January 10, 2008

The Xbox Returns

FedEx delivered my "repaired" Xbox 360 today. The returned unit has a different serial number on it, so it is either a refurbished unit, or a new one. I'm leaning toward the former, as the build date was around the same time as my defective unit (March 2007). Anyway, it's good to have it back, and it appears to be working well. The cooling fans make a buzzing sound, which is a bit annoying. But, the DVD drive doesn't sound like a jet turbine when it is spinning, so overall the unit is quieter than the previous one (it's still far from quiet, though). The only downside is that my vacation is now over, and I don't have as much time to play it. I have some catching up to do on Rock Band!

December 18, 2007

I feel special now

Like many other Xbox 360 owners before me, my Xbox 360 died last Wednesday evening. I was starting up a game of Beautiful Katamari when the screen froze with a snowstorm of graphical artifacts. At first I thought the disc was bad and tried to reboot the console. After several unsuccessful attempts to revive it, my Xbox 360 displayed the dreaded Red Ring of Death (RROD), shown below:

I called Microsoft's Xbox 360 support line, and they dispatched a box and label (charmingly termed The Coffin by the Xbox 360 community) for me to return my console. More quickly than expected, the package arrived yesterday, and I shipped it out the same day. Fortunately, it only took a day to arrive at their repair center (a 6-hour drive from my house). So, now I just have to wait while they "repair" my system. There are various opinions in the online community about whether or not these systems actually get repaired properly, but it beats a kick in the teeth, I suppose. I had hoped to play Rock Band over the holiday break, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I couldn't have asked for worse timing. At least I still have my PS3 and Wii to enjoy over the break. Maybe I'll actually finish Metroid now.

May 06, 2007

Xbox 360 Elite

I finally broke down and purchased an Xbox 360. I've been considering the purchase for quite a while now, but couldn't bring myself to plop down the cash. When Microsoft announced the Xbox 360 Elite earlier this year, I knew the time was ripe. The biggest draw for me was the HDMI connection, as I like the simplified connectivity. I was also very interested in the new black chassis. The white chassis never really grew on me, and I thought it would stick out like a sore thumb in my gaming room. I ordered mine online from EBGames, as they were offering a bundle that included an extra controller and charging kit. Normally, I eschew console bundles, but this one was practical, for once. I also ordered a copy of Lost Planet, as it was supposed to be a good game.

Unfortunately, when I received the console, it had a cracked bezel. In addition, the USB door on the front was jammed, so it was impossible to use the USB ports. I was able to get it exchanged without incident, and was up and running in time for the weekend.

Overall, I'm happy with the purchase. I wasn't all that thrilled with Lost Planet, but I downloaded a few games from Xbox Live that were a lot of fun (including Worms and Geometry Wars). I also played a few of the demos that were pre-installed, including Burnout Revenge. I already have Burnout Revenge for my PS2, but I think I'll pick it up for the Xbox 360 as well. It will be a good way to rack up some achievement points. I am glad I waited to purchase the console, however. Over the past couple of months, the game library has started to fill out, so there are more titles from which to choose. Hopefully, the PS3 will see the same evolution over the next 6 months or so.

November 30, 2006


Incredibly, I scored a Nintendo Wii today. I am very happy that I was able to get my hands on one, not only because they are hard to find, but also because I didn't have to camp out or wait in a long line to get one. I also wasn't forced into buying one of the ridiculous bundles that retailers often foist upon people.

Of all the places selling them, I was able to procure one at one of the more unlikely establishments - an HEB Plus! grocery store. Earlier in the week, I had asked the manager of the electronics department if they were going to be carrying the impossible-to-find console. To my surprise, he told me that they were expecting a shipment of a few units later in the week - either Thursday or Friday. He also mentioned that they usually took receipt of shipments early in the morning (like 2 am), and put the product out around 7:30 in the morning. So, if I were to call early in the morning, someone would be able to tell me if they had any product in stock.

This morning, I called the electronics department around 7:45 am. The woman I spoke to stated that they hadn't received any units overnight, but to check back again tomorrow. I hung up and started getting ready for work. Approximately 20 minutes later, the phone rang. Caller ID showed HEB Plus! as the caller. My wife picked up the phone, and the woman on the other end asked if we had just called looking for the Nintendo Wii. My wife answered that we had, and the woman at HEB stated that they had received several units after all. Excellent!

Fortunately, I was already dressed for work, so I hauled ass over to the store (about a 10 minute drive). I arrived minutes before they carted out 8-10 units. I got the first one off the cart. Unfortunately, they didn't have any extra controllers or games at the time (which was no big deal, as I had already purchased The Legend of Zelda beforehand). So, I paid for my console, dropped it off at home and headed in to work.

Having played around with the Wiimote and games for a couple hours, I have to say that the Wii is very cool. The control is quite intuitive, and easy to pick up. Even my wife (who hates games) picked it up and played a couple games of Wii Sports tennis. My four-year old son also played tennis and did surprisingly well. Looks like we'll have a lot of fun with the Wii. The graphics aren't great, but that was to be expected. In fact, I may hook it up to the SD television downstairs instead of the HD set where it currently resides.

It will be interesting to see how Nintendo fares against Sony and Microsoft in this round of the console wars. I think they have a genuine contender in the Wii, but they'll have to ensure that quality software titles are produced in the coming months.

November 15, 2006

Echoes of Faydwer

The new expansion for Everquest II (EQ2) - Echoes of Faydwer - was released yesterday. This expansion is unique (compared to the other two EQ2 expansions) in that it provides content for all level ranges, not just the high levels. The previous two expansions - Desert of Flames and Kingdom of Sky - offered content for the upper level ranges (50-70) with little content for the lower ranges.

The expansion introduces a new continent, Faydwer, a new race (the Fae) and city (Kelethin) as well as a ton of new quests and items. There are new "tinkering" and "transmuting" tradeskills, which allow crafters to enhance items. Also introduced is the ability to wear cloaks. Guilds within the game can customize the cloaks with heraldry and other designs. All in all, it's a huge expansion, and I'm really looking forward to discovering all the new areas.

I created a new Fae character in the city of Kelethin. The Fae have a few abilities not found in other races. The most notable is their ability to glide down from high places. This comes in handy in the starting areas around Kelethin, as the city is built into the tops of several large trees. Where most characters would fall to their deaths from such heights, the Fae simply glide down softly to the ground. The starting areas around Kelethin are quite exquisite, with lush greenery, large forested areas, and undulating terrain. The starter quests are pretty standard fare (go retrieve X items for a reward), but they do have a nice storyline that immerses your character in the lore of the Fae. I was able to get to level 7 with just a 3-4 hours of play, which is about the right pace for me.

I'm looking forward to exploring more of the new continent with my other characters. As it stands, I have characters at just about every level range, so I'll be able to actively enjoy the content in many of the new areas.

January 30, 2006

USB Retro Game Pads

Looking for a way to connect your old NES, SNES, Genesis or TG-16 controller to your PC? Check out this site, which sells controllers that have been upgraded to USB. Very handy for playing retro console games via your favorite emulator.

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December 14, 2005

New Unreal Tournament 2007 screenshots

I have to say I'm really looking forward to this game. I've been a fan of the Unreal series since the first game came out in 1997. In fact, I still play UT2004 every now and then. The graphics for the next iteration look absolutely stunning. It will be interesting to see what kind of hardware is required to play it!

Check out the screenies here.

August 20, 2005

GeForce 7800GTX

I recently took advantage of eVGA's Step-Up program and traded in my 6800GT for the more-powerful 7800GTX. The card arrived yesterday afternoon. eVGA is the only video card manufacturer that allows users to trade in their video cards for higher-end models (within 90 days of purchase). The process was quick and straightforward. All-in-all, I was without a card for about a week. You can bet that I'll be purchasing eVGA-branded video cards in the future!

The 7800GTX itself is extremely impressive. Although my previous card was no slouch, this new one is ridiculously fast. It's more than 60% faster than the 6800GT in 3DMark05 - 7,886 3DMarks vs. 4,792. More importantly, I'm able to kick up the resolution in games to 1600x1200 and beyond without incident. Below is a chart that shows frames per second in Battlefield 2 at three resolutions: 1280x960, 1600x1200 and 1920x1440. All of these measurements were taken with FRAPS 2.5.5 with all details on high.

I actually play BF2 at the 1600x1200 resolution, with 8xS AA enabled, instead of the 4x AA shown above (the max BF2 internal setting). I thought about utilizing the 7800GTX's transparency anti-aliasing, but the performance overhead wasn't worth it to me. Also, I finally have a video card that will play Everquest II at the High Detail setting (even though I'm not playing the game nearly as much as I used to). The game really looks nice with all the bloom effects enabled.

Now that my gaming system is fully decked out, I should be set for PC hardware for the near term - but I'm sure I'll find an excuse to upgrade something else!

January 16, 2005

Goodbye WoW

I cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft today. I barely logged in over the holiday break, and I've been enjoying Everquest II immensely. One of the main drivers for my enjoyment of EQ2 has come from joining a great guild in the game - Explorers of Legend. Joining this guild has brought a huge sense of community in the game for me, and there's always something going on when I log in. I'm in a great guild in WoW, too (my stalwart guild from SWG and AC2, House Paladin), but the game just doesn't excite me anymore. Leveling in WoW, while quick and effortless, is pretty much a linear string of quests, one after another. The crafting system is oversimplified, and there just isn't much to do outside of killing monsters all day. Plus, the community is pretty much non-existent. I think this is due to the heavy single-player focus in the game. And, there's a sizeable d00d population, which lessens the community further.

So, I'm saying farewell to WoW for now. I may try it again in the future, but for now I'm sticking with EQ2.

December 03, 2004

Dueling MMOGs

I'm going to challenge myself (and my family's patience) by attempting to play two MMORPGs at once. Everquest II (EQ2) hit the store shelves in early November, and World of Warcraft (WoW) showed up on my doorstep last week. Each game has the potential to suck up huge amounts of free time in its own right. So, it will be interesting to see if I can play both and make meaningful progress on my characters without having to devote every waking hour to playing them. I'm enjoying both, but right now WoW is holding my attention the most due to its addictive gameplay and rapid leveling. EQ2 is certainly the more "hardcore" of the two games, and there is almost too much to do in the game.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming months.

September 05, 2004

WoW Stress Test

A few days ago, Blizzard opened up several World of Warcraft (WoW) beta servers for a week-long stress test. FilePlanet subscribers (like me) were guaranteed a spot in the test. Being a MMOG fan, I jumped at the chance to see what all the hype was about.

Personally, I've been pretty skeptical of WoW given the rabid fanboy-ism surrounding the game. However, having played a few days in the stress test, I'm quite impressed with it. While it certainly doesn't bring much new to the MMOG table, it does one thing right: it's FUN. I find myself wanted to play a little bit longer after each quest just to see what is next. The world is huge and replete with intricate details. The polygon count is lower than other MMOGs, but the graphics have STYLE. You really feel like you're in one of Blizzard's worlds. I like the little touches from the Warcraft games, like seeing an Ancient Protector walking through a Night Elf village, or running into the Orc Chieftan Thrall in an orcish stronghold. Other games (Doom 3, Half-life 2 etc.) demonstrate technical achievement by producing jaw-dropping visuals with high polygon count, reflective surfaces and the like. Blizzard took a different tack by producing true digital art. It goes beyond just pushing polys. I recall reading (hearing?) that Blizzard employs more artists than programmers - it shows.

While there was no doubt in my mind that I would give WoW a try, I'm now looking forward to the retail release with this little taste.

February 26, 2004

Worms 3D

At long last, Team17 and Sega will be bringing Worms 3D stateside. The game has been available in Europe for a few months now. Supposedly, there were problems finding a US distributor which delayed its release over here. shows the release date as next Tuesday. Worms Armageddon is one of my all-time favorite games. In fact, I still play it online regularly with my brother (who happens to live in Japan). It's one of those games that never gets old, because each match is completely different from the previous. Hopefully, Worms 3D will have the same staying power.

December 20, 2003

Great MMORPG Article

I was cleaning out my IE favorites today and came across a link to one of my favorite gaming articles, An essay on d00dism and the MMORPG. The article is very well written. If you've ever played an MMORPG, you know exactly where the author is coming from. The original link to the article is dead, unfortunately. But, I've copied the text here for perusal.

Continue reading "Great MMORPG Article" »

November 15, 2003

A Survey of MMOGs

Today GameSpy have concluded their 8-week focus on Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). Since late September, they have covered a different aspect of MMOGs every week, including the history, current and future of the genre. Needless to say, this category of gaming is becoming heavily saturated, and it will be interesting to see how the next couple of years play out.

Personally, I'm looking forward to a few of the games mentioned (and not mentioned) — especially World of Warcraft, Dark and Light and Horizons. I'm sure I'll give Everquest 2 and Middle Earth Online a go as well (even though I'm not really anticipating either game).

You can check out the Gamespy article here.

July 06, 2003

Star Wars Galaxies

I have a new addiction, and its name is Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). The highly anticipated MMOG from Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) was released on June 26. I received my copy on June 27 and have spent the last week or so learning the mechanics of the game. I was accepted into the Beta test, but did not play enough to learn a great deal about the game. So, I'm essentially starting with a clean slate.

The game has an incredibly steep learning curve. It is completely skill-based, meaning there are no "levels" like those found in other MMOGs. Your character advances by using his or her skills, such as healing, making weapons, harvesting resources and so on. After you've chosen your character's race, you start off with a basic profession — scout, artisan, entertainer, medic, marksman or brawler — and make your way through a series of skill trees toward a master profession. You can ultimately give your character up to two master professions depending on your choice of goals (some professions like Bounty Hunter are more skill-intensive and do not allow for a secondary master profession). I started with the Scout template and plan to make my character a Droid Engineer, with a secondary profession as a Creature Handler.

In spite of the bumpy launch (the login servers were down all day on the 26th), SWG has had a surprisingly good launch. There have been a few bugs popping up, but these have been taken care of on a daily basis (SOE has been patching the servers daily). And, there is a significant amount of content in the game at launch. This is a departure from other MMOGs (AC2 in particular) which have launched with a mere shell of the game intact. In addition, SOE plans to offer a monthly storyline with ongoing events and quests to keep the player's interest. To date, only AC has successfully pulled this off. Hopefully SOE can do the same.

With all the things to do, I'm definitely enjoying myself in the game. It will be interesting to see how SWG evolves over the next few months and years. With the exceedingly saturated MMOG market right now, SOE has its work cut out for itself to distinguish the game from its competitors.

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.

Continue reading "Asheron's Call Redux" »

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 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.

September 21, 1999

Get this Demo now!

Remember Unreal? You know, the game that took 3 years too long to develop and then was largely disappointing? Well, free your mind (there is no spoon) 'cause its successor, Unreal Tournament rocks! This game is going to give Quake3 and the boys at id a run for their money. Pull it down at