Saturday, October 28, 2006

Final Fantasy X - To Zanarkand (Piano Collections)

Yeah I make quite a few mistakes and it's no where near as good as some of the other ones posted but hey this is the first new song I've learned in 10 years. Hmmm the dynamics didn't quite come across in the recording. I butcher the hard run at the end. The upper register of the piano is pretty badly out of tune. Oh well, I know my limits.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rainbow Six Vegas (X360)

Just finished the demo on the Dec 2006 OXM disc
- graphics remind me a lot like GRAW. They're pretty good with a lot of nice lighting and smoke effects. I think they over do some of the motion blur effects.
- Frame rate is ok most of the time but it can get choppy when there is a lot of smoke, you have night vision on, and there are many tangos in the room.
- Controls are really well done. The cover system is excellent and more action oriented than graw. Aimed firing, blind firing, and grenade tosses from cover are all very well implemented. Giving team orders are really intuitive thanks to all the context sensitive actions. Just a great mix of action and tactics all tied together with a good control scheme.
- You only get part of one level in the demo and it's pretty darn long. There are checkpoints within the level which seem to be pretty well placed so far.
- I usually like to send my team members up front since you can heal them if they go down. If you go down well then it's back to the last check point.
- Team and enemy AI seem really good. They both make good use of cover and will even blind fire.

This seems like a really great game so far. The only thing that worries me a bit is the sometimes uneven frame rate.

UPDATE: 12/13/06
- framerate seemed fine in the final full version of the game
- FINISHED single player on normal. Just an amazing game. The difficulty ramps up quite a bit on the last level though. I few more check points would have been nice. Trying different tactics is critical to cracking a tough room. Some tips on some tough parts (potential minor spoilers):
- Nevada dam hack into the floodgate control computer:
I just rushed out on to the dam and to the little house and told my buddy to hack the computer as soon as possible. Then immediately I head back out side and move back the direction I just came from and took cover on the right side. My buddy took cover behind a crate on the left. I kept shooting and covering the direction where we came from and my buddy covered my back. I think I only once had to turn around and help him out. Switch to single fire (because there are a LOT of bad guys to shoot) and zoom in. Got past it on my second try. As soon as he finishes hacking you get another save point.
- I think I picked up a terrorist weapon (sig 552 or maybe a famas) by that time since on this level you will eventually run out of ammo.
- I bring up the map quite often to find out where all the baddies are. This is what tipped me off on my first attempt when I died that they appear behind you. I was like WTF where did they come from.
- Single fire does sound awesome and I do use it in select scenarios where you face overwhelming numbers at a good distance (like the above). You really can make a clip last a lot longer and take down guys on average in 2 shots. That reload time even on short bursts can really let the enemies close in.
- I had more difficulty where you storm a dark room full of crates and shelves that is two levels with two different entry ways. It felt like there were 20 guys in there all using incendiary grenades messing up your thermal goggles. I tried it LOTS of times. Eventually I stuck my buddies outside the far double doors but did NOT order them in or clear the room (instant death for them and no way to get to them). They were there just to cover my flank and draw a bit of fire. I then went to the other double doors and stood outside, peeking in and taking pot shots, and luring them out a few at a time until I finally thinned them down enough to let my buddies storm in and clean up. Now THAT was a tough room.

- I played a round 2hrs of multiplayer last night. I started with team sharpshooter (infinite respawn team deathmatch) which is a good way to get the feel of things without a lot of waiting around. It was fun but a bit grenade heavy for my tastes. They seem a bit too powerful. I still love single fire mode on the UMP for medium to long distance targets.
- I takes a long time to "level" your character. I still haven't been promoted yet.
- My digital avatar looked better in game.
- Story mode co-op is fantastic (almost but not quite as good as gears co-op). You basically get to play through the single player campaign with up to 4 players minus some story elements. Good times...until my x360 locked up solid...and I was the host.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Gameboy Micro (20th Anniversary Edition)

- I've been wanting one of these just to complete my gameboy hardware collection.
- Price dropped to $70 at Circuit City
- comes with a pouch. No extra faceplates with this edition.
- screen is very bright and clear with multiple levels of brightness. I had no problems reading text in Phantasy Star.
- The cross pad is excellent, and I was able to pull off sf2 moves easily. The face buttons are fine but you have to hit the sholder buttons either in the center or the inner edge to get them to trigger. Pressing them on the outter edge doesn't register.
- Has it's own charger that isn't compatible with any other gameboy.
- Standard headphone jack.
- The single speaker isn't very loud and your right thumb usually blocks it a bit further muffling the sound.
- battery is user removable and is claimed to last 6 - 10 hrs.
- The size is almost the same as my cell phone. It would be great if they could build a GBA into a cell phone.

Ok for the price. It would be better at $50 though but they are getting hard to find. Good for collectors.

Small Form Factor (SFF) PC

I was starting to have a build up of left over parts that I wanted to put to use (mostly socket 939 era parts). Prices on venice core cpu's have really dropped lately so I took the plunge and built my first SFF PC on the cheap.

- Ultra Microfly Micro ATX Case $50 after $30 MIR (includes 400w PS)
- Foxconn 6150K8MA-8EKRS Socket 939 NVIDIA GeForce 6150 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard $62 after $10 MIR (Bios)
- AMD Athlon 64 3000+ Venice Retail $55
- Mitsumi Floppy + Card Reader $24
- ATI X800XL (already had)
- Corsair 2X512MB PC3200 (already had)
- WD 250GB PATA hard drive with SATA adapter (already had)
- floppy rounded cable, single ended rounded ide cable (already had)
- Benq DQ60 DVD Burner (already had)

I spent about $191 total for this venture.

- First thing I noticed was the case was bigger than I expected. It's quite a bit larger than your typical shuttle xpc. The advantage though is it uses standard parts for everything: mATX mb, standard atx power supply. Build quality of the case itself is just ok. I'm not sure I totally trust the plastic handle as a fully loaded case can get pretty heavy. Some pieces were a bit bent that I had to reshape a bit. It has quite a few sharp edges (cut myself three times!). Pretty solid but I would prefer it to be a little bit more sturdy. On the plus side it was pretty easy to work with and take apart. The slide out motherboard tray really helps. Things got a little cramped trying to hook up the floppy (I can't imagine working in an xpc), the back IO panel was a bitch to get on, but other than that assembly went pretty smooth.
- The Foxconn (never used them before) is a pretty nice board overall. The bios isn't bad but don't expect crazy oc'ing. It's very full featured with plenty of usb/1394 headers that let me enable all the front access ports and my card reader that is in the floppy drive, one 16X pcie, and 3 pci slots. It even has all the legacy ports like serial and parallel. I flashed from a jan 2005 to the latest june 2006 bios. The june 2006 bios seems to have a known bug where it won't power down properly. You can restart, it even seems to shutdown windows just fine (you see the keyboard lights flicker at the end like during a restart or when the pc is just about to turn off) except it just stays on. Holding the power button down for 5 seconds will turn it off. Read the comment by N/A. I think I'll just live with it for now and hope a new bios comes out. It uses Realtek sound. Grab the drivers from the foxconn site. It also has integrated video but I didn't test it. Installation, setup, stability are all great.
- Temps are good with idle around 34c cpu.
- Wow the retail cpu heatsink/fans have come a long way. They are super easy to install. You don't even need a flat headed screwdriver anymore!
- I loaded up counter strike source and guild wars. CS bench was over 100 fps @ 1280X1024 with everything maxed out. Running everything at stock.
- Noise levels are fine (case has one 80mm in the front and a 120mm in the back). It's no Sonata but it's quiet enough.

Overall I'm pretty happy with it. It should make a fine Lan Party machine. My laptop is getting pretty old for gaming and this was much cheaper than buying a new laptop and it's upgradeable.

UPDATE 10/24/06
ok so I couldn't help myself. I decided to try a bit of overclocking.

244mhz X 9: 2.2ghz (default is 200 X 9 = 1.8ghz)
default vcore: 1.40v
k8-NB: 4X (976 - keeping it under 1000 for the HT, default is 5X)
NB -> SB: 3X (default 4X, keep it under 800)
sB <- NB: 3X (default 4X)
memclock Index value: 166mhz = 6:5 (default: auto)

stock speeds:
3dmark01se: 18994
counter strike source @ 1280X1024: 115.55
(used 1280X1024 since that is the naitive rez of the 17" LCD I would bring to lan parties)

oc to 2.2ghz:
3dmark01se: 21413
counter strike source @ 1280X1024: 124.93

Seconds Temp1 Temp2 Temp3 HD0 Temp1 Core Vcore1 Vcore2 +3.3V +5V +12V
72448 32.0 34.0 37.0 38.0 34.0 38.0 1.39 1.22 3.36 5.0 11.97

under full occt load:
Seconds Temp1 Temp2 Temp3 HD0 Temp1 Core Vcore1 Vcore2 +3.3V +5V +12V
74091 41.0 34.0 22.0 37.0 34.0 45.0 1.39 1.22 3.36 5.0 11.9

Temps look fine with a max of 41c. Volts look good too. So far rock solid stable. I think I'll leave it like this. That's a very modest oc to amd 3400+ speeds. I'm pretty sure the cpu will go a lot farther (haven't tested) but I don't want to push it too much on a stock cooler in a SFF.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Saints Row (X360)

- I bought this when it first came out and I just now got a chance to check it out.
- So I pop it in over the weekend thinking I might just mess around with it for an hour or so, then get too frustrated, and shelve it like I do with all the GTA games. I usually quit around 10%. I ended up playing for like 6 hours and loved it. They fixed almost all the frustrations I had with GTA. The only thing I wished they would do is maybe add some checkpoints on some of the longer multi part missions.
- I'm now closer to 10 hrs and I just finished "the" Los Carnales story line :-)
- The shooting combat and car handling are near perfect. It is way better and more satisfying than GTA. They really got that part right.
- Almost no load times even when switching from interior and exterior.
- Day/Night and weather effects
- Graphics are pretty impressive especially the explosions. I'm a sucker for good explosions. Frame rate is pretty steady most of the time.
- Most of the side quest activities are actually pretty fun.
- I love the homie system
- You get to customize the entire look of your character much like fight night round 3 or oblivion. Hmmm no gender options (male only) but there are female homies you can recruit.
- Clothes and jewelery actually affect game play. It gives you a respect bonus which goes to unlocking more story line missions.
- The story is interesting and keeps me coming back for more.
- Great 5.1 sound. Independent voice volume slider and subtitles. I hate games where it's hard to hear what people are saying.
- Save at anytime and quick mission restarts if you fail. Very little penalty for dying or getting busted.
- Fun weapons. RPG never gets old. Blowing up cars is fun! Have I mentioned I like the explosions? Crazy over the top physics. Go play the destruction derby activity and you will see what I mean.
- awesome map waypoint navigation system
- Haven't tried multiplayer yet.
- Having never gotten very far in any of the GTA's I've found the missions interesting and enjoyable.
- Try and pick one gang and take them completely out because sometimes a gang will push back and you have to go clear out a contested area.

The most fun and accessible GTA game that isn't called GTA.

Highly recommended.

UPDATE: 11/25/06
Finished in 23.5 hrs getting the "true" ending (second set of credits).
- probably add another 2-4 hrs to that time because of lock ups. Not sure why but only this game has given my xbox 360 issues. If I apply the patch things are much worse and a lock up will happen in 5-60min. If I don't apply the patch and clear the hard drive cache I can go playing 3hrs or more without issue. I finished all of gears of war on hard core without a single lock up.
- After finishing the game I went ahead and applied the patch again and played a single deathmatch game and it didn't lock up (but then again that was like 20min max).
- I really enjoyed the game and the story/missions for the most part. There were a few pretty frustrating missions (especially toward the end). The true ending kind of sucks.
- over at volition's forum they recommend exchanging the game disc even though the disc looks flawless to me. I might do that.
- Great but buggy (either that or it killed my x360) game.