Sunday, February 28, 2010

Heavy Rain review

Despite being somewhat a fan of Quantic Dream's Fahrenheit, I have never been really interested in Heavy Rain - at least not until only a couple of months ago. The original "The Casting" technology demo for example did not pique my interest, not least because I wasn't actually wowed by the apparent visual fidelity.

The lure to Heavy Rain isn't so much the gameplay (which it hardly has, but bear with me), but the actual cinematic story telling mechanism. The developers has gone to pain to stress the consequences of the player's choice. So in Heavy Rain, a character (there are four major characters) can die - but this won't result in a game over. Instead the story line will progress, just without the dead character, and ultimately lead to a different ending and lost storylines and 'opportunities'.

Once a player completes a chapter, the chapter will be made available on the main menu screen. Here the player can reload the chapter and replays it right to a new ending if he or she wishes. It is an impressive save system that allows for a high replayability especially if you are like me and wishes to gain the 'perfect ending' or explore other possibilities. Those who wishes to gain more 'Trophies' would also be happy with the system.

As Heavy Rain relies heavily on its dialogue and storyline it would be a great disservice to spoil the game for you. Still, a small synopsis couldn't hurt. The game revolves around the four main playable character's search of the Origami Killer (who is so named as the killer leaves an origami in his/her victim's hands - duh). That's about as much as I would like to say and if you have any interest in the game you would probably already knew that.

Gameplay wise the title is divided into two sections - third person exploration (including menial tasks like showering and heating up prepack food) and QTE cut scenes. For a game that is so tightly controlled, a gamer may feel claustrophobic as they struggle to do anything relevant. But as mentioned earlier, any action, or should I say - in-action, can lead to consequences which at times may lead to a playable character's death. In a game that is often dubbed one long movie, the futuristic ARI glasses (used to locate/view evidence) of FBI profiler Norman Jayden can break the monotone.

Visually, Heavy Rain is a very pretty game. Animations are fluid (if at times stiff) and Quantic Dream almost managed to get away with the dead eye look that is so prevalent in realistic animations and modern video games. The environment are detailed and varied though the lack of full interaction and 'invisible wall' did annoy me for a game that is supposedly based on a realism. Still I've to appreciate the game makers desire to keep the linear narrative as intact as possible to service the storyline.

The voice acting quality varies but certainly far better quality than most video games. I've read of complaints about how poor the British and European actors attempts to mimic American accent, but I have to say that they do sound convincing - certainly a far improvement over the majority (well, all) of American voice actors attempting to mimic British of French accent. So competent voice acting, but not quite Uncharted 2 level.

Heavy Rain is probably the first genuine cinematic (with visuals to back it up) interactive film, and I can see a bright future for this genre. Gamers who are expecting more gameplay wise will be disappointed. Whether you will enjoy this or not is not relevant - Quantic Dream's accomplishment with Heavy Rain and their unique way of telling a story should be applauded. So whilst Heavy Rain isn't quite there yet, in a world of generic Western brown shooters and colourful but stale Japanese RPG, it is still worthy of your attention.

One last thing: people who complain about the nudity in Heavy Rain ought to get their brain serviced. Luddite fools.

Update: Having played more Heavy Rain, I found the game to be quite buggy. These ranges from screen freeze to none-loading textures and glitchy animations.

Heavy Rain is out now in all regions. Buy now from or Amazon UK and support this blog.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TalkTalk still taking the piss

Well today is the 23rd of February, the day TalkTalk promised to get us online despite much delay. So how did it go?

If you are reading this, it meant that that they have fucked up yet again (you now, didn't bother to send us the router and login details). Yes, I wrote a preemptive rant about it and scheduled the post because I had a feeling that no parcel from TalkTalk will be waiting when I got home this evening.

This is hardly surprising when they are investing in a stupid infrastructure called "we'll call you" instead of actually taking care of their paying customers. This naff service aims "to provide older people who live alone with a guaranteed weekly natter, free of charge." No shit, now how about a service that aims to provide current paying customers with the minimum service you promised??

Anyway time to give TalkTalk a call and give their poor customer service a good kicking in their verbal ass (who I normally do not blame, but I do now since the previous person promised me that we would be fine today). In the meantime enjoy the new TalkTalkScums label/tag. I have a feeling that it will be used very often.

While we are at it, I am seriously considering just dropping the whole broadband bullshit and buy a prepay Three Mobile Broadband dongle instead. I wouldn't be able to download much (and certainly not PS3 demos, sigh), but we have a library nearby with free internet connection to misuse and abuse.

ThinkPad X201 series

It looks like I've finally found a replacement for my ThinkPad X61 - the new X201 series. I did hope that they would have removed the ugly wings on the display frame, but there are worse atrocity that they can commit on a classic X-series design - like putting an ineffective touchpad on a 12" notebook...

So dear Lenovo, when you make available the X201/s/t over here, can I purchase one without the utterly useless touchpad?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Curling is shit and so is BBC's Winter Olympics coverage

Dear BBC,

Short rant: Your Winter Olympics coverage has been dreadful. Utter crap.

Long rant: Why bother with the freeview 'press the red button' 301 channel, when you are just going to broadcast curling on both BBC2 and that channel? I understand that there are people who have a hard-on for boring sports, but seriously, why broadcast the same fucking live event on two channels? It makes zero sense.

Why not use one of the other channel broadcast highlights from other events? Also, of all sports, why dedicate so much time and money on curling - easily the most boring 'sport' about people cleaning the floor? Why is curling taking precedence on the Beeb over other classic winter Olympic sports like ski jumping and figure skating?

Also, we do not need BBC presenters in expensive jackets to tell us how the snow is over there. We have eyes and we can see. Oh wait, we can't. Because all you show is bloody curling.

Much regards,

TV License Tax Payer

Friday, February 19, 2010

Yes, TalkTalk still sucks

A couple of weeks ago we received a letter by TalkTalk stating that our broadband service would go live on 18 February. But the 18th came and went yesterday without them even bothering to send us the broadband router and login details.

Called the customer service and was passed around a couple of times. Finally a lady told me that the new live date would be on the 23rd of February. I demanded to know from her why didn't they send me a letter or text message and she could not answer me. I also asked her why have I been billed since 18 January when they have fulfilled their obligation.

And here's the kicker.

According to her, broadband is 'free' and therefore I have not been charged with it. I have only been billed for 'free inclusive' calls, and because broadband is a 'free add-on', I should not expect to complain about it.

What a lying bitch. When I called in December (yes that long ago), I asked to be signed up for TalkTalk Essentials (yes, I am a stinker, but I really do not need more than 40GB a month - at least not yet). Now according to TalkTalk's own website and promotions - TalkTalk essentials includes:

Fast broadband: up to 8Meg
40GB monthly download allowance
Evening & weekend calls to UK landlines
FREE wireless 'G' router

Don't believe me, here's a screengrab:

When I applied back in December, the salesperson told me that I would not be billed for January, until my broadband connection is active. So who's lying? I do not know, but it is clear that from the moment they delayed our phone line connection that TalkTalk is an incompetent company and that they have an active policy to misled future and current customers.

So there, I am actually paying TalkTalk for not providing me the service they promised. Liars? You bet there are. Unfortunately for us, we can't do much about it as broadband in the UK are pretty much still in the stone ages.

Moral of the story? I wish we had cable in our home and we were still with Virgin Media. From my 2 1/2 years experience with them I know that Virgin pretty much sucked, but my problem with them has always been their incompetency rather than any policy of attempting to lie to their customers, and I rather be with an incompetent company than one trying to steal from me. It would be great if there was a broadband provider that is neither, but this is the UK. You can't expect much.

In a couple of years time traditional phone lines and fixed broadband would be dead thanks to LTE, and so will companies like TalkTalk. I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nokia E55 gets v31 firmware update (allegedly)

If various online reports are to be believed, both the Nokia E55 and E52 has received firmware updates thus putting the software version at 031.012 - up from the previous v21. The 7MB update, which is said to contain bug fixes rather than new features, is allegedly be live via OTA (over the air).

Not surprisingly Nokia Care UK, and their unnamed outsourced UK-based third party support and service partner, has yet to make available the update for UK destined unbranded sim-free E55. I have tried updating this morning but to no luck. I made a mistake last month of applying the v22 update which caused my then super stable E55 to something that is a bit less stable, so I am quite anxious to try out v31.

Windows Phone 7 Series

Gosh, what a let down. Sure it is pretty and has a slick and flashy UI but I personally can't see increased productivity with this. It is also rumoured not to feature multi-tasking which is a huge step backwards, something that has always set previous Pocket PC and Windows Mobile iterations aparts from other mobile OS. I've liked being able to switch from a game of Snails to making a text message to web browsing to planning my next trip, without closing any of these applications.

I hope mobile manufacturers will take note that not everyone wants animations or mobile computers. Sometimes we just want them to work quicker. This is why I always disable animations and effects on any new phones and PC installation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

x-JAYS announced - quad armature IEM

Swedish headphone designer/manufacturer Jays has today announced a range of new IEM models to be released this year, of which the most interesting to me is the high end quad armature x-JAYS (due out second quarter of 2010). Not a lot has been said about it yet, but based on the press release I am going to guess that the x-JAYS will feature a four-way crossover, where each armature speaker operates on each own frequency. Still what do I know? In any case I'll try to procure one for review... so watch this space!

Due out sooner are the a-JAYS and t-JAYS (pictured). Even less are known about these, though it is probably safe to assume that the t-JAYS at least would feature a micro balanced armature-based architecture, if the preview image of it is anything to go by.

Excited? I know I am.


Ok, it looks pretty enough. But I hope they don't just concentrate purely on flashy UI and pretty icons as those does not make an intuitive operating system. What I would like to see is how Symbian^3 adapts to none-touchscreen models (or touchscreen phones with face buttons) as that (to me at least, IMO) is the quickest way to use a phone.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My top 10 Symbian applications

So I thought I would compile a list of my favourite (or 'killer') mobile applications that I frequently use on my Nokia E55 and post it here. And I came up with ten of these. Hopefully this post will be useful to someone who is new to the Symbian platform. Despite the use of S60v3 screenshots, I believe that all of these are also available in Symbian S60v5 (Symbian^1) touchscreen forms as well.

Gravity (commercial)

Gravity is probably the only Symbian twitter client worth considering for 'power' users. Features includes list supports, drafts, favourites, picture posting (including scaling), RT, URL shortening, delete tweets, user search, scheduled tweets, basic geolocation etc. Not only that, it also supports basic Facebook, Google Reader and Statusnet. With such a massive list of feature you would expect Gravity to perform poorly, but no, it is quick, have a sleek and intuitive UI all in a package requiring less than 400KB of space. Nokia, quickly hire this guy.

Alternative: TweetS60, Twittix

Foreca Weather (commercial)

I've tried many different weather applications on my Symbian device and the only one to cut the mustard is Foreca. Spb Weather may have a sleeker interface, but Foreca trumps it with the amount of information it downloads (scalable obviously). It supports up to 10 days of forecast (not much use in this country where the weather can change dramatically without notice), satellite images and various maps showing different information (wind directions, cloud cover etc.)

Alternative: Mobile Weather, Handy Weather, Spb Weather

Mobbler (freeware)

Mobbler is a scrobbler/streaming radio. Use it as a standalone application to listen to radio or with the default Symbian music player to scrobb your playlist. It really is that simple. The latest version supports Local File Playback which automatically plays the local file on your memory card instead of streaming online if it is available thus saving on data transfer. Scrobbling can also be done offline.

Viewranger (commercial)

Ovi Maps is one of the better routing application out there but as it is only constricted to street mapping, you'll have to look elsewhere if you ever want to venture offroad. The best out there (on any mobile platform) is Viewranger. Maps supported includes Britain's Ordnance Survey (25k and 50k), USA's NatGeo (100k and 24k), France (100k and 25k) and Germany (50k). It also supports 'pay as you go' map tiles download and a sweet panoramic feature. Any serious walker or cyclist should consider this. A more detailed review is available here.

Activefile (freeware)

Symbian's default file manager for better or worse, is a basic affair. The average user may be fine with it, but just like with Windows Explorer, power users will be left wanting. Activefile is a freeware file manager that aims to satisfy the needs of these power uses. Features includes the ability to open/send protected and hidden files, battery and memory monitors, process/task manager, sending fake SMS and backing/restoring SMS.

Alternative: Y-Browser

aRed (freeware)

aRed is a little known freeware that only offers one thing: giving the user the ability to cycle through open applications using the red (disconnect) button, much like how a Windows user uses Alt+Tab. It works in the background and can be set to start automatically on reboot.

Nokia Custom Dictionary (freeware)

Frustrated by the lack of words on your Symbian's predicted text system? Well fret no more. This new release by Nokia Beta Labs allows the user to edit the list of custom words used by the phone's predictive text system. Users can add, edit or remove words and even import/export an xml file, allowing the user to easily transfer the custom dictionary to a compatible phone. It may just be a beat release, but already it is a killer app for me.

MetrO (freeware)

I have been using various versions of MetrO since the early Palm OS days (ah the memories - Sony's NR70 was my favourite, amazing how some of its features has yet to be replicated by modern smartphones). Since then the nifty public transport (over 400 cities are supported) routing application has been ported to various mobile OS and even resides on the web. MetrO features a crude and outdated UI inherited from Palm OS, but it works well. An indispensable tool for any traveller who wishes to leave their motor vehicle behind.

Resco Photo Viewer (commercial)

Let's be honest - Nokia/Symbian default Gallery application is quite possibly the worst photo viewing application ever created - on any platforms. Whoever designed it hates humankind. Thankfully there are developers out there who recognised the Gallery application for what it is - utterly useless. Resco, whose Windows Mobile-based Photo Viewer I used a lot back in my Pocket PC days, is one of them. It supports plenty of image formats, has a built-in image editor (colour/contrast adjustment etc.) and is also much quicker to use and navigate.

Ovi Maps (freeware - on Nokia phones only)

Last but not least, Nokia's Ovi Maps. Ovi Maps supports vector mapping, satellite and terrain layers, GPS positioning and compass (on compatible phones with the necessary hardware). It supports 6-7 digit UK postcodes as well as co-ordinates input. With turn by turn voice navigation free in 76 countries, premium content by Michelin and Lonely Planet and offline access to maps from 180 countries; Ovi Maps is quite literally the killer app.

Note: whilst this is a Symbian application, it isn't compatible with none-Nokia branded Symbian smartphones - at least not officially.

Monday, February 1, 2010

St. Albans Cathedral Abbey roof tour

St. Albans Residents First Weekend is an event designed to allow locals to visit attractions for free, which then helps us gain knowledge in the town we live in thus being more able to encourage friends to visit. One of the more popular attractions is the St. Albans Cathedral Abbey church roof tour. Due to health and safety issues, the tour is very limited and because of this advance tickets were needed. Due to the popularity the tickets were 'sold out' within minutes of them being made available on each morning.

Monday morning isn't the best time for me to recollect details of our tour, so I will leave it to the superb report of the tour by Robin of St. Albans People. Whilst I am no fan of religion, the architecture detail of the Abbey is well worth the journey to visit. Unfortunately the roof will be closed to access for the next couple of months (perhaps to next year) due to modernisation and refitting. Despite that the Abbey (and St. Albans) is worth your time even if it is purely for architectural and historical curiosity.

View from the ceiling

The bellroom

The 'music' room (I can't remember exactly what these things are called)

View of the Verulamium park (formerly the Roman city of Verulamium)


The town centre