Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On The First Day Of Gearsmas Epic Gave To Me

All together now!

  1. "On the first day of Gearsmas Epic gave to me, a concussion from a smoke grenade." Bringing the concuss back for day - Dec 22
  2. 2 Flaming Bloodmounts (2 Bloodmounts with Flamethrowers every wave) - Dec 23
  3. 3 Extra Clips (3 extra clips of ammo in every weapon) - Dec 24
  4. 4 Frag grenades (Frag grenade pickups have 4) - Dec 25
  5. 5 Torque Bow Tags (Many rifle creatures carry Torque Bows in Horde) - Dec 26
  6. 6 Melee Monsters (All melee creatures Horde) - Dec 27
  7. 7 Sires a storming - Dec 28
  8. 8 Old School Gears Heads (4 v 4 MP) - Dec 29
  9. 9 Boomers Booming (Boomer squads on every wave) - Dec 30
  10. 10 Waves of Tickers (all Ticker Horde) - Dec 31
  11. 11 Wretches Wretching (Wretches with Shotguns) - Jan 1
  12. Some of the above (1, 3, 4, 8, 10) - Jan
That's 12 days of epic epicness from Epic starting tomorrow! This list was posted on the official forums, so it's not some random guesswork. On top of all this, everyone gets Golden Lancers and Hammerbursts for the duration of the event, which would matter to Claire and I if we didn't already have Gold Lancers thanks to the awesome Stacey (@iFlak) on Twitter. What does interest me is the XP bonus. Starting at 12x and going up one every day to 23x on day 12. Sweet. The last two Achievements I have left to bag in Gears of War 2 are Seriously 2.0 which requires me to kill 100,000 enemies and Veteran Gear, which requires me to hit Level 100. Seriously can be boosted in single player, so I'll get it eventually regardless. But Levels only count in Multiplayer, so XP events are a big thing to me at the moment.

I'm on somewhere around the 30,000 kill mark, but only at Level 77. Hopefully the coming days will boost that a bit closer to the magical 100, and I can earn my wings!

I'm going to be clocking in a lot of time online over the holiday season. Surely the best way to spent the cold winter nights.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Not Getting To Say Thanks

In my life, there have been three people I have loved unconditionally. Wait. Let me clarify that. There have been three women that I have loved unconditionally. If we include men in the list, I guest my dad and MacGyver would have to be added to the number.

From the moment I was born, my mom loved me unconditionally. I was the first, so I got it all. For three whole years before my brother arrived I had uncontested motherly love, and even after Philip arrived, mom just found a new supply of love for him, and I still got all the attention and affection I could ever want.

Eleven years ago, I met Claire, and I knew she was something extraordinary. When we started dating a year after that, I knew my life had changed. My love for her has never stalled or diminished in the intervening ten years. Instead it continues to grow and grow and I can't imagine a world without her.

But between mom and Claire, there was another.

When I was still just developing my personality, I spent the first early years of formal education in the town nearest my home. I don't remember much about those years. I hazily recall playing A-Team on the slide with my cousin and some friends. I remember colours and shapes. But most of all I remember feelings. I remember a warmth and a love. I remember being safe, and happy. I felt that I was special, even among all these other kids. I wasn't the fastest, or the strongest. I couldn't paint as well as the others boys, or build as high a block tower. But she still told me I was important. She hugged me if I fell, wiped my tears if I cried and celebrated with me in my victories. She gave me the freedom and the confidence to be myself.

That one teacher helped set me on the path to become who I am today. I cannot even physically describe her in any way right now, even though her smile is burnt into my minds eye. She had an amazing smile. She was my first crush. I loved her her. And she loved me.

I grew up wanting to be a teacher from a very young age. I wanted to give back a little of what I was given. I wanted to make people unsure of themselves feel better about who they are. I wanted to make a positive mark on someones life.

Every day I go to work I think of how much I remember how I felt when I was in preschool and the early years of my schooling. I think of my responsibility to the children I interact with and the influence I am having on their young minds. I try to make every moment a positive one that they can tell their parents when they go home. In decades to came I want them to remember their time in school as a favourable chapter in their lives.

The teacher that influenced who I am today, and the career I have chosen, passed away a few years ago. I remember my mom telling me over the phone. I remember crying. But most of all, I remember an enormous pain in my chest, as if someone was squeezing my heart, because I knew I could never tell her what she meant to me.

I could never say "Thanks".

Things To Be Thankful For

On this cold winter night in East Cork, there is really only one thing I need be thankful for.
Friends
Friends 2006

Friends. Without them, nothing else really matters.

I kind of wanted to leave that post there. End it with that one line. But I can't.

In two short months, Claire and I fly out to the unknown land of Canada.The undiscovered country of the future is one populated with no small amount of apprehension and fear, but also a lot of anticipation and excitement. Before us lies unlimited potential. But behind us lies all the friends we have in Ireland.

My friends have always been important to me. As a Gemini, I'm supposed to be my own best friend, capable of entertaining myself when alone. And my hyperactive imagination and ability to MacGyver toys out of any old rubbish means that generally I can. But I don't like to. I prefer to be around other people. I love being in the company of my friends. As much as I enjoy my job, my favourite day of the week is Sunday, when I get to hang out with everyone for a few hours.

Leaving them all behind is going to hurt. A lot. I know I'm going to miss my mom. I know I'll be homesick as soon as we touchdown in Vancouver, if not as soon as we lift off from Dublin! I know the thought of being so far away will be both thrilling and terrifying. But I know more than that that I will be sick with grief over leaving my friends. No Sunday breakfast, no Rock Band 3 parties, no boardgame afternoons.

And so, I cease waffling on and give thanks to you, the people who put up with me. You've made my 12 years in Cork a wonderful chapter of my life that I will never forget. You've been part of my life for almost half of my time on this earth.

Thanks.

Friday, November 05, 2010

I Know Of No Reason

Continuing my tradition in celebration of a man who tried to blow up the British Parliment.


Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason

Why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.


Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below

To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

One Decade

Ten years ago today, Claire made me the happiest person on the planet, and by some miracle I've managed to lie, cheat and steal my way past her better senses and keep her to myself all this time! I don't have access to any photos from back then (I don't think compact, portable photography devices existed back then. We were still battling dinosaurs and zeppelins!), but here's a select few from over the years. Special thanks to Jp's Flickr account for sharing the first one and Karens account for sharing the second. We'd been together a year already at the time the first one was taken. Goes to show how important having a camera is. So many incredible memories, lost forever. So many others captured in time.
Claire and... pet?
Aw... Ain't she amazing?
cas2_denisandclaire
Oh god! Oh god, my ears! Do they still look like that! Oh God! I'm never going out without a hat again. We look so young. Claire looks incredible! Whatever did she see in me?
Just The Two Of Us
She has always been there for me when I most needed a shoulder to lean on...
The Big Reveal
How we broke the news to Claire parents. Subtle like a brick. 
Just The Two Of Us
Our special day. We robbed our friends of so much partying by eloping, but we really had a wedding we'll never forget, even if no-one else got to share the memory.

I find it difficult to comprehend the fact that it's been ten years. I lived them, with Claire, and I still have difficulty thinking about how long that is. It doesn't feel like that. I doesn't feel like I've spent one third of my existence with her. It feels like things have only just begun. Every morning I wake up and thank God I have her. She's the only one that would put up with me.

I love you, Claire Ryan. Always.

Update: Read Claire's side of the story here!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Far Is Too Far?

I'm playing catchup today with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the CG cartoon series due to start it's third season soon. I loved the first season, chewing through the entire set in a matter of days, but I waited until season two was finished before really starting in on that one.

I have to say I love the clones! Every one of them is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker (met him once), and every one of them is awesome. I've always been a fan of the clone armour designs. I love the addition of colour to the otherwise stark white body suits of the galaxies elite troopers. Having an entire series that uses clones in almost every episode is just too much fun for me to watch.

The action in this version of the Star Wars universe is a pleasant trade-off between what we see the live action actors do in the movies and the crazy, super over-the-top antics of the earlier Clone Wars animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky. I never really got into that series. It was just too crazy and far from what we had seen in the movies. But this CG version has fantastic moments of action and combat, stunning lightsabre duels and mesmerising space battles, without sacrificing the impression that these warrior monks could really do this.

And it's surprisingly dark at times. People die, and not just the unnamed clones. Jedi are electrocuted to death, colonies are wiped out by the Trade Federation and, in the episode I have on while writing this, we see flame-throwers being used on sentient bug creatures. Evil, Separatist bug people, but sentient none-the-less.

Which brings me to why I started this, all to show off this one, 60 second scene. In the Star Wars universe, I have always gotten the impression that the Jedi were just good. Through and through. They would never sacrifice their ideals to achieve a goal. The Sith and bad, the Jedi are good. Sith use Force Lightning, Jedi use Force Push. That kind of thing. And it is why I absolutely love this series. Here, even the Jedi are not beyond forcing information out of a prisoner of war to get what they need.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Sketchy Post

Two weeks ago I finally got to put up all my sketches from Comic Con 2008. My awesome sketchbook is one of my most prized possessions, and filled with incredible art and signatures from the most amazing people. As well as the complete Flickr Set, I also created a nifty video showcasing the sketches, for my own pleasure.

Maulers And Grinders And Butchers, Oh My!

Last week I saw the movie of the year, if not decade. Inception is simply a stunning piece of work that will be debated for years to come. I think anyone coming out of the cinema were wondering what kind of strange and unusual dreams they would be having that night. I for one, had a normal, peaceful nights sleep.

Last night, however, I did have a wacky dream, but it was not because of a movie.

San Diego Comic Con is running this weekend. You may remember me freaking out over it two years ago as I was there myself. However, I can't be there this year, and the creators of the Gears of War series decided to cheer me up while I sat at home. While SDCC is running all modes in Gears of War 2 have a twenty XP multiplier!! Nice, but not the best thing.

Horde mode has long been my favourite thing about Gears 2. It was the first game to popularise the concept of a team of players up against waves of AI enemies, and still remains my favourite. I love getting a group of friends together to stomp some tickers, drones and friends. Except this weekend, things are different.

Waves one through nine are the sole territory of the Boomer Family, a terrifying collection of Maulers, Grinders, Boomshots, Butchers and Flamers, and even then I think I might have left out one. Wave ten is left to the terrifying power of the blood thirsty Bloodmounts, which are hard enough to kill in a normal game and damn near pants-wettingly impossible in the numbers onscreen this weekend.

All this results in a lot of frantic screaming and running from the players and a lot more laughing and having a good time. It also caused me to have a nightmare last night. As is usual, I remember only snippets of it, but I do remember running through a large room in a mansion (not the Mansion map in the game), ducking behind chairs to avoid the Grinder in the room. Man, those things are huge.

Anyway, thanks Epic Games. You've crafted a wonderful experience made better by a terrifying weekend of pain and suffering and bursts of adrenalin. I don't know if my heart can take much more, but I'm off to find out. If I don't blog again in a week, tell my wife I love her and that I'm probably not faking this time, so move me off the couch before I start to smell.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When Last We Left Our Heroes

After much soul searching and internal monologuing, with a heavy heart I have come to the decision to Fox my Monday Night RPG (To Fox: Verb, to bring to an abrupt stop usually without resolution). In all honesty, this has been coming a while now. I just haven't been feeling the love for the game that I want to as a GM. Where I used to look forward to Monday nights and gaming, it has been a chore for too long. This has nothing to do with my players. It's not you, it's me.

I've been reading a book from my hero, Sir Ken Robinson, called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. In it, Sir Ken makes the point that when you are doing something you love, then there is no "work" involved, time passes at a different pace, you can adapt and manage change within whatever you are doing with ease and nothing seems impossible. You are in your Element.

All this made me realise that GMing is not fun for me right now. I am not in my Element. In my last Spirit of the Century game I looked forward to each game night. My brain was filled with ideas and I relished the opportunity to be actively creative and exercise my mind on the go as the players repeatedly screwed up my perfectly laid plans. I didn't know what was going to happen next week, but it didn't bother me. The players controlled the flow of the game to some extent, and I simply had to come up with the connecting pieces to join the end of one game to the start of the next.

With my current game, I just don't feel the same ability within myself. I find myself "sending in the ninjas" far too often just to stall things, or to drag out the evening until people go home. I've always enjoyed out-of-game conversations at the gaming table, as I feel that game night is as much a chance for people to get out and hang with friends as it is for them to solve the latest adventure. But when I'm looking forward to just hanging out with my players and having those out-of-game conversations over playing the actual game, I know that something is not right.

In my previous campaign I was happy with the twists and turns I had the story take. I never second guessed myself about how I did something in a game. In this game, I am constantly regretting how I played a scene. "Oh, I should have done this, I should have used him, I could have made them appear, I shouldn't have played it like that." I don't feel the same confidence in my own abilities.

Maybe I made my world too big? In my previous campaign it was just 1920's Earth. Here we have eight other planets and various hidden locations. I had this grand idea for each planet, a system for travelling between them (robbed wholesale from a sci-fi series), at least two important NPCs on each world, and even some threads of what each NPC might want. But it was too much. I didn't know how to handle it, or, maybe, I did, but I just lost interest. I hadn't enough of it written down, or solidly plotted out. But then, I had virtually nothing written down in my first campaign, just single word ideas, a sentence here or there and some stuff bookmarked in Firefox.

In the end, all that matters is that I'm not happy with the level of quality I'm bringing to the table as GM. I hereby hand off our own little Monday Night Gaming to anyone that wants it. We have a set of enthusiastic players who deserve a GM to match.

Right now, I need a cookie.

And so, we end tonights final episode of "Across The Stars" as our heroes dangle precariously from the edge of the asteroid with the villainous Dr. Apathy sneering overhead. From everyone here at KWRYN, we thank you for listening, and remember, always "Shoot for the stars!"

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Story From Two Years Ago

This story actually starts almost three years in 2007. Mike Wieringos sudden and tragic death in August of that year was a shock to me. I was a huge fan of his work and followed his blog which he updated regularly. He had posted on a Friday, wishing everyone a good weekend, and no-one knew that he'd be gone from us before he could post again.

Through his good friend and regular collaborator Todd Dezago I had managed to get hold of a commemorative sketchbook done for Mike, which arrived just a week or two before I left for the US.

Flashforward to the Friday evening of SDCC 2008. It's 5:30 and people are starting to pack up as the hall closed at 6. I ask Claire to just take one more walk through Artists Alley before we leave while it's nice and quiet.

Wandering through I happen onto a table with some very nice art laid out, and the artist is relaxing behind it all chatting to a girl.

"I know it's late" I said, "but I was wondering if I could buy one of your sketchbooks and get a quick sketch." That was how I got a lot of my sketches. Most of the artists had sketchbooks for sale and if you bought one there was a page at the back for a quick sketch. I asked them to do the sketch into my sketchbook instead, which was roughly the same size, not some huge A4 monstrosity.

"No problem! I'd love to. Who do you want?"
"Oh, it's late, and I'm sure you're tired. Pick someone you enjoy drawing and can sketch without too much work."
"Fair enough," he replied, checking out the cover. "You like Marvel then? I've always been a fan of Juggernaut. Is he ok with you?"
"Perfect."

And so James "Bukshot" Bukauskas started on his quick pencil sketch of Cain Marko's super powered alter ego. Claire marveled at his work that was on the table and I started to leaf through his sketchbook.

"Cool. Ninja Turtle. Ha! Thundercats. Woah. G.I. Joe Dreadnok." And then I turned a page and went silent. Claire spotted the change first.
"What is it" she asked.
"This sketch. I know this. I got this just before we left in a book for Mike Wieringo."

James looked up from his sketch.

"Yeah. I don't generally draw stuff for things like that, but Mike was a nice guy. He was a great artist. I wish I'd met him."

I'm not ashamed to say that my eyes started to water up a little looking at that sketch. It was a black and white piece with Spider-Man crouched atop a No. 2 HB pencil saying "Thanks Mike". James and I got talking about Mike then, and our conversation just ran on.

Somehow we got on to happier subjects and we mentioned that after San Diego we were heading to Las Vegas to get married. James looked at the girl behind the table and they both laughed! Turned out the girl was his girlfriend, and they were planning on getting married in Las Vegas later that year!

By the time Claire and I said our good-byes, I felt like we were long time friends. James and his girlfriend were so incredibly nice, and the short, quick, easy five minute sketch of Juggernaut that James had started turned into my favourite sketch in the entire book, not only because of how awesome it is, but also because of the story that goes with it.

If you ever see this James, I hope you and your wife are having a wonderful life together, and I want you to know that I will always be eternally grateful for the time you gave to Claire and I on that Friday of Comic Con in 2008. You deserve every happiness and success. God bless you.

Related Posts
Mike Wieringo
Vancouver Fan Expo: Stuart Immonen

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meet Ashka

This is Ashka. Her likes include getting brushed with her favourite comb, getting petted and rubbed, falling asleep in my lap, playing with pieces of denim, getting attention. Her dislikes are seemingly limited to fleas and having to take showers with me.


She is as adorable as her photographs make her out to be, and since her shower and flea treatment, she is looking much cleaner and healthier than when we first got her. We bathed her in the sink on her first night here, and it helped, but not by much. Yesterday morning I got some kitty-friendly shampoo and decided to give her a shower to really clean her. Thinking ahead, I put on a pair of my lifeguard swim shorts and then, thinking a bit more about those kitty claws, I added a t-shirt to my shower-wear.

She cried the entire time, and I know she felt suddenly betrayed. I had to hold her several times to lather in the shampoo, and then to rinse her off with the shower head. She climbed around my t-shirt onto my shoulder and back, mewing in my ear "Why? Why are you doing this? What did I do?" I felt so sorry for her. Her wet fur made her look miserable, and she was noticeably shivering, even in the warm shower water. I made it as fast as possible, then dried her off. Once I had myself dried as well, I took her into the living room, cradled her in my lap and combed her until she was dry and warm. It took a while to get her to her fluffy self, but a lot less just to get her purring. She was still shivering when she started to purr and fall asleep.

She's forgiven me since. When she wants attention, she will pester me until I let her sit in my lap. She's not allowed in the living room if we're not there, so at night and when we're shopping, Ashkas territory is the hallway and bathroom. When she does get to stay in the living room, she loves sleeping behind my PC, as in the second photo above, and she seems to really enjoy the keyboard. Regardless of where I leave it, she'll walk on it, sit on it, scratch herself on it, purr and mew for attention on it. She's been typing messages to Claire, and teaching me all the shortcut keys.

Right this second she's lying in my lap, clawing at my arm, so I'm going to finish up here and give her some love and attention and get a pack of band-aids for my wrist. Later.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Differences Between Cats And Dogs

When you tell a dog to stop doing something, eventually he will learn not to do that.

When you tell a cat not to do something, eventually she will learn not to do that while you're watching.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Response To Your Question...

My taste in music has never been in line with the other kids of my social circle. In secondary school I enjoyed the musical stylings of Garth Brooks and Bryan Adams. The second through seventh CDs I ever bought were Garth Brooks. It was a box set. The first had been the soundtrack to Grosse Pointe Blank.

Anyway, the point is, I've always enjoyed music that isn't exactly topping the charts in Ireland. I don't think "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" counts, as even Bryan Adams hates that song now from what I've heard.

A while ago I discussed my amazing discovery that the Xbox 360 is female. This accurate assumption is based on the fact that she can multitask, playing games and music at the same time! While describing the life changing effects this revelation had on me, I casually mentioned that I was now used to playing games listening to such artists as Chesney Hawkes and Hanson. Amongst the hundreds of comments that followed this controversial and groundbreaking blog post, my good friend Lynn questioned "Hanson AND Chesney Hawkes? Did you buy them ironically". I shall now explain.

Chesney Hawkes is easy. "I Am The One And Only" is a guilty love of mine. At home, when Claire is still at work, I love singing Chesneys one hit wonder at the top of my lungs... or, at least, slightly above an inaudible murmur.

Hanson is a little more difficult. For well over a decade I joined any sane minded individual in cringing at the sound of an "mmm-bop" or the sight of a pack of long, blond haired males. The mere mention of Hanson was enough to make me laugh. And Claire agreed with me.

Until last year when someone mentioned them in one of the many, many blogs she reads. More specifically, they mentioned a particular documentary series made by the band themselves called Strong Enough To Break. The entire thing is up on YouTube by the boys themselves in an epic series of 12 posts! It is well worth watching, telling the story of how Hanson evolved from the teenyboppers they were at the time of their breakout number one hit to the pop rock grownups they are today.

Claire spent a fair length of time telling me and anyone who would listen how cool Hanson suddenly were, but we all ignored her. Then she got hold of the latest two albums, 2004's Underneath, and 2007's The Walk and got them onto her iPod. Thus followed an unavoidable exposure to the works of Hanson on any car journey that lasted longer than three minutes.

Not that it actually took that long. I found myself humming along to the tracks before we had left city limits. Penny and Me quickly became one of my favourite tracks to listen to while walking, cooking, or, yes, even playing Xbox. Crazy Beautiful, Misery and Georgia are also fantastic tracks, but honestly, it's just trying to pick from an incredible bunch. There are few artists, Messers Brooks and Adams included, that have entire albums that I enjoy listening to. Hanson almost has two. I leave out the last track from Underneath as it includes a hidden track, causing it to also include five minutes of silence. Annoying if you have your iPod in your back pocket and would rather not have to fish it out to move onto the next track.

In the end, music is for your soul. It needs to be felt within you, not just listened to. As much as MMMBop reminds me of teeny-boppers and terrible taste, Hanson makes me smile, hum, sing, and dance (when no-one's looking). Their stuff won't be for everyone, but it deserves to be heard by a lot more people than it is currently. Give them a chance. Listen to their most recent works. If you don't like them, that's fine. Just don't ignore them based on a single from 1997. Instead, try out their latest single "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" from their newest, just released album, Shout It Out.

I have no excuse for Chesney Hawkes. Sorry.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Secrets Revealed

For weeks everyone knew. But no-one told me. No-one let it slip, or even drop a vague hint that suggested what the big secret might have been. After, everyone asked if I knew, if I even could have guessed. I really didn't. I knew it must have been amazing if everyone was so paranoid about spoiling it for me. Plus, I had been told that the "wrath of Claire" would be great on he who so much as hinted towards what it might be.

When the day finally rolled around, I was impressed to see how many people turned up. Were they here for me, or to finally see whatever this thing was? Probably a bit of both, but more of the latter! Honestly, I was distracted by babies for the afternoon to care. My day was already looking terrific before most people had even turned up!

Claire arrived home and bundled something into the spare room, causing everyone to head in that direction one by one. They all returned to the room smiling broadly, telling me I was going to "freak" when I saw it.

At some arbitrary time of her choosing, when the majority of people were in attendance, Claire made me face away from the door and brought in my birthday present. The following is a video account of my speechless reaction.


Special thanks to Quinn for recording that moment.

I was truly awed. Never in a million tries would I have guessed this. Ok, maybe a million. After exhausting "A comic-book Spider-Man costume" and "a six pack of Vanilla Coke", I might have stumbled onto this as a possibility. But I certainly didn't think of it before my birthday. In the past, Claire had talked about upgrading my digital camera, but I had that guess shot down when one person who knew the details told me she had to look up what the gift was because she hadn't a clue if it was cool or not. While she may not be the most technologically minded of people, I was pretty confident that she knew what a digital camera was.

But this?!? This was amazing! The Master Replicas Rocketeer Helmet, licenced by Disney and limited to 2000 pieces. I have number 243. It is better than anything I could have imagined, though a six pack of Vanilla Coke does come a close second.

So many people chipped in to get me this. I don't even know who exactly, but if you're reading this, then "Thank You!" You made my 30th birthday a very memorable one. I have no idea how I'm going to get the thing to Canada, but it sure ain't staying here stored away in some wardrobe!

Finally, if anyone has photos from the evening, I'd really like to post them on my Flickr account to share them with everyone. I'd really appreciate if you emailed them to me, or gave me them next time we meet. Thanks. You guys are the best!

Thank Ya Kindly, Ma'am

Let me tell you the tale of the Ryan Family Kids.

It all started way back in the halcyon days of 1998 when the eldest Ryan, young, dashing Denis moved to Cork to attend college. Instead of returning home once his education had been completed, he remained there for the next twelve years, finding a lovely Limerick girl that didn't stab him and "hooking up with her", as the kids call it today. And so began what would be called in the family history books as "The Great Exodus". In 2001, his brother Philip moved to college in Limerick. He then fled to the great land down under, Australia in 2006 or so, from where he has yet to return. The youngest of the Ryans wished to work with animals, and so, following her dream, Margaret-Ann moved to England to study in Bristol. Stephen, the youngest of the three brothers, finding himself at home with nothing to do, decided that the best thing for him was to pack up his Xbox and move to New Zealand, the land of grass and sheep. So, rather like home then.

Suddenly realising he was the only one of the Ryan Kids left in Ireland, Denis looked at where he was. He had a job he loved, but the pay wasn't great. He had, without a shadow of a doubt, the best friends in the entire world. But the itchy feet that had befallen his younger siblings had now afflicted him. Denis' wife too, the fair and beautiful Claire, had an urge to travel, brought on by a combination of poor management at work and poorer management in the nations government. Together, they made a pact. Canada would be their destination. A land rich in many things, but three above all others: opportunity, trees and endless wilderness to dispose of the bodies of their enemies.

Back on the family land in Killea, the people of the village jokingly questioned of the Ryan Kids mother. "What did you do Kathleen? They've all left". Smiling, she shook her head and claimed she did not know. But she did know. She had taught them love and care, compassion and courage, faith and the belief in a better world. She had shown them glimpses of how incredible that world can be, and encouraged them to be free, to live and to explore.

And so, one by one, they traveled to the four corners of the globe to spread her lessons to everyone they met.

And the world lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Look!

A few weeks ago I was enjoying a cheese burger and chips in Supermac's when a father and daughter came in and ordered.The father then picked up the free newspaper from the counter and sat in the kiddies section, opening the paper and reading up on the latest reasons why we are all doomed to a meaningless existence void of any hope or joy.

The daughter decided that sitting down to wait for food was much too boring and looked around for something to amuse herself. She was only two or three years old, and it didn't take long for her eyes to fall on Supermac's attractive looking wet floor signage. Google has failed me. I cannot find an image that even resembles the signs Supermac's uses. So here's a quick sketch:

That's a terrible picture. Blurry, poorly lit,
out of focus, asymetrical and the wrong colour.
But it does have the important details.
Edit: Dave found it- 
http://bit.ly/bd75Gq




This little girl stood in front of the sign for a few moments before her eyes lit up. She turned, putting her back against the sign, spreading her legs apart and stretching her arms out sideways from her body, mimicking the plastic man. But she still wasn't happy. She looked side to side at each of her arms, then turned her neck further to look at the yellow sign behind her. Realizing what she needed to do, she pointed her right index finger up and her left index finger down. Smiling brightly, she looked at her arms and the sign again, now happy with her work.

Turning, she called her father: "Daddy, daddy, daddy! Look! Look what I did! Dad! Daddy. Daddy. Dad."

Without looking up from his paper, her father replied dismissively: "That's lovely dear."

The little girl put put her arms down and returned to the table to start eating the chips that had just arrived.

I pray that, when I have kids, no matter how busy I am, I will never ignore my childrens calls for my attention. Those moments are fleeting, and will never happen again. They are unique and special, and as a parent, they are all yours if you want to enjoy them.

Preschool Teacher By Day, Movie Editor By Night

As we reach the end of another school year, I find myself once more stressing out over things I know will be fine and work out easily in the end. Mostly, it's the video we put together using all the photos we took during the year to show parents all the work their kids did and how utterly adorable they are. Except... well... go back and read the last sentence, starting at "mostly" and replace "we" with "I".

I've done this every year that I've been working in the preschool, and every year I run into new problems. The first year it was all the teething issues. Video files not playing nice with the software, having to find appropriate codex's to edit proprietary video camera movie files (oh, while I'm on that subject: Fuck you Sony), recording too much background noise and then having to try to clean up the audio as best I could, and many, many more. The second year was more of the same, but with the added stress of having to one-up myself from the previous year, coupled with how attached to the group I had gotten. It was the first time I had to let go kids I had been teaching for two years, and they were an amazing bunch of kids.

This years problems started and finished with Windows Movie Maker. In past years I have had the luxury of using advanced, expensive, professional and complicated software to help edit or re-encode the video. This year, however, may be the last year that I do this, if plans fall into place (See future blog), and the preschool manager wants to be able to do this herself next year. The preschool manager is, however, very computer illiterate, and advanced, expensive, professional and complicated software to help edit or re-encode the video is far, far beyond her abilities.

So I decided to limit myself to three programs.  The bulk of the work was done between Movie Maker, Windows free built-in basic movie editing tool, and Picasa, the awesome, free and simple-to-use photo editing tool. Let it be said here that I love Picasa. It is far from a professional tool, but it's great for the amateur photographer who doesn't really care too much about the final product. And it can produce very slick looking video compilations of your photos in a widely accepted format with zero hassle. But enough ass-kissing, back to the point. The third and final program was a simple and free video converter program I needed to convert the video files we shot using the camcorder from a proprietary video format to a Movie Maker readable format (once again: Fuck you Sony).

I could do everything I needed to do, and in record time, using only these three programs. AVC would re-encode what I needed to, Picasa would put each sections set of photographs together into a beautifully presented clip, and then Movie Maker would add the soundtrack and produce a single, 12 minute long movie to be shown on this Friday. Except... It didn't.

No matter how often I tried, Movie Maker would not produce a movie. It got to 25% every time and then froze, the "Estimated time remaining" figure slowly climbing upwards as no further progress was had. After three failed attempts at getting it to work, I eventually produced each section individually. Picasa had produced three photo compilations for me, and those, along with the video segment of the children talking about what they want to be when they grow up, meant I had four sections that needed a music track. So I produced four segments of photos with soundtrack in Movie Maker, each one working perfectly, then I put them all together and produced a completed movie. I have no idea why Movie Maker refused to edit the segments together and put the soundtrack on at the same time, but happily edit the four segments with the soundtrack pre-attached without complaint.

Either way, it's all done. I set the whole thing up and showed it to the preschool manager today and we both got all teary-eyed. That's why I don't have my projector or Xbox here tonight and instead I have time to blog. They're in school waiting for Friday. I would normally wait until Thursday to bring all that stuff up, but I'm going to a friends wedding tomorrow instead. Two days left in school, and I take one off! Ha!

To Blog Or Not To Blog

The last few weeks have been kind of busy for me, not all productive though. Red Dead Redemption has eaten up a lot of time I hadn't allocated to gaming thanks to it's surprisingly great gameplay and amazing story. I've been meaning to blog about lots of things. Short posts on random observations, reviews of games and most importantly, a proper blog about my birthday that I promised over a month ago. I've wanted to give that one the care and attention it deserves, not for me, but for all the people that made it so damn awesome!

Tonight I have no projector, and no Xbox. Expect to be blog-bombed.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Movie Night: The Thomas Crown Affair

In honor of the astonishingly low tech theft of up to $1.27 million worth of paintings from the Paris Museum of Modern Art, we're showing the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. While Mr. Crown only steals Monets "San Giorgio Maggiore at dusk", the actual heist two weeks ago got away with five paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Braque!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

One Awesome Day

Thanks to a lot of amazing friends, I had an unforgettable birthday. How awesome was it? It started at 5pm Friday evening when the first guests arrived and ended just minutes ago, at 3am Saturday morning.

Longer post to follow. For now, bed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Three Hundred And Thirty

Happy anniversary to me!! No. Not "Denis me"; "One Terrific Day me"! My blog turns 300 with this post.

Three hundred posts. Wow. I never thought I'd do it. And in a fraction over four years as well. Not bad. It's nice to think I stuck with this thing, and continue to do so.  I've had a good time, and had a lot of readers. My Google Analytics stats tell me that there are loads of people all over the world stumbling into my little piece of the world wide web. Here are some interesting facts from Google about my blog:


  • I average around 20 page visits per day, peaking in the last 30 days with 31 views in a single day.
  • As I write this, there have been 699 page views, which suggests that the first person to read this on the site could be the 700th viewer! Congratulations, whoever you may be.
  • The vast majority of visitors are from the United States, at 180 visits. Ireland comes second, at 62, almost a third of the US! Inexplicably, India, Brazil and Germany are in my top ten! Hi there countries I've never been to or written about!
  • For the longest time my post titled "I Miss World Of Warcraft" was at the top of the pageviews leader board, but my recent review of Splinter Cell: Convictions co-op story mode has blasted to the top and seems to be gaining speed. The single player review is also ahead of WoW already. I should do more game reviews. Apparently, they make good reading.
  • Google sends me almost 50% of my total traffic. Thanks Google. Thoogle.
Interesting and true!

This all happens at an oddly appropriate time as well. Next Friday, just six days after One Terrific Day turned 300, its writer turns 30. I am living my last week in my 20's. Am I worried? No. I don't feel 30. I certainly don't act 30. The friends I have are the best I've ever had. I love my job. I am married to the most extraordinary person on the planet, and the only one that will have me. I am healthy, happy and hungry... oh. I should probably get some food.

Before I go, there will be fun and games at my place next Friday, the 28th. Of this I am aware. As the 28th is the actual date of my arrival to this pitiful planet, it will probably involve cake and lots of Rock Band. Everyone is invited. Everyone. Bring friends. I don't care if I don't know them. If they can 100% the guitar solo in The Final Countdown on Expert, then they're welcome. It should be a blast.

What I am not aware of is what will be happening on Saturday, the 29th. There will be something. Claire has been organizing it. You will have to contact her or any of the people she has informed for further details. Do not ask me. All I know is that a small amount of driving will be involved, though there should be lots of room for car-pooling.

See you all soon!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movie Night Returns


Movie Night is back!! Iron Man and Batman team up in a story of sex, murder and mystery. Thursday, 20th May, from 7:30pm. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favourite movies. Join us if you're around and interested.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

And the Cow Goes Moo! And The Bird Goes...

Tweet.

@quaidrayn now exists on Twitter. You can choose to follow me, but really, I can't imagine I'll be updating often. It was really just to follow what Claire is saying about me behind my back. I've posted three times already, but that may well be it for the year.

Speaking of Claire, my wonderful wife is, as some of you know, a writer of large chunks of text without drawings to illustrate the physical action. I think they still call them novels. She has had a blog about writing and all sorts of things that interest her for some time now, but only recently decided to open it to anyone to read.

Taleweaving is a much more cerebral that my effort at contributing toward the unified intelligence of the internet. Her breath of knowledge and interests in topics that include politics and technology are clear in her writings, far flung from my bashing at the keyboard about video games and comic book characters.

Eduard Khil

Most of you may not recognize the name, but I'd take a fair guess that if you spend a resonable amount of time surfing the information super highway, you've heard his voice by now. Eduard is the man responsible for this music video, from way back in 1976!

I learned about this through following the exploits of geek superstar Wil Wheaton, who enjoyed performing a reenactment of the video onstage in front of PAX East with fellow geeks Paul and Storm.The homage was funny, but the original was hilarious. I don't mean to suggest I'm laughing at Eduard. He has a stunning vocal range, but, after 34 years the video has an old-world quirkiness to it that seems to make everyone that sees it smile.

But the story continues. Eduard has now put forward a challenge to the Internet! He asks everyone watching to... well, just see:

Now before I get complaints, I know the subtitles claim the recording was from 1966, not '76, but Wikipedia says '76, and I've seen that in a few other places as well related to the video. Besides, it looks like something from the 70's anyway.

So will you be joining him? Will any of my readers take up the challenge and write lyrics to the tune? Even just a verse? I think it would be hilarious to be part of this. It's the newest internet meme, fast becoming as widespread as Rickrolling. Be a part of history.

A Machine Full Of Surprises

Claire was on a serious cleaning buzz this morning and we spent a good deal of the day tidying the spare room, throwing out a bag or two of waste paper, as well as sorting out a bunch of stuff that just needs to be gotten rid of, preferably for a small monetary exchange. I have boxes of comics that I don't need, mostly random single issues or stories I didn't like. We both have more books than we need. Most of the DVDs in my substantial collection are just gathering dust thanks to living in the 21st Century, and the joy of a broadband connection. Incredible!

But after hoovering the house, we were done and dusted by half three. I sat back, flicked on the Xbox and started shifting about in the menus. My 360 has been networked to my PC for years now. It's how I watch a lot of my media, on our projector screen through the Xbox rather than on the relatively tiny PC monitor. Enormous!

But today I clicked into the Music tab on the dashboard. I expected it to be empty. I have a lot of media shared to the Video tab, but I don't remember sharing any music. Instead, I found my entire collection there, as well as any Playlists I had set from the PC. This probably comes as no surprise to the majority of you, but it was a shock to me. I could suddenly play what little amount of music I do have on my PC through my 5.1 surround sound speakers. Amazing!

After spending a stupid length of time playing with the visualizer (like, more than one song!) I decided to test firing up a game to see what happens. As soon as the game started to load, the music cut out. Ah well. Fair eno- But wait! The music came back! And when I tried to load from the menu into the game, the music stopped again, but came back once the level had loaded! Fantastic!

Suddenly, much to my delight and Claires amusement, I was playing Splinter Cell: Conviction with Hanson providing the soundtrack. I was killing terrorist scum to the tune of "Penny and Me". I think the most appropriate song to pop up on the playlist while I ran a level has to be a toss-up between Chesney Hawks "I Am The One And Only" and Foo Fighters "DOA". Surreal!

Even after owning an Xbox 360 for over three years, it still manages to surprise me. Penis!

Bow To The Future

io9, one of the sci-fi heavy news feeds on my Google Reader feed, posted a wonderful chart on the evolution of Cyborgs in cinema and TV, created by Online Schools. As an extra cool feature, they provided the HTML code to embed the chart in your own site, so I have.

Cyborgs On Screen

I'm a big fan of the small screen Terminator series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The main friendly Terminator in that show, Cameron, was very cool. Thanks to Summer Glaus training, the killer cyborg had a wonderful weight to her movements, while still looking like a young, agile female. Such a pity it got canned before things were wrapped up. John Henry was a joy to watch as well as the once evil, now under "rehabilitation" Terminator. Even the parts that really shouldn't have worked worked really, really well, like, for example, casting the lead singer from Garbage, Shirley Manson, as the sinister head of a major computer company clearly interested in the future development of Skynet.

Other than the Terminator franchise, there are lots of other cool cyborgs on the list, from the Borg, the Cybermen and the Cylons facing off against the heroic figures of Robocop, Steve Austin and Tony Stark.

With that kind of power on both sides, I wonder who'd win in a fight between the good cyborgs and the bad? On one hand, humanity is defended by Iron Man. On the other, we also have Inspector Gadget on our side.

We're doomed.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Mayday, Mayday

As I start this, it's 14:27 on May 1st, according to my PCs clock. I relaxing in our apartment, watching Mythbusters and enjoying tea. Adam and Jamie are testing pain tolerance in varying groups, including males versus females, and red heads versus, well, everyone else, while Kari, Grant and Tori are blowing propane tanks sky high.

And despite all this brain candy, I am finding myself reading over a few old posts here on the old blog. And while doing so, I suddenly realised that it was around this time of the year, way back in the halcyon days of 2006, that I started this endeavor.

Sure enough, on May 2nd, 2006, I posted my first blog, "What's in a name?" I never thought that I'd still be posting four years later! At the time, it was just something to do. Another hobby to add to my day. I always liked writing, and blogging allowed me to write anything I wanted to. I could jump from factual posts about my day, through movie and comic reviews, onto thoughts on world events, right through to fiction and short stories.

To commemorate four years of blogging, I'm going to try to blog as often as possible for the month of May. I'd love to commit to a post a day, but I'm not promising anything. I have a busy month ahead of me, as we get towards the last few weeks of school, but I'll do my best to inform and entertain. Besides, I have loads more to write about for Splinter Cell, as well as a Nutshell Review for Iron Man 2. That's... well... two more posts anyway.

Review: Splinter Cell: Conviction Co-Op Story Ending

An open letter to Ubisoft, re: Splinter Cell: Conviction Co-Op Story Ending

Fuck you, Ubisoft. That was uncalled for. Awesome? Yes. Amazing? Yes. Fun? Yes. The perfect ending? Totally.

Still doesn't make me feel any different towards you lot for pulling that shit.

Fuck you very much,

Sincerely yours,

Denis.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review: Splinter Cell: Conviction Co-Op Story


He's a tough American ninja spy with a mean attitude and a meaner pistol. He's a stereotyped Russian that is effectively identical to his partner save for red goggles and his accent. They fight terrorists!

Splinter Cell: Conviction delivers a fast, action packed single player campaign that takes you on a rock'n'roll ride through Ubisofts answer to Jack Bauer. But Sam Fishers story is only a portion of the complete story presented on the game disc. Before Fisher, there was Archer and Kestrel.

Archer is an agent of Third Echelon, Sams old unit. Kestrel is Archers Russian double, an agent of Voron. They get thrown together to stop an arms deal going down in Russia in a story taking place just before Sam Fisher is called back into active duty. Their story spreads over four huge chapters, each one divided into three to four large combat areas. Each of the chapters are much larger than the single player campaign chapters, but on top of that, there is now two players trying to bumble their way through the darkness to the checkpoints. Because of this, I have already invested much longer in the co-op story than I did on either of my runs through Sams story, and I've only just finished the third chapter. Chapter two alone took the better part of four hours.

I have an interesting outlook on the co-op story, thanks to the two people I'm playing through the campaign with, and how we play.

Aidonis and I play split-screen. We share a screen, couch, and verbal sparing. When one of us fails, the other sees exactly what we did wrong and can jeer and insult about how they'd never get caught like that. With Rubber Cookie, we play on Xbox Live. We have the full screen to ourselves, and have to rely on much more talking to tell each other who is moving where and what cover is safe.

Aidonis doesn't own the game, so his only practice and experience is playing co-op with me. He doesn't have the best weapons or upgrades, or the experience of the single player game. This made the first chapter particularly eventful, involving lots of running from mobs of guards and restarting over and over. Rubber Cookie owns the game and is going through the single player campaign at the same time as the co-op. He first experienced the trademarked goggles in co-op, but had a fully upgraded Five-Seven from the start. We got through the entire first chapter without a single restart, and the first stage without even being detected.

Of course, it also helps that I'm further on in the story with Aidonis, so we're learning the maps and patrol patterns through trial and error. By the time I get there with Rubber Cookie, I know the place like the back of my hand, pointing out and using all the hidden ledges, convenient shadows and overhead pipes. It helps. A lot. Practice makes perfect, and all that.

The co-op element of Conviction is, in a word, stunning. I could happily leave the review there and hope that you take my word on it. But I won't. To only play Sams story would be criminal. Ubisoft have created a complete set of maps unique to the co-op story, rather than recycling the single player maps. The co-op maps allow for a lot more teamwork, striking from the shadows simultaneously to eliminate hostiles distracted by conversations of their beautiful families and the upcoming vacation time. Foolish guards. Don't they know they can never get a happy ending? We're the heroes here!

Mark and Execute is used to full effect in co-op. A single melee takedown charges both players Execute ability. Two players with two upgraded Five-Sevens can mark eight guards in an area. When one presses Y, time slows to allow the second player to assist in a Dual Execute, taking down any of the eight marks in sight in one flurry of suppressed fire. Even in a situation where one player can see more than just the four marks he has tagged and the second player is not in line of sight to anyone, that one well placed player can execute as many marks as he has sight to by himself. Also, while a single melee kill grants both players their Execute command, using it only exhausts the one belonging to the player that initiated the action, even if the second player joins as part of a Dual Execute. This allows both players to mark four more guards and immediately take out potentially eight more as long as the second player can engage his still active Execute order! In an absolute best case scenario, that's 16 kills in a matter of seconds. But even getting ten kills this way is a rush to the system, and gets the heart pumping with adrenaline.

Along with Mark and Execute, Convictions other new feature gets a vigorous workout in co-op. Last Known Position is in the single player story, but I found it much more important in the co-op. Basically, if you get spotted by the guards, but then duck behind a corner, through a window or into a patch of inky shadow out of sight, a "ghost" image of your character appears where you were last seen, representing the guards belief that you are in that general vicinity. You need to haul ass away from that spot before they descend on you for that time you put a bullet in Kevin's head in the last section, leaving his kid without a father and his wife without a husband, but with an extra ticket to Aruba. With the Last Known Position ghost, you and your counter-terrorist teammate can set up some incredibly fun, clever and hilarious situations making use of Remote Mines and the ragdoll physics engine.

One problem I do have with the co-op story is the actual story. I'm hard pressed to tell you anything about it. Why are they in Russia? What type of WMD are they after? Who is the badguy? Mainly, this is because plot and exposition are doled out at the start of each chapter, as in the single player story. But the co-op chapters take much longer to get through, so I've already long since forgotten what I was told in the previous chapters introduction. In the single player story, I could follow the events. I got plot cut-scenes every half hour or so. I knew who or what I was after. In co-op, it can be three hours between these cut-scenes. I have to rely on the projected signposts throughout the maps and the objective marker to tell me where to go.

It doesn't help that I'm also playing a multiplayer experience, and it seems to be human nature to chat with your partner over the bits where we're not actually expected to do anything but sit and watch.

But it is great fun, regardless. I just can't fault it beyond my own inability to pay attention to cut-scenes. Every mode can be played either split-screen or over Live. And besides Story, there is Hunter, Face-Off, Infiltrate and Convictions answer to Gears of War 2's Horde Mode, Last Stand. We haven't even touched these yet. We haven't finished the Story. There is so much gameplay left on the Splinter Cell: Conviction disc. When we get around to trying the other modes, I'll post about them too. But it might be a while. I plan on playing the heck out of Story first.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: Splinter Cell: Conviction Single Player Campaign

I never got into the Splinter Cell series before the latest incarnation. Mainly I attribute this slip to not owning an original Xbox, where the series seemed to be most popular, but I also blame a late developing interest in stealth-based gameplay, born mainly out of the excellent and recently mentioned Rainbow Six: Vegas series. In fact, the last Splinter Cell, Double Agent, was released in 2006, the same year as the first R6:Vegas, and Conviction comes two years since the sequel to Vegas was released in early 2008.

The R6:Vegas series drew me into the Tom Clancy shared universe of games, and my game collection now includes EndWar, a Real Time Strategy game played using a capable and enjoyable Voice-Recognition system in conjunction with the controller, and H.A.W.X, a fantastically fun and thrilling arcade-style flight simulator, favouring action and basic controls over a hyper realistic style. So far, I've skipped on the two Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfare games, but the upcoming Future Soldier looks interesting enough for me to look forward to it's release. It didn't take much to pull me into Sam Fishers story as well, and Ubisofts marketing reeled me in, hook, line and sinker.

Because I've never played any SC game previous, I was worried about difficulties following the story. Conviction is strongly tied into the earlier games in the series, and characters and events are key plot points in the newest incarnation. Thankfully, Conviction has a wonderful, visual method of relaying key events, projecting Sams memories onto the surrounding world. It's a neat feature that works really well. This projection system is also used to mark objectives, lighting "Execute These Two Guards" or whatnot onto the nearest building. It is assumed that these projections are a hallucination of Sams aging mind.

The single player experience is accomplished and polished.  Interesting flashforward moments hint at Sams inevitable fate (spoiler alert: it's Alzheimer's). A few levels break from the standard pattern of "1) Infiltrate building, 2) Kill guards, 3) Get to objective". These play out as set pieces, often adding a unique gameplay feature exclusive to that level. The whole experience is cinematic and action packed, and there were times when I really felt like I was playing a summer blockbuster Hollywood movie, in particular, the Bourne Identity.

I loved the twists and turns the plot goes through. The story is engaging, if a little ridiculously over-the-top at times, but I was never lost. In fact, I tore through the eleven chapters in the "Daring Adventures of Sam Fisher, Modern Ninja" in just two days on Normal difficulty. I would have finished it in a single sitting, but at 2am Saturday morning I realized I was a) making stupid mistakes that got me killed time and time again, and b) painfully close to the ending. Saturday morning, I completed the rest of the game in a little over an hour.

Does this mean that the game is short? Well, yes. But is that a negative comment. No. Definitely not. I had a half day from work, collecting the Shadow Edition of Conviction around 2pm and playing it for the entire day. I took a break to head back into town, get some air and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine, and a second break to have dinner and watch Mythbusters. But I did put in probably eight good hours of gameplay, exclusively in the single player campaign. That's a good time for the first playthrough. And it was only the first.

I restarted the campaign on Realistic Sunday, finishing that Monday afternoon. I was going through levels I had seen just 48 hours earlier, but playing them completely differently. Where I had struggled on Normal, I was cruising through on Realistic. I was seeing the ledges I could hang from, the dark shadows I could leap out of, the perfect sport to stand at to Mark and Execute four guys with Sams typical ninja precision. And this time around, I was using my gadgets. During my earlier play, I was sticking to the trusty silenced handgun and brute strength. Head shots and neck snaps were silent, swift, and clean. Loud explosions, regular EMP blasts and the magnesium burn of flash-bangs were the signature of my second run. In general, the bad-guys knew I was coming, but only for the brief few moments they were alive before my silenced automatic rifle perforated their poor, misguided bodies. It was messy, but fun.

Mark and Execute is a new gameplay feature Conviction brings to the table. After performing a melee kill, Sam gains the ability to mark a number of enemies, from two to four depending on the weapon at hand. Once marked, the chevron above their heads can be seen through walls, regardless of how far away they move. If they are gray they are out of line of sight or range, and red means they can be executed. At any time you can press Y to perform an instant, guaranteed kill on all red marks. During development I thought this sounded stupid. I thought it removed the skill from the player, reducing it to "Press Y now". In reality, it is exhilarating to mark four targets, then hang from a balcony while they walk their routes, finger hovering over the Y for that moment all four are standing in that one sweet spot. Or mark targets through a door before kicking in the door, killing the guard behind it, then slamming Y to cleanly execute the other four without alerting anyone. Instead of removing the skill from the player, it moves it. Should I use my hard-earned skill now, or will I need it later? Can I get past these guys without it? Can I use a gadget? Aw, to hell with this! SLAM, pop, pop, pop!

Speaking of gadgets, Sams new goggles are awesome. The ultra-sonic ping that reveals enemies through walls and floors is beautiful to listen to. I love it so much that it's my new text-message tone. The EMP device is fun to use, as it plunges the area into darkness while disorienting enemies, making them easy targets for a melee kill.

All told, Splinter Cell: Conviction is a thoroughly enjoyable single player experience. The varied methods of moving through a map allow for a surprising level of replayability in what is otherwise a railroaded story. Even twice is not enough to see everything a single map offers. The ability to go back and replay individual maps is much appreciated, and I loved replaying some of the set pieces. The reward quickly stops being about just finishing the level, and becomes finishing it undetected, or in some interesting way.

But all that is just the tutorial for what is arguably the true heart of Conviction. The Co-op story, following "The Adventurers of Intrepid Duo Archer and Kestrel". I'm currently playing through this with Aidonis on split-screen at my place or Rubber Cookie over Live. Keep watching for a future post on what I think of this part of the package (spoiler alert: it's Alzheimer's).

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Formating Issues

I just spent the last few hours formatting my last post so that the text would have the same spacing as every other post I've ever made in this blog! When I first published it earlier today it was all squashed together. It was still legible and all, just not very clean looking. Most annoying. I seem to have finally done something to put it back the way I want it, but I'm not sure what that was, or how I could do it again.

Most annoying.

Edit: I've just realised that the vast majority of you read my blog through Google Reader and wouldn't have noticed the change, as Reader uses it's own formatting for text! Hah! Still, at least it looks nice on the page now.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

20,000G

In just ten months my Xbox GamerScore has double in size, from 10,000G last May to 20,000G today, just a few moments ago. It was reached while playing the astonishingly fun Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, more specifically, the Spec Ops missions that encourage co-operative play. I admit, I worked to get the nice even number, ending in 000, picking three easy Achievements that brought me up from 19,970 in increments of 10. I'd have been annoyed if I had accidentally overshot it and failed to get the image that accompanies this post.

As well as CoD:MW2, new games such as Lego Rock Band and Left 4 Dead 2 have helped push my GamerScore toward this new milestone. Apart from new releases, I recently went back to Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, the sequel to the game that got me Xboxing in the first place! I had loads of fun getting back into the co-operative terrorist killing with my good friend Rubber Cookie, who himself recently hit the 10,000G milestone. We found ourselves running the Terrorist Hunt missions on Realistic difficulty and having great fun dieing and dieing again. All that planning, all that running variations, learning where the enemies spawn, where to hide, when to run. All leading to eventually taking that number in the top corner of the screen down to the last five, then three, then one. At which point, the tension reaches fever pitch, the movements become erratic, someone rounds a corner, there is a burst of fire, "Mission Failed" comes up on screen and we start all over again. Every time we finally cracked a level, we roared and shouted in joy, sharing in the mutual success!

While the sequel to Rainbow Six: Vegas has taken up the bulk of my multiplayer experiences recently, my single player time has been almost exclusively spent on the sequel to the other game that made me need an Xbox 360, Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2 has fixed most of the problems associated with the first game, while introducing a few new ones. Thankfully, the fixes outweigh the new issues. The story feels much more epic and galactic in scale, the support characters are fantastic, the Achievements don't restrict your gameplay experience, and they thankfully removed the Mako. On that final subject, ME2 has a wonderful ongoing support through DLC, primarily through the Cerberus Network which has given us a new support character, armour, weapons, and most recently, a hover tank to replace the Mako, the Firewalker. All in all, a highly recommended game.

And thus concludes my post about my GamerScore milestones that rambled off onto a short game review. More to come!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Of Childhood Dreams And Rocketmen

Christmas was a nice quiet time for me. Food, family and no internet all combined for a most excellent time. Christmas day was especially memorable as well lost electricity for a few hours, thankfully just as dinner was all cooked. So turkey and ham was enjoyed in candlelight, and the following few hours were spend chatting, relaxing, napping and generally having a lovely day, uninterrupted by TV or computer games.

Best yet, Christmas kinda lasted several weeks for me. Claire had informed me that my present wouldn't arrive until some time in January. But when it did... Oh boy!

This story all starts when I was 11 years old and Disney released a movie that would go on to influence much of who I am today. While not making me into a hero, daring adventurer or hood ornament, it did start my love of all things pulp and 1920's. The style, clothing and retro technology sung to my core, and it quickly became my favourite movie of my childhood. But as time passed, I discovered that it remained a favourite, and when I managed to get my hands on a copy of the DVD, I was delighted to find that the movie held up under repeated viewings.

The Rocketeer, based on a comic by the late, great Dave Stevens, is easily my favourite movie of all time. I can watch and rewatch it, and have. I happily watched it twice over two consecutive days on two separate occasions. I love all that action, adventure, heroism, effects and, of course, that costume. The helmet and rocket pack are iconic, stylish, clean and simple. But it's the jacket I love the most.

Ever since I was eleven years old, I have wanted that jacket. Ever since I was 27 years old, I've stared longingly at the UK website that makes a beautiful, high quality leather replica of the jacket. Stared. Dreamed. Wished. But ultimately, I never could really afford it. There was always something more important to spent my money on. Like food. And rent. And Claire.

But in early January, my wife arrived home from work and for the third time that week, the 17th time that month, the millionth time in a year, she proved yet again that she was the best, most beautiful, most amazing wife in the world. She handed me a big package and I opened it to find this:

I now have the coolest leather jacket in all of Cork city, possibly Ireland. Based on the fact that, as previously mentioned, Wested Leather is a UK based company, I don't think I can honestly claim "Coolest Jacket Owner in Ireland, the UK and Europe". Someone in the UK must also own this too. I'm not the only Rocketeer fan.

The first time I got to really show the jacket off to a lot of people was at WarpCon at the end of January. The response was phenomenal. I've never had so many people stop me and compliment me on what I was wearing. Everyone wanted to know where I had gotten it from, and I was only too happy to point them to the website. I even got to wear it to a steampunk LARP! I played the character of the captain of the city guard, and although it wasn't mentioned on my character sheet, I managed to get a Rocketeer Squadron added to my forces! Sweet. I 'd have to say that the jacket really helped me play the role, and went some way to getting me awarded the prize for that LARP! According to the people at the awards ceremony, when they announced I had won that, it got one of the biggest cheers of the evening. Unfortunately, I was getting food with friends, as I hadn't played to win anything, just to have fun and make sure others enjoyed the game as well. I must have done something right.

Since then, I've been wearing this jacket a lot around Cork. Any opportunity I can get, really. It's super comfy, warm, stylish, and gets a lot of approving looks. Any time anyone asks me were I got it, I tell them I have a very special, and understanding wife, and then point them to Wested.com.

Next I need the helmet to complete the hood ornament look! The jet pack will come some time later.

Slow Blogging

After a fantastic four posts in the first half of January, I've let this lovely project slid somewhat, despite having a lot to say now and then. I like my blog, and I'm proud of having lasted this long, but I've never had the same level of posting as I did in my first year.

I'd love to say I've been a busy, busy boy, but mostly I've been playing Xbox and sitting around complaining of just how bored I am! Kinda seems like the answer to the later is to post more often, but I find myself suffering from a surprising level of apathy around the times when I'm most bored! Well... not so surprising when you think about it.

Anyway. The coming week is going to see a lot of boredom in my life. School has started their two week Easter holiday, meaning I am ungainfully unemployed for the majority of that time. Thankfully, the preschool is going to run an Easter camp for the next three days, so at least I'll have that. But even then, it's only for the morning. Which means from 1pm Monday to Wednesday, I'm going to be free. Which, in turn, means after 1pm Monday to Wednesday I'm going to be incredibly bored. I dread to even think about the remainder of the two week break.

At least I'll be home in Tipp for some of it.