Summary: We couldn't go an entire month without a Ramblings from Paul. He chimes in his two cents on Mozilla, the newest CDR models that can mount copy protected music CDs, and more!
Diablo Done Better
I have not been playing as many games lately as I would like, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it has been because there are not that may interesting games coming out until later this year. But a few weeks ago, I downloaded a demo of a game I did not know much about and had not heard of (maybe Paul should try reading this site called FiringSquad –ed). It was called Dungeon Siege, and since I have started playing it, I have become consumed. I play this game day and night and find myself just wandering around so I can look at the scenery. It is truly an enthralling game.
As you can see from the first screen above-left, from the very start of the game, the interface, there is a sense of quality and craftsmanship. The animations and sound on the main menu alone are impressive. As you get into the game, it is stunning how intelligent the interface is. For instance, the screen above-middle shows your group outside the de-facto trading post preparing to enter. Notice the roof in place as it should be. Then, as you enter the building, shown above-right, you can see that the roof has smartly been removed from view so that you can see your surroundings. It is seamless, very well done and makes the game a joy to play, with few frustrations.
The graphics engine is absolutely awesome, particularly in the areas of lighting and transparency. The image below-left shows some of the shadows, lighting and special effects. Dark recesses are slowly exposed to the light, and spells crackle with shadows in the background. The image below-middle shows how you can zoom in to an extreme level and how amazing the transparency effects can be. The use of transparency in this game is one of the most impressive implementations I have ever seen in a shipping release and sets the gold standard for how it should be done in all other games. It is really that good.
One of the other completely spot-on things about this title is the interface. Dungeon Siege is a true 3D world, and the ease that which you can move through it is nearly unprecedented. Move your mouse cursor to the top or bottom of the screen and your view rotates from third person to nearly top-down. Move your mouse cursor to the left or the right and you rotate in that direction around your viewpoint so that you can see a full 360 degree circle around your character and will be able to angle so that you can see behind rocks, cave walls, buildings, etc. So in addition to the transparency, you have perspective. Very well done. Further, you can zoom in and out to incredible levels, almost like you can with Sim City 3000. Again, a welcome element. The image above-right shows the view zoomed out to maximum with the inventory and spell dialogs open. As you can see, it is about as simple and well done as any other system around.
Yes, the game play is very simplistic, and yes, it can be compared to Diablo in many ways. But frankly, as busy as life is, I enjoy being able to pop into a game like this and play for as much time as I have available, then save the game and know I can pick it up in a day, a week or a month and still be able to get into it 1 minute after sitting down to play. No names to memorize, no long passages of script to read that contain some critical piece of information you must have to advance, no angst at all. Even though some people slam it for simplicity, once you get behind the surface, you will find you can make it more complicated and more traditionally RPG-like just by tweaking a few settings. You can have your character be aggressive or sit back and dodge the enemies as they come after them. You can micro-manage your inventory or choose not to. There is a lot more under the hood than people may think at first glance, and props to the developers for creating such a rich, visually stunning, incredibly fun game for the PC. If you have not tried the demo, give it a shot. It is worth every minute of time.
SIDEBAR: I honestly thought Diablo would never be topped, but this game has done it for me. At 1024x768x32 bit it plays smooth and looks fantastic. I can finally let go of the old Diablo CD's and pass the torch to a younger generation with a less powerful machine.
Bits & Bytes...
I'm so conflicted. I love the new Puddle of Mudd songs and the latest Eminem tune is as "toe tapping" as they come. But I'm trying very hard to stay committed to not purchasing any more music CD's while this whole "copy protect your music CD's by inserting pops and clicks so it sounds like an FM broadcast when you rip it to PC" thing is going on. The problem is that I love music and always have. I heard some of the songs off of that new "Animated Horse Movie" soundtrack from Brian Adams that I thought were good easy-listening tunes and immediately thought "I should go buy that!" However, my brain kicked in and said "Be strong, man." So now I'm sitting here lamenting the state of the record industry. RIAA boneheads. Argh!
Sucker For A Pretty Face
First of all, the graphics are stunning and the game runs without a hitch all the way up to 2048x1536x32 on my XP 2000+ with the Geforce 3 TI 500. Second, control is very easy with the keyboard or the game pad, and there are a few different game modes and a bunch of different craft you can select to race with. In point of fact, it really is a typical racing game in many areas, except for the tracks. Check out the wild colors on the three shots above, and in particular the rich textures on the shot above-right. That is the same kind of "Static Bump Mapping" that I've been happy with in Quake 3 Arena, and has so little CPU/GPU overhead that it is a no-brainer to implement. I wish more titles would make such a simple addition because it really adds to the visuals.
The tracks in this game are as wild as those in Roll Cage II, perhaps even more so. The most difficult and challenging of the tracks are the "tube" tracks, where you have to travel along a winding pipe. They take some time to master for some gamers, but provide a nice feeling of satisfaction when you can pull one off.
Mega Race 3 is mindless fun and offers some impressive graphics. Above-left you can see the subtle lighting effects and on the right some of the wild textures they use. If the game was say, $49, I would not even go near it, because frankly, it's been done before and better by some companies. But for under $10, it is a fun addition to my gaming library and a good way to blow off some steam and change pace after hours playing Dungeon Siege.
SIDEBAR: I'm finding budget games like Mega Race 3 and Serious Same 1 and 2 are some of the best times I've had gaming in a while. Maybe they have the right idea here. Don't try too hard to break new ground, just crank out some fun games at a reasonable price and gamers will buy.
The image above-left shows the clean look of the "Modern" interface skin. One of the key features of this product is the ability to do Tabbed Browsing. This is similar in concept to something Opera has had for years, but I feel it is better implemented and graphically more pleasing. As the image above-middle shows, you can have multiple windows loaded simultaneously in a clean tabbed interface that is surprisingly addictive and practical once you get used to using it. Just press CTRL-T to open a new tab and then click one of the links on the personal tool bar to get a new page. Press CTRL-L to head to the URL bar, type in the address and press CTRL-ENTER to open it in a tab. Or, from any existing page, hold down CTRL and left-click and it will open in a new tabbed window. No more worrying about overlapping windows, cascading title bars and clicking on the wrong X button to close down a window. It is a wonderful feature and one I wish IE had too.
I also like the ability to turn off non-approved pop-up windows by default and also the fact that you can turn off all scripting for Mail and News separate from the browser. With IE, it seems that they are linked, and you have to run Outlook Express in the Restricted zone to get those to turn off. But then you are limited in IE because you can't assign anything that you would want to have in the Restricted zone to, for instance, deny cookies but enable ActiveX scripting. I prefer the way Mozilla does it. Plus, the cookie management is pretty great in Mozilla 1.0.
Some Bumps In The Road
However, there are some downsides to the product that are severe enough to keep me from giving up IE 6 for at least the time being. First, annoyingly, I cannot find a way to sort links by name in Mozilla. In IE 6, you just right mouse click and choose sort. In Mozilla, you can move links around by drag and drop, but when you do drag and drop them, they don't react like you would expect. The behavior is odd, but consistently so. For instance, you drag to the top, it goes 2nd from the top instead. You drop it in slot 1 and it goes in slot 3 instead, bumping item 2 up into slot 1. Plus, the way it handles newsgroup naming is a pain, as is the lack of combine and decode sophistication that OE 6 has. On top of that, the profile manager is outdated and cumbersome compared to other offerings from other vendors, and I wish they would revise that somehow.
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