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Friday, July 28, 2006

rAge over firm Zune!

I was quite enthusiastic about getting some PSP multiplayer in at last year's rAge Expo, but between taking partin the main LAN (which will go from 700 attendees last year to 1200 this year!) and taking part in the Game.Dev presentations, I really didn't get time. This time I have not committed to either of these portions of the event (though I am looking forward to checking out some of the Game Dev stuff) and have decided to try and push for some kind of PSP LAN initiative myself. At this point it looks like it will be happening in the foodcourt on Saturday (10 Sept) between 11:00 and 15:00 and response on the NAG forums has been pretty good.

New PSP firmware and matching demos
Sony have released firmware 2.8 for the PSP which finally includes the ability to use sensibly named and located folders for all media as well as some other nice features. Once again they are using the lure of a new demo to encourage installation of this firmware (this time it's World Tour Soccer 2). Both the firmware and demo are available through direct or PC download from While I quite like the idea, I hope that we will not be limited to recieving demos only when Sony has a new firmware available.
The World Tour Soccer 2 demo is actually surprisingly fun considering I don't typically enjoy those sorts of games. I will definitely not be buying the full game, but it's nice to have a quick demo of the game available should I ever feel in the mood for that sort of gameplay. It offers a sampler of three of the game's many modes (no multiplayer unfortunately) and looks, sounds and plays pretty well. It's by no means the most technically impressive game on the system, but it certainly isn't ugly either.
Another new demo that requires the 2.8 firmware is a Japanese version of the sequel to Archer Mclean's Mercury, a wonderful and terribly underrated puzzle game that was released near the system's launch. It is unfortunately not available through yourpsp, but can be found here. You will have to copy the demo to PSP\GAME\UCJS10043\. The gameplay is largely unchanged, but the look of the game has definitely been given a major overhaul. I am still trying to decide whether I prefer the old 'realistic' look or the new cel-shaded approach. The game is certainly far more colourful, and the cartoony appearance and styling somehow seems to add a certain amount of urgency to the game (as opposed to calmness induced by the original's zen like combination of music and looks). I thouroughly enjoyed the first title, and with the promise of far more levels and even a variety of multiplayer modes, I'm sure I'll be picking up this title at some stage.

Coming Zune
About a week ago, Microsoft announced that it was preparing a media platform and brand called Zune, confirming months of rumours and speculation. The platform will include media players, the first of which will most likely arrive before the end of the year if various sites are to be believed. This marks quite a major change in strategy by Microsoft in it's attempts to combat the iPod, switching from a dependance on third party vendors to their own devices-a move which must have ruffled a few feathers in companies like Creative. I spent a little time trying to dig up some useful information on Zune, but there really isn't much worth mentioning right now. Little more than the name has been revealed at this point (a strange choice on it's own, being very similar to Creative's Zen brand). I also get the distinct impression that the few sites out there at the moment are staged, part of some kind of viral marketing and hype-building attempt by Microsoft. This may sound a bit paranoid, but there's just something about these sites that seems off. They are just too gaudy and ugly, yet they have perfect renditions of the actual Zune logo, in colours matching the site layout. There is even one that boasts some rather bizarre Zune parody comedy that just seems too instulting to be taken seriously. Most of these can be found through Microsoft are by no means strangers to unusual marketing techniques, with the bizarre Halo marketing campaign behind them.

Friday, July 21, 2006


First off, My mom is at home and has been totally cleared of the pneumonia, which is great news. Now let's hope she keeps away from the damned cigarettes!
More good news is that I have landed my first print feature article! G.E.A.R. magazine, a gaming publication by the same publishing house (Intelligence) as the South African version of PC Format, was recently introduced. I wrote a feature article for them on mobile gaming, which has been accepted and will be in the next issue. Now I just have to come up with ideas for a few more article pitches..

Second Life
On the geek side, I discovered Second Life through a Business Week article. No, this isn't some kind of tech spin on being born again, it's a rather unusual MMO that ditches the common theme of violence and replaces it with community. Second Life could be described as an MMO version of The Sims, or perhaps as a 3D chat client in which your profile picture is replaced by a full 3D avatar, and the context for your chats is a full 3D world. The truth is, however, that it is much much more.

What really makes Second Life interesting though, is it's take on player created content, the ability to buy and sell land, and it's connection with the real-world economy. The game is built around the concept of player created content. Just about everything in-world was created by a player or 'resident' using a combination of the built in modelling tools, and imported textures. Rather than laying claim to created content though, Linden Labs, the creators and owners of Second Life, allow the content creators to keep IP ownership rights. Residents can also buy in-game 'land' which they can then build on, rent out, or simply resell for a profit. Additionally, Second Life has an in-game currency that is hooked into the real world currency and fluctuates in value based on in-game and real world factors, this currency (the Lindon Dollar) can legitemately be traded for US dollars and vice versa. These three elements have created a world which has offered residents the opportunity to earn real money by employing real-world and in-game skills such as object modelling, texturing, animating, communication and many others.
The bad news is, this sort of practice would most likely be all but impossible in South Africa in the short term, due to the bandwidth intensive nature of the game and our insanely overpriced broadband services. It's still worth a good look. If you happen to try it out, drop me a notecard (you'll find out when you start playing ;)), my avatar is Flint Beika. It would also be really nice if you use me as a reference..

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mom, coding, linux and happy stuff

My Mom's still in hospital, she finally went in for a gastroscopy (sp) procedure yesterday morning, and we haven't had feedback from the docter yet, so at this stage it's back to the waiting game. She did say this morning that she felt like she'd been beaten up, but apparently that is a reaction to the anaesthetic.

I have started digging back into smallfry stuff, as it's basically slowed down to a crawl since the beginning of the year thanks to wedding planning. The first task I'm undertaking is upgrading the preprocessor stuff in our engine (and game) code to use the Antenna compliant preprocessor in NetBeans 5.0. When we started using Netbeans 4.0 (giving up the old SunOne which didn't have anywhere near the same level of support for mobile development) we had to switch over to their dodgy, unwieldy preprocessor syntax. I raised the fact on the NetBeans website that there was actually an accepted preprocessor 'standard' in mobile Java dev in the form of Antenna, and they resolved to migrate to it in their next version. They delivered in fine form, and besides having a proper antenna-compliant preprocessor, 5.0 adds a couple of nice preprocessor related bonuses such as a debug level controlled from the project properties, and semi-automatic upgrading of existing preprocessor code. The new version obviously has many other new features that are not necessarily confined to mobile dev, including a much more usable settings dialog, editor enhancements, and lots more.

The next task I'll be looking at is to remove our high score code which makes use of our own MySQL database on our site, and replace it with the free RumbleX API. Besides relieving us of the burdon of maintaining the data ourselves, RumbleX provides us with a 'prebuilt' community site that displays high scores and achievements, and allows us to display RumbleX scores on our own website with a bit of provided JavaScript. To top all this off, the only requirement is that we use RumbleX as one of our distribution outlets-what a pleasure, we get another outlet thrown into the deal, awesome :)
Besides the forums and per game high score groupings available to RumbleX users, they have the option of using a system-generated profile image that shows their achievements, score and avatar, not unlike what is possible with Xbox 360 Live's Gamercards.

One of the guys at work finally recieved the pack of Ubuntu 6.06 CDs he ordered a while ago, and I took one home to have a look.

The Live CD is great, just pop it into your CD drive and the machine boots to a Linux installation-without ever actually having to install the OS. Because everything gets loaded off the CD, it takes some time to start up the OS as well as individual applications, but that little inconvenience is obviously removed when you actually install it. Natz PC is so vrot with viruses and stuff at this stage that I need to totally reinstall it (and this time it'll have antivirus, antiadware and firewall software thank you very much!), but until then she can use the Ubuntu CD, which is great. As an aside, why in the hell, in this day and age, do PCs from big chan stores not come with all that protection preinstalld? An antivirus package alone is bloody useless, and so is the windows firewall! Something free like Kerio would do the trick nicely.

And finally..
Some happy, shiny Internet goodness news. Yaaaaay! The guy who started a site a year ago with the dream of trading up a single red paperclip for a house has finally achieved that dream. Seriously, this guy started with just a paperclip, and he now has a lovely renovated 1920s home in Kipling Saskatchewan, Canada. Some guys have all the luck-and great ideas.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bad news, Tech news, other stuff

Bad stuff

It's been a bad couple of days for blogging, so much has been happening that it just hasn't been very high up on my priority list. My best friend's mom died last Thursday. Shaun and I grew up in each other's homes, and Aunty Anne was like a second mother to me, as bad as it is that she's gone, what is really painful is seeing how it's hit Shaun. She's been sick and suffering for a very long time, and through all of that she never complained and continued to be an amazingly giving and loving woman. We went to the funeral in Witbank on Monday and it hit me really hard.

Aunty Anne, we will miss you dearly and will never forget you. You touched the life of everyone that knew you and you were one of the most amazing people I ever knew.


My own Mom was admitted to hospital with pneumonia on Tuesday morning. It's not life-threatening or anything, but it's not fun seeing her in hospital. She's in the same hospital I spent a lot of time in as a kid, and walking those halls (and stepping out into the gardens) brings back a lot of memories.

On top of that, I've been reacting badly to my immunosuppressants over the last couple of weeks, and this got particularly bad on Tuesday. I really struggled through work on Tuesday, and had to take yesterday off. I'm feeling much better, but the doc has taken me off those and just raised the dosage on my others, so we'll see how that goes. Hopefully by next week I'll be feeling 100% again-for the first time in months.


Tech stuff

To keep this from being a totally depressing personal rant, I have two tech things to mention. The first is YouOS, an experimental web-based desktop (not quite an OS). It allows you to have a Windows-like desktop with multiple web-based applications running in windows. I tried the demo, and while it's a bit sluggish over our lousy connection speeds, I could imagine the idea working very well in countries with decent, prolific broadband. While any PC running this would obviously already be running a 'proper' OS, it offers some interesting future possibilities for file availability across machines, especially across machines of varying capabilities (for example your cell phone, PC and PSP).


The other little tech tidbit is that Goal Technology Solutions is about to start offering their Broadband Over Power lines competitor to Telkom's ADSL in selected Tshwane (Pretoria) suburbs-and at significantly lower prices than those of the monopoly. They will also soon be offering 'traditional' ADSL at much lower prices than other ISPs. It looks as if we may finally be seeing a fixed-line competitor to Telkom.


Other stuff

I thought I'd mention that my friend and ex-colleague, Andrew Paterson (who also happens to be something of a Commodore-64 nut) is remaking the C64 game 'Space Crusade' on the PC with funky new graphics for the Retro Remakes competition. He's blogging his progress at, go pay him a visit. Good luck Andrew-and don't you think it's time to start playing games that come on media other than tapes? :p


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