Some things I've learned....

(1) An Engineer can do with 10 cent what a fool can do with a Euro.

(2) "Puff" - unimportant; insignificant; unworthy of study by engineering students; waste of time

(3) It's better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're stupid than to open it and prove them right!

(4) Blockwork people and concrete people can never work on the same site... Apparently they don't like each other....

(5) It's official; I'm fantastic!

Sunday 30 March 2008

The Star Wars Retrospective have hit out with two fabulous videos reliving the history of Star Wars video games. Not having owned an NES or SNES when they first came out, I have since played them on emulators, and I seriously have enjoyed them more than even some of the today's modern games.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Prequel games in two weeks time! YAY!

~The Damo

Thursday 27 March 2008

Grinds My Gears!! - Issue 16

As you will be well aware, more often than not I try to keep the tone of GMG comical, but on rare occasions I'm called upon to make them more serious. This is such an occasion. A few issues back I made a joke about people complaining, particularly protesters. Now that joke still remains, however the protesters I'm talking about here are of a different sort.....

The Hill of Tara Vs the M3 has been one of the biggest ongoing debates in this year and last year. Most recently, the saga reached boiling point when protesters dug themselves into the ground to prevent construction. THIS is the type of protesting that pisses me off! First of all, look at the map - the M3 goes nowhere near the Hill itself. Furthermore, it is actually further away from the hill than the existing road!! It's this type of bullshit anti-globalisation protesting that is keeping Ireland behind in the world as far as infrastructure goes. We had the same problem with the completion of the M50 a few years back!

Yes as you can see the road goes over historic sites, that isn't denied. But archaelogical digs have been carried out, and all artefacts have been retained and so on. Ireland is an historic place, but we can't sacrifice pots and pans for a badly needed motorway. A poll showed that 90% of the people in the area WANT this road. Furthermore, it was also found that the protesters aren't even from the bleedin' area! They're people with nothing better to do than cause trouble for everyone else. As an aspiring engineer, I can see just how infuriating this type of BS really is! Instead of these people actually going out and getting a job, putting money into the economy, they are instead damaging the economy and wasting tax payers money by not letting people get on with their jobs! They have effectively invaded a construction site - which is against the law - and should henceforth be arrested. The anti-globalistation crap has gone on long enough in Ireland. Only now are we starting to build 100m+ towers across Dublin, namely the U2 Tower, the Point Depot Tower and the Heuston Tower (all below)

People who get in the way of these kinds of things are just asking for trouble. At the Glen of the Downs in Wicklow, people literally climbed into trees to stop construction of the N11, which (now that it is completed) has been a huge success in reducing commute times. We are so far behind the rest of the world in getting our act together on these matters...its actually quite unbelievable. In the time it takes for us to get one project through planning permission, another EU country will have 3 skyscrapers built. It's an absolute God-send that acts are now being passed which will stop vital infrastructural projects like the Metro and future motorways from being blocked. Instead, maybe these people who like to get in the way would better spend their time working. They've said "Redirect the road". Trust me when I say (even after doing brief road design) that it isn't as simple as just "drawing a new line on the map". Do these people seriously think that the Government have purposefully placed the road where it it just to piss people off? No, its there because that's the most economical solution available, avoiding further spending of tax payers money. But alas, since this select group of people not even from the area have decided to hold everything payer's money is being wasted.

People seriously need a rethink and start cutting the bullshit and let this country move on into the future. Ask any layman and they'll say they couldn't give a damn about this road. And on a personal level I don't really either (I mean I don't live in the area, nor do I drive through that area), but professionally, since it is this sector I'll be working in, the frustration and angst it is causing is unbelievable. A few months back, one student filed a High Court (or Supreme Court) injunction or something like that which has held up progress. Not stopped it, just held it up until it has gone through the courts. To think that an act of one person can stop a whole project is simply unacceptable. Yeah, yeah free-speech and all that but you have to draw the line somewhere. Far more people want this road; particularly those living in the area, and that should speak volumes for how badly it's needed. The Hill of Tara itself will be untouched, and so what if we lose a few stone walls? Dublin City itself must be built on top of historical sites left, right and centre!

So let's cut the crap and get on with moving this country forward!

~The Damo

Wednesday 26 March 2008

AVGN - Double Vision: Part 1

Yeah I know, I promised a GMG this week but I've had a lot of work to do taking in project submissions for my group and stuff which requires my attention.

Anyway, in this week's video the Nerd shows us all about Atari's main competitors back in the day....


I promise a highly controversial GMG by the end of week!

~The Damo

Thursday 20 March 2008

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - The Review

Okay so I know I'm a few months behind everyone else in getting this game but hey, a review is a review, regardless of when it's made. Anyway, Uncharted follows the story of Nathan Drake (who I will refer to as Drake from now on) who is on the trail of finding Sir Francis Drake's lost treasure. As you might expect, the fact that they have the same surname is no coincidence, they are related, from one explorer to the next. Drake wears a ring around his neck, which was once owned by Sir Francis himself.

To avoid giving away any spoilers of any sorts, the game takes you across typical environments you might find on a run-o-the mill South Pacific Island, including lush jungle, Incan ruins, watery cities, dazzling cliff edges, ruined forts, old tombs and anything else that you might see in an Indiana Jones movie. Yes, it DOES feel like Indiana Jones, and just like the Doctor himself, you'll quickly come to admire Drake as you lead him across death-defying leaps, mazes of gunfire and not to mention through a jeep chase here and there. And of course there's the mandatory sexual tension between himself and the lovely Elena, a reporter who accompanies Drake on the expedition.

The cinematics are beautiful, and like Heavenly Sword the transition from cutscene to gameplay is effortless, as well as the moving from level to level. Visuals are stunning, once more displaying the potential of the PS3. The camera works in 360, and when you spin around to fast there is a momentary faint blur, as would happen in real life, before the image focuses again. What I especially love about the visuals is attention to detail. Textures are crisp, water effects are perfect, so much so that when Drake climbs out of the water he is actually dripping wet! If you run across a stream his legs get wet, the physics are brilliant.

One of the best features is the jumps. As Drake is an intrepid explorer, he is expected to make the odd leap from ledge to ledge here and there. More often than not you're afraid he wont make it. Leaps are not always obvious, but they certainly aren't disguised either, its just right. If he barely makes it he'll cling on for dear life with one arm before steadying himself. Perfect jumping means he grabs on exactly, and sometimes you might even land flat on where you were aiming. In the more...shall we say "daring" jumps, the camera angle changes to a delightfully appropriate angle, which not only prompts a "You gotta be kiddin' me" from Drake, but also makes the gamer feel equally as cautious and nauseous.

Like Heavenly Sword there are no load times once you initially start the game up, making the experience feel even more like an epic non-stop film. Gameplay is infrequently interrupted by a short event-scenes, which could be so much as when you walk over a dodgey beam that it begins to crack, prompting the whole scaffolding to collapse meaning you have to run for your life as the planks beneath you slowly start to give way! Also, and again like in Heavenly Sword there are moments where you are prompted to press a button, sometimes unexpectedly and with little time to react. For instance in one event Drake swings of a pillar knocking it to the ground, he then proceeds to drop to the ground and let go of the rope... the only thing of course being that that rope was supporting a tray of bricks overhead, prompting a speedy tap of the X button to avoid immediate death.

Speaking of death for a minute lets talk about health. As seems to be the trend with most games nowadays, there's no "health" as such. When Drake takes hits the colour of the screen begins to become paler, and when he's one more hit from death you hear his heart beating and the picture blurs into black and white. The only way to counter this is to find safe cover and wait for the colour to return to normal. And I'll be honest with you, Drake can't take many hits, which just makes the game feel more realistic. One rpg will kill him, 2-3 shotgun shells will too. The main focus of gunplay is cover. A tap of the Circle button and Drake will cling to the nearest bit of cover, and from there you can blind fire or pop out and pick your targets. Pressing circle and holding a direction will have Drake tumble to the nearest available cover, particularly if enemies start to swarm you. During gunplay, Drake may say to himself "Alright, here goes" or after you punch up an enemy in hand-to-hand may prompt a "That's what I'm talking about!" or the more comical "How did that feel?" after you shoot someone in the head. This makes the gamer connect with Drake even more, especially when a grenade drops by feet and all I'm thinking is "SHIT!" and an appropriately similar "Oh, crap" from Drake prompts a quick tap of the circle button to find new cover.

Enemies can take a suprising amount of hits, but the game wouldn't be any fun if it was too easy. AI is good, and they will try to swarm you if all you do is hide behind cover. Like with Drake, the enemies might shout out "Close him down", or when they kill you you might get a "Heh, we got him!". If I was to find a flaw with the enemies its that there's probably to many. I mean seriously, I must've killed nearly an army. At one point in the game even Drake says to himself "Where the hell are they all coming from!". It's almost like they got a guy to sit down and play the game, then was told to record whatever he was thinking while playing it, and then had the voice actor for Drake add it into the gameplay!

Another aspect of the gameplay is the puzzles. Now I classify puzzles from finding out how to open a door to reaching a high ledge through a series of jumps. The levels are linear, meaning that the solutions to the puzzles are also linear. Nevertheless they are neither too hard nor too easy. They don't pop up too frequently either, enhancing the game experience rather than becoming gimmicky. At the same time the puzzles rarely repeat themselves, no two jump sequences are the same for example. I will confess that quite a few times I asked myself "Where do I go" and careful inspection of the walls might reveal a nice lateral crack for Drake to hang onto. That's what makes it good! Too many games fall prey to boasting puzzles to solve, but then make them too easy and too frequent, making them become a nuisance. Reviews of the Lost game for PS3 and Xbox360 will give you just such an indication (on the side: DON'T BUY IT!!!). Aside from that then there are levels on the jet ski or the jeep, one particular level involved driving the jet ski upstream, and I tell you fighting the current was a pain in the you know where!

All in all, Uncharted is a must buy for any Playstation owner. Only now do I regret not buying it when it first came out. A lack of multiplayer really doesn't hamper the experience, I mean I really don't see what sort of multiplayer could've been done. Bundled with achievements and unlockables, treasures to collect and rewards to earn, it has quite decent replayability. And with word of a sequel in the making, Uncharted is certainly a fine new addition to the already increasing number of new franchises on the PS3 and we can welcome one of the newest heroes into the gaming world...

Graphics: 10
Gameplay: 9
Sound: 10
Longevity: 8
Unlockables: 7

Overall: 8.8

~The Damo

LOST...On its last legs??

You may recall that last year I wrote a blog entitled Lost...What the hell is going on? where I criticised the show for its direction in Season 3, and sadly I find myself today writing a blog on a similar topic.

I'll be honest with you, I haven't "watched" Season 4. I owe this primarily to the fact that I am out every Monday night. For me, watching Seasons 2 and 3 of LOST was somewhat of a routine, so when I found I couldn't watch it at the time I was accustomed to, well it put me off a bit. Nevertheless, I made the effort to watch the first episode online and quite frankly, I was disappointed. Perhaps the most telling fact that I was (and still am) disappointed is that I've made no such effort since to watch the show, rather I read about it on Lostpedia, but even then, its more so to just see what's happening rather than attempting to satisfy the unquenchable thirst I had for the show in the previous 3 seasons.

If you read the previous post you'd have found that I was critical of the shows new direction, particularly how it was entering a phase of "unreality" and after watching and reading about Season 4 so far, I regretfully must admit that this statement still holds, and I fear it has gotten worse. Most notably, the episode which was focused on Desmond reaching the ship at sea seemed to involve some out-of-this-world kind of time travel. Now again, I haven't watched it nor did I take the time to read it carefully on Lostpedia, but that definitely seemed to be the case. The meteorite in the previous season pissed me off greatly, and what I enjoyed most about the first 2 seasons was while there was still a mystery to everything that was going on, the show still had a touch of "It's possible". Season 3 brought that point to the line...and crossed it, and I fear Season 4 is going even further. For instance in the episode I watched, Hurley has visions of Charlie: now ok, that's fine, we've been shown Hurley has mental illnesses, but there was something about how the vision was done, it almost made it feel like Charlie was there, as himself.

In hindsight, I think the biggest mistake the writers made was the closing scene in the finale of Season 3. Showing us that (at the very least) Jack and Kate made it off the Island had a touch of Star Wars about it, if you'll indulge me to explain....

Episodes I, II and III are deemed by hardcore fans as "failures" and I attribute this fact to order of the films. The problem with episode III was that people knew what had to happen, they just wanted to see how it happened - i.e. Anakin becomes Vader, Jedi get killed, etc... Episode II built up to that point, and the start Episode IV was the conclusion, all that was left was to fill in the gap inbetween. So when people left the cinema after seeing it, sure they were blown away by the action and fight scenes and so on, but they were left hollow in that (a) the story was over (or at least the story of the Prequels) and (b) they felt that they had learned nothing from last film (in that all the stuff that happened was widely known since the end of episode II). So how does LOST fit in? Well, since we now know that 6 people get off the Island, of which we know Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sahid are 4 of, then it means that the "gap", like the one that was between Episodes II and IV, now has to be filled. AKA, people know these people get off the Island, now they have to see how it happens.

The other key thing, which I think is why I've become so disappointed with the show as a whole is the actual way the story has evolved in Season 4. For Seasons 1 & 2, The Others were a huge part of the show, so much so that anything that revolved around them left you on the edge of your seat. It would seem to me that after the end of Season 3, which effectively has cut The Others out of the show completely (since a lot of the main characters were killed at the beach and the rest of them bogged off to the second island), that Season 4 is almost like a whole new story line involving the crew members of the ship. It feels like Prisonbreak all of a sudden (which I too feel is on its last legs). It almost feels somewhat like a soap opera, where new stories are drawn up for each of the characters just to try and keep things interesting. Furthermore, the mysteries which in my opinion made Seasons 1 & 2 so fabulous, have become rather gimmicky or more like novelties. While it was great to speculate what the Monster was, or how the hatch exploded or whatever, the question to answer ratio in LOST has reached the 20:1 point, where there's just so many different things happening and almost ludricous connections between one character's mother's mother's husband's sister and her ex-boyfriend's new wife's third son's best friend's cousin. (Okay that was an exaggeration but you see what I mean). Like I said before, the meteorite in the previous season just left me saying "WHAT THE FUCK?!?!" instead of, "Oh , deadly, I can't wait to see what the truth behind it is". Bringing back the point I made about the new direction of Season 4, the writers (IMO) have cleverly avoided any of the tough questions raised in the previous 3 seasons (eg. the Monster, the virus etc) by focusing this season on the ship, and the conflict between the two "camps" on the Island, directing everything to the point I made about Star Wars; "filling in the gaps."

As I said at the start, the most evident point that I've lost (no pun intended) almost all interest in LOST is that I haven't (and don't intend to) made the effort to watch the episodes, despite some of the free time I have to myself to do so. I know ratings were down in the transistion between Seasons 2 & 3, and it wouldn't surprise me if that trend had continued into this new phase. Equally, a new ad on RTE seems to take the piss out of the ridiculousness of all the questions in LOST by making an ad entirely comprised of questions. I mean seriously, when RTE starts taking the piss out of you you know you've got a big problem!

~The Damo

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Blog Updates

Ok, I apologise for the lack of posts...or rather the lack of posts that are worthwhile reading, but my Easter Holidays have been primarily wrapped up in the "Environmental Ethics in China" report I have to write for college. Fascinating I'm sure you will agree. So much so that if I get REALLY into it I might just grace a few snippets onto this very blogspace.

Anyway, I managed today to get hold of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Warhawk for PS3, so you can expect a review of them at some point.

More importantly - at least from an intellectual blog post point of view - I have the next issue of Grinds My Gears lined up. It's likely to be very controversial but it's something which has recently come back into the news which I thought was done and dusted a long time ago. And no, its not Madeleine Mc Cann despite the fact that there was a short outburst of articles on Sky News this week about said person.

Nevertheless keep your eyes stuck to this space. Wild things are gonna happen!

~The Damo

Thursday 13 March 2008

Wednesday 5 March 2008

AVGN - The Wizard of Oz

Is it a coincidence that I happen to mention in the my previous blog that "The Wizard of Oz" has stood the test of time, and then the Nerd comes out with a video about the game two days later? Do you think the game has stood the test of time as mush as the film? I'll give you one guess....


Will you follow the Yellow Brick Road with me?

~The Damo

Monday 3 March 2008

Thunderbirds Are Go!!!.... Tomorrow!

How cool was that? As a 4/5 year old kid in the early 90's, Thunderbirds - which preceeded Saved By The Bell cause the tapes we took off the Tv have the opening credits of Saved by The Bell on them - was simply the SHIT! Not that the word "shit" was in my vocabulary at the time or in fact even a buzz-word back then for a positive description of something, but it was most definitely the thought on my mind. I can distinctly remember the Christmas when good 'ol Mr. Claus himself left me Tracy Island under the tree, the perfect addition to my collection of metallic Thunderbird vehicles which were currently residing in my makeshift Tracy Island up in my room consisting of a cup with a piece of card over it (for TB1), an eggbox (for TB2) and one of those ring toy things you give to babies (for TB3).

But Damien (D, Damo, Fuckface or whatever name you happen to call me), why are you telling me this? Well as it so happens, yours truly was so ecstatic to find a "Thunderbirds - The Complete Series" DVD box set on, that not only did he order it but he also got very nostalgic and spent a better portion of two hours yesterday evening watching Captain Scarlet on Naturally, DVD sets of the Andersons' other works are available too, but none so much as captivated me as much as the Thunderbirds did. Well...I liked Captain Scaret a bit too, but it scared me shitless since it was kindof a grown up version of the Andersons' work, where people got shot, died, were resurrected by the deep-voiced Mysterons and there was blood and... As a 4/5 year old kid that was scary, especially after becoming so familiar with the usually smiley faced Thunderbirds.

Thing is though...that was me when I was small, in the early 90's, and yet...both the Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet had been made in the 60's. So what makes the Thunderbirds so good and so much so that even today in 2008 I can watch them on the TV/online and still enjoy it, and not be put off by the fact that you can see the strings of the puppets or stuff like that (and believe you me that revelation only hit me years after Thunderbirds had ceased being shown regularly on BBC2, when I was smaller I hadn't noticed the strings ONCE in all my time watching them. This fact I attribute to the now and more recently improved picture quality of modern TV's). The thing is though, one shouldn't be bothered by the fact that you can see the strings, in the 1960's - WHEN THIS WAS MADE - this was revolutionary, equivalent to what game developers are doing for the Xbox360 and Playstation 3 today! Supermarionation, colour images, action sequences, explosions...Thunderbirds was bringin special effects people were seeing in the cinema to the home TV screen.

Not only that, one also has to remember that the Andersons' series', all of them in fact, captialised on the un-restrainable lust of the 60's era of creating futuristic visions of our world. The year now is 2008, and even back in the 90's some of the stuff in the show I saw was very revolutionary - eg. Video Phones, but now, we can see such technology being integrated into our society. Video calls are almost a mandatory feature of modern 3G phones. It is fair to say Gerry Anderson was a true visionary. Remember, Thunderbirds is set approx 2060-2080 and Captain Scarlet is somewhere round the same time. Take the SPV in CS for example. It has the passengers facing backwards (for protection in a crash) and uses monitors to allow them to see where they are steering - technology which is being integrated into next generation aeroplanes being designed by Boeing. However, what kept Thunderbirds a grip on reality was its ability to relate to its own era, using iconic locations such as the Empire State Building (one episode involves a project to move the building after an alteration to sub soil conditions...or something like that!), or its often frequent use of "London Internation Airport" or "Heathrow" for you and me, which has and still is one of the busiest airports in the world.

What was also nice about Thunderbirds was that it was always ready to have a story set in any part of the world. Nowhere was too good or too run down that the producers decided "No, we only want to do the BIG cities and countries in the world!". Yes, it did have stories set in the big cities and all that, but other places got a look in; my home of Ireland was in one episode - granted I now don't appreciate the rather (shall we say) stereotypical approach of the characters in it, but perhaps back in the 60's that was accurate. Another thing which likely helped the series and is something which modern series can fall prey too is trying to keep the stories original. Almost everything today is scrutinised for not being "original", everywhere is rife with examples, in books for instance we have Eragon - Lord of the Rings (or in fact ANY fantasy novel ever written) and the video game industry is riddled with copies or stolen ideas etc. But Thunderbirds never had the same thing happen. Yeah sure, it was a "RESCUE" - maybe - but the style and circumstances were always different, meaning the International Rescue team had to employ different gadgets and gizmos to get the job done, but at the same time, they would re-use certain things and you'd be like "Oh yeah, I remember when they used that to...". Arguably the most famous of those things being "The Mole" which was a drilling machine stored in one of the Thunderbird 2 pods, or "Fireflash", a super-sonic aircraft which appeared in a few episodes - though only the centre of attention in two.

There exists an argument that if something manages to stand the test of time, then it is truly a masterpiece. The Beatles have done it, The Wizard of Oz has done it and Thunderbirds has most certainly done it. When something can continue to entertain long after its technological sell-by date, you know you have a winner. Though easily eclipsed by modern puppetry and special effects, the original Thunderbirds still maintains a charm and a class that can never be replaced.

F.A.B. (Not FAB as in brilliant, F.A.B. is something they say in the programme...don't know what it means tho...)

~The Damo

Aside: Back in 2004 a completely new TV series entitled "Thunderbirds IR" - IR being International Rescue - was scheduled into production and set for release in 2005. It used CGI for complex scenes, completely redesigned Thunderbirds vehicles and modern puppet similar to the standard used in Team America: World Police, a parody in its own right of Thunderbirds. It was shot in "Hypermarionation" a tribute to the original "Supermarionation" which can be seen in the credits at the top in the video. The series is on permanent standby after the merger of two companies of which one was running the production of the series. The trailer can be found at Youtube. Personally I'm not impressed, it appears very American-ised and the bits of CGI ruin effects which were masterclassed in the original.

Sunday 2 March 2008

Watch This NOW!

Incredible...just watch!

Now some games like that would be cool!

~The Damo