« April 2003 | Main | June 2003 »

May 29, 2003

Asheron's Call Redux

I reactivated my Asheron's Call (AC) account this evening, after a 6-month hiatus away from the game. For a good portion of the past 6 months, I have been playing the hopelessly doomed sequel, Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings (AC2). In spite of a markedly improved graphics engine, AC2 just doesn't cut it. There just isn't enough to do in the game, except kill the same boring monsters and go on the same quests over and over again.

It's too bad, really. AC2 had a rich foundation of lore upon which to build, with Asheron's Call nearing its fourth year of general release. Unfortunately, the game was released way too early — the game's chat system is severely bugged, the loot and crafting system is completely broken and the devs are still balancing out the character templates. I suppose it's possible that the game can be turned around, but it looks very doubtful at this point. A great number of players have left the game, and the development roadmap does not bode well (in my opinion). As a subscriber, I kept hoping the game would turn around, but I reached a breaking point in early April (as did many others). So, I cancelled my subscription.

I didn't think I would ever reactivate my AC subscription, but a friend of mine recently reactivated his account. So, I figured it would be a good time to reactivate for a short time to see what has transpired in that past 6 months.

As expected, a lot has changed in the game. The devs have completely reworked the player-monster balance. So, the monsters I used to hunt react differently than the did before (which is fine with me). There are new quests upon which to embark, and new items accordingly. I'm finding that my curiosity is piqued about the game somewhat. I plan to read up on the changes to the game as well as get in touch with some old acquaintences in-game.

It will be interesting to see if I decide to stay beyond the next 30 days (which, oddly-enough, are completely free-of-charge — I expected to pay the requisite $9.95 for a month's playtime). Not only with I have to fork over a subscription fee, but rumor has it that Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) will hit retail release in late June. I've been beta-testing SWG for about a month now, but I haven't really spent a lot of time playing it. I got into the beta test right after I quit AC2, so I was in a bit of an anti-MMOG funk. I plan to purchase the retail release, so I'm sure AC will be playing second fiddle during July at the very least.

May 27, 2003

Vacations - the Good and the Bad

I just finished a well-needed week-long vacation. It was nice to get away from the daily grind of the office and spend some time unwinding. Unfortunately, all things come to an end. And, typically I have to spend the same number of days digging out from under the email deluge that accumulates during the time away.

Fortunately, my time away was worthwhile. I didn't go anywhere — the baby and my wife's fewer number of vacation days obviated that — but I did get a lot accomplished. Most importantly (to me, at least), I added some more components to my PC. These upgrades included a bay-mounted LCD screen by Matrix Orbital, a side-mounted plexiglass window for my case and a blue cold-cathode light for the interior. Here's a pic of the finished product. The light can be turned on and off without opening the case by way of a switch mounted on an expansion bay cover. I purchased most of the equipment from Directron in Houston, although the expansion-cover switch came from PCMods.com. Both of these companies carry a wide variety of PC modding gear. Check them out if you get the chance.

I also added new fans with rheostats in order to create positive pressure inside the case while still maintaining good airflow and cooling. Positive pressure inside the case is advantageous as it pushes out dust instead of sucking it through every crevice. All that remains is the installation of a filter across the intake opening and I should have my dust problem under control.

I also saw The Matrix Reloaded (twice) during my vacation. It was a good flick, but I have to admit I wasn't bowled over by it. That's not to say it was a bad experience (it wasn't), but I just didn't leave the theatre raving about it. It will be interesting to see what happens in the third and final film when it is released in November.

My vacation was rounded out with a LAN Party — affectionately termed GameFest. Eight of us showed up at a friend's house Sunday and played C&C Generals, Unreal Tournament, No One Lives Forever 2 and of course lots of Desert Combat. It turned out to be a great day to spend indoors, as it was overcast and rainy much of the day. I even have a replay of one of Generals games for download here if you have the game and want to watch. Version 1.05 of Generals is required.

May 14, 2003

E3 2003

The annual E3 convention is going full-force this week. If you are not familiar with this event, it focuses on upcoming PC and console game releases. It was spun off of the CES to provide more focus on the rapidly-expanding gaming industry. Most gamers look to this show for previews of highly-anticipated titles. Both IGN and GameSpy have good coverage of the show, with lots of hands-on reviews, screenshots and videos. I'd recommend giving these sites a look if you are interested in upcoming games for any platform.

May 12, 2003

Current Config

I've added a link to my system config listing over on AnandTech.com. I always keep it current, so it reflects the system I am using today. If you're not familiar with AnandTech.com, it's one of the best technology review sites on the Internet. The site specializes in PC hardware, particularly video cards. Currently, there's a great write-up of the new NVIDIA Geforce FX 5900 Ultra on the site. Check it out if you get a chance.

New Toy

Canon have released a new "prosumer" digital camera, the EOS-10D. It uses a custom CMOS sensor in lieu of the traditional CCD found in most digital cameras. More importantly, the sensor is housed in an EOS SLR camera body, allowing the use of Canon's EF line of interchangeable lenses.

The EOS-10D has a huge 6.3 megapixel resolution, as well as a number of features (histogram, white balance, custom processing etc.) found in the higher-end EOS film cameras. We already own a Canon Rebel G with a 35-80mm Zoom and a 75-300mm Telephoto lens. I'll be able to use both with the new camera, although I'll probably get a Zoom lens (like the EF 28-90mm f/4-5.6 II USM) specifically for the 10D.

I currently own a Canon PowerShot G1, which has been a wonderful camera. It has a 3.3 megapixel CCD, a 3x optical zoom and a very handy variable-angle LCD. I have enjoyed using this camera immensely. But, the temptation to upgrade was too great, especially given the relatively inexpensive price of $1,499 for the EOS-10D. My wife wasn't too thrilled about me dropping that much coin on a camera. But, I was able to find a buyer for my G1 (Dad), so her concerns were alleviated somewhat.

Over the weekend, I stopped by Precision Camera here in Austin (awesome photography store, by the way) and put a deposit down on the camera. As is typical for Canon's high-end digital cameras, the demand considerably outweighs supply. The salesman at Precision said that typical lead times are about 4 weeks, but there were no guarantees. So, hopefully I'll have my camera sometime in June. I could have purchased the camera online, but my experiences with online photography retailers have left much to be desired. Not only is Precision Camera an Authorized Canon Reseller, but they also have a service department should I ever need repairs. The fact that they are here in town makes things more convenient. And, I'm supporting the local economy as well.

Next, I may have to pick up the Canon BubbleJet i950. After all, it allows direct connection from the camera for printing photos, and my HP PhotoSmart P1000 is starting to show its age. Stay tuned...

May 05, 2003

Top 100 Games

IGN is in the midst of several articles detailing their list of the Top 100 Games of All Time. So far, their list seems pretty sensible. So far, it includes games that not only introduced new gaming concepts when they were launched, but also stand the test of time. There are some recent games included as well, but not so many that it reduces the credibility of the list. If anything, it's a good read. Check it out here.

May 02, 2003


I went to see the newest Marvel Comics-inspired film today, X2: X-Men United. I thoroughly enjoyed this flick. I've been a fan of X-Men since I was a kid, and it was good to see some of my favorite comic book characters on the screen again.

I'm not going to give away the film's plot, but I will say that I enjoyed it more than the first film (which I thought was good too). The plot was interesting and well-paced, with the right amount of action sprinkled throughout. The actors seem to be more comfortable with their characters this time. And, this film doesn't just focus on Wolverine and Rogue. We get to know the other characters (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm) better. And, we get introduced to some additional characters — Iceman, Pyro and Nightcrawler.

The special effects were improved over the first film — presumably because first film's success provided for a larger budget for the sequel. Nightcrawler's signature BAMF! teleportations were exceptionally well done, as was the Nightcrawler character himself. There were more weather effects from Storm this time, but I still feel like Halle Berry was miscast for Ororo. I never got the feeling that Halle Berry's Storm was a tough-as-nails warrior. Angela Bassett would have been a better choice in my opinion, but that's a minor quibble.

The one thing I really enjoyed in this film was the number of cameo appearances from the other X-Men. Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Jubilee and a human-form Hank McCoy (The Beast) all make brief showings in the early portion of the film. Hopefully we'll see more of them (and others, like Angel) in future films.

Overall, I'd give the film a 4 out of 5. It's not Oscar-quality, but it's a great comic-book adventure that doesn't disappoint. If you are a fan of the X-Men or comic books in general, this film is a must-see. I plan to see it at least once more before The Matrix Reloaded comes out on May 15.