Clan 404

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Archive for April, 2007

PSP: The 404th review

30 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

Well, being as I've now had my PSP for over a week I thought it was about time to post a few fuzzy pictures of it and write a loose, badly worded, comedic piece called a 'review'.
Being as nobody reads this site it's a futile gesture, but in order to attract even crows, you have to have breadcrumbs. So here we go.

Design:

By far the better part of the PSP is it's design. It's sleek, well made and fairly compact.
It comes in a variety of colours and whilst my loving partner managed to avoid the temptation of buying me a pink one, mine's black. For anybody that's had a fiddle with a GBA SP, or a DS this one will feel a little 'wider' in your hands. Not original X-Box pad wide, but wider than others.

In all its blurry glory 
The controls are firm and don't fly around too much, the mini-thumbstick is well designed and doesn't stick out enough for the thing to get broken off.
The L and R shoulder buttons again are unintrusive but they do wiggle back and forth a bit, not too much but there's more play there than there needs to be.

Everything else is normal for handhelds, it doesn't boast the DS touch screen or the compact dimensions and 'cute' factor of the SP but it does have the biggest screen of all three. And for purists I'm not adding the two DS viewing areas as one, they are separate screens and used predominantly for that purpose.

Although not technically a 'design' feature the battery life and backlighting are good. I've had no trouble seeing the screen in dark environs (Not so for the early GBA's) but it does reflect a lot of light. Watching the screen in broad daylight can be difficult, and when you figure that portability is about being outside then that may be a drawback. But if you're sensible and don't try to sit on the beach below a blazing solar ball of hydrogen you're usually ok.

The battery life is exemplary for something of it's capacity, variety and size. From listening to MP3's with visualisations, to full length movies and also games, all of which include accessing the memory stick, it's really quite formidable. Sony have obviously tapped into their experience in digicams and phones to make the most of battery life in a hand held device, roughly once every three or four days of average use I have to charge the battery, so I'm happy. The annoying thing is of course the AC adaptor is Sony patented so I'm guessing a new one would cost me an arm and a leg, but that's what I expect with a product of this quality.

Next on the design front would be the UMD disk tray at the rear of the console:

Open wide... 

Ive taken a shot here of the open innards of the PSP so you can see what's exposed when you load a game disk or UMD movie. To be honest this is my only gripe with the PSP's design. The opening tray at the back accompanied as it is by PS2 style springs and a loading draw for a disk, whch obviously includes a reader head and a spinning axle make me uneasy. They are firm and well put together, dont spring, click or creak in any hideous way but there is that feeling that if anything goes wrong on consoles it's moving parts.

I'm not sure why Sony opted for a proprietary disk format in UMD, being as catridges can offer as much data storage etc. I suppose it allowed the film industry a similar enough tech to DVD to burn UMD movies. What annoys me is that catridges are just plain, simpler, easier, smaller, less likely to bust etc. That said I've not yet (touch wood) had any problems with either the loading tray or any disks. It doesn't make a lot of noise nor does it hiss or click when loading (Pretty impressive when you consider it's being held upright) and I've had no misreads either. For the sake of journalistic integrity I even threw it around a bit whilst it was trying to load. The jitter correction and read speed must be pretty good because it didn't fault. That said I wouldn't make a habit of shaking it while its loading. The only other downside would be the PSP's size, it isnt annoying to hold or carry, weighging in at very little, but if you want to sling it in your pocket and listen to MP3s you'll be dissapointed. It needs a jacket pocket or aside vent on cargo pants to slip in properly, aditionally if you don't have a case you'll be worried about scratching the large screen when walking. A problem not encountered on folding GBA SP's or DS's.

Interface:

One of the strengths of Sonys platforms is that they usually have a nice interface. The general rule of thumb is don't add more stuff than the user needs to do or know. With the DS and similar compteting systems it's hard to not follow this rule. They basically play games and that's about it.
The PSP is a slightly different story.
The initial menu depdns on your firmware but it's a beautiful and relaxing thing of pulsating gentle colours and an intuitive side scrolling list of options, here for your viewing pleasure is a fuzzy example:

It's a thing of beauty

The PSP boats multiple features aside from games, including movies, music, internet browsing and screen show menus. This plethora of features has been well dealt with and is always accessable even without media present (A feature admired by admins) but also occasionaly auto-runs for basic tasks (You put a game in and it runs, a favourite for dumb asses).
Simplicity is nice and each overall menu drops down into several sub menus you navigate via moving the highlight up and down. It feels a bit like Vista without the perspective but is pretty to look at whilst being functional. Downsides of the interface are that with every firmware upgrade the PSP goes through (Similar to DirectX these come with many games for play) are hard to reverse and often add more icons in the context menus. I'm a fan of more functionality and greater power to the user but I hope Sony are careful in the number of features they introduce in this way, sometimes it can be an ass to have lots of icons I dont need. The interface is designed so I dont initially see the things I dont want but they do get in the way when Im doing other functions in the same menu.
That said the PSP is about media and games which means, aside from linking it to WAN's and Wi-Fi hunting, I dont spend much time going through menus, which is nice.

Gfx / Sound:
 

This is where the PSP really stands out for me. The sheer quality of the graphics and display, kill the competition. The cute but unerpowered graphics offered by nintendo (That sentence could describe all their consoles, let alone handhelds) are dwarfed by the more mature, contrasted and richer display of the PSP. Not only is the screen bigger but Sony do more with the space. I feel more like I'm using a decent multimedia device than a souped up mobile phone which has mario.
The visuals are rich and organic, obviously way below the PC's capabilites and those of the PS3 or even more sophisticated PS2 titles but still very capable. I'd put the graphics as PS 1.75 or PS2 on occasion. There are decent particle effects, good polygon count and the machine seems able to display different framerates via movies etc with no problem, no dead pixels or late transition of colour. The only downside is that I've occasionally noticed a 'red bleed' on some movies. I think this is down to encoding however as I've not seen any such problems in the games or on other titles. There's no blurring either and overall the screen is really top quality.

When I first tried my PSP on a train during a commute I was wearing £3 aeroplane earphones which gave me pause. I was trying hard to watch an episode of the Simpsons but the sound was drowned out by the train. I then tried a game and wacked the sound up to full and found the same problem. At this point I was annoyed, the max volume without headphones isnt bad but it drains the battery more and annoys other commuters.
I decided to give the PSP a fair go and borrowed by partners cheap but effective, Sennheiser, noise cancellation, in-ear phones.

Revolution.

The sound is crisp and clear, no hitches, or stutters. There are no pops, clicks or even over bearing sounds as the machine transitions from one effect to the next. The MP3 playback is exemplarary too. There's no digital noise in the background or sound of processing or interference messing with your signal (A bane on my cheap mp3 player) and there's even no pause between songs in MP3 mode with the player buffering the next up before moving on a file, avoiding loading.
With a decent pair of noise cancellation phones this baby really immerses you, the screen passes the big enough to be engrossed in' test too. I've sat watching a film with my earphones on whilst angry train guards literally wave ticket inspection mahcines in my face. Gone to the world.
To give you an idea what benfit you get from the audio with an average pair of in-ear phones, I can sit on a tube going full speed through a tunnel with the carriage windows down so air is rushing through and the sound of the train crashing along the tracks is reflected back into the carriage, with the PSP on 75% volume and not notice a thing. For someone with tinitus that's a good thing.

Although not technicaly an audio feature I would say that the PSP's ability to have several cool equilisers to watch whilst playing MP3s is nice too, they react well to the sound and are co-ordinated and synched properly, no random 'why did that happen? moments, which I've had with Winamp.

Games:

I can't try to come across as too much of an expert here, being as I've only played one title. What I would say is this. But that in itslf is ok, because if you like strategy games and Im reviewing the PSP base don my love of sports titles you'd get just as little from it.
What I will say is that the initial catalogue for the PSP was small and Gonz had repeatedly told me he didn't know of one 'must have' game that sold the PSP. Well the library is much larger now and better games are coming along all the time, for me the question of a 'must have title is more reserved for consoles. In a handheld I want titles I can pick up and play, that look a lot like if not exactly the same as their console equivalents.
I'm also a big fan of retro games. Therefore when Midway, Namco and Capcom all released their 'best of' series on PSP I wet my pants. I can now play the Arcade version of SF2 and all the old megadrive classics at their intended graphics and speed on my PSP. Here's another bonus of the PSP over the other traditional handhelds. Im an adult gamer, thats why Im always drawn to Sony or Microsoft in consoles rather than Nintendo. The array of titles available for PSP includes plenty of platform and puzzle games but its also got lots of arcade classics, converted truly (All death moves, blood etc) I like that. If I want cutesy, save the world and stroke puppies Ill play a DS. If I want harder, darker and more involving games that dont shy away from blood, sex and gore because they have to I'll play the PSP.

Hackability:

This is a key feature of any handheld or console for me. As a PC person from the outset, I've always needed connectivity, functionality and best of all the ability to play with the hardware a bit. Being a Sony product I was very wary about the PSP's abilities in this field.
What with Sony installing spyware with their albums and mp3's, making firmware checks on games and other drives and owning half the music and film industry I didnt expect much by way of adaptability.

Thankfully I was wrong.

The PSP comes with a handy USB port at the top which connects to your PC. No doubt the later versions wof the firmware will require software on the PC but this one doesnt. Plug your PSP in, have a memory stick inserted and your PC just treats it like a large removable drive. Make sure to format the memory stick on the PSP and itll helpfully show all the root folders etc. What this allows you to do is load up movies and other titles tot he PSP after you've converted them into the right format and put them in the right place.
With a little mucking about you can get full length movies onto your PSP and all the MP3's you want. You can also put in save games and other such fun items to unlock bonuses and endings on games you may have purhased.
The games piracy tech is a little more sophisticated than that, and I havn't seen a sucesfull crack of it with the latest PSP firmware. But to be honest that's fine by me. I dont mind paying for the games in the least, I just want to be able to use the media functionality the way I want to. If I want to back up my DVDs as DivX and then play them on the move, I expect Sony to let me do that. And whilst they dont help it isnt too difficult to do either. 

Conclusion:

In summary I'd say this was the best handheld out there for a guy like me. I like the multimedia functionality, I like the game I've played, the audio and graphics destroy the competition (I'm not counting rare Japanese handhelds here) and its all presented in a neat, slick package. Sure the downsides of moving parts, size and a proprietrary game format aren't negligble but being as PSP's are now sub £100, the library has expanded and many are availalbe in deals with 2 or 3 titles I'm a fan.

For those of you who are worried, dont be concerned, I still hate Sony, but theyre winning me back a PSP at a time...

The end.

I leant LucasArts my computer

24 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

...And they did this with it:

 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6584075.stm

 I told the guy at PC World I just wanted it for internet and email, I knew those fuckers overcharged me.

Today...

22 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

Is my birthday. Rejoice oh empty site in the hollowness of this place.

I warned you

20 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

I warned you all.

But no, you wouldn't listen. Literally nobody stepped up to help me fill the content void. Not even to comment on one of my attempts to make articles. Therefore I now know what I had always suspected. There is no one here.

This is officially the lonliest site on the internet and to prove it is a cat with a helmet:
It's a cat in a helmet dumb ass.

He will stand guard for all eternity on this, the lonliest of digital outposts.

Machinima

18 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

This guy deserves a medal. Get over to his site and watch this movie:

http://www.gametrailers.com/umwatcher.php?id=57998

It's the kind of thing that makes me wish I'd stayed in games development / art. Or that I had talent. Either will do.

P.S: Can someone help me out here? Someone post something anything...Seriously. A picture of your cat or anything. Just so I don't feel like this is Shogz and Gonzo.com which I know deep down it is.

Ghost Rider - Flaming Sh-t.

16 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

Sometimes you watch a movie that is so terribly awful it is difficult to put into words.
Sadly, however, being a journo type, words are my hobby. Somehow I have to pass on the sheer excrement value of the movie I've just watched.

Right, let's see...I need some adjectives. 'Confused', 'Badly Acted', 'Rabid dog shit covered in radioactive arse waste of evil mutant zombie cats that have eaten shit for half a year then died and roasted in old sewage before shatting out this film'.

Yep, those fit.

Ghost Rider follows the model put forward in comic to movie marketing documents. That for every two good comic book films, one has to be truly crap. Thankfully, like the curse Johnny Blaze chooses to carry for us all, this movie fulfills the latter role.

The background story is actually quite strong, involving a faustian pact which results in the devil cheating Johnny out of his soul and sending him after some very unscary opponents. Johnny is a bike rider, who rides a bike for evil which turns him into fire and he has powers which means he collects the devils debts. Sadly none of this story gets put into the film.

It isn't even a decent kids comic book movie, sure there's some good action and nice effects (Although not all nice, watching the end scene where the devil is standing in the church makes you realise how horribly superimposed the actors are). I gave up trying to follow the story halfway through and just watched for the leading ladies boobs everytime she thrust them into view.

Here is a sample of the dialogue, truly of Epoisode III standard: "I love you for who you are. This is who you are, who you were always meant to be." YAWN.

The bad guys are not scary, the film is a series of different scenes badly cut together that seem completely unconnected, the plot makes little sense and frequently dissapears only to poop up again as convenient. Random legends and myths are thrown in, but there's nothing apocalyptic, epic or even remotely magical about the outcome. It just looks like bad sci-fi TV gone wrong. Huge swathes of characterisation are left untouched and plot holes abound (Who are the demons aiding the devils son? Where do they go? If the son has no soul and Johnny kills the others, where does he go? What happens to the woman? How about the million people who saw Johhny turn into ghostrider and tear up a city and throw a police helicopter on film? What happned to the secret rider? Why did he wait to reveal himself? Who are the villagers of this place and why havn't they been damned?) The film left me with endless questions and an annoying feeling I had made a deal to spend two hours watching it and was cheated out of that time.

It's not all bad, you get the sense that Cage is sleepwalking through his lines but he's still entertaining enough to watch. There's also a kind of feeling that there was a wealth of material to go on from the comic books and the writers tried to cram way too much in. But aside fomr that and the leading ladies breasticles, this is one to burn in the eternal pit of bargain bin hades and never ever touch.

Verdict? Don't even bother to warez it.

Is Quake 3 dead?

11 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

Intent on creating content and solving life's mysterys I typed the above question into several major browsers and noted the results.

With Google when hitting 'I feel lucky' I got some mod site (Reaction) , updated in January this year. So not dead, just...old: http://www.rq3.com/

Ask Jeeves, fared a little worse and gave me a French site as my first hit. Because this site was French I immediately spammed it's webmaster, trolled the email addresses, signed them up for kiddy porn and DDOS'd the host with my best script. When that failed I followed the second link: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/en/doc/2003-10/17/content_273218.htm. This was more sobering. An earthquake had left 3 people dead and some 500,000 homeless. My concerns are small.

Then I tried Yahoo because I wanted the US Government to know my name and underwear size as sold to them by Yahoo, sorry Blizzard, sorry AOL inc.
They gave me the Irish Quake community website. It was actually interesting and contained relevant news fom this month. Notably that id want betatesters for the new Quake Wars. Here: http://www.quake.ie/

Which search constantly comes up no matter what I set my default search to? Which one does IE constantly recommend regardless of my actions? So finally I tried MSN. It repeated Google and gave me Reaction Quake 3. Being a dilligent journalist I followed the second link to get more links for you. This one meniotned an earthquake in Indonesia that had killed 3,000: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/5022558.stm

So did my intrepid internet exploring result in an answer? Is Quake 3 dead? Well, sort of. But there are also a lot of earthquakes out there. Remember earthquakes could be anywhere, they could be your best friend. Report all Earthquakes to your local police force.

Op-Ed: Church on Sundays

03 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

To break the impression that clan404.com is now solely a, poorly written movie review, database I thought it time to add some content with depth.

 A recent news article over at the BBC, here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6517807.stm
Got me thinking on the subject of religion, faith, God et al.

I've recently read professor Dawkin's excellent book 'The God delusion' and all this has had me thinking pretty durn hard about the true nature of the world we live in.

Religion bashing is easy, with a bit of historical comparison, sourcing and textual analysis one can pick apart any of the worlds major faiths by discrediting its literature. Biblical studies over the Renaissance period yielded the science we know as religious study today. And the arguments against the worlds strongest religions remain as strong today as when Darwin first begged God's forgiveness for having to 'tell the truth' in the theory of evolution.

However, as the BBC article highlights, most of us are satisfied with very little intellectual inquiry, despite possesing the faculties to do so. We assume vague, half truths defning ourselves as 'Christian' or 'Agnostic' (In the West at least) and turn to a dimly remembered version of school-time Christianity when the going gets rough. Whilst any one religion does not have all the answers any longer and none of the major texts can (IMHO) stand up to intense scrutiny, that does not mean that belief in God is redundant or illogical.

If we define religion as beliefs supported by a set of practices then to some, science is a religion unto itself. The belief is the quest for universal truth which is suported by the practice of rigourous logic and scientific inquiry. True, scientists dont simply explain away the unknown with 'Magic Man in the sky did it' but neither do they have all the answers. The irk for most scientists or, dare I say, rationalists, as I see it is the blind acceptance by the religious masses that if there's no current answer it doesnt warrant study because 'God did it'. This is true most of the time, indeed Dawkin's refers to it as the 'God of the gaps' theory in his book. Where there is no science as yet, God exists, when science shines its light into a gap, belief simply fills another one, and so on.

However there are a group of people beyond the agnostic and the scientific, they are the deists. They believe in God, but don't necessarily feel that they have any special place in God's existance, being merely another form of life, albeit one cognicent enough to marvel at creation.
Of course this theory has its detractors too, on the religious side comes the argument 'If God exists and gifted the capacity for independant thought surely it is divine will that we search, find and subsequently praise.' And the scientific: 'Accepting the existence of God with little or no evidenc eother than the lack of explanation for certain phenomena is no more logical than ascribing all life to a giant teapot spinning in the sky over Pluto'.

Both arguments have their weaknesses, first the religious argument that if God exists we must naturally create a religion and follow/serve is somewhat self aggrandising. Whoever said mankind was so special? If that's true how do we differentiate between competing religions? Which is truly inspired by God? Who's miracles are bigger? The answer is clouded in 'we cannot know the mind of God' answers. Which sadly are circular and axiomatic. For everythnig we cant explain 'God did it' and for everythnig we dont understand but do know 'Dont ask'. Logic is not the enemy of religion, but it isn't even treated on equal terms in this argument.

Second, science. It is a myth that science jumps form fact to well established fact. It doesn't. Many areas of subjects now taken for granted (Ironically like the vague recollection of religion we all carry) are not factual, just hypothetical. Some Darwinists will crow that evolution is a 'proven fact'. Just because something is observable and repeatable in current circumstances does not make it a fact. There could be many reasons or exceptions to our rule, indeed there are many gaps in the evolutionary chain as we know it, just in general, our rule works most of the time. Second, Big Bang theory. Creationists have a problem with this one as it means the universe didnt start with God saying 'Be'. Sure the universe may not have been made in 7 days, but who said God didnt kick off the bang? Second we enter the circular realm of 'what came first' what created the bang etc. Again we have plenty of circumstantial evidence that backs up the idea of an expanding universe, but in an example of where science continues to contradict, an older-modern (If such an oxymoron can be used) view was that the universe would expand and contract, there are now studies indicating it will expand forever. Again, no answers.

We are, to borrow from Fight Club, the middle children of history. No longer obediant to religion through ignorance to the world, but not illuminated enough by Science to drop our ideas of divinity. In short, we've got problems.

All comments welcome, peace.

The Hills Have Eyes 2: More mutant rape

02 Apr 2007 by ShogZ

Having a partner who is quite the fan of the horror genre is nice, it means I'm dragged to see films I might not otherwise bother with. It is also bad, as I'm dragged to see films I might not otherwise bother with.

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (Hereafter HHE2) is actually quite good. It doesnt so much build on the first movie as just retell it underground with guns. Now for those of you who're thinking Alien here, think again. Whereas Aliens was an amazing movie that allowed large numbers of the evil creatures to face the might of future-modern military technology, this is not 'What would happen if we sent in the marines?' more 'Lets give the mutants more pretty women to rape only put them in army fatigues'.

The movie plays on several of the genre staples. First our outpost of scientists investigating the initial incident is attacked and cut off. Second an unsuspecting group of young national guard trainees go to deliver supplies ot the area and discover the situation. Unable to raise help they abandon protocol and go on a search & rescue mission for the missing people.
The movie doesn't try to get bigger than it is and makes only a few wider political jibes, an example of which is that the troops are young and stupid and in a 6 week training course for Afghanistan at the outset of the movie.

 Characters are fairly 2D aside form our 'leads' this lets you identify who's going to get mulched pretty easy from the outset. We've got a 'scientific' peacenik who will obviously become a man through a trial of blood, an angry Mexican who will have to come to terms with his violent nature and a smart, capable black man who - True to Spike Lee's nightmares, will probably die. Their tough black sergant is a good guy trying to do right who cares for his platoon add in two women, one white and one hispanic, one of whom has a child, and you're left wondering what the hell kind if platoon this is if not steretypical. All it needed was a chinese guy and a brazilian kid and they could have summoned captain Planet to help.

Stereotypes aside the movie does ok at the outset. We get the obligatory, silence followed by loud noises, claustrophobic camera angles and gory, bloody deaths by an unseen enemy. The director was obviously aware that the unseen is more scary than the average monster in the hallway so they play on it until they simply have to start showing bad guys.
The movie doesnt do anything particularely new in the way it uses sound and visuals, camera angles are standard, the score is predictable and imemorable but most of the acting is solid enough to let you sit through it. The only production gripe would be the pacing, the movie ramps it up, then slows it down, then ramps it up and so forth. This wouldnt be bad if we used the sloe time to do some characterisation or something but it's wasted in the main. I found myself shifting in my seat awaiting the next firefight.

There is of course the obligatory 'signature shock scene' which competing horror movies now have to have. Saw has it's games and voice modulated speeches, Chainsaw massacre has it's preserved skins and Hills has mutant rape. For those of you who havn't senn the first movie, buy the Directors cut on DVD. The mutant rape scene is actually rather unsettling, it's realistic without being too shwoy and just probable and horrid enough that its revolting, the production crew obivously realised this was the Hills main selling point, being as it was what critics focussed on.

So Hill 2 features just such a scene, thing is this one is predictable and is lead up to. It doesn't feel like a spontaneous evil act by the monsters, just something stuck in to give the viewers a 'shock factor'. That plus it's filming just make you feel a bit uncomfortable rather than shocked, kind of like having a sex program come on when you're watching tv with your parents.

Overall the film is your average easter monster movie. Predictable, trading on the innovations of the first movie while adding nothing new fairly run of the mill. However solid acting and a decent(ish) plot and background story bring it just a head over the monster munching competition.

Verdict?

Wait for the directors cut on DVD.