Saturday, 26 February 2011

Ireland, Airport Security & A Very British Welcome Home

I spent the majority of half term at the Popcap Games office in Dublin where my Dad works. This means I was in Ireland. I travelled there on a plane.

A Ryanair plane.

Those of you who are of the European persuasion will currently be groaning. To those of you who aren't... let's just say that Ryanair are the scum of all airlines, but are dirt cheap.

So let's wind back a bit to the security checkpoints at Gatwick. I had to go through the terrorist-detecting machine 3 times after removing various items of clothing before they finally gave up on it and issued a pat down search instead. I felt somewhat violated.

My bag experienced similar treatment. For some reason I had a large knife and a can of deodorant in it. I honestly can't remember why; perhaps I subconsciously wanted to hijack the plane because of all those violent videogames I've been playing? Yeah, that's probably it. Damn those videogames. Damn them to hell.

Anyway, I then had to empty the entire contents of my bag and have it swiped for explosives whilst they 'disposed of' my supposedly dangerous items. My bag probably felt more violated then I.

Why am I telling you this? Well, you'll find out momentarily when I land.

We're now back to the wonderful Ryanair plane, 60 seconds before takeoff.
"Please turn off all electronic devices."
I seriously hate it when they ask you to do this. Electronics won't crash your plane, Mr Ryanair. Please leave me alone and let me stalk people on Twitter in peace.

Vrooooom. The engines activate we begin speeding along the runway, ready for takeoff.

Or not.

The warning light on the wing started flashing.

The plane stopped.
"We appear to be having some technical issues."
No shit.

I won't go on about what happened next, but we then spent two hours sitting on the plane until they finally decided they had lost enough money leaving the plane on the ground and it was time to take off regardless of the consequences.

The flight lasted just under an hour. Less than half the time we spent on the tarmac at Gatwick.

So we were now in Ireland. Woo! Etc. I stood up, reached into my pocket, and realised something: I had a knife on me the entire time. The knife attached to my wallet (which actually went through the x-ray machine - this was different from the one taken from my bag) had somehow gotten through the overly useless security at Gatwick.

I'm not really going to go into too much depth about my time in Ireland as many of the things I did at Popcap are covered by the NDA that I wasn't actually asked to sign. Oh right, I didn't sign actually sign anything.


I played this really awesome game and got a score of 740,000.

I'm so mean.

Let's skip to Friday and my journey back before anyone gets sued.

Dublin airport was less invasive than Gatwick. I only had to remove my belt and shoes this time and my bag went through mostly unscathed. I thought I'd try getting the knife through again for a laugh, and it worked. I'm not sure how that made me feel - If it's that easy to get a knife onto a plane, why the hell do most of these checks exist?

Anyway. We took off. Had advertising thrown at us for an hour - Ryanair magazine! Ryanair scratch cards! Ryanair perfume! Ryanair smokeless cigarettes! Ryanair duty-free cocaine! - and then we landed. It felt incredibly short compared to the fiasco of Monday.

We headed straight to the train station once we got through the excitement of several hundred meters of sponsored corridor. When we got there, I realised just where exactly I was. England.
"I am sorry to announce that the 22:34 service to Brighton has been delayed by 15 minutes due to the train having to wait for a member of the crew."
Oh, Southern. I missed you.

So we waited and got on the train. Half way through the journey we had another announcement.
"Due to delays, this train will no longer be stopping at Burgess Hill, Hassocks, or Preston Park."
For those of you who don't know me, I live in Hassocks. Several people looked around the train slightly confused for a few seconds before standing up and leaving. We followed. It's sad how little fuss people made over this. I guess we are just used to it now.

We waited another 15 minutes and got on the next train. This one had no spare seats and smelled of old people, but at least it had the courtesy to stop at the stations it told us it would stop at.

When we finally got to Hassocks it was pouring with rain. Rain we would've avoided if the earlier train had stopped here.

Yep. I was home.

Friday, 28 January 2011

'What Apps Do I Download?' #1

All too often when people I know get iPods or iPhones, they ask 'What apps do I download?' and I usually show them everything I use - most of which gets lost as I quite often list several dozen. So I'm going to write a blog post every now and then with my recommendations.

I originally intended this to be one post, but the list got far too long, so I'll be doing a few at a time on a semi-regular basis. No commitments as to how often. I suck at that ;)

Anywho, let's get started.

Meebo - Free
The king of all IM apps. It supports every protocol you can think of. All your account data is stored in the cloud. It has push, image support, a ridiculously well thought out interface, and best of all: It's free.

You may have heard of Meebo before, they are the same people who created the extremely handy Meebo webapp (which, by the way, shares the same login with the iPhone app for easy IM access wherever you are (unless it's blocked wherever you are (Fuck you, Varndean College))).

There isn't really much else to say. The only downsides are the unobtrusive banner ads (but it's free) and lack of an iPad app (although the iPhone version works pretty well with Full Force, so that's something at least).

Handoff - £1.19/$1.99
I only got this yesterday after Apple's new App Store account tweeted about it. There have been a few apps that have tried this in the past, but nothing has come close to how well Handoff has solved the problem.

It basically gives you a button in your browser toolbar that sends anything you want to your iPhone. Be it just a page, or any amount of text that you highlight on a page (like a phone number!). On the iPhone end, it's also smart - It intelligently interprets Google Maps links and phone numbers. The app is also universal, with the iPad interface being one of the best I've seen in a long time.

To top it all off? The developer is also extremely communicative. Shortly after downloading the app, I emailed the him with some small feature requests (an easy way to add the bookmarklets to Mobile Safari to make sending content between devices easier, and the ability to send links from an iOS device to my desktop browser). He responded within a few hours in an extremely positive and - best of all - human way. I half expected a robotic 'Thanks for the suggestion, please follow us on Twitter.' response but I got quite the opposite (by the way, you totally should follow them on Twitter).

Sleep Cycle - £0.59/$0.99
I have trouble getting up in the morning. This app is probably the best alarm clock ever.

I'll explain it in simple terms: This app reads your mind (or if you want to get scientific, it measures the slightest movements on your bed using the accelerometer) and knows when you are sleeping lightly and by extension, when you aren't. You tell it when you want to be woken up (say, between 7:15 and 7:45), and it will play an alarm the first time it detects you are in light sleep during that window.

Now, why is this good? Waking from light sleep is infinitely easier than waking from heavy sleep. It turns those horrible 'Oh god, please kill me.' mornings into 'Yeah, I love getting up at 7am to catch the train because Southern Rail changed their timetable! I can't wait to get to college and get on with some monotonous tasks!' mornings (Ok, perhaps it's not quite that good, but you get the idea).

Reeder - £1.79/$2.99 (iPhone) / £2.99/$4.99 (iPad)
I'm addicted to Google Reader, and this little app makes accessing my feeds on the go so, so easy. I would probably go as far as saying that this is the most used app on my phone. Everything about it just feels right.

It's really quite hard to explain how well the interface works, so I'm just going to embed a video instead:

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Eurogamer Expo 2010: Gears 3, Bulletstorm, and Shogun 2: Total War

I went to Eurogamer on Sunday and met up with two people I'd never seen in real life before. My mother thought I was going to be abducted by paedophiles. I convinced her that I'm too good a judge of character for that to happen. Unfortunately, I overestimated my character-judging skills and I am now writing to you from a locked room in a basement somewhere in north London.
Anyway, let's get on to the games.
First up, Gears 3. This is the entire reason I bought tickets, got a fake ID (I'm not 18 until Monday!) and took the time to go. I was not disappointed. For my thoughts on Gears 3, head over to this post on the official Gears forums. There's also this short video that one of the paedophiles forced me to shoot:
Next up, Bulletstorm. I only played through the demo of this once. I had my expectations set high as it's being developed by People Can Fly & Epic. Once again, I was not disappointed. There were 2 guns in the demo - An assault rifle and a gun that shot two sticky remotely-detonated balls attached together by a chain (I'm sure it has a proper name, but this just sounds better).
The assault rifle behaved like an assault rifle should behave, and that was good. That formula shouldn't be messed with. The second gun behaves nothing like you've ever played with before. It was a joy to use once you got the hang of it - sticking it to the ground and laying traps, sticking it to people and detonating them near their friends - and it just plain rocked. This is the kind of weapon you would expect in a Ratchet & Clank game, yet it somehow works in a gritty shooter.

But this game goes way beyond guns. I has a laser whip and a giant boot. I could leash enemies towards me, watch them float around in low gravity for a split second, then kick them into the nearest giant cactus. This is the kind of hook that chainsawing was in the original Gears - but it was only the beginning. I could kick people into man-eating plants, kick people into explosive objects, kick people and then shoot them, kick people off cliffs, kick people into other people, or just kick people, leash them, then kick them again. They should've called this game Bootystorm.

Last up is Shogun 2: Total War. I didn't actually play this, but I attended a panel where Mike Simpson (creative director on the game) gave a talk about and a demo of the game. Before he got on stage though, we were forced to watch some crappy Nvidia 3D advert. It didn't make me want to give Nvidia my money.

Anyway. As a huge strategy fan, I am stoked for this game. I've played every Total War to date, but this one looks like it will trump them all. Not too much to report here, but the game looks absolutely gorgeous so far. Everything from the campaign map to the water to the individual units slaughtering each other under a cherry blossom tree that actually sheds petals is intricately and beautifully detailed.

So, yeah, it was a fun day out. I'll be going next year (if I am released by then) for sure, especially as Gears 3 has been delayed and most likely won't be out until after it.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

France, Monday Night Combat, and Apple Products

I haven't posted in a while, so here's a short update. I am currently on holiday in France with most of my immediate family. The weather has been nice, unlike England, which is great, and hilarious when people are complaining about it on Facebook.

Social Networking at its finest

Not much else to say, apart from a photo from our trip to a supermarket:

Also, my Xbox is not on holiday, it is at home. I don't get back until the 28th of August. Monday Night Combat was released on the 11th of August. I have been wanting to play it forever. This is why:

Isn't that just awesome? It sure is, especially if you currently have an Xbox. At least I have Starcraft 2 with me. But I can't play that online because the entirety of France disconnects from the internet every 8 minutes.

And an update on the whole iPhone saga: The current one is holding up fine, I had to get my iPad replaced again (that's 4 now), and I also got a Macbook Pro. it only had to be replaced once.

And why did it need to be replaced?

Well, the wireless stopped working, so I phoned up technical support, who told me to run this utility, which then caused it to not boot at all. Yay for technical support. At least I got a new one the next day, before even having to send the dud one off. And I have two power adapters now, so it's all good I guess.

Oh and here's a video I made of my Granddads 80th birthday before I left for France:

He made that pop up TV himself. He also made his own lift. You could call him a mad scientist of sorts.