Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

It's scant hours since the release of the latest in Rockstar North's venerable GTA series and we've been giving the game a good bashing; these are my first impressions. The last GTA game, Vice City, was itself a dramatic improvement on the preceeding titles and Rockstar have continued the evolution of their beautiful engine with a variety of changes and new features that make the game more engaging and sustainable. Prime examples of this are the attributes of your character, CJ. As you undertake activities your skill at them improves (so shooting more people improves your aim and opens new combat style movements for gun battles, running more improves your stamina). Overall this seems to make the game far more engaging, although attributes such as hunger are more annoying and it seems to be possible to starve your character to death if you don't buy it a burger every so often. The map is *huge* and in the same way that Vice City was blatantly Miami, this is blatantly LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Sierra Nevada desert and some of the coastal stuff, plus a bunch of bits that didn't look obviously like anything I know of. Only one corner of the map is unlocked to begin with, but thanks to some sneakiness at the airport we managed to steal a jet and fly over the rest of the map (getting shot down by the Air Force in the process ;) and it is simply stunning. The Vegas stuff looks particularly good, I expect the missions there will be interesting; San Francisco also looked cool although I kept crashing before I could figure out if Alcatraz is there. As much fun as the missions are, I still like the odd one-man-army style rampage, so it is most helpful that the weapons cheats are the same as in Vice City. The new and vastly improved aiming/targetting system makes taking on multiple characters much easier than before, but when you start gaining weapons skills the speed and accuracy of your character is amazing, he can fell crowds in seconds. A good way to attract the police, but also a good way of taking them out too. Being able to recruit gang members is cool, although they have an annoying habit of shooting at other gangs at every available opportunity. Getting shot at by rival gangs all over the place is not cool, but it makes it more interesting I suppose ;) So, if you liked the previous GTA games, I strongly suggest you take a look at San Andreas, it seems like it is the best of the bunch. If you've never played a GTA game and you can safely detach virtual violence from the real thing, pick up a controller and get shooting/stealing/racing/kidnapping/etc.

Team America

Ok ok, so I slightly downloaded a copy of Team America: World Police. Sue me, I'm gonna go pay my dorrah when it comes out in several MONTHS time and buy the DVD ;) It is extremely childish and stupid, but it was also hilarious. I can see a lot of people aren't going to like it though and quite a few will probably be offended by it. The puppets have amazing heads, they're really astonishingly good. The bodies are shit, but it looks like they did that deliberately to make the puppets fight/run really stupidly. Their charaterisation of Kim Jong Il is absolutely fantastic and I found myself laughing at almost everything he said; Some of the Team America characters were quite annoying though, so it wasn't perfect by any means. As my flatmate pointed out, they didn't do enough work on the satire really. I'd still recommend it if you're a Trey and Matt fan.

Ubuntu initial impressions

I've been running Ubuntu since a week or so before the launch and so far I'm quite happy with it. It feels mostly like Debian, which is what I was running before I moved to Fedora (for the better 32/64bit compatibility), but has a little more pace to it so far, plus a pretty significant surge of good will and interest. One thing I am a little disappointed in is that it seems the releases (in this case their first; warty) won't change much beyond security and important bug fixes. They are scheduled for every 6 months though. Personally I still think a rolling-stable approach to the desktop is going to be a killer feature if it happens. What will set Ubuntu's real course now they have a userbase will be the development of the next release, hoary. There are now quite a lot of people who are want to get involved and want to help. We just have to hope the process shapes itself well and a coherant way of working emerges and works well. My favorite things about it are really all things about GNOME, especially the automatic digital camera importing. It's fantastic to see the computer become more aware of what is happening to it and behave Correctâ„¢ly. My least favorite is really inherited from Debian - the 32bit compatibility on AMD64 machines isn't great. The good thing is that I can confidently append "yet" to that :)

Hellboy: Directors Cut

Hellboy is another release in the recent spate of comic inspired movies riding the dollar wave of Spiderman and X-Men. Unlike some of them, it's actually a pretty good film. It's pretty standard stuff in terms of a comic action movie, but the performances set the film apart from its peers. Ron Perlman is very amusing as the stone-fisted Ted Danson lookalike "Hellboy", John Hurt is convincing as the doddery Professor (classic comic stuff, a father-like figure who provides moral guidance and then dies somehow) and Karl Roden is sinister as Rasputin. The effects are quite nicely done - some of the transitions from real people to CGI people are a bit obvious, but these things are still remarkably hard to do right when you are looking at them at DVD or higher resolution (case in point, Matrix Reloaded's effects looked seamless at the cinema, a bit noticeable on DVD and they are just plain obvious on the HDTV version - there's simply so much detail that no computer algorithms currently available can trick your brain into believing it is reality). I guess the sound was ok, but none of the soundtrack sticks in my mind, so it can't have been great ;) If you like action movies and don't mind them going for humour/style over substance, you might like this.

Could it be?

For a while now I've been thinking that it would be a good idea to have a distro that was Debian, but more pragmatic and much quicker to track upstream releases (presumably at the slight expense of package quality) Ubuntu Linux is a fork of Debian's unstable branch, sid. It includes newer GNOME packages than sid (although they are due very shortly I believe) and appears to have a much more pragmatic approach to distro making. Bad for servers, good for getting a distro that has no release as such, but is just tracking the current stable releases of as much software as possible. And therein lies the key, making a lot of software available - something that Debian has an incredible history of, with many thousands of packages. Where Debian is limited by being out of date and stable or slightly behind the times and unstable, Ubuntu will hopefully offer more stability and predictability than sid, but still a current desktop (probably where the approach is best suited, since that is where development is happening quickest). To get lots of software, the Ubuntu guys have been talking about two things.

  • Allow easy importing of packages from sid that compile (which we can reasonably assume to be most of the interesting packages people are going to want)
  • Allow easy importing of user contributed packages

This second item is the real key I think. If it is incredibly easy to submit a source package, have it be autobuilt on all architectures and when that works, reviewed by a project member for inclusion, people will do it. We see on distros like Fedora that people are prepared to put in massive efforts to maintain current software (see, the Dag and other RPM repositories. Their efforts are significantly hampered by the fact that they are unable to integrate their packages into the main Fedora trees, leading to them having to replace Fedora packages with newer versions and other worrying things. A big problem is that the various trees are not necessarily entirely compatible and there is some overlap. On a personal note, I find that having all of the sites that support x86_64 in yum's config makes it incredibly slow (I'd use apt, but it doesn't support Fedora's excellent biarch system). If this goes well, I would propose formalising the system to a degree by using GPG to allow the maintainer of a package to upload new versions without requiring moderator time. This is obviously another tactic lifted largely from debian, although they require manual verification by a debian developer who are the only ones with keys capable of uploading a new package. I will be watching Ubuntu closely, and if they do move in the direction I am hoping, it will have to be worth a shot :)

The city, locked down

I work immediately off the seafront in Brighton, pretty much round the corner from the famous Grand Hotel, and the not so famous Brighton Centre. We are one of the three party political conference cities, so each year we have one of the three main political parties roll into town. Since I've worked in the same place for a little over 4 years now I've seen a complete rotation and it is quite fascinating how they vary. This year we are "blessed" with Labour, the ruling party. What this means is that security is tighter than for the other two. The Tories have minimal security and the Police send a community liason officer for the Lib Dems ;-) Since we live in a changed world, where anyone can be a walking timebomb, fear is the order of the day, because those timebombs can strike anywhere. I am not sure where this stops being a reasonable argument and becomes self perpetuating madness, but there is a line somewhere. Anyway, since Labour's conference starts next week, the Police have been gearing up a major security operation for the last few weeks. I'm sure they would appreciate people not documenting their efforts online, sufficed to say there are large concrete barriers everywhere there should be if you want to stop truck bombs, there is sufficient perimiter security to keep protestors and threats out of the building and a wide ranging reconnaisance has been conducted (remember that the IRA bomb in the Grand Hotel in the 80s was planted weeks in advance). So Tony and his pals can rest safely, knowing that they are disrupting locals quite a lot and costing even more. Today I was asked for ID to be let near the place to go into the carpark adjacent and I expect that from tomorrow that road will be closed entirely. What doesn't help is that there are roadworks going on on other major roads in Brighton, so traffic will be standing still for most of next week ;-) Lucky I can park a mile away much cheaper and get a walk along the seafront first thing :-)

GNOME Desktop progress

Craig is right that GNOME is still a way away from OS X for polish, integration and intuitivity, but it's nice that they have their sights aimed in those directions and development is going pretty fast these days - it definitely helps to have Novell bankrolling a lot of the work (hopefully they will be beefing up the Ximian/Linux division development teams a lot). It's not all as simple as catching Windows/OSX up though, everyone is trading features - Windows's next generation of interfaces are going to be bristling with shiny innovations lifted from OSX and open source apps, I bet ;-)


Movie posterHero is a tale of assassins and a lone officer of the law, set hundreds of years ago in China. Jet Li plays the title role, Nameless, a local law official who has defeated several assassins bound to kill the King. He relates his tale in an audience with the King, with interesting consequences. I can't really say anything else without giving the film away, but the plot is pretty good. What really shines about this film though is the visuals; It's definitely an art flick more than anything else. Colour is used very dramatically to convey a varying sense of reality, which is actually quite crucial to understanding what's happening. You may notice what I'm talking about towards the end. The action is superb too, with scenes ranging from swordplay on water (a very Crouching Tiger scene) to an archery assault the likes of which you can't even imagine, it's definitely varied and interesting, though it does lean predominantly towards sword fighting. You do have to suspend a lot of disbelief because physics has been utterly sacrificed in the name of visual effect. Also largely done away with is continuity of motion between shots, also it seems in the name of making it look prettier and this felt quite jarring at times. Overall I can't recommend this film enough - if you liked Crouching Tiger you'll definitely like Hero, and if you didn't then this might have enough frenetic action to keep you interested :-)

Gallery returns

It's the picture gallery back again on an Internet near you. Sounds exciting, huh? ;-) Click the gallery link over on the Links box to check 'em out.

Ghost in the shell 2: Innocence

Movie posterI'm going to start with the easy stuff. The soundtrack is excellent, the animation is superb, the 3D rendering is exquisite, the cinematography is great...technically this is a superb film. It does fall squarely into the category of extremely strange Japanese anime though. The original movie was also pretty strange, but it was possible to follow the plot and it made sense; The sequel, however, is an impenetrable fortress of strangeness on the first watch. I probably need to see it a couple more times so I can get the visuals and subtitles all taken in, especially since something was wrong with the subtitles we saw, with the odd phrase being repeated - at times it seemed like one person was having a conversation with themselves in two voices because only one mouth was moving. I'm not quite sure how much of it was the android characters not needing to move their mouths and how much of it was dodgy Internet subtitles ;-) I'll get this on DVD as soon as they will let me, and update this with a second impression. Update: Yeah, so the film is way way way better with decent subs, albeit fan subs (which was no bad thing, they included a few translation notes that were very useful, like explanations of opaque Japanese proverbs). Excellent film, if you like anime at all you should see it.