I toot the horn, salute him, and continue on my way.

I wasn’t speeding, I wasn’t tailgating, I’ll have to work on my emergency stops a bit I think, but for the sake of all things holy, if there’s someone trying to pull out of your parking lot on a busy road at rush hour, and you have a line of cars behind you, LET THEM WAIT.