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My name is crispy and I am a gamer.
I first started playing games when I was around 7 or 8 years old. I remember playing many of the early arcade games like Space Invaders and Centipede, and several of my friends from school had home computers like Amstrads and C64s.
We got our first computer way back in 1987 when I was 9 years old - an IBM-compatible PC running MS-DOS, as Dad insisted that we got a 'proper' computer. Dad bought a newer, higher spec PC about 5 years later, and I've since bought (and more recently, built) new PCs every couple of years after that. I have a collection of about 200 PC games from the past 20 years.
I've not only been a PC gamer. Around the same sort of time as we got our first PC, Nintendo were releasing Game & Watch handheld games - and I still have a decent collection of these, some of which I understand are now quite valuable. I have also owned, over the years, a Nintendo Gameboy, a Gameboy Advance, a Super Nintendo, a Game Cube, an X-Box, and a PSP.
As far as games are concerned at least, I like to think I know what I'm on about!
So games have had a big part in my childhood, and indeed my adult life to date. I don't see that changing any time soon. I wouldn't say no to an Xbox 360, and I'm itching to get my hands on Nintendo's DS Lite handheld, and the forthcoming Nintendo Wii.
Obviously, playing games has affected me - but I like to think that their influence has been largely positive.
Of course, things were different back in the old days. To play PC games before the advent of Windows 95, you really had to know a thing or two about computers. I learned things like how to edit my config.sys and autoexec.bat files in order to balance the levels of base memory, upper memory, extended memory and expanded memory in line with different games requirements; and how to install devices like sound cards, joysticks and mice without the aid of modern extravagances like the Windows 'Add New Hardware' wizard.
I went through all the upgrades - Windows 3.1, then 95, 98, 2000 and finally XP. I have built two PCs from component parts myself, and after graduating with a degree in Biology (and realising that I would have an extremely limited career if I remained in science) I got my first job in IT essentially off the back of the knowledge I built up from getting games to run.
Obviously games have taught me a wealth of technical knowledge that has benefited me greatly, but that isn't so likely to happen now. For starters, kids are being taught how to use computers in schools from an early age, but mainly computers are just too easy to use these days. By and large, as long as your computer meets the minimum system requirements for a game, you can install it and run it successfully with a couple of double-clicks. There is a lot more detail that you can go into, but it isn't the necessity it used to be.
Games have taught me a lot more than technical skills though. Action games have improved my hand-eye coordination. Early adventure games taught me to type, and also gave me problem-solving and logic skills. I was a precocious and prolific reader anyway, but were I not, the large amounts of reading involved in both learning how to play games (i.e. manuals and installation instructions) and in the game itself (in the days before digitized speech!) would have certainly helped. Strategy games have given me an ability to think tactically - or even strategically ;) - and plan. Games have generally taught me better observation skills and how to process large amounts of information quickly. Games based in real world settings have broadened my general knowledge in a multitude of areas.
Contrary to popular belief, games have also taught me patience. There is a widespread perception that gaming is all about instant gratification, and makes children impatient and inattentive in the real world. I would argue that this depends a great deal on the type of game. Many action-based games do suffer from this, however equally there are also extremely deep strategy, simulation and role-playing games that require players to read long and detailed manuals, absorb complex information and put in a lot of practice before they become rewarding and fun to play. The many hours of work players need to put in to master games like Medieval: Total War or World Of Warcraft or MS Flight Simulator would boggle the minds of the average non-gamer. Instant gratification? I think not.
So games for me have been a largely positive experience. But there is a lot in the media at the moment about the potential negative side of playing computer games.
There are worries that games are addictive, stunt children's emotional growth, make children more insular, withdrawn and disinterested in the real world. What I would say about each of these is that they are only as true as you are prepared to let them become.
I have battled my own periods of addiction to certain games, I think most gamers would be lying if they said they hadn't. But not until I was, to all intents and purposes, an adult. I became addicted to Everquest when I was unemployed for 9 months, shortly after the Sept 11th attack. I was at home by myself most days and didn't have anything better to do with my time! More recently, I've also become badly addicted to World Of Warcraft, and spend a good few hours logged in every Saturday and Sunday morning. I have a feeling it would be a lot worse if I wasn't working away from home during the week! Even so, I still think about it when I'm not playing, and at the weekends I play even if I don't particularly want to at the time. Sad I know, but the important thing to stress is that I've consciously let it get to this level - and it never happened to me when I was younger as my parents wouldn't have let it.
As far as emotional growth is concerned, I don't really think there's much that can't be put right within the nurturing environment of a loving family. And if a child hasn't got that, then what games he or she plays should be the least of our worries.
I also don't necessarily believe that playing games will cause children to become insular or disinterested in the world. Obviously it depends on what sort of games you play, but as I've already said I've learned a lot about the world through playing games - and some historical titles like Medieval: Total War and Pharaoh have piqued my interest in history far more than my teachers ever managed. Gaming is also a lot more social than a lot of non-gamers realise. Some of my best gaming moments have come from playing with my friends - whether it was working through Mario Kart on the Game Cube with my brother, or taking a whipping from pretty much any of my friends that take me on at Soul Calibur II, or going round to my mate Rob's house and playing massive Sensible Soccer tournaments instead of revising for GCSEs and A-Levels. Like it or not, gaming is also part of popular culture now, especially amongst children, and it may even make kids feel more isolated if it's not something they're able to talk about with their schoolmates. On a similar subject, my parents only got their first television when I was at nursery school and we were forever doing things that had been shown on Blue Peter - which I of course knew nothing about!
Games are also supposedly to blame for turning our children into fat, lazy couch-potatoes. OK, you've got me there - I am not as svelte and athletic as perhaps I could be. I probably should be outside running around a bit more, as should many of our kids. But then, at the same time, schools are selling off playing fields to allow construction of blocks of flats and are cancelling field trips and outdoor activities for fear of being sued in the event of accidents; and children are being forever warned of the dangers of muggers, murderers, paedophiles and the like. If some of the more sensationalist members of the press are to be believed, there's a nonce lurking behind every second climbing frame - can you really blame kids for wanting to stay indoors??? Yes, gaming may be partly to blame for the current decline in physical activity, but it's not the whole story.
But I think the biggest worry most parents have about games is the violent, sexual or just generally inappropriate content that is present in some games, and that their children should not be seeing or playing such titles. The media has drummed up public outcry against various titles such as Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto, Carmageddon, Mortal Kombat and so on over the years. And it's true. There are a lot of games out there, such as the ones I've just mentioned and many more besides, that I would be uncomfortable letting children play. The vast majority of these games, however, are rated 18 by the BBFC and as such it is actually illegal for children to play them! Again, it comes down to parental responsibility and awareness of what their children are playing.
Parents have a duty to take an interest in their children's activities however as far as games are concerned it often seems to be ignored. I have heard tales of fellow gamers who work in GAME and the like being cut off by parents mid-sentence when trying to explain to them the inappropriateness of titles like Grand Theft Auto for their little ones; and you can pretty much guarantee that the same know-it-all parents are in the thick of the Daily Mail-esque 'ban this sick filth' brigade once they catch sight of exactly what it is that Junior is playing. That really annoys me, because it just isn't fair on games. The train of thought seems to be that 'kids play games, therefore all games are for kids' - which is a ludicrously simplistic way to think of an entire entertainment medium. Plenty of games are written for the sizeable demographic of adult gamers, and children should not be allowed to play these games. To me it's on a par with saying magazines are bad and harmful to children because of the existence of Playboy; or that films are bad and harmful to children because of the existence of, say, Driller Killer; or that books are bad and harmful to children because of the existence of, I don't know, Mein Kampf or something.
This is turning into a bit of a rant, so I'm going to try and pull everything together and wrap it up before I start foaming at the mouth. Games are just another entertainment medium. As with books, magazines, films, TV shows, and anything else we do to amuse ourselves in this world, some of them are appropriate for children and some aren't, and it is up to parents to educate themselves as to what is and isn't suitable. Your child may like games, and that's ok. It doesn't necessarily mean he's going to grow up to be a spotty, awkward daylight-shunning socially-inadequate geek; any more than a passion for football means he's going to end up as a moronic tattooed thug out cracking heads on the terraces. It can and does happen, but I think whether it does or not has a lot more to do with the rest of the child's upbringing outside of the activity, whether it be playing games of football or games of Super Mario.
That's what I think anyway. Thanks for reading!
As I said in my PSP review, I am struggling somewhat with the selection of games currently available for Sony's handheld console. Out of my current, admittedly limited, collection, Lumines is by far the one I play the most.
So what's it all about then?
Well, to quote from the blurb on the Lumines website, it is "an addictive, hip and stylistic musical puzzler that promises to transcend any puzzle game to date", which "gives players the chance to bust blocks while grooving to evolving musical scores of rock, techno and pop grooves".
Or to put it another way, it's kind of like Tetris... ;)
In a nutshell, blocks fall down from the top of the screen, and you have to arrange them into certain formations which cause them to disappear, earning you points. If your stack of blocks hits the top of the screen, it's game over.
In Lumines, the screen is divided up into a grid and all the falling blocks are 2x2 squares - as opposed to the various tetrads you get in Tetris. The variation comes from colours. Each level features two colours, and each block is made up of one or both of these colours. The object is to create regular (at least 2x2) patterns of a single colour - which will then disappear, earning you points and freeing up space for more blocks.
It gets a little more complicated than that though, as the blocks don't disappear immediately. There is a vertical line that regularly sweeps from left to right across the screen, and the patterns that are highlighted to disappear will only actually disappear when this line passes over them.
Matters are complicated further by a special type of block (usually highlighted by a bright contrasting colour) that will cause all connecting blocks of the same colour to be removed. When any blocks are removed, the remaining blocks will drop into the space created - which can then create further patterns in the stack of blocks, and more being removed. You can rack up impressive combos with cunning positioning of your blocks, and especially with the use of special blocks.
Finally, at certain score thresholds you progress on to a different level of the game. This changes - the music, the background graphics, the block colours, the sound effects, the speed blocks drop, and the speed that the line moves across the screen. This obviously has a big impact on how you play the game. For example, different colour schemes have different levels of contrast, which can make it harder to make out potential shapes in the heat of the moment. A faster drop rate makes the game feel a lot more frantic. A slower-moving line means it takes longer for blocks to disappear, but will at the same time allow you to construct larger shapes for higher-scoring combos. And so on.
This can make the game quite tactical, as if you know you're about to progress onto a fast, frantic level you will be trying to wipe out as many blocks as possible to give you room to panic in, or if you're about to progress onto a level with a slow moving line you might try to set up a lot of almost-shapes that you can string together for lots of points.
And that, basically, is the game. As I said before, it's a very similar concept to Tetris - but that, as far as I'm aware, is Nintendo property these days, so is unlikely to be appearing on other formats.
There are several different game modes. The basic single-player game is as described above. Alternatively, you can select a single level out of the ones you've unlocked and just play on that. Then there's the time-attack mode, where you have to score as many points as possible within a set time limit. Puzzle mode requires you to build up specific shapes to match a template on screen within a time limit. Finally, there is a two-player mode, where you can either play against the computer or wirelessly against another person. In the two-player game, the screen is split vertically into two, and removing blocks causes your side of the screen to expand, giving you more room to manoeuvre and your opponent less space for his blocks.
Well, that's the game - what do I think of it?
There's not much I can say about the graphics. It all looks nice and clean and sharp and so on, but at the end of the day it's just coloured squares and isn't really going to be showing off the power of your PSP.
The sound is good. Each level has its own music, and its own complementary sound effects for block dropping, block rotation, block removal etc. The music that I've experienced thus-far doesn't really dwell for long on rock or pop, and leans heavily on the techno / dance. Which isn't really my thing. But I don't find it detracts from the game too much. I'm sure the average funky 20-something casual-gamer that I feel the PSP is aimed at (again, as mentioned in my PSP review) will love it though.
But these are relatively inconsequential - a puzzle game like this lives or dies by its gameplay. And it's here that the inevitable comparisons with Tetris really kick in. Don't get me wrong, Lumines is good, and can get seriously addictive. The basic single player game is compelling, and rewards you with unlocking new levels for the single-level game and new player logos. I also gather that, if a wireless internet connection is available, the game will automatically connect and download new content once you reach certain points.
For me, the time-attack version of the game is really where it's at. You can play for set time periods varying from 60 seconds through to about 10 minutes, and is ideal for a quick, intense burst of gaming. Well, it often starts out that way, but I've spent nearly an hour at times just replaying the 60 second game, trying over and over again for a higher score.
The two-player game is good fun too. I've played it briefly against the PSP and against a mate, and it works well, but I wouldn't say it'll keep you up into the small hours.
I have to say I don't understand the puzzle mode - it seems both pointless and impossible, and I've not even managed to complete the first level. Who knows, I may have an epiphany at some point and blaze through it, but I don't really try it any more so I doubt it...
So yes, Lumines is a good game. It's the only game my aforementioned mate actually owns for his PSP. But... For me, the added complexity has taken something away. It just doesn't quite have the purity and compulsiveness of Tetris. Now not quite measuring up to Tetris is no bad thing and Lumines still stands on its own two feet as a good game, but a small part of me is still left a little unsatisfied...
One of my Christmas presents this year (to me, with lots of love from me) was Sony's new PSP handheld console. Naturally I was ever so chuffed to receive such a thoughtful and generous gift! I kind of justified it to myself, as I work quite far from home and stay with my parents during the week, so a decent portable all-in-one entertainment gadget seemed like a darn good idea...
I bought myself the PSP Giga Pack (£204.99 from play.com) and a handful of games (on offer for £17.99 each from play.com). So what did I get for my money?
The Giga Pack comes with a 1 gigabyte memory card, a USB cable for connecting to your computer, and a little plastic stand, in addition to the console itself, the charger, a pouch and a pair of headphones.
The headphones are OK. They certainly sound better than the stereo speakers on the PSP itself, and also include a remote control - which makes it a lot easier to listen to music without fumbling in your pocket to adjust volume or skip tracks. Unfortunately they also don't fit my ears very well and are made of a very smooth plastic, so it seems like the slightest movement makes them fall out of my head! I can see myself buying a better pair of headphones.
The USB cable is used for connecting your PSP to your computer. This will let you copy data to and from your PSP - such as photos, music tracks, and videos. Obviously the large 1GB memory stick is useful here, as it offers vastly more storage space than the 32MB stick that comes with the basic PSP package.
So, what's the PSP itself like? Well, basically it's a very nice, sleek black gadget! It certainly feels well built, but in some hands that could translate to being a little too weighty for a long gaming session.
As far as the layout of the console is concerned, it's classic Playstation all the way. To the left of the screen, you have the D-pad (up/down/left/right directional buttons) and the analogue joystick - although slider is possibly more appropriate. On the right, you have the standard Playstation square, circle, cross and triangle buttons. Along the bottom of the screen are various buttons for adjusting volume, screen brightness and so on, and there are two shoulder buttons on the top corners.
Dominating the console, however, is the screen - and it is beautiful! It's in a widescreen format, approximately 5cm deep and nearly 10cm wide. For a handheld console it's massive, far bigger than the screen of my previous handheld (Nintendo's Gameboy Advance SP). It is also very bright and clear, and is generally a joy to view. Unfortunately, I can also see it being eminently scratchable - and to that end I've actually invested in two levels of screen protection. Firstly, I've bought a stick-on screen protector that I've applied directly to the screen itself - kind of like sticky-backed plastic. Secondly, I've bought an extremely rugged rubber-lined polycarbonate case, which will protect my PSP from knocks in my bag, accidental droppages, and, from the look of the thing, hammer blows and gunshots...
So, I've got this wonderful new gadget - what can I do with it???
Of course, the main point of a games console is to play games on it. PSP games come on a proprietary UMD disc format, which is a small 6cm diameter disc enclosed in a plastic caddy.
Unfortunately, at the moment, the games seem to be the chink in the PSP's armour. There don't seem to be all that many top quality, must-have titles available for it yet. There are some of course, such as Grand Theft Auto and the Tetris-like Lumines, but there's not much out there right now that I'm desperate to spend money on. A lot of the current titles seem to be rather derivative, by-the-numbers attempts at action and driving games, or are old PS2 games lazily ported across to the new format. Many of these ports are hampered by the more limited controls of the PSP, and become awkward and fiddly to control without the second analogue stick available on the PS2.
I think the current lack of decent games is largely down to the PSP's target market - or what I see its target market to be anyway. To me, the PSP is mainly aimed at the casual gamer, the 20-something gadget freak with disposable income, an iPod, a DAB radio, etc etc. Not serious gaming enthusiasts. I think in these early days of the consoles life, more effort had been made to just fill the shelf space in the local games store, rather than create truly innovative and enthralling gaming experiences - as the kiddies and casual gamers largely can't tell the difference...
The situation does seem to be improving though, and there are games in development that I'm very interested in. I'm currently keeping an eye on Lemmings, Exit, Gran Turismo Mobile and Steel Horizons...
But, and this is a big but, you aren't just limited to playing PSP games.
EMULATION - 'HOMEBREW'
You see, you can also run games from other systems, and home-made software, on your PSP. Collectively known as homebrew, this is something that Sony are unfortunately trying to restrict. This is understandable to an extent, as downloading and playing hacked games from other systems is software piracy.
However, and this was a key selling point for me, you can also play old PC games on your PSP. With a certain amount of cunning, or at least an ability to follow instructions readily available on the internet, you can install third-party software on your PSP that will act as an emulator allowing you to run certain games.
In particular, I'm interested in SCUMMvm, which will allow me to play a lot of the old LucasArts graphic adventure games such as The Secret Of Monkey Island, Day Of The Tentacle, and Sam & Max Hit The Road. If you haven't played and completed (or god forbid, heard of) any of these games, then my dear reader you haven't lived...
Note - I should add at this point that you should only play games in this way that you already own a legitimate copy of. Downloading games from the Internet, even old games that aren't available any more, amounts to software piracy and is a criminal offence - unless the title has been declared freeware and has been made freely available by its developers.
Yes, as well as a games console, your PSP doubles up as an MP3 player. Of course, unless you've got a decent sized memory stick you won?t actually be able to fit many tracks on it, but the functionality is there.
You can use your PSP as a digital photo album, and can store photos on the memory stick to display on the screen.
As well as games, you can also buy films and TV programmes on UMD disc, and can play them back on your PSP.
However, if you've already got a DVD collection and a PC, there's no need to do this. You can get software that will rip a DVD onto your computers hard disk, and then convert it to a format that the PSP can play (MPEG4 for the techies). I use DVD Decrypter to copy DVDs to my hard disk, and then PSP Video 9 to convert the files to MPEG4.
It's relatively straight-forward, and only took me an hour or two of experimenting before I got results I was happy with, however the actual process is pretty time-consuming. It takes about 15 minutes to copy a DVD movie to your hard disk, and upwards of an hour to convert this file to MPEG4. You will also need some hard disk space available to play with, as the ripped DVDs can be over 10GB in size and each MPEG4 movie will be around 500MB depending on the quality settings you use.
SURF THE INTERNET
If you've got access to a wireless internet connection, you can configure your PSP to connect to the web. Actually typing in addresses etc is hard work - imagine text messaging mobile phone style (without predictive text) but with the added hassle of having to use the D-pad to select which button you're pressing and you're there.
You can also connect directly to Sony in order to download operating system updates and so on.
So, what do I think of my PSP then?
It's... Not bad. Alright.
As a piece of hardware, it's certainly a very slick, flashy gadget. It looks good and feels well made. I like its multi-functionality - the option to listen to music, watch movies, surf the internet, play games and, um, look at photos, on the one device is great. The screen is fantastic and the sound quality is good too.
As a gaming device, it's good. It is essentially a pocket version of the PS2, so will be pretty familiar to an awful lot of gamers. I do find that the D-pad is a little awkward and the analogue stick / slider is a little twitchy, but overall it works well.
The only thing that lets it down for me at the moment is the games. Obviously at the moment it's early days for the console, but at the moment a lot of the titles around are pretty derivative, by-the-numbers efforts or are ports of existing Playstation games. There are one or two extremely playable games out there, but there's nothing really grabbing me at the moment and to be honest I don't play on my PSP much. Hopefully that will change as more games are released!
Following the success of Everquest, which launched back in 1999 and at its peak attracting over half a million players, the MMORPG (or Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game to those of you that don't speak geek) has become a popular PC game genre. There are many popular MMORPGs out there, however there has never been a real contender to the Everquest throne until now.
The original Warcraft series of games started way back nearly 10 years ago, with Warcraft: Orcs VS Humans. This title and its two sequels were all real-time strategy games, in the same vein as Command And Conquer, however they managed to develop a rich fantasy world that practically begged for further development.
Which leads neatly on to World Of Warcraft an online role-playing game based in this world. After years in development, and then closed and open public beta testing, WoW finally launched in Europe back in February of this year (2005). I for one rushed out and bought it, and I wasn't alone copies flew off the shelves, selling out in many countries. Extra servers had to be rapidly brought online to cope with the amount of players attempting to register and play the game, and its fanbase is still growing. WoW currently boasts several million players worldwide, rocketing it to the top of the MMORPG charts.
GAME SETTING AND CHARACTERS
The premise of the game is fairly simple. The game consists of a massive online 3d world (the world of Azeroth), and, as with all role-playing games, the player creates a character to represent him or her in this world. In WoW, there are two different factions for your character to represent the Alliance and the Horde. Ostensibly the Alliance are good and the Horde are evil, however it isnt quite that simple. For instance, the Orcs and the Tauren (minotaur-like bull-men) of the Horde are very much portrayed as noble savages; whereas the Night Elves of the Alliance are haughty, insular and arrogant, and (going back to the Warcraft III back-story) show the same level of antipathy to the humans as they do the orcs.
The races available to play are:
Alliance Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes and Night Elves
Horde Orcs, Trolls, Tauren and Undead.
The game world is basically divided into two continents. The western continent of Kalimdor is Horde-dominated, containing the capital cities for the Orcs and Trolls (Orgrimmar) and the Tauren (Thunder Bluff). They share this continent with the Night Elves, whose capital city of Darnassus occupies a massive tree just offshore.
The eastern continent, consisting of Lordaeron, Khaz Modan and Azeroth, is therefore predominantly Alliance territory. The human city of Stormwind and the Dwarven (and Gnomish) city of Ironforge are located here, and opposing them, the Undead have constructed their subterranean Undercity beneath the ruins of the former human capital of Lordaeron.
The race you choose for your character has various subtle effects each has certain special abilities, for instance the Night Elves can Shadowmeld, effectively becoming invisible. Each race also have predispositions in certain skills e.g. the Dwarves get bonuses with guns and the Trolls get bonuses with thrown weapons; and the Tauren excel at herbalism and the Gnomes at engineering.
The main things race selection govern however, are your starting location (and naturally your faction Alliance or Horde), and the character classes available to you. There are nine different character classes to be played, and by and large each character class is open to two or three races from each faction. There are two faction-specific classes: the Paladin is exclusively Alliance, and the Shaman is Horde-only.
The full list of available classes covers the usual spectrum of fantasy stereotypes you can play the following:
Warrior, Mage, Rogue, Priest, Hunter, Warlock, Paladin, Shaman, and Druid
Each behaves pretty much as you'd expect the Warrior is up at the front of a combat hitting things with weapons; the Mage hangs back and blasts with spells; the Hunter fights with traps, ranged weapons and trained beasts; the Druid casts nature magic and shape-shifts into different animal forms, and so on.
GAMEPLAY AND CHARACTER INTERACTION - FIGHTING!
So, how does the game work then? At its most basic, you start out a lowly level one character, and gain experience and become more powerful by killing monsters, completing quests, collecting loot and buying more powerful armour and weapons. The way all this has been handled, however, is absolutely masterful and really shows off Blizzard's skill at developing extremely playable, compelling games.
Depending on your race, you will start out in one of six starting areas. Each area is small and easy to explore without getting lost, and contains a series of simple quests to gently guide you by the hand through your first few character levels, introducing you to some of the key concepts of the game and equipping you for the wider world of Azeroth. After completing the quests in this area, you are nudged out into the next, larger, zone, and then on to your respective capital city. And from there, the world is (eventually) your oyster!
Characters can currently reach a maximum level of 60, however this is due to be increased in the forthcoming expansion pack due next year. As you progress through the levels there are many different zones to explore and enemies to fight, either by yourself or with a group of fellow adventurers. Joining a party of adventurers allows you to complete harder quests, kill tougher monsters, and fight through dungeons full of elite creatures for more experience and better loot. It also demonstrates how well the different character classes interact and take on different roles within a well-balanced party. For instance, as a Warrior you would be in the thick of combat, dealing damage with your weaponry and keeping the enemies from attacking your weaker comrades. If you play as a Priest, on the other hand, you would be avoiding direct combat and instead focusing your efforts on casting healing and enhancing spells on your fellows. Like-minded players can even form their own guild, with personalized guild tabards that show up on their characters.
It's not all fighting computer-controlled AI monsters though. Player versus player combat plays a large part, especially at higher levels. This does depend on what type of server you choose to play on when you first create your character PvE or PvP. On a PvE (Player vs Environment) server, there is less pressure or threat of attack from another player. You have to actively engage PvP mode, for instance by attacking another PvP-enabled character, or a computer-controlled character of the opposing faction, before you can fight other players. Aside from this, PvP combat is constrained to non-fatal duels between players of the same faction, or in specific PvP Battleground zones. On a PvP (Player versus Player) server however, anything goes and while there are systems in place that mean PvP combat is only rewarded for honourable battles between evenly-matched opponents, there is theoretically nothing stopping a group of high level characters from fighting through the guards and amusing themselves by rampaging around the starting zones of the opposing faction! It's up to you whether you find the constant threat of attack exhilarating, or an annoying interruption from your questing (note that death is not as final as it is in the real world!), but WoW has been designed from the ground up as a player versus player game so it could be argued that you are missing out on the full Warcraft experience by opting for PvE...
OTHER STUFF TO DO - NOT FIGHTING!
The game is largely about fighting stuff, but there are other things to get involved with as well. There are a number of trade-skills available for characters to learn and practice, allowing you to create weapons, armour, potions, magic items etc from raw materials. These are broadly separated into gathering skills and manufacturing skills, and a character may only learn 2 at a time. The common thing to do is to learn the corresponding gathering skill for the manufacturing skill you want, which naturally predispose themselves to certain classes. For example, a hunter may decide to learn skinning and leatherworking, which will allow her to skin the beasts she kills and use the skins to create leather armour she can either wear for extra protection or sell for a profit. A warrior on the other hand, may choose to learn mining and blacksmithing, so he can gather metal ores and hammer them into new weapons or metal armour (chain and plate). There is a lively market for buying and selling items, either player-created or found out in the world, and there are auction houses in Orgrimmar and Ironforge where you can sell your goods to the highest bidder ebay-style.
GOOD AND BAD POINTS
What else is there to say? The graphics are excellent detailed and yet with a distinctive, almost cartoonish style. Each zone has its own unique feel to it, and they blend beautifully together. My jaw was on the floor as I walked down from the snowy dwarven mountains around Ironforge, and the scenery gradually changed to the rolling hills and pine forests of Loch Modan. Character models are equally well detailed, with plenty of opportunity for customization depending on race, you can choose different faces, hair styles and colours, jewelry, tattoos, horns and tusks and facial hair. Sound effects are good but nothing outstanding, although some of the incidental music is very stirring and atmospheric.
I think the best thing about the game is the fantastic attention to detail and sense of immersion. You never feel lost or at a loose end, and there are constant goals to aim for and rewards for your efforts, whether its your Hunter reaching level 10 and being able to gain an animal pet to fight alongside you, or reaching level 40 and being able to buy a mount to ride, or getting to level 60 and gathering a set of epic armour from a high level dungeon.
On the down side however, it is also this quality that makes the game so demanding and addictive. Its very hard to put down, and Im forever begging my fiancée for just 10 more minutes... I know Im not alone in this however - this seems to be a common problem, and Ive even heard of impromptu Warcraft Widow support groups forming on certain chat sites!
It is also extremely demanding in terms of time it will take you a long time to reach the upper levels without a lot of help. If you only play for a half-hour here and there you will unfortunately struggle to get anywhere. I would certainly advise new players to just focus on one character. Ive made things a lot worse for myself and started one of every character class, and as there are only one or two I dont like much (the Druid and the Priest, since you ask) Im dividing my playing time between 7 or 8 characters so none of them are really getting the attention they deserve and are advancing painfully slowly. My highest character is on level 30 after about 9 months of playing!
Something newcomers may also find pretty weird is that, although there is a plot through the game, nothing ever actually changes. Obviously this is due to the nature of the game although you have completed a quest, it has to still be there for the next gamer to come along and complete it again in half an hours time! It takes a while for you to get your head round it, and while Blizzard have done a fantastic job in making this as unobtrusive as possible, it can ultimately make the game feel a little shallow and pointless.
Another potential downside is the relative complexity of the game - this review barely scratches the surface of what is available in the game, and I could write another couple of pages and still be in the same position... As games of this type go, its actually extremely accessible and easy to get into, however if Minesweeper or Tetris is your limit then this might not be the game for you. There is also virtually a whole new language to learn, as all the communication between players is by typing, and a shorthand code has developed to allow rapid comms in the heat of the moment. Of course, this is exacerbated by the relative youth of a lot of the players, and we all know that kids speak a different language these days anyway! This does also mean that the general level of maturity of your fellow gamers is pretty low, but it is a simple thing to block anyone that really winds you up.
Finally is the cost. As this is an online game requiring massive data-centres full of servers to host the game, plus constant development of new content and in-game support from administrators, there is a monthly fee to play the game in addition to the initial purchase price. There are various payment options if you have a credit card you can buy a month's gaming for £8.99, but this comes down if you pay in 3 or 6 monthly chunks. Alternatively you can buy pre-paid cards for 60 days gaming from your local game shop for about £20.
Even with the above potential problems, I find this game amazingly compelling. The rest of my games collection is going largely untouched at the moment, and Im finding myself trying to snatch a quick half-hour in Azeroth whenever I can. To my fiancées despair...
PURCHASING INFO AND TECHNICAL DETAILS
More info available at http://www.wow-europe.com/en/
World Of Warcraft is available from all decent games stores for varying prices, best I can find at the moment is £24.99 from play.com
Monthly subcription options are as follows:
basic one-month subscription plan - 12.99 (£8.99 in the UK)
three-month plan - 35.97 (£25.17 in the UK reduced cost of 11.99 ( £8.39) per month)
six-month plan - 65.94 (£46.14 in the UK reduced cost of 10.99 (£7.69) per month)
60 days prepaid game card - 26.99 / £18.49
The game is available for both PC and Macintosh, system requirements are as follows:
Your computer will need a 56K or higher modem with an Internet connection.
You must have a valid e-mail address.
800 Mhz or higher CPU.
256 Megabytes or more of RAM.
32MB 3D Graphics card with Hardware Transform/Lighting (such as a GeForce 2 or better).
4 Gigabytes or more of available hard drive space.
DirectX® 9.0c or above.
933 MHz or higher G4 or G5 processor.
512 Megabytes RAM or higher. DDR RAM recommended.
ATI or NVIDIA video hardware with 32 MB VRAM or more.
4 Gigabytes or more of available hard drive space.
MacOS X 10.3.5 or better.
Before I start, you should know I'm really struggling to write this review. I can't structure this like a 'normal' car review, because it's no normal car. It's also hard for me to be objective, and give all the information a buyer would find important, because, well, it's just not something to be objective about you buy this car with your heart, not your head.
A little background first of all my fiancée and I bought our first house together this summer. We've moved away from my home area of Surrey, and have gone back down to Southampton. While this has meant we've been able to afford a great house, it's also meant I've needed to buy a car it's no longer really practical to share the Fiesta with my brother any more (see my Fiesta review...) now that we live 60 miles apart! So, I bought a car...
I've had a long term love affair with Lotuses, ever since seeing James Bond's fantastic white submarine Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me. What a car! But it was the Elise that would truly capture my heart. Ever since it launched nearly 10 years ago, I just knew I had found the car for me.
This summer, I finally made my dream a reality, and bought an absolutely beautiful Lotus Elise S1 in a dazzling yellow colour with British Racing Green soft top and trim. And, to cut a long story short, its just everything I ever hoped it would be!
The performance is just fantastic. While the standard Elise only has a 1.8 litre Rover K series engine, producing just 118 bhp, it also weighs a mere 731 kg giving a 0-60 mph time of 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 126 mph.
I have to say I've not hit the top speed yet. I've had it up to about 115 mph on a deserted motorway in the dead of night though, and the car felt just as rock-solid and under control as it did at 70, or even at 40. The car has just been designed to go fast from the ground up, and it really makes a difference. I have, however, pretty much experienced all the acceleration the car has to offer, and that is breath-taking especially when the previous car I drove was a Fiesta! There's just nothing like the feeling when you stamp your foot to the floor, the engine roars behind you, and you get shoved back into the seat with a massive silly grin on your face. I do it every morning going through a tunnel on the way to work with my window wound down, just to set me up for the day...
But even better than the speed is the handling. The chassis of the Elise is near perfection, giving it awesome agility. I haven't thrown mine around much, as it would be pretty irresponsible of me to test the limits of its handling on the road, but I fully intend to take some lessons on the track as soon as the winter is over (and as soon as I can afford it). On the road though, the car feels surgically precise, with every slight nuance of the road surface transmitted perfectly to the driver almost as though you are stroking it with the palm of your hand. There is no power steering, but the car doesn't need it it would just be extra unnecessary weight.
Unfortunately, I'm having to take it easy at the moment in the rain and the frost, as the car has a lively rear end not surprising really, in a light-weight, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car! But add to that a set of rear tyres that are approaching the end of their natural lives, and I have an instant recipe for going round roundabouts arse-first if I'm not careful...
The looks of the car are absolutely sublime. It's low and sleek and curvy, slightly 60's retro, and looks a little more feminine than the newer model S2 Elise. It's just gorgeous. I will post a URL to a few piccys as soon as I find a home for them online!
Inside, the interior is practical and minimalist. There is everything you need, but not a thing more. Mine has all the luxuries, and includes leather seats, a stereo, a cigarette lighter, and an interior light! It has pedals, a gear lever, a handbrake, arms for controlling wipers and indicators, headlight controls, heater / blower controls, a steering wheel, and that's it. Certainly no air conditioning, or pop-out cup holders, or electric windows, or anything else. But you don't need all that stuff. I've driven other cars since getting my Lotus (and a long-wheelbase van going straight from a sports car to that was interesting!!!) and have almost been swamped with the array of irrelevant controls and gadgets on offer.
I'm trying to think of bad things to say about this car, but it's not coming easy. OK, the soft top isn't the easiest thing in the world to put on and take off, and it leaks in the wet, but it doesn't matter. It's not the most practical of cars it takes practice to get in and out of it with ease; and the boot will take a sports bag or two, or half a dozen small carrier bags of shopping, but not much more but it doesn't matter. It's not luxurious in the least; and it mists up badly on cold mornings; and recently I've had to scrape the frost off of both sides of the windscreen but it doesn't matter.
It's far easier to think of good things to talk about. The performance. The handling. The wonderful low-down driving position. The noise of the engine, oh, the noise... The fantastic feeling of 'connectedness' of being completely and totally in control of this breathtaking piece of machinery. The fuel economy I've taken an average of the last 10 or so tanks of petrol and am getting just over 40 mpg out of this beast. The admiring looks you get from other road users and passers-by. The camaraderie when you buy a Lotus you become part of a brotherhood, and encountering a fellow brother on the road guarantees a smile, a nod, a wave or a flash of the lights.
To briefly visit the practicalities of the real world, this much fun doesnt come cheap. On the plus side, I bought my car (an S registration, fairly early model) for just over £10,000 so it's done just about all the depreciating it's going to do. But at group 17, the insurance doesn't come cheap. I insured mine with Norwich Union for just over £1100, and managed to save around £300 by putting my fiancée on the insurance as well it would have been over £1400 to insure it just for me! But then I'm only 27 and also dont have any no claims bonus to take into account this is the first car I've owned and insured myself.
The day-to-day running costs aren't bad I've already mentioned the good fuel economy, and all it needs is bog-standard supermarket unleaded. Servicing and maintenance costs aren't bad for what it is, but come as a nasty shock when compared to a little run-about. Mine had it's A service (little service) a few weeks ago, and the bill for the day came to around £450, and also threw up a few issues that need to be sorted before the MOT in April. It seems like I need a new exhaust and a new set of tyres, which will account for about £1000 between them. So yes, this much fun doesnt come cheap. But at the same time, I'm planning on making the most of it, and taking the opportunity to upgrade from my average Pirelli tyres to a set of designed-specifically-for-the-Elise Yokohama Advans, and to fit a sports exhaust for a few extra bhp and decibels... Every cloud has a silver lining and all!
But saying all these things is ultimately rather pointless. In a way, this car is kind of like Marmite in the way it polarizes opinions you either desperately want one or just don't see the point. If you fall into the former group, like me, then nothing anyone could say will put you off buying one of these. All impracticalities and problems are forgiven, costs are grumbled about but heaven and earth will be moved to meet them, and it is all a small price to pay for one of the best driving experiences available.
On the other hand, if you don't see the point, then, well, this will all sound rather expensive and silly. But if you feel like this, then you probably don't enjoy your driving much, and a car like the Elise would probably be wasted on you. And if I'm honest, if you feel like this, then I can't help but feel a little sorry for you. You just have no idea what you're missing.
Thanks for reading.
Wow, I've just noticed I've only written one opinion in the last year. A lot has been going on this year for me though, so it's kind of understandable. I've been in work pretty consistently for the whole year, plus I've moved in with my girlfriend, so I've had a whole lot less time on my hands. I've had ups and downs with both of the jobs I've had in that time, and I just haven't really felt much like writing. But, about a year ago, I also got me a Game Cube. And, having just found the motivation to finally put pen to paper again (well, fingers to keyboard), I thought it would make a pretty good subject for a first review. First of all, I've not really got me a Game Cube, I've got my girlfriend a Game Cube. It was her birthday present last year, and before you accuse me of being a crap boyfriend, she did actually want it and was excited about getting it. Of course, I was quite keen on getting a next-generation console, but I was rather more interested in Microsoft's X-Box at the time. Nicky, though, being a long-term Super Mario fan, much preferred the Game Cube, so that's what we got. Not sure where to start with this opinion to be honest. You may have noticed I've rather drifted off the subject matter already! What I don't want to do is bore you rigid with the technical specifications. They aren't really useful as any sort of comparison, as each of the current consoles available have such different architectures that it's impossible to compare them directly based on processor speed or memory and so on. If you want to look at the Game Cube specs, you can find them at http://www.nintendo.com/systems/gcn/specifications.jsp. I think, on paper at least, the Game Cube is somewhere between the X-Box (highest) and the PS2 (lowest) in terms of sheer processing grunt, but I could be wrong. Without worrying too much about specifications, it all runs very nicely. Graphics are shar
p and clean, and games in general seem to run very well with few slow-down problems. Sound is also excellent, with crisp sound effects and rich musical scores. What I will say, though, is that out of the three consoles, the Game Cube is the purest of purpose. It won't play music, it won't play DVDs. It's no all-in-one entertainment centre, it just plays games. This means that Nintendo have been able to make the Game Cube the best damn console they could, without having to include any other bits of hardware or operating system that could potentially decrease the performance and increase the price. Speaking of which, the Game Cube is very reasonably priced. I got mine for £130 about a year ago, and I believe the price has come down since then. When the new model of the Game Boy Advance was released, they were giving away vouchers with it to get £50 off of the price of a Game Cube. Coincidentally, at the same time Argos were offering their Game Cubes for £80. So, if I'd bought it at the right time, I could have actually got my Game Cube for £30... B*gger... So, anyhow, I've got my Game Cube, and I imagine you're all keen to know what it's like. Well, first of all, it's small. The main box of the console is about 6 inches square, and only 4 inches tall. It's tiny! There are four controller ports on the front, and two memory card slots. The game discs (also small! It uses custom 8cm optical disks with a 1.5 gigabyte capacity) load in to the top of the box, and there are the standard buttons to turn it on and off, reset it, and open the disc drive. The console itself is available in several different colours - when first launched it came in black (which looks rather cool and sleek ? mine, erm, I mean Nicky's, is black) and purple (which is quite funky, but does give the console a certain Fisher-Price look, and has probably helped it get a reputation as a kiddie console). There is also now a limited edition Legend
Of Zelda Platinum Pak, which includes a silver console. There may be more... The Game Cube official controller is excellent, no two ways about it. It features: - Two analogue control sticks. The left one is usually used for controlling movement of whatever it is you're controlling in the game, and the right one is usually used for moving the camera around in 3D games. - A D-pad. This is a standard, functional, cross-shaped directional controller. - Four buttons. There is a central, large A button, and the other three buttons (B, X, and Y) surround it. The layout may seem a little funny to those of you used to PS2 or X-Box controllers, but most games assign functions to these buttons quite intelligently and it soon becomes second nature. - Three triggers. There are two analogue shoulder triggers, one for the left hand and one for the right. These provide a decent analogue function, and also provide a digital button click function after the range of analogue movement. Kind of like the kick-down on the accelerator of an automatic car, if you will. There is also a Z-trigger on the right shoulder of the controller, which is a weird little button and doesn't really fit with the rest of the design. It is often saved for little-used and obscure game functions that mean it doesn't need to be used much! - A start button. Little grey jobbie sitting in the middle of the controller, which performs the usual pause / options menu functions. - A decent rumble (force feedback) feature. This means that the controller shakes and vibrates in your hands to give you extra feedback for game events, e.g. when you're hit in a combat game, or when you drive onto the rumble strips at the side of the track in a racing game, and so on. The controller is very comfortable to use, even for long periods of time. It fits in my hands very well, the buttons are responsive, it's just a joy to use. <
br>Nintendo also offer the Wavebird wireless controller, which is basically a slightly bulkier version of the standard controller, but is, well, wireless. Don't know if it's any good; haven't got one. There are also many third-party controllers available, which as far as I know are generally cheaper than the official one, but as a result the build quality can be a little lower. You can also get third-party joysticks and steering wheels, and I believe you can even get a keyboard now. I'd consider investing in a decent wheel at some point, but I don't really see the need for a joystick or keyboard at the moment. You can also use your Game Boy Advance (assuming you own one) as an extra controller. This is quite an interesting little feature that is exclusive to Nintendo, and can be used to great effect, as certain games on the two systems also have link-up features that allow you to unlock extra levels or special items. For instance, if you have Metroid Prime on the Cube, and Metroid Fusion on the GBA, each unlock special features on the other, and if you have completed both you can unlock the original Nintendo Metroid game. In Splinter Cell, the GBA acts as a scanner and communications device, and allows you to do some pretty funky things that are not available in the original game. And of course, in Legend Of Zelda, the GBA acts as a 'Tingle Tuner' (don't ask!), allowing a second player to play along and provide supporting functions to the main player. Ideal if you want to help your girlfriend play the game, by the way! Now, earlier on, I briefly mentioned memory cards. You'll need one of these to save your progress in games. You don't get anything bundled with the console, unfortunately, you've got to buy one separately. The entry-level Nintendo memory card is I believe costs less than a tenner, and offers 4 MB, or 59 blocks, of memory. This should be enough for your first couple of games, but after that
you will probably need another. All Game Cube games list their memory requirements (in blocks) on the back of the box, so you can work out fairly easily if you need more memory when you're buying it. It's also easy to check how much space you've got, and move things around on your memory cards, within the Game Cube operating system. I should mention that several third parties also sell Game Cube memory cards. These are a lot cheaper than Nintendo official ones, but there are certain caveats. Some people do complain that files become corrupt on unofficial cards a lot more readily - I don't know how likely this is, as I've not experienced it myself. There are also stories of people playing online games (well, game, as there's only really the one at the moment - Phantasy Star Online) with unofficial cards, and having the entire contents of the card wiped. Personally, I have a small official card (4MB, 59 blocks, about £8 I think) and a much larger unofficial one (by Datel, 64MB, over 1000 blocks, about £18). I've had no trouble with losing saved games from it, and I don't play online. Speaking of online gaming - as I said, there's only one game that you can play online at the moment, as far as I know, and that's Phantasy Star Online. It's a futuristic action role-playing game, kind of Gauntlet / Diablo style. It's apparently rather good. You need to buy a separate adaptor to get your Cube online, but fortunately there's a choice of broadband access or dial-up modem access, so you're not left out if you've not got a high-speed connection. And now, finally, the games! The Game Cube has gotten itself a bit of a bad rep as being a kiddie console, and has lost a lot of street cred as a result. Sadly, the PS2 seems to be the coolest of the three consoles, for some reason, despite being the oldest hardware and the most expensive to buy. It is true that Nintendo do seem to go for bright p
rimary colours and cartoon style graphics, but a lot of people dismiss games like these as being for children without actually playing them. Games like Super Mario Sunshine and Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker may look like cartoons but the games themselves are very deep and enjoyable. I doubt anyone who's fully completed Super Mario (I'm nowhere near, and completely stuck) would describe it as being for kids! There are many excellent adult titles available as well, such as the Resident Evil series, Eternal Darkness, Metroid Prime and Rogue Squadron. Of course, all the big multi-format games get released on the Game Cube, so we've got the delights of FIFA, Hitman 2, Timesplitters 2, Tony Hawks Pro Skater, and so on. Unfortunately, not everyone sees the potential in the Game Cube, and certain games that should be multi-format don't quite make it to all three consoles. There have also been problems with certain retailers effectively abandoning the Cube, such as the Dixons group. I fail to understand why, as according to recently released statistics, the Game Cube has to date slightly outsold the X-Box. It's that damn kiddie image!!! Of course, comparisons are often made with the Playstation 2s vast range of games, and unfortunately the Game Cube does at first glance appear to come off worse. In some areas this is more noticeable than others. There is definitely a lack of decent exclusive driving games on the Game Cube. PS2 obviously has its Gran Turismo, X-Box has Project Gotham Racing, and they both have Colin McRae Rally, which has unfortunately not made its way on to the Nintendo platform. Game Cube does have its driving games, but the decent ones, such as Burnout 2, are multi-format and available across the board. Beat-em-ups are another area where the Game Cube is currently lacking. We do have Mortal Kombat, but so does everyone else. We have Super Smash Bros Melee, which has received a lot of good reviews but is a l
ittle too cutesy for my liking. We are going to be getting Soul Calibur 2, which is apparently going to be the best beat-em-up of all time, but everyone else is getting that one as well. Having said that, there is an excellent selection of very good games pretty much across the spectrum of gaming genres - if you want to know what's good at the moment NGC magazine write pretty decent reviews, and have a useful feature towards the back of the magazine listing every game released so far, along with a rating and a snippet of a review. So anyway, what am I playing at the moment? Metroid Prime gets a lot of my spare time, as does Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I've also just recently bought Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, which is a very good Dungeons And Dragons based role-playing game. And of course, any time we have a party at our place, you can pretty much guarantee there'll be two blokes camped in the corner playing FIFA 2003. Yes, I do love my (girlfriend's) Game Cube. There's a lot of fun there to be had, however, unfortunately, not everyone is prepared to look beyond the cutesy image and take the time to discover it...
After upgrading my home computer to Windows XP (which is well worth doing, by the way), I unfortunately discovered that my trusty old InoculateIT anti-virus software is not Windows XP compatible. Disaster! I needed to find a replacement quickly... I had a quick shop around, and picked up a cheap copy of Norton Antivirus 2002. I've been a big fan of Symantec's Norton products since getting a free copy of Norton Utilities 4 (I think) from Jungle, and I also have friends that use Norton Antivirus and rate it highly. Plus, working in the IT field, I've had experience with several different pieces of anti-virus software, and Norton is the only one I'd fully trust for my home PC. Installing the software is dead simple - I can't even remember the procedure, so it can't have been that hard, right? The CD auto-plays as soon as you put it in the drive, and you literally just click on the install button. There are a few options to configure, which I'll get to later, and a few updates to download, and then you're all set. The downloads were a bit of a pain, largely because I've only got a modem connection. The version I got is also a little old, and was a good year out of date when I installed it, so there were a lot of updates there to be picked up. There were updates available for the actual software itself, for the software that downloads the updates, and for the virus definitions. As a bit of advice to those of you that may go through the same process, don't try to do them all at once! Start off just downloading the updates to the update software; then (possibly after restarting your PC) get the update to the anti-virus software; then finally (perhaps after a second restart) download the virus definitions. It took me a couple of goes before I got everything (about 7MB worth of files!), but it's all up to date and running quite happily now. Of course, you folks out there with broadband connections will pr
obably never even notice the files coming down... Oh, and I should say that once you're up-to-date the downloads are a lot smaller and less of a hassle. So, once it's all installed and up-to-date, you will probably want to set your software up to give you the best possible protection. Norton has a very simple, easy-to-understand options menu. Having a look through it quickly for the purpose of research, you really don't need to change anything from the default settings. I disabled automatic updates - I'd rather choose when my programs connect to the Internet, thanks - but that was about it. Having configured it all how you want it, aside from updating every so often you can pretty much then leave Norton Antivirus to its own devices. It will sit happily on your Quick Launch bar (it's the one next to the clock on the Windows Task Bar) minding its own business until you need it. But what does it do while it?s sitting there? There are several services that Norton runs in the background while you're busy on your computer. These are: (And I'll be quoting fairly heavily from the Norton AntiVirus help files here...) -= Auto-Protect =- This is the real-time protection that keeps an eye on your system at all times for viruses. It automatically: + Detects and protects you against all types of viruses, including macro viruses, boot sector viruses and memory resident viruses and Trojan horses, worms and other malicious code. +Protects your computer from viruses transmitted through the Internet, checking all files you download from the Internet, including Java Applets and ActiveX controls. +Checks for viruses every time you use software programs on your computer, insert floppy disks or other removable media, modify or access documents, keeping your system safe at all times. +Monitors your computer for any unusual symptoms that may indicate an active virus. -= Email Scanning =- This monitors both incoming and out-going emails for viruses, so not only are you safe from anything that gets sent to you, but also your mates are safe from anything you might accidentally send them. -= Script Blocking =- This examines any scripts (kind of mini-programs - used in websites a lot) that are run on your computer for any virus-like behaviour, and blocks them if they misbehave. Norton AntiVirus also uses a rather exciting technology called Bloodhound, which provides protection against new, unknown viruses. It does this by heuristic analysis of everything that's running on your PC. Basically what that means is that it looks out for stuff that looks or acts like a virus - and if it looks and acts like a virus then it's probably a virus, and Bloodhound gives it a kicking. OK, that's all the automatic stuff, what else is left? You can manually run scans of your entire system, or you can narrow it down to a particular drive, folder, or file. You should ideally run a full system scan every few weeks, just to make sure there's nothing nasty lurking in the dark forgotten corners of your hard disk. Oh, and you should download updates every week or so - there are something like 500 new viruses identified every month! I should stress that there is a newer version available now - Norton Antivirus 2003. You should be able to pick it up for about £30 if you shop around, and that includes a years worth of free updates - after that I think you pay a subscription fee of about £5 a year. As for system requirements, it supports every Windows operating system, and will run on any modern PC. I can thoroughly recommend Norton AntiVirus to anyone that is not protected at the moment. It's reasonably cheap, incredibly easy to set up, use and maintain, and it is extremely reliable. As an IT technician, I've never had virus problems with
any PC that's been running Norton. Which is more than I can say about McAfee... Thanks for reading!
Dentyl pH is a mouthwash. I never thought there'd be much to write about something as mundane as a mouthwash, but I'm going to have a go and prove myself wrong... I was recommended this stuff by one of my work-mates, and it is absolutely amazing! According to the blurb on the back of the bottle, Dentyl pH is "Specifically developed by dentists, and clinically proven, to help fight the problems of 'morning breath' and even the most severe, prolonged cases of bad breath". It apparently provides "fresh breath confidence and a cleaner feeling mouth and teeth – up to 18 hours in a single use". Does it? Yeah, I reckon. If you're looking for the stuff in the supermarket or whereever, you should find it pretty easily. It is very distinctive. Firstly, it's in a pretty funky-looking conical shaped bottle - looks a little mad-scientist nasty potion, but I kind of like that. Secondly, the actual mouthwash is separated in to two different-coloured layers – blue and green for the mint flavour, and blue and pink for the... clove flavour? You may think clove flavour sounds pretty horrible, but it doesn't actually taste that bad! Both taste quite nice, and aren't actually as over-powering as a lot of less effective mouthwashes. Where was I? Two layers, yeah... OK, when you use the stuff (morning and night, as part of your dental routine, of course), you have to shake it up so that the layers mix together. Half a cap-full and a minute's combined rinsing and gargling later, and you're done. Ready to spit it down the sink. This is where the interesting bit happens... You see, what Dentyl pH does, is it removes all the bacteria and other gunk that you've got in your mouth – all the stuff that can cause bad breath and gum disease. It lifts it all off your teeth, and stains it (either green or pink), and when you spit the stuff out you can see it
all congealing in the bottom of the sink! Looks kind of like Silly String... Great, eh? You can see how much of an effect the mouthwash is actually having. Cynics amongst you may suggest that it's just forming a precipitate on its own, but the amount of stuff you spit out really does seem to depend on how clean your mouth is. It also apparently has a cumulative effect, so the longer you use the stuff the more beneficial it is. I find my mouth feels a lot cleaner and fresher once I’ve used this stuff. If oral hygiene is important to you (and if it's not, it should be), you ought to go out and get yourself a bottle and try it. For those that worry about this sort of thing, it contains no animal derivatives. It is the same acidity as your saliva, so it won't dissolve your teeth away. It also contains no alcohol, but I suppose you can’t have everything... I won't list the entire ingredients off the back of the bottle, even though that seems to be a sure-fire crown-earner these days. Well, come on, how many of you actually know what Eugenia caryophyllus or Cetylpyridinium Chloride are or do? Thought so... It does contain a low (0.05%) concentration of Sodium Fluoride, however, and isn't recommended for children under 6. I'd recommend it for anyone else though. There is one down-side, and that is the price. My 500ml bottle cost me the best part of £4. Hurry along to Sainsbury's if you're interested though, because last time I was in there they were selling two-for-one... More info at http://www.dentylph.com
Mmm, good category. Not quite sure on how it helps us 'make better decisions', but there you go. It's a bit of fun, and I'm on my own in the office, getting bored, so let's give it a try... This could easily turn into a monster opinion. I'm a pretty intolerant, impatient git at the best of times(just ask my girlfriend!!!), so I am trying to resist churning out pages and pages of ranting and raving against the world in general. However, there are certain things that really hack me off, so here they come! First of all, I want to put in 'people who use this category to talk about serious issues'. Yes, I know child-abusers and Third World hunger and the Sept 11th attack are awful things. This is something I'm sure we all agree on. But they don't really need to be raised here. This is a light-hearted, fun section! There are enough heavy-going, moralistic sections in Speakers Corner as it is! Secondly, continuing on a Dooyoo theme, I want to get rid of 'people who can’t string a sentence together'. You’ve all read opinions like it - abysmal spelling, no coherent use of grammar, no sensible page layout - and they're a nightmare to follow, right? Even if the writer is making good points, they're so well concealed within the grammatical mire they have created that, more often than not, I just give up! OK, I admit it, I am a snob about this sort of thing. But really, all it takes is a quick pass over the opinion with a spell-checker, and a read-through before posting. Is that too much to ask? Oh, and YOU'RE = 'you are'; YOUR = 'belonging to you'. OK, moving away from Dooyoo to another popular topic, I want to consign 'old people' to Room 101. Not just any old people, though, I've got a certain demographic in mind. I want to get shot of 'old people that seemingly go out of their way to be awkward'. A particular example springs to mind&
#8230; Like most workers, my lunch-break is a valuable commodity. It is one of the few times that I have when I can nip in to the shops, or the bank, and sort out things that need sorting. So why is it that, when the elderly can do these things any time they want, they seem to choose lunchtimes (or weekends)? I'm sick of my precious hour being whittled away while I stand in a queue in Barclays behind half a dozen grannies in duffelcoats who are apparently reorganising their entire life-savings... Now, drivers. Other road users in general rank fairly highly on my list of pet hates – they just get in my way – but there are some breeds that really wind me up... People that drive in the middle lane on motorways, slowly, despite the left-hand lane being completely empty – thus effectively cutting the road down to two lanes. Because you can't undertake them, that would be wrong... There was something being banded about recently about clamping down on undertaking, however as far as I'm concerned it should be the undertaken that gets penalised rather than the undertaker. After all, it's their poor lane discipline that causes it... My second category of drivers for the bin would be 'those that pootle down slip roads and attempt to join motorways at 40mph'. It's a narrow category, I know, but God do they ever annoy me! How on Earth can you expect to safely join traffic that's travelling 30mph faster than you are? Quite simply, you can't, and in extreme cases I've actually seen cars stop at the end of slip roads because they've been going too slow to merge with the traffic. What do you think their chances are then, if they're trying to join the motorway from a standing start? Exactly... Fools. Thirdly, I want to get rid of 'arrogant motorcyclists'. I acknowledge that some bikers are considerate road users, however the great majority aren't, and I have no qualms with getting
rid of the lot just to be on the safe side. Maybe it just goes with the territory of having a bike in the first place – there's a certain stereotyped speed-freak mentality that tend to be attracted to bikes – but it seems like most of them don't feel the highway code is applicable. Bikes seem to be able to break speed limits with complete impunity, and being treated as an obstacle in a slalom course doesn't really sit comfortably with me. However, what really gets my goat is the guys that insist on riding about a metre behind you, and more often than not in your blind spot too. And then if, God forbid, you should collide with one and knock the rider off, it seems to be automatically your fault. Bikers bang on about the catchphrase of 'sorry mate, didn't see you', and the current TV ad campaign is geared towards motorists having to look out for bikes, but who is really 'in the wrong' here? How about a campaign saying 'Bikers: don't drive like f***ing maniacs'??? So yeah, those are my road users I want to send in to Room 101. I dream of the day when it has come to pass, and I can happily drive around without all these other people to wind me up. Failing that, I also dream of a day when I can get away with a bonnet-mounted machine-gun... What else? OK, a semi-serious one (will I have to consign myself to Room 101 after my earlier entry?) – I would like the current Labour government in the bin. Let's be honest here. Can anyone actually think of any aspect of our country that has shown any improvement since they gained power? Please let me know. Think I've got it out of my system for the moment, thanks for reading!
So yeah, I've just got a new car. Well, to be a bit more accurate, my mum and dad have been forced to replace the car that my brother and I have access to. However, mum and dad are both perfectly happy driving their own cars, and Matt is away at university (Kent, Drama, 3rd year), so basically I've got a new car! Woohoo! They were forced into replacing our old VW Jetta after finding out it was going to fail its MOT abysmally. Rather than throw more money into a knackered car, mum and dad sensibly decided to replace it. What we were looking for was a little run-about, a couple of years old, for about 5 grand. However, the old Crispy magic came out to play, and dad ended up parting company with 7 grand for a ten-month-old Y registration Fiesta Freestyle. We managed to discount a whole bunch of small cars from the outset, based on dad's prejudices of certain companies and countries. Further culls to the selection were made based on me sitting in cars at showrooms and playing with the controls. It's amazing how many cars just don't feel right. One of my main criticisms of a lot of the small cars we looked at was that the gearboxes felt incredibly vague and imprecise. Test-driving the Citroen Saxo, I was at times literally feeling my way through the gearbox, and still ended up in the wrong gear on more than one occasion. My other main criticism of several cars was that the interiors were ghastly! The Vauxhall Corsa was a particular sufferer on this count - the entire dashboard was made out of this horrible hard shiny cheap-looking plastic, and there was no flair in the design or sense of style or anything. It spoke volumes to me, but the gist of what it said was 'I am a horrible, cheap, nasty car. Do not buy me!' As soon as I sat in the Fiesta it felt right. We test-drove various models, including a V-reg 1.4 Fiesta Ghia, an X-reg 1.3 Fiesta Flight, and a Y-reg 1.25 Fiesta Freestyle. The one I liked most was the 1.
25 Freestyle, dad agreed, and that's what we've now got parked outside. So, what's it like? **Performance: the important stuff This is where the Freestyle really scores big with me. It has Ford's new Zetec engine, and the difference this makes is really amazing. Its 1.25i 16V engine easily out-performed the 1.3 I drove with the non-Zetec engine, and was pretty much on par with the 1.4. Acceleration from a standstill is excellent ? the brochure quotes a 0-62 mph figure of 13.1 seconds, which is pretty nippy (and it's only group 6 to insure!). The car also accelerates well at speed, which is extremely handy for motorway driving. It is in fact extremely difficult to keep the car to the speed limit on the motorway - virtually zero pressure is required on the accelerator - and the car seems a lot happier cruising at 80mph or even 90 (which it maintains quite comfortably at around 4000rpm), which is great because I am too... ;-) Not only does the car perform well, but it is also extremely economical. The quoted combined (urban and extra-urban) fuel economy is 40.9 mpg. I haven't calculated any figures myself to back this up, but it sounds about right. It's hard to compare with my previous car as the fuel tank is a lot smaller - whereas before if I filled up (unleaded, obviously) from a quarter-tank it would set me back about £30; now it's about £20. I can get down to Southampton from London (about 60 miles) on just under a quarter of a tank without being especially careful about my economy, so you do the maths! The driving position feels good, and while the steering isn't adjustable, I don't feel it needs to be as it's perfect for me. The power steering is a big bonus, as my previous car didn't have it, and was also extremely heavy - the Fiesta's handling is positive and feels feather-light compared to our old VW Jetta! The suspension feels stiff and sporty, and the
car holds the road extremely well. As far as safety and security is concerned, it's got a drivers airbag, high security anti-burst locks, central locking, and an engine immobiliser. My one real complaint is about the drivers seat. I can't really say anything about the others, as I've yet to sit in them! It's fine for short journeys, but after an hour or two it starts to get uncomfortable - there isn't quite enough lumbar support, and my back gets a little sore. My dad commented on this pretty much as soon as he sat in it, but he is used to the fantastic seats of his Audi A4 Turbo Sports, so he can pretty much sod off... **Looks and other less important details The Fiesta Freestyle is a pretty good-looking car, for a run-about. I mean, obviously it's no Elise, but it beats all the other small cars except the Peugeot 206 in my book. And the 206 is more expensive, and I didn't like its interior much... Anyway, the Fiesta Freestyle is supposed to be the slightly sporty, fun model of the Fiesta. The interior lives up to this image. It has an extremely stylish dashboard - largely black, with the instrument panel in a contrasting silver plastic. The dials on the dash are white, and glow a luminous green with the lights on. The steering wheel is partially stitched leather, which is a great touch, and gives a real feeling of quality when you're behind it. The upholstery is black, with panels of one of four different colours intended to match the exterior paint-job. My Fiesta is Aquamarine Frost (it's the very pale metallic green that you see a lot of Focuses in) and my upholstery is in Pacific Green. It looks great, although to be honest I'm largely just glad it's not silver! Every man and his dog's got a silver car these days, and I try to be at least a little bit original... Externally, the Fiesta Freestyle looks great. Mine is a Y-reg, as I've said, so it's
the most recent Fiesta shape - although a new one is due out soon which makes it look even more like the Focus. The Freestyle model has a set of fog-lights below the bumper - they look great and they're incredibly powerful, but I'm not entirely sure of when I'm legally allowed to use them! It also has alloy wheels, a sunroof and a boot spoiler, which greatly add to the sporty look of the car. The other thing the Freestyle boasts as standard is a CD player. I don't know how it compares on the grand scheme of these things, but it sounds a whole lot better than the £250 Blaupunkt we stuck in our old Jetta. Of course, the speakers in that car were probably knackered, but there you go... It also sounds a lot better than the stereo I have in my room, but again that is both old and cheap. Overall, it probably isn't the best in the world, but it sounds good and goes up to a nice high volume without distortion. Of course, if your name is Darren or Gary and you like sharing your drum n bass with the entire high street you'll probably be swapping it for something a little better... Overall, the Fiesta Freestyle is a great car. It's sporty and stylish in both looks and performance, but won't break the bank completely. It's brilliant fun to drive, and if I were to go back I'd definitely pick the same car again. In fact, I'm now thinking of a Fiesta for when I eventually buy a car of my own. Either the Freestyle with the 1.6 engine, or maybe even the Zetec-S hot hatch... Mmm... Thanks for reading!
Right, just let me get this straight. I've got to pick ten, just ten, games out of all of the games that have ever been released on any format ever, to go into my top ten. I can't do it! I just can't! Waaaargh!!! You see, I've played an awful lot of games. I've GOT an awful lot of games, by pretty much anyone's standards. I maintain an Excel workbook to keep track of them all. A quick check of the spreadsheet reveals a grand total of one hundred and forty-six games. This is just on the PC, but goes back over some 12 years of gaming history. That's not so bad, that works out at about one a month... Oh, who am I kidding!? So, I think first off, I'm going to have to limit this to PC games. I don't want to have to, but I've got to or I'll be writing this all night. I think I'm also going to have to abandon the idea of a pop-chart style run-down from 10 to 1 - this is just going to be a list of ten games I love. Deal with it. Now, let me think for a while... **Half-Life That was an easy one. There's just no way this game can't be in the list of every single person that ever writes in this category. It was voted Game Of The Century, and has spent nearly two years in the games charts. You've all heard of Half-Life, right? If you haven't, go and buy a copy right now. No, don't stop to read the rest of my opinion, go go go! OK, so by now you've played Half-Life to death, and are in full agreement with me. If for some silly reason you've failed to hear of Half-Life prior to reading this, and haven't followed my orders to go out and buy it, this is what it's all about. It's a first-person shooter, i.e. you run around and shoot things and it's done from a first-person perspective, set in a top-secret government research facility. You're a scientist experimenting on these weird things; the experiment goes badly wrong and tears a hole i
n reality, flooding the compound with all manner of nasty alien beasties. You have to both fight your way through them to freedom and avoid the teams of Special Forces soldiers sent in to 'clean up the mess'. Brilliant. Half-Life also has a strong online community, and there are loads of different 'mods' for it - conversions that basically turn it into a different game. You've heard of Counter Strike, yes? If not, you know what to do... Other ones that I've played a lot of include Firearms, The Opera and Action Half-Life. **X-Wing Alliance It's a Star Wars flight simulator. Not only do you get to fly the X-Wings, Y-Wings, A-Wings and so on, but you will eventually get your hands on the Millennium Falcon and fly it into the second Death Star. Do I have to say any more? It also gives about the most complete feeling of involvement, of actually 'being there', of any game I've ever played. Not only have I physically ducked as a TIE fighter went screaming overhead, I've actually turned round in my chair to see where it went. And felt pretty stupid about it afterwards. **EverQuest An online fantasy role-playing game. There's something like 400,000 people that play this - they can't all be wrong, can they? There is sufficient detail in the original game release to keep any role-player happy for years, and several add-on packs have since been released to increase the scope even further. There's just too much to go into here, I've written a separate opinion on it anyway so I don't want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say I think it's brilliant, and I'm now the bane of my parents lives as they can't get on the phone any more... **Thief: The Dark Project Another first-person game, but it's less of a shooter and more of a sneaker. You are the eponymous thief, and the missions/levels essentially involve you
breaking into places and nicking people's stuff. It's set in a pseudo-medieval 'Steam-Punk' world - think of castles and big hulking machines and you're about there. Picking pockets, knocking out guards, picking locks, it's all there. Some levels involve dealing with the undead and these aren't so good, but overall it's another brilliant game. The use of sound, and 3D sound in particular, is an example of how it should be done to the world of gaming. A sequel has been released (Thief 2: The Metal Age) and another is on the way, but I haven't played it so I can't really include it here. **Civilization 3 Again, I don't want to write too much about this, as I've already devoted an opinion to it. This is a turn-based strategy game starting from the dawn of civilization (ah-ha!) and progressing through to the future. Build cities and armies, research new technologies, and engage in war and diplomacy with the other civilizations of the world. It's a very slow-paced, thoughtful game, but I tell you it will take over your life! Urgh, I'm only half way... **Quest For Glory 1: So You Want To Be A Hero? Ha ha, surprised you with that one, I bet! I bet most of you haven't even heard of this one, and some of you fellow gaming addicts out there who've thus-far been nodding sagely may even be stumped. It's a pretty damn old adventure/role-playing game by Sierra, those wonderful guys who've brought us so many gaming delights over the years - the King's Quests, the Space Quests, the Police Quests, Half-Life... Ahem, anyway, you have journeyed to the quaint medieval town of Spielburg to fulfil your dream of becoming a Hero - a powerful warrior, mage or thief (you get to choose which character class to play at the beginning). The Baron's children have gone missing, and he's prepared to reward handsomely anyone who can find them. Then ther
e are the pesky brigands, who have become more and more powerful over the years - capture or kill their leader and be rewarded with the title of Hero Of The Realm! I think this game's great. There's a perfect blend of adventure game problem solving and RPG-style combat, ability scores, and so on. There have been some four sequels of steadily decreasing quality, and this game was actually re-released with swanky new (!) VGA graphics and mouse-driven interface. Personally I preferred the original... **Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption Based on the pen-and-paper role-playing game of the same name. It's an extremely linear hack-'em-up at heart, in the same vein (haha geddit?) as Diablo, but the plot is superb. It spans a thousand years, with you, Christof Romuald, a knight of the crusades, being embraced (turned into a vampire) in the city of Prague, where you were convalescing after being injured in battle. Christof must deal with the crisis of faith caused by his descent into darkness, and the loss of his newfound love, the nun Anezka, to the evil vampire Vukodlak. His hunt for redemption (and Anezka) takes him from medieval Prague and Vienna to modern-day London and New York, culminating with a big showdown on the eve of the new Millennium... A wonderful game, for me the real attraction is the way the game perfectly (in my opinion) recreates the atmosphere of the original role-playing game, which I played to death through school. Have a look... **M1 Tank Platoon 2 An extremely realistic tank simulation by the mighty MicroProse, shortly before they went all soft and decided to stop doing simulations. Command a platoon of four M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, as well as various other bits of American military hardware like Bradley IFVs, Hummvees, A10 jets and Apache gunships. It's no arcade blast - you need to learn to use real tactics to survive. Many of the single battles on offer (you c
an also play full campaigns) are genuine recreations from the Gulf War... A great game, if, like me, you read far too much Tom Clancy for your own good! **Colin McRae Rally 2.0 Um, it's a rally driving game. Widely regarded to be the best driving game of all time. It is in my opinion. I've seriously considered buying a PC steering wheel purely for this game - it's just not the same with a joystick. Everything about the car handling and movement just feels right. I have a friend who is seriously into driving (he owns both a Lotus Elise and a Subaru Impreza), and buys literally every driving game released on the PC, and he swears by Colin McRae. The other one he likes is Grand Prix Legends, but I'm not so keen on that myself...! **Aliens Vs Predator Another first-person shooter, but hey, it's my list! A brilliant game that pits two of the best film aliens up against each other and the hapless human Marines caught in the middle. Each species is its own little mini-game, with different levels and goals. The Alien is trying to get on a shuttle to Earth, the Predator is hunting game and avenging the human experiments conducted on his kinsman, and the poor Marines are just trying to stay alive! It's extremely dark and is easily the scariest game I've ever played. Oh, and I love the Alien and Predator movies. And yes, I know a sequel (the cunningly-titled Aliens Vs Predator 2) has just been released, and I'm pretty damn sure it's a lot better than this, but I've only played the demo of the Marine character and I'm not including it in my list on purely that basis. I'll update once I get round to buying it... Ah, finished! Thanks for reading; it's been hard work paring down years of gaming into just these ten titles. Oh, what the hell... **Honourable Mentions... Doom - the game to introduce the joys of the first-person shooter to the
masses. A sequel is due soon... Command And Conquer - the real-time strategy game that spawned a million identical copies, as pretty much every software developer in the world pounced mercilessly on a helpless band-wagon! Black And White - you get to be God. Cool. Harrier Attack (C64) - I just liked it, OK? Sensible Soccer (Atari ST) - Ah, the hours I spent playing this at my mate's house when I should have been revising for first GCSEs, and, later, A-Levels... Sam And Max Hit The Road - a contender for funniest adventure game of all time, along with... Day Of The Tentacle And... The Secret Of Monkey Island OK, will that do you? Thanks again for reading...
Allow me to introduce you to the reason why I'm not on Dooyoo very often these days. I have recently discovered a wonderful game called EverQuest (which I shall refer to as EQ from now on). GETTING STARTED EQ is an acronym-tastic MMORPG - that's Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game to the uninitiated. What this basically means is you play online, with lots of other people. Lots and lots of other people. I think the current estimate is that about half a million people play EQ. You won't get to meet most of them however, because they are divided between about two dozen different servers (i.e. computers that run the game and that everyone connects to). The first thing you do when you start playing is to pick a server. This will normally be the server you stay with, as you cannot transfer characters between them easily. There's not much in the way of deciding factors, as far as I know they're all much the same. If you have friends that play however, find out which server they're on when you first sign up, otherwise you'll never meet them! Speaking of which, you can meet me on the Bristlebane server... So there you go. You're connected, you've automatically downloaded all the necessary patches (don't worry about this - like I just said, it's automatic), and you've picked a server. What's next? Well, as this is a role-playing game, you create a character to play. EQ is your stereotypical fantasy role-playing game, there's an almost mind-boggling selection of different races (humans, elves, dwarves, etc.) and classes (warriors, wizards, clerics, etc.) to choose from. I could make this a very long op, well, ok, an even longer op, by simply listing them all, but I'm not going to, because we'd both get very bored. Suffice to say, pick one you like the sound/look of, and try it out. There is some good character creation advice, along with lots of other info, at htt
p://eq.castersrealm.com/. You will probably create a handful of characters before you end up with one you're really happy with playing. I've got about five on the go at the moment. If you decide to join up, and you're on my server (Bristlebane), send me an email and I'll let you know who I am! Right, having created your character, you pick a starting point. You may only be allowed to start in one particular place (for example all Dark Elves start in the city of Neriak), or you may have a choice. Now you've started the game itself, the first thing you should do is SAVE and QUIT. Eh? What the...? The reason for this is simple. The world one plays in is absolutely HUGE, and without some maps you're going to be pretty stuffed! FINDING YOUR WAY AROUND Like I said, EQ is massive. To help me find my way around, I found a rather handy website at http://www.eqatlas.com/ which has maps of pretty much the entire game world. Once you know the area you're based in, print out some maps of the surrounding area. It will help you immensely. Basically, the world is divided into loads of interconnected zones. The city you start in will probably consist of a couple of zones, and you ought to get maps of the surrounding zones too. Having done that, it's back to the game... THE GAME ITSELF This is one hard opinion to lay out well. I've been waffling on and on now about things you need to know, and I haven't even told you what the game's all about yet! So, it's a fantasy role-playing game with a first-person 3d viewpoint (i.e. like Quake, Half-Life, etc). You create a character, and you run around in this big online world killing beasties, collecting money and items, gaining experience and getting more powerful. That's it in a nutshell. Doesn't sound that great, huh? Wrong! It's bloody brilliant. One of the things that makes it so good is the sheer
scope of the game - there's a huge amount of different characters and races to play as, an enormous world to explore, and millions of items and equipment to play with. I doubt very seriously that anyone out there has played as every possible character, or been everywhere, or learnt every skill, or... You get the point - it's big, and there's a lot to do. I tend to find role-playing games like this very addictive, as there's a constant effort to improve your character, kill the next monster, go up the next level, get a better sword or more powerful spells, and so on. You may think it's all rather beardy-weirdy and a waste of time. Oh well, that's your loss... Another thing that makes it so good is the people. Forget the couple of dozen people you may be playing with in Half-Life or Counterstrike or anything like that. If you get on at a busy time there could be something like two hundred people in the same zone as you. You can talk to them. You can trade with them. You can fight them, or you can join with them and take on the world together. That's an important aspect of the game - forming groups of adventurers and helping each other out. I haven't done this much, but it's really the only way to take on the bigger monsters and more difficult quests. Admit it, this is starting to sound interesting... So, like I say, the basic point of the game is you wander around and kill things, get more powerful, get better equipment, and then wander around and kill bigger things. It may sound a little limited, but there's a whole world there to get involved in. As an example, one of my characters is a Paladin in the city of Freeport. Apparently the Freeport guards are extremely corrupt, and are run by a disgraced former Paladin. As I get more powerful, I can become involved in this web of intrigue, and we shall see what happens. Maybe I'll be able to bring this guy down and restore proper law and order to Freeport? Ther
e's stuff like this going on all over the EQ world... There is also the business side of things to get involved in. You can learn different trade skills, which provide you with a means of money aside from looting dismembered monsters. These include things like blacksmithing, tailoring, pottery, baking, all your usual fantasy fare. Buy or find raw materials, make something out of them, sell it for a profit. You can become very wealthy if your skills are sought-after. IT?S A WHOLE NEW WORLD And there's a lot to learn about it. If you want to do more than wander around in a daze, prepare to get busy with your printer. For example, I have here a list of recipes/combinations for tailoring. That's to say, everything you can make with the tailoring skill, and what you need to make it. It's seven pages long. There's about a dozen different trade skills, with much the same sorts of lists... There are also loads of little social points to learn as you go. For example, did you know that Dark Elves are extremely insular, and their guards will violently attack travellers of most other races that enter their territory? I didn't. Finally, EQ is a pretty old game - I think it's a good two years old. A lot of the people on it have been playing that long (with a few breaks for food and sleep and stuff, I should imagine). As you can imagine, there's almost a whole new language that folks use in EQ, which can be pretty confusing for the new guy. For example, you may see a message at the bottom of the screen saying 'lvl 12 def nec lfg pst' and wonder what the hell they're on about. The long-hand translation of the above would be 'level 12 Dark Elf Necromancer looking for a group, please send tells'. A 'tell' is a way of talking to one specific person, so he's hoping people that want a Necromancer in their group will contact him. Easy when you know how! The good side
is that people tend to be very considerate towards new people, and if you want advice or don't know what something means, just ask! You will probably be inundated with a dozen different explanations within seconds... THE TECHNICAL DETAILS The system requirements are extremely low. It will run on pretty much any modern PC. What I will stress now, in case you haven't already worked it out, is that YOU NEED AN INTERNET CONNECTION. There is no single-player, offline mode to this game. OK? OK. Don't worry however, if broadband has passed you by and you're still struggling with a phone modem. So am I. EQ runs perfectly well over a 56k modem. The down-side of this is that the graphics and sound and stuff are pretty pants. EQ doesn't compare favourably with any modern first-person shooter on these fronts, but that's not what it's all about. The other major down-side is that you have to pay a monthly subscription fee, but it's only about £6. Considering that I got the game for free on the cover disk of the February issue of PC ZONE (and if you're quick so could you, the March issue has only just hit the shops) that isn't bad. Give it a go, there's a whole world out there waiting for you!
Norton Utilities 2002 is the latest in a long line of system maintenance software produced by Symantec. According to the back of the box, it ‘combines industry-leading technology with one-button simplicity’ and ‘finds and fixes hardware and software problems quickly, safely, and easily’. Sounds good, huh? Well, it is good. Installation =========== It installs easily off of the CD – as with any other Windows program it leads you through the process pretty gently. There’s an optional registration section where a few harmless details are sent off to Symantec over the Internet, which I feel you may as well fill in and send off. I haven’t had any junk mail or email spam from them since. What do you get? ============== Once you’ve installed and rebooted, you’ll get a new icon on the right of your taskbar that looks like a traffic light. This is Norton System Doctor, which consists of a number of real-time sensors that monitor your computer for problems. You can add or remove these as you like (and there are lots of them) to customise the sort of things you want to monitor for. You also get Norton Utilities Integrator. This is the pretty, easy-to-use Windows front end for the bulk of the programs you get with Norton Utilities. Within this control panel, there are four sections: 1) Optimise performance This is pretty straightforward, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin stuff. There are two programs here, Speed Disk and Optimisation Wizard. Speed Disk is much the same as Windows defragmenting, but is much more thorough and powerful. The first time you run it, it will literally take hours, even on a fast machine, but you will notice a significant performance increase. Optimisation Wizard covers a few other areas – it makes sure your swap file (don’t worry if you don’t know what this is) is in the right place for optimum performance, and it also op
timises your Registry (again, don’t worry if you don’t know what that is). 2) Find and fix problems There is a lot here. First off is Norton System Doctor, which I’ve covered earlier. Next is the Un-erase Wizard, a handy little utility that lets you recover deleted files, even if they’ve been emptied from the recycle bin. Don’t rely on it, as it only works until the bit of the disk is written over again, but it’s useful if you ever accidentally delete something you wanted to hang on to. Norton Disk Doctor is a program that keeps your hard disks nice and healthy. It checks everything from the disk’s partition table to its actual physical surface for problems. Again, this is a very time-consuming process, but it’s not something you need to run very often. Much the same as Windows ScanDisk. WinDoctor does much the same thing; only it checks Windows for any problems. Depending on how much you know, you can look at each problem it finds and deal with it yourself, or you can just let WinDoctor take care of everything automatically. It’s quite amazing how many problems it finds at first – the first time I ran this it came up with about 150! These tend to just be little things that make your system a bit slower and less stable, so sorting them out is a good thing. Finally is the big one, Norton System Check. This is the one I use most regularly, as it does everything in one go. Brilliant. You can even schedule it to run at a particular time every week, month, or whatever. 3) System maintenance System Information – this section quite simply tells you pretty much everything you will ever need to know about your computer. Your graphics card capabilities, your printer properties, your memory usage, and so on. The thing that I find most useful is being able to see exactly what you’ve got loaded into memory, what program each thing belongs to, and how muc
h memory it takes up. But it’s generally for advanced users. Wipe Info – for deleting sensitive files, and making sure they are un-recoverable. Can either do a standard wipe, or a more potent government wipe, which conforms to Department Of Defence specifications. So if you delete something with this, there’s basically no getting it back, not even with the Un-erase Wizard. Use with care! Image – takes a snapshot of all the important bits of your hard disk, so that if everything gets stuffed up, you can use this information to try to recover your information. Never had to use it, thankfully, but I’m glad it’s there. Norton File Compare - lets you track changes made to text documents, see what’s changed between versions, and selectively undo the changes. Can compare any text files, such as *.ini files, programming source code, HTML files, and the Windows registry. 4) Registry Management This is for serious users only. If you don’t know what the registry is, don’t even look at it! The registry is basically where Windows stores the settings for EVERYTHING, so if you play around with it, you can cause really nasty problems. Anyway, in here you get two things, the Registry Editor and the Registry Tracker. The Registry Editor, erm, lets you edit the registry, much like the Windows one. The Norton version has a useful bookmark feature for those of you who spend a lot of time in your registry, though. The Registry Tracker (as long as you tell it to) monitors the registry for any changes, and lets you revert back to a previous version if the changes cause problems. So if you’re not sure what you’re doing with the registry, but are going to fiddle with it anyway, use the Registry Tracker before you delve in (oh, and make a backup first)! Anything else? ============= Yeah, you get Norton Rescue, which is a utility that creates a recovery disk for
you that lets you get things started again if your system dies horribly, and you get the standard Norton LiveUpdate program, which will prompt you every so often to check for an update for your software. These don’t come along very often, and are pretty small to download, so keeping current is no great hassle. Is Norton Utilities worth getting? ================================ I think so, yes, with maybe a few provisos. If you are a ‘serious user’, then it’s probably worth getting. It’ll keep your system running at peak performance, and sort out any problems you get when you try and be smart but screw things up (yes, I’ve done it too!). If you’re a computer novice, but are keen to learn, it’ll also give you more of an insight into the background goings-on of your computer; plus some peace of mind, in that if things go horribly wrong you’ve got some powerful software that should sort you out. Just try not to go over-the-top and optimise your hard disk every day or anything! The only people I’d really advise not to buy this are those that are terrified of their computers (like my long-suffering mate’s parents. They get upset when he changes the desktop resolution…). Norton Utilities is easy to use, and you even get a nice friendly little panel that explains what each program is for, but the fact is you probably don’t stretch your computers capabilities enough to make this sort of software necessary. Is it worth upgrading if you’ve already got a previous version? ===================================================== Well, that depends. If you are running, or intend to upgrade to, Windows XP, then yes, you will need this version, as it is the only one that is XP-compatible. Otherwise, I’m not sure, to be honest. I was running Norton Utilities 4 before this one, way back from the days before they introduced Microsoft-style year-b
ased version numbers. And yes, there is a big improvement from that version - it’s a lot more stable and effective. On the other hand if you’ve got, say, NU 2001, and aren’t looking to upgrade to Windows XP, well I’d recommend you save your money. In Conclusion ============ Norton Utilities 2002 is a brilliant suite of software that will keep your computer running in tip-top condition, and is well worth the asking price. To be recommended to almost everyone. The only real gripe is that Windows is surely big enough and ugly enough to be able to look after itself!
Computer viruses are much the same as biological viruses – they attach themselves to hosts and replicate themselves repeatedly, however the hosts take the form of diskettes or files rather than living organisms. Some viruses attach themselves to files and execute themselves when the file is executed, others may just sit in the computer’s RAM and infect other files as the user opens, modifies or creates them. Most viruses do need to be initialised by the user, however this need only be clicking on an icon or previewing an email in an email program. Some will be completely harmless, and just do something like display a message, whereas others can potentially wipe your computer. There are thousands of different viruses, targeting all the popular operating systems of recent years, however they may be grouped into broad categories as follows: Boot sector viruses =================== The Boot Sector is an area of the first track of a floppy disk or other drive that contains the boot record. Boot sector usually refers to this sector on a floppy disk, whereas Master Boot Sector refers to the corresponding section of a hard disk. A boot sector virus places its code in the boot sector, and gets read into memory when the computer boots up. Once in memory, the virus can gain control over basic computer operations, and can spread to other drives on the system. File viruses ============ These viruses usually attach themselves to .com or .exe files, however they may also infect .drv, .bin, .sys, .ovl and .ovy file types. File viruses can be either resident or non-resident, with the most common being resident or terminate-and-stay-resident (TSR) viruses. Worm viruses ============ Worms are parasitic computer programs that replicate but do not infect other computer program files. They can create copies on the same computer, or they can spread to other computers over a network. Worms are o
e page is opened by a browser. Virus hoaxes ============ These are not actually viruses, but are rather deliberate messages warning the recipients about non-existent virus threats. These cause trouble by clogging email servers and panicking people, however they may also lead to computer damage. An example of this is a hoax I recently received from a former colleague, warning of the sulfnbk.exe virus. This could be ‘cured’ by simply deleting the file, which my friend had done, however this file is actually a Windows system file that is used to restore long file names, and is supposed to be on the computer. Virus hoax emails tend to display similar characteristics. They first of all warn about a new virus that has (often implausibly) serious effects on systems it infects. They often give a techno-babble explanation of how the virus works, and provide comments from Microsoft, or CNN, or someone in authority about the danger of the virus. This is often about how it is undetected by virus scanners. Finally, the message advises recipients to send it on to everyone they know. If in doubt, check on a website before you forward it on to everyone you know! The page I use is http://www.icsalabs.com/html/communities/antivirus/hoaxes.shtml. How to avoid viruses ==================== As with avoiding hackers (could be a whole new op!), the best way of avoiding virus infection is to never expose your computer to any media from the outside world, however this is almost completely impractical in today’s computer society. The most important thing to do is to install a decent virus scanner. I use InoculateIT from Computer Associates, but I don’t think you can get the software anymore, just updates. Ask me nicely and I might consider emailing it to people! Over 500 new viruses are identified each month, so it is important that anti-virus software is also updated regularly. It is also a good idea to ch
eck regularly for operating system patches and updates that may rectify potential security issues. Otherwise, exercising common sense is the best protection. You should not open email file attachments unless you know what the file is, even if it is sent from a friend, as viruses often replicate by sending themselves to a users email contacts. Attachments and downloads should always be scanned with a virus-scanner before opening – most anti-virus software packages offer real-time protection that should do this automatically. Junk emails and chain emails should be deleted, and not forwarded or replied to, and any email warning of a virus should be checked out before being sent on. In case of disaster, you should regularly back up your important files so that they can be replaced if necessary. These backups should be stored in a separate location to the originals, preferably not on the same computer. When in doubt, you should always stay on the side of caution when dealing with file attachments or downloads, and should not execute suspicious files without checking them thoroughly first. What to do if you get a virus ============================= Unfortunately, sometimes even the best protection can fail, and you may end up getting a virus. Don’t panic! If your virus checker has picked it up, it should be able to sort it out. If not, update you virus scanner’s virus database and try again. Otherwise, assuming you know the name of the virus, search for it on the Internet – you should be able to find instructions on removing it. If all else fails, you made those backups for a reason, right? Hope it’s something you never need to worry about…
The Civilisation series of games have been around for a very long time – the first was released by MicroProse all the way back in 1991. It was an absolute masterpiece in its time, and a sequel was inevitable. Civilisation II came out in 1996, again written by strategy game genius Sid Meier. And here’s where it got more complicated. Companies were bought and sold, people came and went, and in the end three different groups reckoned they had the rights to Civilisation. Following this, we saw the release of Civilisation II: Call To Power, Civilisation II: Test Of Time, and, from Sid Meier’s new company Firaxis, Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri moved away from the common theme of the other two games, and instead opted for continuing on from the end of Civilisation; with a space ship arriving to colonise a distant planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri. And so, in my admittedly elitist view, while we’ve had pretenders to the Civilisation crown come and go, we’ve still been patiently waiting for a true second sequel to the top dog of strategy games. Until now. Civilisation III, written by Sid Meier, has now finally arrived, and promises ‘more civ than ever’! Woohoo! OK, OK, I can hear the mutterings at the back. What is this Civilisation thing all about? Well, hear goes… (Deep breath) Civilisation (or Civ as it’s known) is a turn-based 2d strategy game. It is ostensibly set on Earth, albeit with randomly generated geography, and pits a number of different civilisations against each other. Starting literally at the dawn of civilisation, you begin, more often than not, with a single unit of Settlers, with which you can form your first city. As the leader of your civilisation, you must guide your nation to greatness through the aeons. There are many aspects of this – you must explore your world, build cities, feed your growing population, control your cities production, balance yo
ur economy, direct your scientific research, marshal your armies, build wonders of the world, and so on. Each of your opponent civilisations is doing the same thing, and you will make friends and enemies amongst them. You can engage in trade, diplomacy, espionage, and of course war. As you progress through the years, your civilisation will expand as you found new cities, and your scientific knowledge will increase, giving you access to new buildings, military units, forms of government, etc. You will progress from a small tribe of hunter-gatherers through the dark ages, the renaissance, the industrial revolution, until you finally reach the modern day/near future era, hopefully as a thriving nation. The ultimate goal is basically the survival of your civilisation through the ages, but it is possible to win the game, and in many different ways. Firstly, you can win by military might, literally wiping your opponents off the face of the world. You can also now win by world domination, which isn’t exactly the same thing – basically, if your civilisation includes the vast majority of the worlds land and population, you win. It is now also possible to gain a diplomatic victory by being elected Secretary-General of the United Nations. Another peaceful way of winning is to launch a colonising spaceship successfully to Alpha Centauri (there’s the tie-in with Sid’s previous title!). Finally, if no civilisation has completed any of these goals by the time the game ends, the winner is determined by the overall score. So, is it ‘more civ than ever’? Has the game improved drastically since it’s second outing in 1996? Well, in most ways, yes, but in a couple, no. Obviously the graphics and sound and interface have improved. The game is a lot prettier, and units are now animated, which makes a big difference. The information panels taking up a third of the screen are no more, replaced with just two el
egant boxes in the bottom corners, and a varying amount of buttons in between. The available civilisations have changed somewhat. You can now play as any one of the Romans, Greeks, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Aztecs, Iroquois, Egyptians, Babylonians, Russians, Americans, French, Persians, Zulus and English. What’s more, the restriction on the number of opponents has been lifted, so you can actually play against all of these at once. However, in a step backwards, you cannot chose between two different leaders for each nation – you only get the one. Of course, you can still change the name to whatever you like, and indeed completely rename the civilisation if you want, but if you start with, say, the English, you’ll still look like Queen Elisabeth I. A minor problem, but one that I found a little disappointing to begin with. Trade has been completely reworked. Natural resources have now been divided into three categories: bonus resources, luxuries and strategic resources. Bonus resources have not changed, and simply improve the production output if the terrain is worked by a city; these include things like gold, cattle, and fish. Strategic resources are more rare, and also much more important. They govern what you can actually build – for example, without horses, you cannot make any cavalry units; without saltpetre, you will have to manage without musketeers, and so on. Another huge improvement with strategic resources is that they only become visible on the map when you have researched the technology to use them – so coal, for example, does not become visible until you have researched the steam engine. Luxuries work in much the same way, and include things like wine, incense, diamonds and ivory. But, should all these wondrous substances be found on the other side of the planet to your civilisation, never fear, all is not yet lost! You can also build colonies to exploit resources that lie out of reach of your
cities, and as long as they remain connected to your transport network, you will have access to the resource. And that brings me on to how trade works in Civ III. As long as your cities are connected to the resource you’re exploiting, either by road or rail, or via sea- or airports, they will all have access to the resource. The same goes for trade with other nations – there’s no messing around with caravans or convoys, as long as your transport networks are connected, you can negotiate trade agreements diplomatically. Diplomacy and espionage are carried out in much the same way. Instead of building diplomats and spies and moving them around the map, it is all carried out via menu systems that make the whole process much easier and more flexible. The last huge improvement is that of culture. Every city and every civilisation earns culture points for having wonders of the world and cultural buildings such as libraries and temples. A city’s cultural value translates into it’s sphere of influence, which all act together to form your civilisation’s borders. If your culture is sufficiently advanced, neighbouring cities of other nations may voluntarily convert to your civilisation. Otherwise, I could go on all day listing every single little tweak and refinement, but I think we’d all get very bored. Suffice to say, for those of you who know the previous incarnations of Civilisation, it is for the most part ‘more civ than ever’. It has some large changes that do drastically affect (positively!) the way you play the game, and yet retains all the charm and addictiveness of the previous titles. So, for those of you who don’t know civilisation, is Civilisation III worth buying? Well, obviously it depends on your gaming tastes. Civ III is extremely addictive, as each previous game has been, but is not a game you can just dive into and find instantly playable and rewarding.
You need to work at it to understand how everything works and fits together into a whole, and it’s also very mentally challenging. Even on the lowest difficulty levels, you really have to know what you’re doing to stay in the running. Its turn-based nature and slow pace may also count against it – Civ III is not a game you can have a five-minute blast with, but it definitely is a game that you can lose a weekend to without realising! System requirements: Not very high generally – Pentium II 300 with Windows 95 or above and 32MB RAM. It is a bit of a hard drive hog though – my install takes up over 700MB.