MacBook Air

It’s super light. The display is gorgeous. The performance is adequate. The keyboard works great. I never really noticed the backlit keyboard, but it’s nice to know it’s there. The single USB port is annoying. The no-built in CD is for the most part, fine, except for when the lack of a USB port is bothering you. The weight is great. The form factor is superior to any other ‘ultraportable’ – it’s absolutely perfect.

However, it has a nasty tendency which pisses me off something fierce:

If you do anything that makes it run at full CPU, and use the graphics chip pretty moderately, it will actually shut down one of the cores (!). I can trigger this by playing a flash game for like 10 or 15 minutes. Or from watching YouTube. There are some fixes, which I will speak about in a moment.

My theory is that Apple had designed the MBA to work with Intel’s new Atom CPU. But Intel said “Sorry, that’s going to be another 6 months.” Apple said, “screw you, Intel, we need to release this. Help us out.” Hence the release of the un-codenamed non-roadmap weirdo CPU that powers the MBA. It uses too much juice and runs too hot for the chassis it’s in, hence the weirdo CPU speed throttle and core-dropping.

One of the workarounds I heard of was to reapply the thermal paste between the CPU and the heatsink. Some on the Apple Support Forums swear by this. I’m not dicking around with that stuff because you know I’ll end up destroying this damn thing that way. Instead, I sent it to Mike’s Mac Shop – my former employer – to have a motherboard swap. Unfortunately – that didn’t seem to help. Grrr.

The final thing I had heard of doing was grabbing this software called CoolBook and installing and configuring that so as to ‘under-volt’ the CPU – giving it less power than it’s spec’ed to use. I don’t like the UI on this program, and the documentation is super-sparse. And I don’t like having to pay $10 to fix this problem which seems to me like Apple’s fault.

But damn, if it didn’t fix the problem. I can’t make it drop a core anymore. The laptop works the way it’s supposed to know. I can make it get pretty damned hot, mind you, but both cores stay up.

So I’ll certainly update if I feel like coolbook’s not doing the trick – but it sure as hell seems that it is now.

Once the MBA gets ‘refreshed’ with actual volume quantities of Intel’s Atom CPU, buy one. They’re great. The USB thing will bother you though, so be prepared.

2 year late God of War review

So I saw ads for God of War 2, and read various bits online about it, and found myself in posession of a Best Buy giftcard (Birthday! Nice!) So, I figured, might as well pick up GoW 1, which was available on the ‘greatest hits’ PS2 label, so it was only $20 off my card.

It’s extremely violent, and even has naked ladies in it. Well, topless ones. But as I’m playing through it I start to realize – this is one of the best-produced games ever. It has polish. Every time they violate one of the rules, they end up doing something right before or right after to make it okay. There’s a big nasty trap that you only know about by springing it and immediately dying? That’s okay, they checkpoint’ed you just before. You have to walk or do a jumpey-jumpey routine somewhere and fell and died? No prob, checkpoint! And just the level design and character design and the way they made almost everything interesting, even as you’re killing the same damned type of creature for the 50th time.

I won’t spoil too much of the story – but it’s interesting, and we learn more about our Protagonist/anti-hero Kratos as the story progresses. It keeps you interested for sure, and there’s lots of stuff going on. It’s surprisingly puzzley, but I suppose it would have to be or you’d just be pounding away at creatures all day.

Unfortunately, the polish starts to appear thinner and thinner as you get further along in the game. It’s almost as if you can see the ‘seam’ where one QA team finished and another took over. Cameras start getting in the way. You start running into problems where you have to do some long, lame routine of stuff and if you die at the end you haven’t been checkpointed, and have to do it again. Or you find you’re dodging the same two monsters for 15 minutes because you can’t find any health anywhere. As you get to the end, the cameras get hilariously bad – I’m fighting an enemy and all I can see is the back of him, because the camera is behind him and I can’t even see my character at all. Plus, in the third phase of the final battle (I don’t know if it’s the last, yet), the game crashed. I didn’t like how they handle this particular phase very much to start with, but then the game crashed. And there were no savepoints in the middle. I would’ve been happy to hit one and stop for the night 2 hours ago, but there were none to be had. Suddenly you get sprung with a new type of weapon, and it doesn’t work like the other ones did, and besides, you can’t see yourself anyways to see if you’re doing it all right.

So I haven’t yet beaten the game, and I’m assuming it’s just a matter of time before I do. I think I got it…last week? 2 weeks ago? I’m not sure. But, considering that the part where the game crashed is called ‘Final Battle’, I think I can give a somewhat thorough review. I would still, despite the various late-game nasty flaws, say the game is Good. I have enjoyed it and it’s confounded me (in good ways) and pissed me off (in bad ways). And it would only bother me as much as it does if the game is, in the end, good. And it is.

Things I actually like

Well, lots of negative reviews and blather from me lately, so how about something a little more postive –

First. Camino, the browser. I have run it for a while (a week-ish?) and it has not yet crashed on me. v.1.0.3 . This is particularly good, for me. It’s not too crazily resource-intensive. It doesn’t degrade much over time. Alas, I can’t use all the great debugging extensions that Firefox can use, and that is very, very unfortunate. But I haven’t lost work – and that’s huge. As one might recall, I don’t like browsers very much. And Camino annoys me as well. But, as of late, it has annoyed me less than most of the others. I still feel that the finest web-browsing experience one can have seems to be Firefox on Windows, which is blasphemous of me to say, but I feel it’s true. But Camino is my new browser, until the Firefox people can get their collective shit together and put out a version for OS X that doesn’t suck as much as this one does.

Next up – I bought myself a copy of Star Fox for the DS as a little ‘gift’ to myself for ‘being good’ – whatever that means. Anyways, after having come off a bad spate of games I worried that this oen might be the same. But, in fact, it is not at all! It’s quite good – but I should note that I am one of the shittiest fighter pilots alive, so perhaps take my words with some salt, a little paprika, and a sprig of thyme.

There’s a “strategic” view where you use the stylus to draw the paths you want your ships to take, and can tap on areas of the screen to scan them, then when you end your turn, your units all move. It’s a great non-rectilinear take on strategic stuff, and could end up making something interesting in its own right. But as for Starfox, it makes a great way to send your different fighters off to do different tasks.

Then there’s the regular, old-school fighter-pilot-ing. Simple controls – stylus on screen. You get a nice analog response with this setup, and though it doesn’t feel completely 3-dimensionally free, it is quite good. You can cruise around a 2-D square, and you have a relatively tight timespan to do it in. But it makes a challenge, and is fun.

The plot leaves a bit to be desired, but stuff does seem to happen, and it is advancing interestingly enough.

All in all, I’m glad this one sucked less.

And, finally, gym attendance. Sucking worse than normal, now. The problem is that my time is so very very limited and the few minutes I do have to do with what I will I need to be spending productively, for whatever definition of the word ‘productively’ suits me at the time. And gym attendance is good for me and all – I don’t doubt that – but there are other things I need to be working on. The latest thing is my new authentication initiative It’s finally something for me to fiddle with that’s small enough that I really can reach my grasp all the way around it and get it to be exactly whatever I want it to be. I hope I can get it to the point where I don’t have to say, “oh, that part doesn’t work yet, coming soon” – and for the most part, it does work, and as advertised. The next issue – and the one that really killed me with NetServOS – will be getting Developers to develop for it. And of course, making it pretty. But I have plans for both of those things, for which you shall have to stay tuned…

Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 (DS) review

My first impression about MvDK2 was that it was simply a mediocre to slightly sub-mediocre game. Which was disappointing, because MvDK1 was a fun little game – not without its own quirks, but still fun. My final impression of the game, however, was very different.

MvDK1 was fun in that you were presented with little puzzles – get mario to location X, with key in hand. However, to get into the exit, the red switch needs to be pressed. And to get to the red switch, you need to be on this platform… Etc. Fun and brain-teasery ensues.

MvDK2 is a different beast entirely. In it, you use a stylus to urge little mario minis (wind-up toys it seems) on towards the exit. You would think fun ensues, but frustration rapidly sets in as the stylus-based controls are too clumsy to pull off the manuevers necessary to save the mini marios. The stylus not only controls the environment, but the minis themselves – "tap" them and they stop, drag across them and they start walking or change direction.

The head-scratcher levels from the predecessor are gone. You can pretty much figure out what you need to do immediately, it's just doing it that's the problem. For instance, let's say you have three minis walking in a line, and you want to stop them. Tap the first one, he stops. The second one bounces into him, starting him up again and turning the second one around. Maybe by then you've tapped the second one too, so now the third one bounces into him. What is a simple concept is maddening to actually implement.

But, that being sais, it was a fun enough diversion while on my way to or from work. Until I got to the end.

******** SPOILER ALERT *********

Do NOT read any further unless you want to know what is at the end of the game, which is a pleasant surprise!


It is: a very accurate remake of the first level of the original Donkey Kong. Down to the barrels, the oil can near the end that sets them on fire, DK himself hanging out on top. It’s pretty neat.

Or so you would think. I got here, and I had only six minis – I had barely made it through the previous mini-boss and must’ve only saved six minis. First, just like the original Donkey Kong, you can’t tell which direction barrels or fire things are going to go. Trying to jump over them is hard, but doable, sometimes. Unless you try and jump over them when you’re near a ladder, at which point you can’t be sure whether your mini will try and go up the ladder, or jump. And when you’re getting _off_ a ladder, if you gesture to tell your mini which way to go too early, it won’t “take”. Too late, and you’re dead. At random times, for no discernable reason at all, whatsoever, a second mini will pop out. You’re certain to lose the second one (or first, one of ’em for sure) because they need to be carefully directed to survive much longer than a few seconds. I have not been able to figure out what makes the minis pop out – it may be some kind of timing thing, but you can’t tell. Basically, your ability to make it through this is nearly completeley dependant upon luck. There are also the little hammers you can get – where you can destroy everything around you. By doing a ‘jump’ you toss the hammer up, and can continue to move up and down (without the hammer you can climb ladders). However, again, you can’t be certain if you will pick up the hammers at the top of the ladder or not. Not that you will actually want to. So, basically, your ability to get through this level depends almost completely on luck. Nothing more. So I figured – shit, I better re-do the previous level, so I can get through with more minis! I did it this time saving around 10. And it doesn’t matter, I still get 6 minis.

This level got me so psychotically angry that I was seriously considering throwing my DS into the subway, or smashing it to bits. I had to stop playing the game, mid-level, to keep from breaking something. I truly feel that the developers of this terrible abortion of a so-called game should be dragged out of their homes and killed. Their innards should be strewn about their neighborhoods, and other developers should be told their stories to prevent them from making the same mistakes. I may not even finish this game – and I _always_ beat _every_ game. It’s that annoying, and un-fun.

Now, the funny thing here is that 2 other people who played the game think it’s lots of fun, and really like it. But they’re not real people. They’re not hardcore video game nerds like me. So take my words with a grain of salt, and their recomendation with several tons of salt.

I suppose I’ll get philosophical – I believe the failure in the game is that you’re not in complete control of the minis – the sloppy stylus-only control scheme ensures that. I think the game would actually be better if you could _not_ control the minis at all. Then if the game were oriented to where the minis just go and run around on their own (a la Lemmings), you could focus on setting things up for them.

Anyways, most Mario-style games are designed to be fun for beginners and experts, young and old. This one is not. I want those developers dead. DEAD, I tell you – DEAD!

You Fail It, Pt. 2

New Browser Of the Day: Camino. It’s actually somewhat fast, it renders things okay and works okay, and hasn’t made me very angry yet. Firefox (esp. on the Mac) had made me very angry. I even tried to downgrade to, which still caused anger.

I did not go to the gym last night. My excuse: I felt a bit ‘blue,’ so I killed Nazis instead in Call of Duty 3. Which was fine, but man that game is getting exhausting. I spent 20 minutes methodically killing Kraut after Kraut, and working my way over to a secure position. I start running out of ammo, I’m offing so many krauts. And then I die. And I do the same thing, except faster, and there are fewer krauts to kill!? What’s going on here? And it hit me: since there’s no ‘health’ meter, slow patience would _always_ win against a finite number of enemies – you can never die if you only get popped once and then go hide. So all you would have to do is be very, very patient, and you will eventually prevail. That wouldn’t be any fun.

So instead, we have an infinite number of enemies. They keep coming back, over and over and over again, spawning from some mysterious generator point, never to be stopped until you walk over some invisible line which says they should stop spawning. I found that I could kill upwards of say, 50 or so Nazis and advance, or as few as around 3 – so long as I went to the right place that the computer wants me to be in, the generator is halted.

This is, unfortunately, very very lame. Already the game runs on rails, preventing you from moving to (what I consider) are tactically more strategic approaches to the goal at hand – instead, you have to go the way the computer tells you. And your “allies” (I put that in quote because I really believe they are secretly in cahoots with the Germans) keep getting in your way, or not helping you.

But, it is pretty, and the sound is good, and the controls are interesting – I find that I rest my forearm on my knee to keep my arm from tiring out, and I can keep the Wii Remote focused on the screen OK. If I need to have a sip of my drink while I’m playing, I hook the Nunchuk cable on my right pinky, and drink with my left hand. It’s not bad.

Call of Duty 3 for Wii

Caveat: I’m a weenie, and am playing on Hard. So it’s slower going for me than many.

Graphics: Pretty. For standard def, it looks pretty darn good! I’m glad to see the Wii can actually put out some decent images. You can barebly tell the difference between the prerendered stuff and the in-game stuff. No real jaggies that stick out. Nothing ‘pops’ out of the screen at all as strange. Textures are nice. Terrain looks good and isn’t too rectilinear.

Controls: Interesting – I normally never use ‘lean’ for example, but here, I might. Not super precise, but interesting. The little melee fight you have to do with the gun stock is pretty cool. Kinda immersive, and tiring – but not bad.

Gameplay: This is, alas, where I feel the game falls down. It’s a standard scripted roller-coaster ride through WWII. Little golden waypoint stars on your compass to tell you where to go. Little ‘trigger’ points which set the Krauts after you, or set off scripted events on the board. Maybe it’s me being a whiner, but I kinda feel like – haven’t we done this before? A lot? Repeatedly? Is this all there is? After the 4th or so time of having an explosion go off and one of my teammates pick me up, I start to tire of the scripting. After one of the assualts on a heavily fortified German position, I start to wonder – I keep killing them, and they keep coming back? What is it specifically that I have to do in order to advance? Go to my little gold star point? Does it matter if I kill the Nazis? Should I just go to where I’m told?

As in “Red Steel” there’s no health meter, just don’t get all shot up all at once and you don’t die. This solves the “Attrition Death” problem I blogged about before. But it feels wimpy. I dunno.

AI: Annoying. Teammates get into the line of fire, die, and then you lose due to friendly fire. And your teammates don’t help you when you actually need it. They may occasionally cap a bad guy. But that’s less often.

Conclusion: – A Console that allows for innovation does not necessarily cause innovation. It’s nice to see the games can be immersive, and the control scheme and sound effects and graphics feel pretty immersive – it’s just immersing me into a Disney ride where I have to shoot some baddies for the ride to move to the next thing. Feh. I’ll beat the game, mind you, as I always do, and I will enjoy it, and I am enjoying it now, but let’s see this for what it is – a decent game, not a great game, or even a good game.

wii review

So Beckley asked me if I actually liked the Wii or not – and though I think the issue has been covered a little, I thought I might mention my feelings about the issue.

It rocks.

It’s a nice little box – very attractive – it loads quickly, launches games quickly, and the controllers are very innovative and fun. My wife and I tired our shoulders out playing Wii Sports (tennis), and enjoyed a few holes of golf as well (I made par!). Zelda is a great game – not so controller-oriented, but very fun, and when it does use the controller, it’s pretty cool. For instance – shooting with projectile weapons is controlled with the pointer. Attacks are done by shaking the controller. But most of all, it’s a standard Zelda game with puzzles and stuff. Pretty cool.

The graphics aren’t spectacular, but if you don’t have an HD TV, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. if you do, well, I dunno. The XBox360 has nice HD graphics, and so does the PS3. But they’re pricey.

Nintendo’s whole deal is that it’s all about the gameplay. At this point, I agree.

Edit: It also has this virtual console thing that lets you play a whole bunch of ‘classic’ nintendo (and other) games. It can do N-64 games (Mario 64 for example), so I’m waiting for Goldeneye to become available (I hope it will, it’s a classic).

Red Steel (Wii)

So I waited in line at Toys R Us, and was right behind the cut-off to get a Wii. So the next day I went to the Nintendo Store and waited in line for about an hour and a half – only to find out my good friend Mike was able to snag me one – because he got in line with his wife Beth, and so he got me a system. Whew!

The game I personally was most excited about was Red Steel. And it seems to really have gotten savaged in reviews. Quite frankly, it’s not that bad. It’s a fun, average shooter, with some interesting little bits built in around the controller. Reloading is a shake of the nunchuk to the left, and you can toss grenades by holding the down button and either rolling them (nunchuk up motion) or tossing them (nunchuk down motion). The little swordfights can be pretty fun, too – block by shaking the nunchuk left or right, dodge by holding a button and moving the joystick, some special moves you learn along the way. As you make your way through the game, you learn cool little features about how the gunplay works with a ‘focus’ system, and there’s probably more stuff like that – I’m maybe a half to 3/4 of the way through.

The controls aren’t perfect, but I think I like them better than the standard dual-analog-stick controls. You wave the Wii remote around on the screen to point at stuff. You can aim by holding the A button and sliding the remote forward and back to zoom in and out. The left thumbstick on the nunchuk strafes left and right and walks forward and backwards. The only thing I feel could be better is the rotate left and rotate right controls – you do it by moving the remote left and right till the aim-point is off screen. Then the screen rotates until you move the remote back to point on screen. It’s not terrible – it’s just too Boolean for my tastes. I would think you would want something where if you get near the edge it rotates a little, and if you go way past the edge it rotates a lot.

So you can do some pretty decent pinpoint shooting with this setup, if all the baddies are on the same screen. If they aren’t, you may scroll past them, or if you’re in the middle of a hairy firefight, you might have a little trouble. Other than the single-speed of rotation issue, the other slight nuisance is that when you are watching a cutscene or waiting for a load, so you put down the Wii remote, and then the screen starts scrolling around randomly and you don’t know which way you’re facing. Bothersome. But avoidable, if you just make sure to rest your hand with the pointer pointing on the screen. Unless the beam from the remote hits the coffee table or your beer or something. Then the pointer goes weird.

So, graphics? Eh. Nothing to write home about. Not so attrocious as to be really unpleasant, but not working up the best of the system. The menuing system is really really stupid – requiring you to drag, with the pointer, items onto boxes. What a silly waste. The story – is okay. You’re some dude who’s dating some Japanese chick and she gets kidnapped and you go run around and shoot people and sword them. No giant twists or turns come up in the story, but it’s fine.

But all in all, I don’t think the reviews I’ve read are fair. Perhaps everyone built it up in their heads as much as I did, and were let down. I was, but I can read between the differences of what I had hoped for, and what’s actually there to say it’s not a bad game.