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Monday, November 20, 2006

Gears etc.

Well it looks like I’m making a habit of only getting posts in on Mondays.. bad me, BAD! ;) My excuse this week is that I went to the Gears of War ‘Emergence Day’ launch on Friday afternoon. It meant taking time off work (which I worked in this weekend), but it was well worth it. Besides the launch itself, which was great fun (we went to a shooting range to fire off a few shots on a 9mm and a shotgun), we got collectors edition copies of the game, as well as copies of Flight Simulator X. There were a couple of nice ‘freebies’ in our ‘welcome packs’ as well, which was great.

You’re just a COG in the machine!

The game itself is pretty good. I’m not convinced it deserves the 95-100% ratings everyone has been giving it, but it is undeniably impressive. The very gritty look of post-apocalyptic Serra does a good job of showing off the Unreal 3 engine, but the way-too-familiar story and gameplay are a bit of a let down. Epic promised great things of this game, and while it does what it does extremely well, there’s nothing revolutionary here.

And then there were three

The ‘next generation’ is now officially here in full force. The last two weeks saw Nintendo and Sony release their new systems, and as is to be expected they both sold out in no time. The PS3 has managed to garner mainstream press attention thanks to the ridiculously inflated price it is commanding on eBay, and because of a series of violent incidents surrounding first-day sales. Analysts have also been making worried noises about the incredibly low attach rate of the PS3-apparently less than one game per console. For a system that loses Sony almost $300 every time a customer buys one, slow game sales is scary stuff and I would hate to be a Sony exec right now-or a shareholder for that matter. The Wii on the other hand does not seem to have stolen headlines quite as effectively, but it has certainly stolen sales. Nintendo managed to deliver a huge number of consoles to retail, and they practially walked off shelves-and unlike Sony and Microsoft, the big N is actually making a profit on each console.

Now that everyone is in the ring, it will be interesting to see which way things go. Of course this Christmas will not really be much of an indicator, as Sony is still struggling with manufacturing issues, and the early adopters are never the deciding factor anyway.

Now if only Ms would get their asses into Gear and get Viva Pinata out in SA dammit!


One has to wonder about the mental stability of someone that is willing to wait hours in a queue to buy potentially buggy hardware on launch day for %600. Even more worrying is someone that will spend that time waiting, only to take this $600 paperweight and smash it to pieces in front of all the other eager customers. Check out the hilarious video at

Monday, November 13, 2006


[There was a hiccup in the mail system, so I had to resend this.. It was actually written on Friday, I promise!]

From a gaming perspective, this week has been something of a calm before the storm. Microsoft’s holiday flagship title, Gears of War, launched and is in stores and gamers’ hands, but as popular as it has proven with critics and gamers, it’s not really succeeding at the obvious attempt to detract attention from the impending Wii and PS3 launches.

After years of speculation, and almost a year of Microsoft’s next-gen monopoly period, Sony and Nintendo’s new hopes are on the verge of being unleashed on the world. Of course, how much this will affect the South African scene in the short term is debatable. Nintendo products have a history of lackluster distribution in this country, and I doubt the Wii will be very different. South Africans also seem to have a terminal fear of doing anything that may seem even slightly wacky (other than the friggin ‘Leeu Loop’) so I am not convinced the Wii’s unique approach will be appreciated by most.

Sony on the other hand has had a stranglehold on the local market for two generations now, and even the PSP is doing really well compared to the DS, especially if considered in the context of Nintendo’s worldwide handheld dominance. Of course we will not see any PS3s at retail here until March next year (and I’m doubtful about even that date), and while the console may seem expensive to Americans and Europeans, thanks to our brutal exchange rate it will most likely be downright impossibly priced when it does launch here. Our sole local PlayStation hardware distributor, Ster Kinekor, has a history of overpricing gaming prices and this persists today, with the PS2 still selling for around US$160 here in most stores. US$600 is an insane amount of money for even middle income South Africans, and I doubt very much we will see it released at that price here-more than likely Ster Kinekor will throw in another $50-$100 for (their) good measure.

I am by no means saying that the Xbox 360 will be a runaway success just yet in South Africa. I expect the vast majority of gamers in this country to carry on playing their PS2’s for a good while still, however when they do look to upgrade, the huge price tag difference may see the Xbox 360 stealing a lot of the PS3’s overpriced thunder.

Of course this is all speculation and only time will tell. For now I’ll stick to trying to finish all the guild quests in Oblivion, and waiting impatiently for the release of Viva PiƱata. Gears who?

Friday, November 03, 2006

360 update and WinAmp sync

Wow. This week has really flown by, but I don't really have any interesting news-what can I say, my life's a bore :p I have (unfortunately) been spending time playing Import Tuner Challenge from Ubisoft, and the only good thing I can say about it is I'm really looking forward to writing the review-because I'll be able to get really creative in describing it. Check out a future edition of GEAR for the review on this unbelievably bad game!

Dashy update

The Xbox 360 received a new dashboard update this week. The update added support for native 1080p output, as well as support for some new peripherals like the wireless steering wheel and Live headset. A number of enhancements to things like media connectivity and support were added too. Unfortunately it seems that a tiny percentage of users experienced issues with this update-to the point where there machines were rendered unusable, so MS quickly put out a fixed update.

Media madness

No, not the journalist kind, the multi-kind. Microsoft released Windows Media Player 11 this week, and used in conjunction with the new 360 dashboard update this lets Windows XP users stream music, images and movies to the '360. Sadly there is still no support for popular non-Microsoft codecs like DivX, so it's usefulness is a bit limited.

Media Player 11 itself is really, really pretty. I tried it in the hope that it might support the features it previously lacked and that I consider essential - podcasts and decent device synchronization. Unfortunately it still has zero support for RSS streams with embedded media, and the device support is actually worse than that in version 10-it does not even pick up my PSP as a media player!

Since I was trying new things I thought I would give WinAmp another chance. It does include RSS support, but it's pretty unpleasant to use so I'm stuck with iTunes for that (I tried some other aggregators, but they all pretty much suck). Synchronization wise though, WinAmp has some amazing features! It picks up the PSP with no problems, and not only allows you to synchronize it from selected playlists but also has an 'auto fill' feature that you can use to fill the player up to a certain percentage of full capacity. Both features can be controlled with a really powerful query 'language' and it allows you to specify target directories and so on. It's actually amazing how many synch tools don't support that simple feature! There are two small issues that have been overlooked, but they can sort of be worked around. The first is that you can't specify playlists as a source for the autofill-it always uses the entire library (filtered by the query). The other is that you can't set it to ignore certain files or folders already on the device. This sucks a bit because the autofill always deletes my audio podcasts, so I can only use it when I've listened to everything and am about to download new episodes. Overall though, it looks like WinAmp has won me over again-iTunes is now just my podcatcher.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Amazing analogy

I can’t even remember the number of times I have been called to defend my Christianity, be it in casual conversation or in some heated debate online or off. In response to a post on a local Xbox 360 forum containing a link to a rather inflammatory open questionnaire to Christians, one of the forum members used one of the most bizarre analogies I have ever come across. He compares not giving God a chance to the ‘fanboyism’ present amongst console (and other high tech) consumers, and it’s probably the most appropriate way to get the point across considering the context! His complete analogy was:

“The way I see it (to use a VERY brief, and maybe somewhat oversimplified analogy), is that is equates to the whole Xbox vs Playstation story. I am an Xbox Fan, because I have had personal experience with both, and Xbox is clearly better. Some people haven't really used Xbox, and insist that playstation is better. No amount of me telling them is going to change thier opinion until they get to know the Xbox. It's the same with Jesus. I know there are a million holes in my analogy, so please don't pull it apart, but the point is that I have a personal relationship with God that has changed my life in such a masive way, I can't even begin to explain it. That is all I can say.”

Amen to that!


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