Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gaming - Epilogue

Weesh, man I like to talk...err...write don't I? Ok, last article on Gaming (aside from spooging or reviews on games I get going forward). PC gaming, ah how I love thee...sort of. Back in, oh, 1995 I got a student loan, they gave me 6000 dollars, and since I went to college (in Canada) my tuition was only about 2500 (books included) so I used to remaining 3000 dollars or so to buy my own first computer. As a rambled on (and on and on) about, consoles were my big gaming platform, so at the age of 21 my only experience with PC gaming was playing the Wing Commander games (oh so awesome) at a friends house. My first PC was a powerhouse back then, it was a Pentium 90 with 32Mb of RAM and a 400Mb hard drive. I also got Windows 95 with it and boy was it a powerhouse. The first year or so I played a few games, mostly the AWESOME LucasArts adventure games (Sam and Max, Curse of Monkey Island, Full Throttle), Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger and the X-Wing series of space flight games. That first while I was all about space flight sims, it was like a sickness...but the new horrible sickness was around the corner. Quake was announced and launched, I didn't really care too much as I had never got on the Doom Bandwagon, but the 3dfx announced their 3d accelerator cards and the programming God John Carmack announced GL Quake and the geek in me HAD to have both of them. A 3d accelerator card was now a must buy proposition for me, so to wet my appetite for the genre I got the shareware copy of Quake (downloaded via my bleeding fast 36.6k modem), all I can say is WOW. The gameplay, controls, even un-accelerated graphics killed me with their sheer awesomesness. I started playing multiplayer very early and threewave capture the flag with it's grappling hook became my muse to wreck havok on my enemies. See in Quake capture the flag I was the chief capturer, on every map I had at least 5-6 techniques that allowed me to enter, kill multiples, grab the flag and literally fly out. My clan mates (yes I was in a clan), would cover my retreat if they could or I would quickly zip in and out avoiding fire. Life was good, very good.

During this time I was researching (of course) my soon to be acquired video card. I eventually settled on the 3dFX (the only real name at the time) Diamond Monster 3d video card. This lasted a short while (year and a half) and I eventually upgraded my processor to a 200Mhz, my RAM to 64Mb and my video card to a Riva TNT, this card was blazing fast and my computer was like a mini-god. Quake become my online passion, Quake 2 came and I played it like mad and then Half-Life/Counterstrike dominated my world. My last big foray into online PC gaming was Quake 3 Arena. this game and all it's mods was my online life. I never reached the high level of play I had with Quake, but I loved it. In between my fits and shocks of FPS games I played mostly PC Roleplaying Games (Baldurs Gate 1 & 2, Fallout 1& 2, Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment, Neverwinter Knights, have I mentioned I love Bioware?) and RTS games (Starcraft, Warcraft 1-3, Command and Conquer series, etc...). Over the years my PC was overhauled and upgraded over and over again, and therein lies the problem. Before consoles in the very recent time frame started scoring all the major (formerly exclusive) PC games like BioShock, Unreal Tournament, Fallout 3 I never knew if a must have game would work. What started me really moving away from PC gaming was Half Life 2 and Quake 4. I have a decent PC - Athlon 2400+, 1.25 GB of PC3200 RAM, and a Nvidia 9600 pro video card. It is a good system, but Half Life 2 runs OK, and Quake 4 runs OK, don't get me started about load times. But on my PS3, PS2, Xbox, PSP, I drop in a game, it runs, loads decently well and looks GREAT. Also Bioware except for the upcoming Dragon Age (which I am hoping becomes their PS3 exclusive game) has basically abandoned the PC. Consoles are so powerful and so connected (hell, Unreal Tournament 3 will support USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, so I can play with the controller or old school) that they are the focus for the majority of triple A developers for the next foreseeable future.

Having said that, there is still something intimate about sitting 12 inches from your monitor fragging anonymous players online or playing a deep RPG that (at this time) has not exactly been accomplished on the PC. But times are-a-changin' NCSoft just recently announced that they will be making MMO games exclusively for the PS3, this is HUGE, this could open the door for World of Warcraft on the consoles, and millions of console players can be addicted as well. The one thing a console can't do easily is replicate the LAN party feel. Over the years I have been to many LAN parties, some huge (30+ players) some small (5 players) and every one of them have been a blast. 5+ friends in a big room, all with PC's and Monitors yelling and hooting playing the hell out of the FPS or RTS flavour of the month is something that can't be described. It would be kind of hard to lug my 37inch TV, receiver and PS3 to a friends house =-)

I swear this is the last Gaming post for a bit...maybe...tomorrow analog vs digital signaling! Woot!

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Now playing: Prince - She's Always In My Hair (12' Version)
via FoxyTunes

Monday, August 20, 2007

Gaming Part 3

So the PS2 was a huge gaming venture for me, but gaming became difficult in 2001 when I had my first child. It's funny, at the time I was 27, a professional in my career, but loved video games as a release and still roleplayed with friends once a week (more on that in another post) yet felt completely unprepared to add this child to my life. The first year we had our son gaming didn't change much, I was still able to play quite a bit, in fact I remember that my best friend used to come over every Saturday and we would play through Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance in co-op until we finished it three times (hey we had to unlock Drizzt Do'Urden!). It wasn't until year 2 of his life, when he wasn't content to just sit in a chair (facing away from the TV!) and watch daddy as he plays games that my time available decreased. Hey, don't get it in your head that I sat in front of my TV (ignoring my son)and played games for 6 hours a day after work...I probably averaged 1-2 hours a night and 4-5 hours each day on the weekend. This was slightly less then before kids, but better then I could have hoped. By year 2 I was lucky to play for an hour every few days and 1-2 hours on the weekend. year 3 of his life things got better and I snagged an Xbox (finally), specifically I got it just to play Knights of the Old Republic and the forthcoming Jade Empire (love the Bioware). I swiftly had it modded so I could play DivX movies on the console (divx dvd players weren't everywhere yet!), I quickly built up a big catalogue of XBOX games and as much as I am a Sony fanboy it was quickly obvious that crossplatform games looked better on the XBOX and generally had surround sound enabled in most games. This was a tough gaming time for me (in a good way) I had very little time and way too many games, I was also turning my back on a beloved gaming platform - the PC (more on the PC in the next post, PC gaming was ingrained in me for so long it needs its own entry). Regardless I pushed on and played/finished many, many games.

Things began to change again about 2 years ago I started to get really excited about the PS3 and next generation gaming, but I had a huge problem, My old faithful TV set, a 27 inch Sanyo CRT, really would not cut it anymore. I had never experienced surround sound at home (relied on the 'stereo speakers' on the TV), had no idea what high definition video looked like and had no clue. So I researched and researched, and finally settled on a plan:
-For speakers I would start of by buying a home theatre in a box, specifically the Sony Dream System, this would give me starter speakers and surround sound till I could afford a proper receiver.
-For the receiver Sony again, I know I sound like the fanboy of the month, but the Sony STRDG800 is on of the highest rated midrange receivers and features 2 hdmi, 2 component, oodles of composite, 4 optical, and 2 digital coaxial inputs. It will also upconvert composite signals so they can all output on a single component cable. VERY cool. I needed this overkill of inputs as I had a PS2, Xbox, DVD player and digital TV receiver to connect.
-For the television...at the time (2 years ago) it was a tossup between the Panasonic TH-42PD50U and the Hitachi 42HDS69, these decisions were based on my very limited knowledge of audio visual technology...what I did know was that anything would be a quantum leap over the current 27inch CRT I had. Things changed...drastically!

A friend of mine who knew more about speakers and receivers cautioned me to look at the OHM rating on the speakers and receivers, if I bought the theater in a box and it's OHM rating was off from the receiver, I would be in trouble, the receiver could get blitzed by the inexpensive speakers...sure enough I checked and the Dream System ran at 3 OHM and the Receiver at 8 OHM, YIKES, going with my plan (which by the way was designed to give me high definition audio first, high definition video second as the TV would take longer to save for) would have tanked my new receiver. Time to re-evaluate, the receiver is still great, speakers need to be reconsidered...I ended up buying Polk Audio RM 6005 speakers on Ebay. They are great little speakers, had some issues with speaker wire and eventually tore it all out and went with a large spool of 16 gauge and all seems well with them. Just getting the receiver and speakers was expensive enough, but I had to (of course I had to) get 3 optical audio cables (Ps2, Xbox and Digital Cable), 1 digital coaxial cable (DVD Player) and an audio HD adaptor for my Xbox. Yeesh, but after it was all setup and I ran the snazzy auto calibration and BAM I had surround 5.0 audio (no subwoofer yet). I loved it, movies sounded great, XBOX and some PS2 games took advantage of it, I was in love.

About 9 months went by and I was steadily paying off debts to afford the TV and the most bootiful thing happened, the new generation Sharp Aquos, specifically the Sharp LC 37D62U was launched and priced to kill! This was one of the better LCD 1080p sets on the market, it has a killer image and amazing options, blacks and is drool worthy. The boss (my wife) approved the purchase and it became mine. Of course as was the case with the receiver the TV wasn't the end, I had to (of course I had to) get a high definition cable terminal, an HDMI to DVI cable (for the HD cable), an Xbox HD adapter (with component), a PS2 HD adapter (with component), 4 component cables (DVD player, Xbox, PS2, component out). But it was awesome, I was playing PS2 games where available in 480p, Xbox in 480p and 720p, movies in 480p. I was happy. But as you can probably tell I never stop. A month ago (as you know from an earlier post) I got a PS3, and I had to (of course I had to) get 2 HDMI cables (PS2, HDMI out), blu-ray movie (Superman Returns) and a Game (Resistance: Fall of Man).

Sheesh...so now that I am NEXT GENERATION, what do I play most? Rogue galaxy and Final fantasy XII of course. But that will change soon with the launch over the next few months of Heavenly Sword, Lair, Warhawk, Playstation Home, Folklore, Eye of Judgement and Assassin's Creed, let's not forget PSP games like Jeanne D'arc, Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue Squadron, D&D Tactics, Disgaea. I won't even talk about the only two games that I want an Xbox 360 for - BioShock and (drool) Mass Effect...God I love/hate bioware.


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Now playing: Prince - Don't Play Me
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gaming Part 2

Around this time I was also HUGE into Mortal Kombat 2 in the arcardes, my friend and I were masters at this game, I had a 100% combo for Liu Kang
and Mileena. It was always funny, we would go to the arcade with 8 quarters (yes games cost only a quarter back then) and play for hours, the game was so popular that people were lining up to play. I would start and play 5-6 people (and win) the my buddy would play and beat me (sometimes not) then he would play 5-6 people, then I would play him and win (sometimes) and so on. We were hated in some ways, we were true Kombat masters.

Back to consoles, so the SNES and Genesis days were great, my brother and I played the hell out of so many games:
Breath of Fire 2
Star Fox
Shining Force 1 & 2
Chrono Trigger
ShadowRun
FF3 (6)
Streets of Rage 2
And many more, but I was still a 'kid' and relied on presents or buying myself a game once a year...but that was about to change, around 1993/1994 I had a job, disposable income and I heard about the Sega 32X addon for the Genesis, this was the start of the next generation and I wanted it badly, thank God around that time I started a habit I still have 14 years later, I researched the hell out of the 32X and discovered it was crap, it had nothing and I managed to hold off buying it. That was when the immortal Playstation term started to creep about the world...WHAT...Sony, the makers of walkman and betamax making a console, it will never work. So I researched the hell out of it and found out that this was an incredibly powerful and well thought out console, that it could do 3d games like we have never seen before and that it would be here and change the world. I didn't buy it, it was too good to be true, the screens for Battle Arena Toshinden were too good to be true, and boy was it expensive. I couldn't afford it and there was nothing on it yet to interest me, besides there were tons of snes and genesis RPG's coming out that were keeping me busy, one game changed all of that Final Fantasy 7. It may not be apparent, but I am a Square fanboy, I devoured every Square game I could get and back then Japan would have a game 1-2 years ahead of us, it killed me, then when I found out that Square would not support the N64 due to their insistence on cartridges (I was strongly considering an N64 for RPG reasons) but instead were globally relaunching their Final Fantasy brand on playstation the decision was made for me. I bought my Playstation (one) in September 1997 with a shiny copy of FF7, I played this game like the world was ending, to this day the thought of Aeris sinking below the water or Sephiroth's theme music sends chills down my spine. for the next three years I bought, played, traded dozens of games for that system. But that wasn't the height of my obsession, that came in the form of the Playstation 2. In June of 2000 I placed my pre-order for my PS2, I had no DVD player and that was a huge draw of the machine for me, not only could I keep playing my unfinished PS1 games (with better load times and smoothed textures) but I could play new PS2 games and watch DVD's!? Sold! So on a cold morning of October 26, 2000 I woke up insanely early and got to EB Games at 6AM (3rd in line) and got my PS2 + memory card + 3 games all for about 650 bucks. I went home and geeked out for days, out of the launch games I bought (Summoner, SSX and DOA 2: Hardcore) only SSX and DOA 2 had a long life on my shelf. A few days later I bought the Matrix on DVD and saw why people where crazy about this newish format. Many people have said that the PS2 was the greatest console of all time and I have to agree, 7 years later it is still churning out great games (God of War 2, Rogue Galaxy, Persona 3). It was the perfect mix of hardware, amazing software, phenomenal 3rd party support and amazing marketing.

More tomorrow...links hurt...=-)

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Now playing: Prince - Last Heart
via FoxyTunes

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gaming Part 1
So...I have a passion for videogames. I have been an avid gamer since the very early days, I remember moments up to about 26 years ago when I was playing frogger on our wood paneled Atari 2600, I remember loving going to my cousins place because he had the newfangled ColecoVision, I would play Zaxxon and Mr. Do! for hours on end. As I got a little older (10 or so), the Videogame Crash of 1983 was in full swing (the ET game had a lot to do with it, I had the game, it was AWFUL) and my attention turned to sports (baseball and track), reading like mad (discussed this in an earlier post) and watching TV. Games did not become a huge part of my life again until a few years later when my brother got a Super NES and I got a Sega Genesis, I was about 15 and man was I hooked. This was the first major console war and my brother and I would often switch consoles for weeks on end so we could play each others games. I have to say that overall I preferred the Super NES (who didn't) because of my deep love of RPG's (and Final Fantasy 3 (6 in Japan)) in particular. I had played the heck out of other games, Shadowrun for the genesis was awesome and a huge timesink for me, but FF3 was the shiznitz! This game had a huge story, great cast of characters, phenomenal graphics and enough extras and sidequests to choke a llama. It's funny, back then I used to play games in my bedroom, back against the wall facing the TV with music playing, to this day when I hear The Odds - Good Weird Feeling album I can recall parts of the Shadowrun game, I must have listened to that CD a hundred times while playing that game. Isn't funny how you associate sights and sounds together if they are paired enough?

More on gaming tomorrow.

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Now playing: Garbage - Silence Is Golden
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Fell behind a bit, made a pact with myself to blog every couple of days if not daily, wife was sick, one kid was sick, I became sick and before I knew it days and days passed...

Hobbies, well you know some, but one I can't practice enough is Chito-Ryu Karate, this is a very traditional form of karate that has this distinguished history:
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Karate, a Japanese martial art which translates as 'empty hand', is a devastating form of unarmed combat. Chito-Ryu karate is a traditional Okinawan karate style founded by Dr. Tsuyoshi Chitose a medical doctor and Karate master. Characterized by blocks, punches, kicks and strikes, Chito-Ryu karate is an ergonomically correct form of karate. It is designed to instill confidence and self-discipline while preparing the mind and body to defend against aggressive behaviour or assault.

Chito-Ryu is one of the oldest styles of karate in Canada. Chito-Ryu karate offers participants excellent physical conditioning and strong mental discipline, as well as a proven method of self-defense. Instruction at all Chito-Ryu clubs is given by experienced Black Belt instructors, registered in Japan with the All Japan Karatedo Chito-Kai and with the National Karate Association in Canada.

This Karate style can be practiced by all ages. No special athletic abilities or flexibility is required.

Chito-Ryu karate, as a martial art, is designed for people of both sexes and of all walks of life. With its well designed calisthenics to protect the body from injury and painstaking attention given to the mastery of technique, Chito-Ryu karate develops healthy bodies and sharply focused minds.

Philosophy

To provide the best possible karate training, recognizing that each individual has different physical abilities. To help dedicated students progress in the knowledge and skills of karate, thus maximizing their physical and mental potential. The aim of karate is the perfection of the character of its participants. Karate begins and ends with courtesy.

Chito-Ryu traditional karate focuses on good manners, self-discipline, physical fitness and self-defense.
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Sounds very standard, but trust me it isn't, I started Karate at Douvris Martial Arts in Orleans and advanced to a green belt over 2-3 years...I enjoyed it immensely, the katas and sparring drills were fun and I was good at it, I was also in very good shape. I stopped when I was about 22 and last year (at the tender age of 32)joined Ottawa Chito-Kai, I routinely practiced what I had spent 4 hours, 4-5 days a week for 3 years learning at Douvris and rejoined as a Green belt. Wow, was it a shock, while Douvris was a good club in my mind, it was very much Sport karate, they focused on sparring and kumite drills, Chito-Ryu focuses on style, respect, focus and maintaining your inner-eye at all times. I basically had to re-learn everything, it wasn't easy, but after a year I attained my Blue Belt, and while I haven't gone in some time I practice at home every few days and maintain my skill level. Only two of the basically 15 katas/kihons from Douvris carried over to Chito-Ryu, sho-hai and seisan, all the other movements were new, where Douvris had a Kata and some strikes per belt, Chito-Ryu gnerally has 3 kihomn/katas, 10-15 new strikes, 3 bunkais (portions of katas analyzed and performed move by move against opponents to demonstrate practicality) and wrist locks. The depth of this martial art is staggering, this is karate as it was meant to be taught. We are mentored by Hagashi Sensai - 8th Dan based in Toronto, he was trained by O'Sensai Chitose and is the canadian head of the organization. I have attended two clinics run by Hagashi Sensai, and both times he has inspired me as few others have.

It is an art I respect, that I enjoy and hope to master one day.

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Now playing: Prince - Cream (NPG Mix)
via FoxyTunes