Friday, March 31, 2006

Yay, spring is here!

Finally the much overrated winter has finally come to a end. Instead it is now being replaced by North Atlantic rain! Rain is good as it means flowers are blooming again. The birds are also back and so are the bugs and bees.

But screw British summer time. I hate it that I lost one bloody hour of sleep last weekend. I really pity those who had their birthdays that day. Imagine that - only 23 hours to celebrate.


So who here watches films with subtitles? I know I do. Since the advent of DVD, I almost always watch films with subtitles. It is not because I am slow, but because I find it pleasant to be able to know what the actors are mumbling about sometimes. On a normal telly with non-cinema speakers, inaudible mumblings which contain key plots is an issue.

But I believe subtitles only belong to DVDs. I had the misfortune of watching an English film that had subtitles in the cinema at West India Quay. It was a one-off screening for people with trouble hearing. Cinemas has good enough speakers that I didn't need those blasted subtitles. I left and demanded a refund.


Have a nice weekend.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Product Review: Creative MuVo Micro N200 1GB

Last week I wrote about how we ordered a 512MB Zen Nano Plus from Creative for £31 (not £33 - that was a mistake). Well, remember when Creative called and told us that they do not have enough 512MB in stock, so they were going to upgrade one of the 512MB player to a 1GB one. Well, when the players finally arrived we found that we received the following upgrades:

256MB Zen Nano Plus -> 512MB MuVo N200
512MB Zen Nano Plus -> No upgrade
512MB Zen Nano Plus -> 1GB MuVo N200

The MuVo N200 is the exact same thing as the Zen Nano Plus. The only difference are the packaging and inclusion of accessories.

Total spent = £85
Total spent if bought from a high street store = £180 ~ £220
Total savings = £95 ~ £135

I got the 1GB upgrade while Jennifer retained the 512MB. She saved money on an armband as I gave mine to her. Her sister will scoop the upgraded 512MB.

The only problem with mine was instead of any other colours, it came in white! Probably the single most overused colour for portable electronics this side millennia. I wouldn't even mind yellow or green. There is nothing I can do about it though and I shouldn't even be complaining seeing how lucky I was for Creative to upgrade the capacity.

1GB is ideal for me (for now). I have a huge collection of music (300 albums) but some I have grown out of it (Death Metal, Black Metal). I do not need to pack in two thousand and one tracks simply because I won't listen to all of them anyway. I do admit that it would have been nice to have everything with you at all time but seriously it doesn't concern me much. Besides this player is cheap and is the perfect jogging companion in Gunnersbury Park, where a mobile phone player (and a more expensive player) would probably get me mugged. Harddrive players are a no-no when it comes to jogging.

While the player is cheap in price, it isn't cheap when it comes to built quality. Applying Julie Strietelmeier's patented gadgeteer test, the player did not crack under pressure. There were no creaking to be felt. The bloody thing is solid as a rock. Even the battery door is tough. I can honestly say that the MuVo and Zen Nano will definitely survive a couple of drop on a concrete floor (not that I will be testing that!).

The screen is a two line LCD display with blue backlight, similar in size to those tiny MiniDisc remotes. It displays the track name, the EQ setting, time and battery. It is clear and works well in both indoor and outdoor environments. The problem with the backlight is whenever it is turned on you can hear a faint (not audible when playing loud music) static sound through the speakers. Fortunately the backlight will automatically turn off after a preset (adjustable) time. The other problem with the screen is the orientation. Most of the time I would prefer to hold the player like a lighter and the screen is just too difficult to read due to the vertical angel.

The controls are small and similar in size to those found on Walkman remote controls. iPod users (and to some extent Zen Micro, Sleek and Vision:M users) may scoof at the small buttons but I love them. I have always been a favour of players with buttons and jog-dial as you do not have to look at the player to see what buttons you are pressing. With tactile feedback all I can keep the player in my pocket while controlling the volume or skipping the track. I won't be like one of those idiots on the Tube who keeps removing his or her iPod from his or her bag in order to change the volume or skip the track (or more likely - to show off!). The only problem is the jog dial is quite 'spongy' unlike those smooth ones found on Sony PDAs. Transferring music is a breeze and you won't have to do so without any software because it is MSC compliant. Windows XP and Linux recognises the player as an external drive. I can easily drag and drop my files into the player. No proprietary softwares like iTunes or Sony Sonic.Stage craps to worry about. As I have already encoded most of CD collection into WMA files all I did when I got the player was fill them up. 500 songs to be precise on that dinky little 1GB chip. You can also record through the in-line analog audio input which is a nifty feature even if I do not use it. But it is there for people who wants to ripped off music from infected Sony DRM-ed CDs. All my tracks are encoded on the WMA 9.1 VBR 2-pass setting which translates into files with bitrates of between 80kbps - 140kbps. dBPowerAMP takes care of which tracks that require higher bitrates and which one that doesn't. (note: from time to time Creative will release firmware upgrades that requires you to format the memory)

You can't create playlist on the device itself, but this isn't a problem to me as I prefer the folder method (eg. Album -> Track) method that Creative created. There is also a shuffle mode but I almost never use shuffle in any of my players (including on PDAs). Quite why people like to shuffle their music is beyond me as some artists like to 'divide' a 'track' into two or more tracks, but to each his own.

The included earphone isn't the typical cheapo earbuds that you throw away. It isn't as good as £30 earphones but it does the job well and is much better than Sony freebies of yore (remember those crappy fontopias that were included with your walkmans that hurt your ear?). As I have a superior earphone (the Shure e2c which costed more than this little player) I only use the included freebie when I am jogging so as not to get those salty sweat on my nice e2c. Creative also included an armband for joggers. Very nice of them considering that Apple sells armbands for £20 (you read that right - twenty bloody quid - for an armband!).

There are a couple of other value added inclusions such as FM radio, microphone and as mentioned earlier a built in encoder. The built in encoder is useful for people with no access to a PC or want to record from an analog source (eg. vinyl player). Songs recorded via the line-up are encoded in MP3 format (96, 128 and 160kbps). I do not use these features but there are available if you find yourself needing one. The microphone may come in handy whenever I need to jot something down and didn't have a pen.

A positive (and negative) point on the player is the fact that it runs of a triple-A. I am in the middle of this one. I hate the fact that I need to remove my NiMH battery in order to insert a freshly charged battery when it is needed. I estimate that I may need to change twice weekly. But I do like the idea that when the battery is dying on a holiday and you are not near a charger, a simple trip to the local chemist will produce a pack of AAA for a few quid. Disappointed that it doesn't have built-in USB like those two piece MuVos. Instead the player has a type B mini-USB port that requires a cable to connect to the PC's USB port. Now this isn't a problem as the last time I counted I had like twenty of these cables lying around my room, but because the device also acts as a mass storage device this may pose a problem for people who intents on using this device as an external thumbdrive.

Now the sound quality is pretty good for a cheap player as this. Coming from Creative, this isn't surprising as the company is known for creating amazing soundcards. Ever since we first installed a a Creative SoundBlaster PCI card on our 486 15 years ago, I have faith in this company's ability to reproduce amazing sound. The four preset EQ setting was quite a stingy inclusion and muddles the music quite a bit (I find all preset EQ settings tend do that). Fortunately there is a 5-band customisable equaliser.

I am happy with the purchase considering that the player costs less than half my weekly rent. If you want a player, this is a no brainer investment. Creative sells the standard 1GB for around £50 on eBay, and even at that price it would still have been a good purchase.

Cheap price
Good built quality
High quality sound output
Support for WMA files (as well as evil DRM if you want them)
Alright quality earphones
Intuitive control system (has a jog dial - yay!)
Mass Storage Class compliant (drag n' drop - no proprietary softwares)
Industry standard triple-A battery slot (no need for proprietary batteries)
Ability to record from almost any source (including the built-in FM radio)

USB cable required to transfer music
No OggVorbis file format support
Low buzzing noise when backlight is on
Slow start-up from cold boot
GUI could use some updating
Limited ID3 support
Average battery life, better than an iPod, but not even close to the dizzy heights of Sony Walkmans (DAPs, MD)

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Monday, March 27, 2006

London bloggers meetup?

Patrick has suggested another blog meetup and seconded the organisation to me, again. I am extremely busy at the moment and can only go about this during the weekends. But we do need to sort out some stuff before we go ahead.

First up, this will be a similar bloggers meetup to the one we had in October. An unpatriotic guy like me couldn't care less if you are not a Malaysian, a blogger or even an expat. Just come and join us - the more the merrier. It may somehow turn unexpectadly into a bloggers meetup though.

The location of the meetup is probably the most important thing we need to agree on. Last time we had mochas at the Rendezvous in Leicester Square before having dinner in China Town. Any suggestions? Should it be in London, or even Plymouth (as we initially agreed with V)? Or...(since I am organising, I have the luxury of naming venues that suits me) maybe...even Brighton???

Brighton is a pretty nice place too for those who haven't been down there. There are lovely veggies restaurants such as Terre a Terre and Food for Friends that you should really try. Then there are the countless of pubs around the sea front not to mention Bardsley's - the best chippies in the world. The huss and haddock, lightly battered, tastes like heaven and is miles better than those found at your average chippies. Cods are also line caught from sustainable sources.

I am guessing that the majority of potential attendees would be from London, and since it is the most convenient location, so I would place my second vote for London. But I would prefer if it were to be held in Brighton (it is only an hour away from London anyway). It doesn't matter where as long as it the location(s) supports drink -> food -> drink style meetup.

Finally we also need to sort the time and date of the meetup. It should be during a weekend, preferably on a Saturday (or maybe Friday evening). I have three sets of dates that may be convenient to you guys:

Easter break (14-17 April) not available
Weekend after Easter (22-23 April) not available
May Day bank holiday weekend (28 April - 1 May)

As usual you can reach me by e-mailing me at my gmail address (name: londonblogger). Better still just leave your comments here, but do e-mail me your mobile number. I will be busy, so don't be offended if I only reply during the weekends.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Metroid Prime: Hunters review

I can't remember how long I have been waiting for this game. Last Friday the post man dropped off a copy of the US import version into the mailbox but I didn't really get to play much until Saturday night. It has been a hell of a time and I have permanently glued the game card onto my DS. This thing ain't going anywhere for now.

Metroid Prime: Hunters is the third Metroid game to be released in a first person shooter style. While the previous two Metroid Prime games were called 'first person adventure', Nintendo and NST has insisted that Hunters is purely an action based FPS. Hunters is fourth Nintendo game to offer free online gaming via Nintendo WiFi.

Single player

Most single player campaigns are tailored to offer a very linear gameplay. In Hunters you again control Samus Aran, the series protagonist and uber bounty hunter, out collecting eight artefacts called the octoliths. Initially initially the adventure can get pretty linear, but by the time you collect the third octoliths things begin to unravel when other bounty hunters starts messing with her quest. If one of the other hunters steals an octoliths from you, you will have to travel through different planets searching for them and battling them again in order to regain the lost octoliths.

Gameplay is a classic Metroid 3D platform, with bits of exploring required. It isn't uncommon to find your character requiring to jump up and down platforms in order to activate switches and such - hei, that is the what platforming is all about. Then there are the obligatory puzzles that are required to be solved while in Morph Ball mode. And like most other adventure games (like Zelda and other Metroid games) there are plenty of backtracking to be done. When Samus receives an upgrade she has the ability to access a previously inaccessible location in order to capture the remaining artefacts.

Whilst the single player missions still revolves around exploration, less emphasis has been put into them. This makes sense especially on a portable device where quick and play action is preferable than large number of backtrackings and explorations. This is unlike the 'first person adventure' tag that were given to the two other Metroid Prime games by NST and Nintendo.


This being an American release meant that the majority of online players would be North Americans. It also meant that I had to play a bunch of 15 year old yanks. No matter, as I was sure that it would be equally as fun playing Americans as it would be Europeans. I was planning to kick some American arse anyway. Alas they had a 5 days head start - not to mention that Americans are generally well regarded to be extremely competent FPS players. So instead I got pawned.

Like Mario Kart DS, the options available from the beginning are limited - in this case, you can only play as Samus during multiplayer sessions. But as you play against other hunters through the single player campaign, you will be able to unlock their characters for multiplayer mode. And while Samus can morph into a ball, each hunters has their own unique alt mode.

The game features the usual Friend codes system that enables you to connect only to those on your friend rooster. In this mode you can voice chat before and after a match. Unfortunately VoIP is not available when you play against others not on your friend list.

Once Hunters receives its worldwide release, like Mario Kart DS, you can choose whether to play against regional players or anybody from around the world. A system to prevent cheaters from benefiting (by turning off the DS when losing) has been implemented. Whenever a player turns off his or her DS during an online session, Nintendo will record it and will be displayed in your statistics for all others to see.

The online team deathmatch is similar to Quake III: Arena right down to the style of maps. Arenas size vary from small to huge. Speed is a necessity here. The multiplayer mode mimics many PC's FPS multiplayer mode with the equivalent of capture the flag mode (capture) and king of the hill (defender) available for team battles with those on your friend list. Unfortunately online matches with random people are only limited to the battle mode. This isn't a bad thing as the battle mode contains 14 arenas.

As is the case for many DS games, you have the ability to compete via local LAN through two available modes - mutli-card (when your friends also own copies of the game) and single-card (when only one copy if available). Multi-card is similar to online WiFi mode. Single-card only has a single battle mode. Bots with pretty good A.I. can be activated in this mode.

Stats are provided at Nintendo's online site which keeps track on winning streaks and even heat shots.

Another simply connectivity mode that was introduced (but will never be used) is the 'rival radar' mode. This is when you put your DS to 'sleep' while the game continuously search the local area for any other DS/Hunters in 'rival radar' mode (this is similar to Nintendogs 'bark mode' and Animal Crossing: Wild World 'tag' mode. Any gamers detected will be added to your rival list where you can choose to play them during the next online session.

Here is a link to a video clip provided by Nintendo showing off each of the new bounty hunters in action (normal and alt mode).


Lots has been said about the DS being a toy. You only need to play Hunters to see that the DS, while looking like a toy, is capable of churning out serious eye candy. The graphics of Hunters rivals that of many games on the original Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 and is easily the most advance game on the DS platform.

The first time you play the game you would go 'wow', just as you did when you played Tomb Raider on your Pentium Pro. The game runs in full 3D with smooth framerate that only stutters (slightly) when there are loads of enemies on the screen. However like Mario 64 DS there are times when pixelation may become an issue, and the odd ugly texture may show up. This is due to the DS having no texture filtering capabilities. Far away enemies may blend with the environment just because the DS doesn't have enough pixels for them. However the majority of the time you would just go 'wow'.

The art direction of the game is similar to the two other Metroid Prime games. Nothing much to say here except that the level designs are amazingly detailed and each different planets that Samus goes to has a unique flavour to it.


The DS would be the king of FPS, if only more FPS games are out for the system. With a touch screen that mimics a PC's mouse, you have basically the ultimate FPS control system on the palm of your hand(s). The d-pad mimics the WASD control on your generic FPS games and using the touch screen you control the viewpoint of Samus (and her weapons). The left shoulder buttons (or right depending on your hand preference) fires the weapon. Double tapping the touch screen will make Samus jump.

Perhaps more importantly is the touch screen system finally releases Metroid from the 'lock-on' mode of previous 3D Metroid into a more PC like free-look system. The 'lock-on' mode was necessary for console gaming on cumbersome joypads but with a mouse like hardware presented, such help isn't necessary especially with the precision provided through a stylus.

Rumble Pak

The game is compatible with the Rumble Pak that was included with the US version of Metroid Prime: Pinball. The noise can get annoying and it is best not to activate the Rumble Pak when you are playing in public. Despite the vibration, my stylus precision wasn't affected as it doesn't rumble all the time - only when you get hit and during the FMV sequences.


This is without the doubt the FPS game of the year. Almost everything that NST went into preparing this game, including delaying it for half a year, has turned into a quality product. The production value is sky high. The graphics is simply stunning. The audio is magnificent in quality, and 'Metroid like'. The gameplay is a positive experience for even seasoned FPS players with the unique control system.

And finally this game has dislodged Mario Kart DS as the ultimate portable online experience. With free WiFi gaming on the thousands of BT OpenZone and The Cloud hotspots available in Britain, you just can't improve over Nintendo's proposition to create the perfect online experience.

The game offers incredible value for money. For twenty five quid you are essentially getting two games in one: an above average single player campaign and an extensive online game with no added monthly fees too. You have to remember that Hunters started out with no online support (single player campaign and local LAN multiplayer) and that the reason for the 6-8 months delay was due to Nintendo's insistence on implementing WiFi gaming into the game. Consider what you can get with £25 (which is practically nothing in Britain - about 3 1/2 visits to the cinema), the entertainment and replayability value of Hunters is simply outstanding.


Review update (2 April 2006):

One and a half week into the game, what has changed? Nothing much except that I am half way through the single player campaign. I only have time to put in like 30 minutes a day for the single player while practicing my shooting in the multi-card game against level 2 bots. They are bloody difficult. I haven't had much time to go online yet as my house WiFi connection is crap. My 100% level was reduced to 97% when I got disconnected! And the nearby The Cloud hotspot is pretty slow when connecting to GameSpy's server. I apologise to anyone who wanted to pwn me, a noob when it comes to online shooters.

While NST has clearly tried to distance Hunters from previous Prime games by calling it a FPS rather than a FPA (First Person Adventure), there are loads of exploration to do when you compare this to other generic FPS games. Morph Ball puzzles feature a plenty and the most difficult I found so far is the Judicator weaponry upgrade. Backtracking is reqired throughout the game, within stations and within the galaxy. Rather disappointingly I have only met two variants of the main bosses. But I am glad that I have finally beaten all six bounty hunters without having one artefact stolen. (mini update: It looks as if all six bounty hunters will still try to steal from you when you are busy getting the next four artifacts. I got ambushed by Trace when I backtrack to Celestial archive. It appears to be random. You can find out which of the hunters are out to get you before landing your ship.)

Having unlocked all six bounty hunters, I can now choose from a list of seven characters (including Samus) for multiplayer gaming. My favourite hunter so far? Stylux. His alt form (Lock Jaw) isn't that great, but his affinity weapon (Shock Coil) packs a deadly punch whenever I can get near an enemy. Trace is the biggest loser so far of all the bounty hunters I face, in single player, bot mode or online. Because his affinity weapon is the Imperialist, most players would try to hide in the highest possible location and take pop shots at us with the sniper weapon. Not cool.

So far, not a really good online experience. With the double release of Tetris DS and Metroid Prime: Hunters I am guessing that the servers are taking outrageous amount of hits by rabid DS owners. I hope Nintendo/GameSpy will improve their servers as it takes ages to connect and then to find other players.


Buy this now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK

Friday, March 24, 2006


It is Friday. Yay!

Creative Zen Nano Plus 1GB

My Creative Zen Nano Plus hasn’t arrived yet because as the lady put it, Creative hasn't got enough 512MB Nanos in stock. Why did they eBay it then? After much hassling Creative has upgraded the 512MB for a 1GB version and ship them today! So that is £33 for a 1GB DAP. Last I checked £33 can only get you a half a decent dinner at a posh restaurant. Nice one Creative Dublin!

Metroid Prime: Hunters preview

My import copy of Metroid Prime: Hunters has finally arrived, less than five days affer the US release! Double yay for good importers! Been waiting for this for months now and it is finally here. I can't believe I am staring at it. However right now I am just too busy. I will probably break it in during the weekend. Can't wait to go online and get fragged by a bunch of American kids. Friend code later.

Initial impressions based on a single player level - breathtaking graphics, if a little bit blocky in parts (due to the lack of texture filtering on the DS hardware). Despite the fact that the game is in proper 3D and runs on a 66Mhz ARM9 processor, the framerate is smooth and only slows down slighty during the heat of a battle. I can't believe I am playing this on a DS, which many dismissed as a kiddie's hardware not a long time ago, as the graphics are brillant and almost on par with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City on the PSP.

The control system is very straightforward and as intuitive as the PC/mouse set-up for generic FPS games. D-pad is similar to WASD on a PC keyboard - walk up, backwards and straffing. The touchscreen controls the players view - look up and down, turn left and right. You know the drill exactly as it would be on a mouse - but this is better. Firing is through triggering the left shoulder button. You can jump by double tapping the screen.

As a fan of 2D Metroid games for some reason I feel right at home. While there are many open arenas there are also clostrophobic tight spaces to navigate around. Ah, playing as sexy Samus Aran has never been more satisfying. Who gives a damn about Joanne Dark anyway?

The Legend of Zelda - The Phantom Hourglass


I was talking to Jennifer last night about how much we would love to see
The Legend of Zelda - The Wind Waker on the Nintendo DS using the Animal Crossing engine. The latest announcement on the new Zelda game for DS isn't the Wind Waker but the graphical style is close. Gameplay looks similar to the Minish Cap. The use of the stylus seems to be extensive, for example to open doors (by drawing patterns ala Dawn of Sorrow) and draw the path for Link's boomerang. Can't wait! You can download the high-res video here.

DS download

Take a trip down to your local gaming store. You may find DS download pods there where it is possible to download demos of Polarium and Meteos. You will be able to meet Miyamoto-san's dog as well. Burly also asked me to remind you all that Animal Crossing: Wild World is out next weekend and that some stores have demo pods as well. The excellent and comedic Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is also out next week. The US version was so rare that you could find used copies on eBay for up to £50!

V for Vendetta

I will try to catch the film later today or more likely tomorrow. God knows whether I will like it or not and I may end up dissapointed (after all the hype surrounding the film). Plus I have never been a fan of Natalie Portman. Hopefully all these won’t cloud my judgement.

Commonwealth games

Kudos to the BBC for giving extended coverage on the games by creating extra digital channels. It is just too bad that Australia is in the pacific, which meant any games coverage would be mainly after midnight and into the mornings. Still I enjoyed watching some of the athletic events yesterday. I also caught a little bit of Malaysian badminton – I had no idea that a Malaysian is currently ranked second – before the Beeb switched the coverage to hockey!


The news on the decline of handwriting shouldn’t surprise anybody. After almost exclusively confined to using keyboard for many years I find my handwriting to be extremely shoddy and resembles that of a five year old doodling on a piece of paper. It is amazing that I still ‘remember’ how to write. There was even a time when I found my handwriting to resemble that of ‘grafitti’ – the handwriting style of PalmOS.


One other thing before I sign off, I will be attending a wedding this summer. Any recommendations on where (in London) can I rent good wedding related (for guests) suits? No tie, summer ‘Ascot’ style – whatever that means.

That is it for today. Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Film Review: The Island DVD

After the crapfest that was Harry Potter 4 I went down to the local Blockbusters and rented another crappy film which I missed during the theatrical release. This time it was The Island on DVD, and I had a mate to watch it this time. He died of brain damage.

I heard some pretty bad stuff about this film, that it is the most generic action film of all time and all, but I didn't expect it to be this bad. Well I shouldn't be surprised. After all this is a Michael Bay film. And a Dreamworks one too.

First up. Product placements. With a DVD I have the luxury of pausing and writing things down. You can't do that in a cinema. But even then you won't have to if you are planning to research product placement in films. The Island is rife with ads that are so in your face you do not need the pause button.

From the top of my head is the Xbox - basically the stupidest product placement ever. The original Xbox is now defunct and outdated. Quite how there are Xboxes ten years from now is beyond me as the Xbox 1.5 (360) is already well on its way to seal its fate as the 21st century pariah gaming console.

Then there are Microsoft MSN, Apple, Puma, Calvin Klein, NFL, Chevy, Budweiser, Chevrolet, Cisco, Amex, Maxim magazine, Ben & Jerry etc. There are also a couple that I can't recall the brand names, but I do know that those are popular American brands (like the train and the mineral water served in the bar). Whole sequences became elaborate and stylish commercial.

Second issue: like that other Dreamworks picture, this has a generic future city setting with generic future cars that looks fugly. There are also the obligatory hovering trains and metro system. Where the fuck do they get these designers? Films always get it wrong predicting the future and The Island, I am sure, won't disappoint.

You may remember the early scene in Terminator 2 where a clash of culture occurs? Well it is here. The car scene is merely a redone Bad Boys (also by Michael Bay if you remember) and Matrix: Reloaded clone. Plenty of explosions, car crash and innocent dead. The film makers are just refilming materials from other films.

The film plot is loosely based on anti-stem research crap and probably inspired by The Matrix, only this time humans are being harvested for other humans. The antagonist is played Sean Bean, forever misunderstood by Hollywood who are unable to tap his talent. Actually I found his character to be cool, understated and passive until the end when Hollywood as usual, decides that Sean Bean has to be a usual crazed lunatic. Can we have an intelligent baddie who does not lose his cool once? Harry Potter ruined Ralph Fiennes. The Island (and many other films) ruined Sean Bean.

I just can't get past how awful the film is. Scarlett Johansson may be hot, but the most you ever see her flesh is when she discovers sex, but fails to remove her bra (among other things). And she can't act.

Ewan McGregor, talented as he is, has made pretty bad career movements in the past (Star Wars anyone?) - and this is no exception. The scene where he met his Scottish 'sponsor' is the single most idiotic sequence of the film. Later on the clone tried to fake his sponsor's Scottish accent. So here we have a Scottish actor playing someone with a generic American accent who is trying to speak Scottish. Get it?

No? Well how about this for extreme banality in product placement? Clone, played by Scarlett Johansson comes across Calvin Klein commercial featuring her sponsor, a famous actress/model, only that the commercial is an actual commercial (meaning you can see it anywhere other than the film) that stars the real life Scarlett Johansson. Colour me weird but I should be impress with the auteur's ability to reuse other people's work.

Anyway the product placements remains the biggest issue with the film. It is all Minority Report again. If you want product placement, do it in subtle tone. The Mercedes in Men In Black II, or the Audi in I, Robot, were pushing it for me, but at least those were required vehicles - and the films were enjoyable. You don't need huge Xbox logos in the gaming room. Why would Microsoft advertise their products to clones who would never ever buy their console anyway? Do people put up PlayStation/Nintendo logos in their living rooms because they have one tucked below the telly? No!

There has been lots of debates regarding product placements making their ways into games recently, especially those generic shooters which resides on multiplayer servers and MMO games. Part of the argument for product placements is the consumer would not have to pay to play as the cost will be passed on to the sponsors. That may be a good idea as it provides a choice. Pay for ad-free games (like we pay for ad-free BBC channels) or play games for free, but be bombarded with ads. But The Island is different. People are forced to pay to view ads. You can't simply walk to the ticket usher and demand money back, it doesn't work that way.

I am not against product placement as long as they are done properly - you know realistically, and not like an ad. You can't have a film in a London high street and blank out all the brands that Londoners are being forced to but you do not have to shove it into our face for 2-3 seconds. Perhaps Hollywood film studios should take note and release ad-free films on DVDs. How difficult would it be to get rid of all the ads especially with a little dab of CGI here and there? I would be willing to pay slightly more for ad-free films (as long as they are good).

In the case of The Island though, the product placements ruined it for me, but even without them, this was still a pretty awful film. The first half wasn't that bad. I was hoping for some kind of Blade Runner or Gattaca like film but once the two clones escapes, it all went down hill, with its generic Michael Bay action scenes. I am all for actions, but you can only go so far.

I am just glad I didn't watch this film in the cinema where you will be bombarded with ads before the film and during the film. I am hardly surprised that it bombed in the UK (taking only £1.5 million during the UK's opening weekends last summer - in comparison even the awful Fantastic Four did better with £3.5 million).

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Summer festival woes / Harry Potter DVD

I was chatting with Jennifer during the weekend when the subject of Glastonbury came up. Last year's Glastonbury's line up wasn't that exciting. The headline band, of all bands that they can come up with, was Coldplay. I would have gone (as they released the ticket before announcing the line-up) but was stuck in a plane when they did so. As you know the allocated 112,500 tickets were sold out in 3 hours. But lucky me, the line-up were weak. They were good bands that I wanted to see - Interpol and British Sea Power especially, but I won't be able to justify spending £110 just to see them.

As most of you would know, there is no Glastonbury this year so we were planning on the Isle of Wight festival this coming June. But after checking out thepreliminaryy line-up I balked at the idea. Guess who is headlining again? You guessed right. Cold-fucking-play. In fact, of the headliners, only a few that I really want to see - Goldfrapp, The Rakes, The Editors, Maximo Park and The Kooks, all spread over the three days. Of course it is still early and the line-up for smaller stages has yet to be published, but so far it has proved far too bleak to even consider putting my money down.

Seriously, the only festival I am looking forward to is the next Ben & Jerry's. Last year's one day festival held at Clapham Common costed us a fiver each, with the money going into the local area. The headliner was The Thrills, which didn't thrill me one bit but Alabama 3, British Sea Power and Yeti all made up for it. Plus free ice cream throughout the afternoon!

Then there is Reading and Leeds, both of which the line-ups have yet to be announced and will only be announced when the ticket goes on sale April 3rd. Plus with no Glasto this year, ticket prices will likely to increase as more punters target both the festivals.

It is still early days though so keep your eyes peeled.


Speaking of music, I spent the best part of last night sorting out my current playlist:

The Arcade Fire - Funeral
Delays - You See Colours
The Departure - Dirty Words
The Editors - The Back Room
Eskimo Joe - A Song is a City
The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
The Kooks - Inside In, Inside Out
Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger
The Rakes - Capture/Release
Sons & Daughters - The Repulsion Box
Starsailor - On the Outside

I am also giving the Arctic Monkeys another go. I still don't get 'em but I do hope to find out. Any suggestions?


In my previous post I mentioned about renting Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire DVD. Well I wish I didn't. It was awfully bad. Why did they even bother with the whole Cho Chang and World Cup thing is beyond me. It felt as though the director wanted every single sub-plot within the film, so he allocated two minutes each and two lines per new characters (some didn't even get any).

Michael Gambon, usually wonderful in his other film, is a complete raving lunatic in this. I find it laughable that in the next book (I believe) he warned someone not to manhandle his students - and yet in this film he did so, to the main protagonist no less!

As the film neared the end I prayed that they would utilise Ralph Fiennes to great effect. They didn't. Instead he came across as a laughable weak villain - not the cool understated and scary man he was supposed to be. What a wasted opportunity.

The problem with the film isn't things being left out. It is things being left in! They could have done with two triwizards instead of three and kept the flow while exploring the characters potential. This is a film not the book, the best way is to redo it and refit it while remaining to the core storyline - which is the return of the dark wizard. Don't go haphazardly throwing in references in order to please the fanboys/fangirls of the book, only to reveal one-dimensional characters and a film which not once try to catch a breather.

If you are a fan of the book you will find this film to be awful because it left out too many details.

If you've never read the book you will find this film to be awful because it has too many details that you will not understand.

If you hate Harry Potter you will love this film as it will only prove how right you are. And you will still find this film to be critically awful.

A bad film. A bad adaptation.


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Monday, March 20, 2006

On DAP hunting, films and Nintendo rant

I was typing a post just now when my PC crashed. So everything was gone. No matter, it wasn't an important post anyway - just something about us getting DAPs for jogging.

Ah, what the hell. We wanted to get cheap and small DAPs for jogging and during the weekend we went round Brighton looking for one within our budget (£20-£40) and criteria (256MB-512MB, non-Apple product, cheap, good sound quality).

Finally we found one on eBay - Creative Zen Nano Plus 512MB for £31 sold by Creative in Dublin themselves. These are refurb products but in my experience buying refurb products has never backfired. And at £31, it is considered a steal, especially when compared to the £50 iPod Shuffle.

The Nano Plus (which is basically a rebranded Creative MuVo Micro N200) even has a screen, it isn't in white (or black) and it does not require the use of proprietary software in order to transfer music (it is Mass Storage Class compliant).

More details to follow once we receive our products.

Last weekend saw the release of the new Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on DVD. Because we skipped the theaterical release I went out and rented the DVD today. Haven't watched it yet but will do so tonight. I may even review it if it is good or bad.

Continuing with films, much has been said about V for Vendetta in relations to the London Tube bombings. I don't buy into that. This is a film after all and from what I know, it was filmed before the London bombings. From past issues of Total Film, I knew that the graphic novel author Alan Moore has huge misgivings about the film and has since sealed his disapproval. Seeing that the film was made by the Wachowski brothers I can only imagine that it would be an all style, no subtance kind of film.
That is not to say I won't watch it, as I love stylish films - it is just that I doubt it would live up to some of those positive talks that were laid down by film critics. Maybe during the coming weekend.

Metroid Prime: Hunters
and Tetris DS has both been released by Nintendo in North America today. As a European resident I am again cursing Nintendo of Europe's inability to gauge demand and release the game earlier. There would be no doubt lose sales due to the hype eroding when both games arrives in May. The owner of a local indie game store has said that March is the typical depressing month for game releases in the UK, because E3 is in May. The arguement is invalid because E3 is an American gameshow, and NoE isn't holding out till May! The fact is it wouldn't be a depressing month for game releases if the game publishers stop treating Europe like a third world country.

All I know is many gamers like me, are importing one of those two games, because they can't wait on NoE's localisation team to finish up. Why is it that Warioware: Twisted!, released in North America in May 2005, has yet to receive a new release date for Europe?

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The one hour dash

So...I had a ticket on the National Express to Brighton at 12pm. I set the alarm for 8am, but being me I switched it off when it rang and continued sleeping. I got up at 11am, looked at my table clock and jumped! For 30 seconds I pondered whether I should try to dash it to Victoria or write the ticket off and get a later train.

I decided I was going to try to make it. I grabbed some clothings and stuffed them into my rucksack. I dressed (we guys can change in less than a minute). I grabbed my mobile, PDA and DS and chucked them into my Carhatt jacket. Rushing down the house I went into the loo to brush my teeth and splash some (cold) water on my face while trying to sort out my hair. I also had to make sure I had my wallet, Oyster card and ticket.

I was out of the house in less than 5 minutes - but still had to get from Ealing Broadway to Vicrotia Coach Station in 55 minutes. The station is about a mile from where I stay so I ran down as fast as I could. I was a little dazed, but I did make the station in time (6 minutes I believe) and jumped on the Central Line train which was about to leave.

I sat down. I checked the time and wondered if I should hop down at Notting Hill station and take the Circle Line whether that would be quicker than the Oxford Circus -> Victoria Line. Meanwhile a group of Poles were chattering in front of me. At Notting Hill, I took my chance and disembarked.

It was 11.23am. I thought that I will surely make it. It was a gamble worth risking. I knew that there is a shortcut from the Central Line platform to the District Line platform but because Notting Hill isn't on my list of frequently traveled to stations, I had to navigate through the usual path up through three sets of escalators and and the short stairs down to the District Line platform. It was straight forward and only hampered by tourists who were obviously too stupid to read the 'Stand on the right' rule.

I looked up at the information display. The next Circle Line train will arrive in 9 minutes. I swore under my breath. I didn't count on the fact that Circle Line trains are rarer. I wanted to board the Wimbledon train to Earl's Court but decided to wait.

While waiting I remembered that the pathway separating the Central Line platform at Oxford Circus, to the Victoria Line platform was more straightforward and shorter than the one on this station. I swore again to myself. It wasn't until 11.36am that my train arrived and I sat down and hoped that no delays will manifest itself. I do not want to pay £30 for the train to Brighton.

The train parked itself on the Eastbound Victoria platform at 11.47am. I walked quickly through the Tube station before running up the stairs into Victoria train station. On a usual day I would spend around 30 minutes in Victoria station perusing a magazine at WHSmith and then look around at HMV and GAME, but today I had to run through the station. The clock on the Victoria Station information board read 9.50am. Any day I would be trying to catch some of the news on the BBC screen but as you know I couldn't, not now at least.

I made it. I reached the coach with 3 minutes to spare; I slumped down into my seat. Three minutes later the driver closed the door and was ready to depart when a lady rushed up an knocked on the door. She was asking the driver to wait while she buys her ticket from the counter. The driver was having none of this and said that he would be leaving. Another guy came up and requested the same. The driver shrugged off the lot "Look, I am leaving now. Bye." The coach left the station and I proceeded to sleep.

So how was your weekend?

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tube Relief: Mardi Gras in London

You remember Police Chief Tami Brisset of New Orleans whom I blogged about a couple of times? Well Tami is back in the UK and this evening a group of us (mainly of Tube Relief fame) went down to Central London to meet up with her and her family at the Garrick Arms near Charing X. Jennifer even came up from Brighton, and had to endure one of the daily London-East Croyden commute exodus on her way back. Pictures are up - I can finally go to sleep! Yay!

56k killer warning! Quality of pictures vary as I switched between combinations of flash/no flash, low/high ISO, high/low shutter speed etc. Taking pictures in a low-light pub with a digital compact is a tricky and noisy business!

Tami and her husband!

Anthony, blinging up the pub!


Chris, Sam and Neil.

Chris from Upminster: Ultimate blinging king.

Congrats Stephen!

Cups from Mardi Gras, New Orleans.

Tube dusk masker picture from here.

Pete Lupton in a surprisingly dark picture.

Mex: buy her book here!

Tami made a video compilation in tribute to those who suffered and helped during the Katrina disaster. She gave us copies of these and yesterday I uploaded the video to YouTube. You can stream it live below (requires Macromedia Flash Player):

In other news, I just heard (at the pub) that Geoff (who organised Tube Relief 2005) received some kind of cease and desist order from TfL's lawyers in regarding to his collection of spoof maps (titled silly maps on his site). The maps has been taken down but lucky for me I have them stored on my PC (as some of them were rather useful during Tube Relief). I think this other spoof map, created by a disgruntled reader, sums up pretty much what I am feeling at the moment, if you don't mind me saying.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Box Art

Inspired by the 1up article entitled 'Box Art Around The World' I decided to write this up. Seriously I have nothing much to do anyway. A quick browse through Amazon UK/US/Japan, Lik-Sang and other sites provided me the images I needed to stitch the article together.


Advance Wars: Dual Strike / Famicom Wars DS


North America:


If you ever played Risk or Axis & Allies board games when you were a kid, then this is the game for you.

It is nice to see a military game receiving an 'Everyone' rating by the guys at ESRB. Europe however gave it a '7+'. Their reasoning is that anybody under the age of seven isn't well developed to play such an intelligent game, so why bother selling a game that they couldn't play. Apart from that the box art is equal (Nintendo's logo is curiously missing from the EU version). The Japanese version, which retains the Famicom Wars title, features a photograph of a toy-style battle. It is cool but I still prefer both the EU and NA versions.

We Love Katamari / Katamari Damacy Minna Daisuki


North America:


I haven't played this game but I do know that many people really really hate the North American cover. I don't know about you, but all three versions do not appeal to me one bit. A non conventional game with non conventional covers. The Japanese cover even has a giraffe on the freaking roof!

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow / Akumajō Dracula: Sōgetsu no Jūjika


North America:


I hate the fact that while the European version has the best artwork, it has the worst design due to the Konami's insistent to stick E3 awards on it and another video game rating (isn't PEGI enough?). This is my pet peeves among media box arts where publishers ruin the art by sticking unnecessary clutter and information. The biggest culprits are book publishers on paperbacks.

Back to the subject, here we have a cool looking Soma Cruz, whose head is right up in front of a full moon (which gives him a sort of halo look) and they ruined it (grumble). As for the North American version, it contains too many supporting characters. The Japanese version though still using the same image as the North American version, has a huge full moon and features an uncropped Soma Cruz. Probably the best design here, but I still lament the fact that the EU design was wasted for some E3 awards.

Resident Evil 4 / Biohazard 4


North America:


Firstly this is a fantastic game. If possible get the GameCube version as the graphics are superior to the PS2 version.

RE4 European PAL version beats both the Japanese and North American versions hands down. It is simple and doesn't feature a gun on the front. The Japanese version (known as Biohazard 4) features only the floppy haired Leon, which me thinks is better than the Dawn of the Dead inspired look of the North American box art.

PS2 versions:


North America:


I will go on record to say that Europe wins once again. It isn't as nice as the EU's GameCube art but it is close. Both NTSC versions received horrible box arts.

Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble / Viewtiful Joe: Scratch


North America:


The Japanese and North American version share the same box art although the Japanese version is littered with rubbish everywhere. The European box seems to be more colourful, probably due to the shades of purple and pink. The film cell reference is also missing. I prefer the North American version because that is the version I own. ;)

Nip/Tuck Season One

North America:


This isn't only about games. DVD boxes vary greatly among territories and regions. I am using Nip/Tuck as an example because the differences are enormous. I searched high and low for the Japanese box art but couldn't so these two will make do for now.

I love the UK box art, but after seeing the North American box art, I am like wow, the UK version sucked so much. To be fair, the American version, at first glance didn't look that great (it looked 80s) - until I saw the stitches over the eyes which says a lot about what Nip/Tuck is all about. The UK box however features the three protagonists on the front, probably to convey that Nip/Tuck isn't only about plastic surgeries. It is about the surgeons. Needless to say both are pretty good boxes, I just prefer the US version more.

More on box arts by GameSpy: Top 10 best box art and top 10 worst box art.

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