Wednesday 29 June 2011

Gran Turismo 5 (eventually, I'm assuming)

I'm occasionally a bit behind the curve when it comes to gaming. Given the appalling state of some titles on release day, I've found that it's quite often sensible to wait a while until the first few patches have come out to address the glaring problems that the initial 'gold' build shipped with regardless.

So it's not until today that I got a copy of Gran Turismo 5 for the PS3 (pre-owned). I shove the disk in, and immediately have to download the better part of three quarters of a gigabyte of patches. As soon as this non-backgroundable download starts, I fire up the PS2, switch to component input, restore a save of Shadow of the Colossus, and then spend the next half hour beating the 9th colossus. I save that game, and switch back to the PS3 on HDMI in. The patches still haven't finished downloading, so I switch to DVI in and boot the Linux box, do some simple updates and routine administration, then check in on the PS3 again. Hey, all the patches are down! Maybe I'll get the play the game.

Or maybe not: right at the start, the game carries the advice that installing 8GB to hard disk can speed up loading times. Now, if the game developers felt the need to admit that, you know that there are going to be problems, so I click 'yes', and see an estimated time of a paltry 14 seconds. Good! Oh, wait: that's the preparation time before it can start installing: the actual estimate is more like 30 minutes.

So, I take the time to write this blog post, and it's still installing.

What the hell happened to console gaming?

Saturday 25 June 2011

Console Gaming, Rebooted

I've become a bit disillusioned with console gaming over the past few years. Many hours of my late teens were spent on the original PlayStation on classics like Final Fantasy VII & VIII and the various incarnations of Resident Evil. The upgrade to the PlayStation 2 in my early twenties was a foregone conclusion, offering much the same experience, but with better graphics and DVD playback as an added bonus. But the PS3 has never quite captured me in the same way. Part of that is undoubtedly me simply getting older. I'm married, have a daughter, and run my own consultancy company: it's only natural that some of the less important things like computer games slip a bit.

Still, throughout each generation of console, I've always had at least a background flirtation with PC games. Some games (first person shooters springing immediately to mind) are just out-and-out better on a PC. Something a simple as mouse vs. control pad become critically important when you want to be able to turn quickly to find out what's shooting you. Other games (RPGs like Dragon age) are again just better on a PC largely because navigating the intricate menu systems of such games with a d-pad is infuriatingly slow. Thus, while games like Infamous and God of War 3 on the PS3 are undoubtedly best on their home platforms, the shiny black console spent most of its time languishing unused under the TV, while its forgotten dad, the PS2, was in a damp-proof box with its games in the attic.

Anyway, I bought a new monitor/TV earlier this week: finally time to retire the 4:3, 1280x1024 and catch up with the 1920x1080 high-def kids. One of the major selling points for this particular monitor was the sheer number of connectivity offerings on its back. My PC displays via DVI; I have a small, VIA-based server that has a VGA port for the occasional time (i.e. backups) when I need local terminal access; and there's an HDMI port for the aforementioned PS3. But there's also component input, which made me think of the old PS2. Indeed, why not hook both it and the PS3 up to the same display, just for kicks?

Well, since I've done that, I've played the PS2 more than its younger, more powerful offspring, and it's reminded me of why console gaming used to be fun: it was just so simple. Shove in the disk, and go.

With the PS3, turning it on assaults you with a menu of menus, each of which contains a dizzying number of options. If you're an infrequent player like me, it seems like you're being prompted for a firmware update just about every time you turn the damn thing on, and if you play a game that you've not touched in a while, there's every possibility that you'll be looking at anything been 100MB and 1GB of patches to fix the problems caused by rushing the original version out the door.

One of the great things about the PS1 and PS2 is that they didn't have internet connectivity, so game studios had to be very, very sure that the software they committed to CD or DVD was as bug free as possible. With the PS3 (and Xbox360—don't think I'm picking on the PS3 in particular), just about any old crap can be thrown together, to be patched later when the early adopters—devoted fans that a studio should treat especially well—are used as unpaid acceptance testers.

So I'm holding off on purchasing Infamous 2 for the PS3, and instead having fun with Shadow of the Colossus on the PS2. I think I should be able to get through that and Silent Hill 2 before I see if I can stomach the hassles of modern console gaming, or whether I just ditch the platform and stick to the PC.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Continuously Learning Lisp

I like to think that I 'know' Perl. I also 'know' C, Java, Smalltalk, Ruby and a handful of other languages. But Lisp is the only one that continually makes me feel like a newbie. Just when you think you've got it pegged... BLAM— you read something that shows you a completely new dimension.

A good example of this for me is Nikodemus Siivola's post on "Optimizing Lookup Functions Using LOAD-TIME-VALUE", basically demonstrating a way of altering the language such that hash table lookups with keys that are known to be constant at compile time have no lookup overhead at runtime.

I feel like I have a whole lot to learn, and it's good :-)