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XFire rocks. There, that's it, that's all I can say. No, seriously...
Ok, so you want some more detail? XFire is an Instant Messaging program with all the features of your average one (contact list, history, file transfers) - a bit like MSN, ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, or Yahoo Messanger. The difference is, it is aimed at gamers.
XFire does a number of nifty things. The most obvious is that when you log into a game, if XFire recognises the game (and it recognises almost all modern games, and quite a lot of older ones too) it will show up at the bottom of its window that you are playing it. If you have allowed it in the options, it will also show everyone who has you on their contact list that you are playing that game too.
The aim of XFire is to help you find people to play games with, (or against :) ) - When you look at your contact list, you can see the current status of everyone on it (AFK, Offline, Idle, Playing whatever game). For certain multiplayer games you can right click on the name of a person and join the game - it will automatically log you in and join the right server for you.
If you have the option turned on, you can see people online who are 'friends of your friends', and they can see you too. You can disable this if you don't want strangers seeing you online, but I leave it on out of curiousity. It's actually quite useful sometimes if you are looking for people who play a game that most of your immediate friends don't like.
XFire has a nice feature called, cleverly 'XFire In Game' which allows you to send instant messages from within a game without the annoying tab out / change window hassle you get with other messaging programs. It doesn't support this for every game, but the web site has a list of games that support this feature, and it is pretty impressive. (You can look at the list of games, and what is supported for each of them, here: http://www.xfire.com/xf/modules.php?name=XFire&file=games )
The thing that really appeals to me though, is the feature that keeps track of how long you spend in a game. This ties in to a profile picture that you can put on your web site, or in your signature for various forums. The profile shows the game you are currently in, the game you have played most in the last 7 days, how many hours you spent in that game in that time, and then the same again for the game you have played most since joining XFire.
So far, its identified every single game I've played, except for games that are brand new out, and have came out on the same day everywhere (if a game has been out a few days in the US before coming out over here, the chances are XFire will already know about it) and one game that runs in Windowed mode - Dark Age of Camelot. Its not the windowed mode in general it doesn't like, since it can see Star Wars Galaxies when that is played in windowed mode - it seems to be something about the way Camelot handles it. If I play Camelot in fullscreen it can understand it though.
If someone visits your profile, they can see the statistics for all the games you have ever played. This makes for quite interesting, and sometimes scary, viewing. The site also has statistics for which game has had the largest amount of time spent in it on that day by ALL of its users. The collective amount of time wasting is amazing!
XFire isn't just an instant messaging program however, it allows you to keep track of your favourite game servers and their current online status, and it also has a file system a bit like FilePlanet where you can sign up to various 'channels' and download files from them automatically. If you don't want every file from a channel you can just request the ones you want when you want them, but if you are lazy the channel subscription service can be handy.
The files on offer are mostly patches for games, but you can also get game demos, free trials of online games, and player made videos.
You can set up options to restrict the speed you download games at during different circumstances. It seems they assume you have a slow connection because the default options are to disable downloading while you are in a game, and then download at 30K when you are at your computer but not in a game, and 60K when you aren't using your computer.
Like most instant messaging programs these days, XFire is skinable - there are skins available from the official site, and also several user-ran sites that offer them. I don't like most of the skins myself, but there are several to choose from, plus some good tutorials to help you make your own if that is the kind of thing that you are into. There is also a busy forum for XFire where you should be able to get help if you need any.
I now run several instant messaging programs as not all of my contacts are gamers, so some of them don't want to convert over to XFire. I have found that it is a very stable program and it doesn't use very much memory or processor time. I leave it running 24/7 and it hasn't crashed yet. It also didn't require any major changes to my firewall or router configuration, unlike some of the 'universal' clients that attempt to replace things like ICQ and MSN.
Its not often I rave over something, but I really do love this. I put it on to keep in touch with friends in a guild that all but broke up after they all left one game to play different ones, and I'm really impressed with it.
I highly, highly recommend XFire to anyone who plays multiplayer games of any kind, or even just people who play single player games but who want a 'games friendly' client.
I hate agencies most of the time - I've had a lot of bad experiences with them - not getting paid, getting paid late, getting messed around, them not getting back to me, etc, etc.
But Reed.co.uk are very different.
I must stress I'm refering to the web site, NOT to the bricks and mortar agency. For all I know, the agency could be just as good, but since I have limited experience with them directly I would not like to say for sure.
The web site is wonderful however.
The site is not the same as the agency - it lists a huge number of jobs, but they're not always handled by Reed - some of them are handled by other agencies, some of them are placed by employers and when you apply the application gets sent directly to them. Some others are handled by Reed.
I use them to look for IT jobs and Customer Service ones. I have browsed some of the other categories out of desperation from time to time - some of them, such as retail for example, tend to not come up with a massive number of results. Their IT and Customer Service job listings, and their Communications ones, are usually several pages long though.
You are given a decent amount of search options on the Reed.co.uk site - you can search by area (using either postcode or town name and a radius around it) and by job type, number of hours, and salary. If you are looking at the lower end of the spectrum then sometimes you get presented with jobs that have been mistakenly placed with an hourly rate instead of a yearly salary, (you search for less than £10,000 per anum and get something paying £15/hour), but that is only a small issue.
The site is pretty plain and easy to navigate. It works well in all browsers I have tried it in.
Once you find the right job, the procedure is simple is simple. The first time you use the site you have to fill out a profile (which can take a while as they ask a lot of questions), and are given an option to upload a CV as a word document, or to paste your CV into a text field. That CV is saved, and when you want to apply for a job you are asked if you wish to use that CV or upload a tailored one. You are also given the chance to type out a brief covering letter.
Reed.co.uk recommend you use a tailored CV for each application. They do sometimes try to persuade you to try out CV writing services through advertisements on their site, and they also have a special section with job hunting tips and little quizzes such as 'test your interview technique'. I have tried these out, I don't think I learned much from them to be honest, but they are comforting to try out before heading off to an interview.
Once you have applied for a job you will get an email confirming the application.
I have had a lot of success applying for jobs through Reed - usually, if they are handling the vacancy then they email or call a couple of days after the application, and then conduct an interview over the phone. If you are successful there, then you have to go to one of their offices and sign a few bits of paper then start the job soon after.
If they are not handling the vacancy, then one of their agents will tell you who is, and put you forward if you agree to it.
Reed.co.uk has a job search feature that allows you to set up to three different sets of criteria, and they will email you when new jobs come up.
They do delete registrations after a set number of days of inactivity, but they email you to warn you about that.
I like the Reed.co.uk web site a lot. I almost always find my jobs through there, and get a much better response from them than I have from other sites such as Totaljobs.
If you want to work in IT, Customer Service or Communications then I highly recommend them. Even if you work in another field, they serve them as well, and have special sections on their site for some of them, so it is well worth a look.
Guild Wars is an online role play game by NCSoft, the makers of City of Heroes and the coming City of Villains. Unlike those games, however, Guild Wars is free to play.
For the price of the box (I paid £20, although I've seen it for less since then) you get unlimited free online play, and free updates (although there may be expansions that cost money in the future.)
Guild Wars is different from most MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games) in that you only see large amounts of other players when you are in safe town areas. The rest of the time the game takes place in 'instances' that are generated only for you and your group of players. If you don't like playing with strangers, you can choose to take some computer controlled characters out with you. They aren't the most intelligent things in the world, but the majority of missions can be done using these computer characters, and they have probably the best AI I've seen in an online game.
The game starts off in a tutorial area, with several missions aimed at teaching the basic parts of the game, and allowing you to swap your skills around until you find professions that you like. You can take one main profession, which is the skill you will specialise in, and be able to take a wide range of abilities from, and one secondary profession - that you get a smaller selection of abilities from. The professions are the kind you would expect in your average RPG - Priests, Necromancers, Rangers, Warriors, etc.
Once you are ready to leave the tutorial area, you can choose, either by yourself, or with a group of other players, to exit the area. You will be taken (either with computer controlled henchmen, or with your party) on a scripted encounter which will end in a player vs player fight in an arena.
If you leave with only one player friend, your party will be fleshed out with some computer characters to make up the numbers - the sides will always be even.
Once the arena battle is finished, you can move on to the main game.
The game itself is split up into scripted missions which give large rewards and make up the most interesting parts of the game in my opinion, and smaller quests that are shorter, not compulsory, and tend to give items or gold as rewards.
The game has a strong focus on PVP, with arenas for different levels, and the option to create PVP only characters which start automatically at the highest level and can only be used for special events.
The graphics in Guild Wars are of a high standard, and it runs well even on machines that would be considered low end by todays standards.
The controls are very easy to pick up and are similar to games such as Dark Age of Camelot and Star Wars Galaxies. The combat involes actions that have cool-down timers - you target the enemy and press a key to perform the action. In other ways the game reminds me of Diablo II, but the combat is in normal MMO style.
There are a number of nice touches, too - I found it amusing that some spells, such as area affect heals, actually heal the enemy as well as your frieds.
I found very little lag when playing online - probably due to the instancing of the missions.
This game has a good back story to follow through, if you manage to not get side-tracked by doing all the little, but not all that relevant quests. I found myself getting impatient to get on with the missions to see what would happen next, and found the cutscenes for completing the missions very rewarding.
The crafting system is rather annoying however, requiring you to hunt constantly for items to salvage to get the resources you need. Some things that you will want to make early on in the game require items that are quite difficult to get hold of in the starting areas, causing a lot of frustration!
My main criticism of the game however, would be that if you are not interested in the player vs player combat side of things, then you can reach the final level very quickly.
You are allowed several characters however, so you could play through the game with each of the professions to extend its life.
NCSoft are doing a good job of looking after this game - releasing patches and updates, and listening to the feedback of players. They recently ran a PVP weekend to celebrate the launch of a free expansion called 'Sorrows Furnace'. As part of the weekend they increased the rewards for PVP combat. Players liked this change a lot, and they have made the increase in rewards permanent.
If you are a fan of Diablo II, or a fan of more traditional MMOs I think you will like this game. It does not have the depth of a subscription based MMO, but it is free to play, and relatively cheap to buy. Even if you only play it for a little while I think you will get your moneys worth from it, and you are always free to drop back in after a few months and see what has changed in the game.
Personally, I don't play every day the way I do with games I pay a fee for, but I do like knowing I have it installed, and enjoy dropping in from time to time.
I hate mice. I swear, I'm not designed to use them. I go through them so fast its unbelievable.
I don't understand why though, I'm a keyboard shortcut person at heart. I only use mice when I'm gaming really, but I guess I do game a fair bit.
Wired mice are annoying - I often manage to break the wire by bending it in silly places too many times, and my desk is quite a mess, so I often get the wires caught under things and feel that 'tug' where theres more resistance than normal - which messes up my aim in first person shooters, and I *hate* that!
I decided to try a wireless mouse a while ago, and now I'm relating my experiences to save you readers some heartache. My advice? Either don't go wireless, or buy a Creative Wireless Mouse - don't waste your money on this one!
I was attracted to this mouse because it is smaller than the Creative wireless one and therefore suitable for my tiny hands. This mouse cost me nearly £35. It was ages ago I bought it, and its probably cheaper now, but I wouldn't even pay £2 for it from a bargain bin at a computer fair - it simply doesn't work.
It came in one of those flimsy looking plastic wrapper / box things that computer shops love because they hang up easily. No big, luxurious box - it looked budget - I should have known that was a bad sign.
Some painful ripping and tearing later I managed to open the not-as-flimsy-as-it-looks box and get the mouse and charging unit out. A small piece of paper wafted to the floor as I did so. The instruction, erm....sheet. I won't call it a manual - the six sections of smaller than a floppy-disk bit of paper with diagrams doesn't qualify for that name.
The instructions were barely decipherable, but seemed to say something about plugging in the charging unit and pressing some buttons in a certain order. Its a shame the paper contradicted itself several times.
A look on the website gave the correct instructions, and I set the thing up then went to bed, leaving it charging overnight.
It didn't charge.
When the unit is charging properly, a light on the charging unit should flash - the light goes out when it is charged. I soon discovered that the charging unit had a dodgy connection - it would flash for a while, but if anyone breathed in the same house as the mouse, it would break the connection and the charge would stop. I didn't feel like sitting watching the thing for an eight hour charge, so took the thing back to the shop, who replaced it with another one.
The other one had a slightly better connection, although you had to sit the mouse at a wierd angle in the cradle for it to connect properly. It did charge though.
The eight hour charge was enough for about 30 minutes of gaming.
I let it run down and then charged it again. Every time, it would last for a few minutes (yes, minutes, not hours) then discharge.
I checked I'd followed the instructions, checked the web site, even searched around some forums and couldn't find anything of use.
When the mouse was working it was slow and unresponsive - even on the highest sensitivity you would have to pick the mouse up and move it back across the mat several times to get the pointer from one side of the screen to the other.
The driver software allowed configuration of the speed, but even that didn't help, and I didn't find the other functions (such as setting up special actions for clicking the middle mouse button) very useful either - it isn't anything that you can't already do with other software.
After a few days of 'charge'-'use'-'die'-'charge' the mouse finally gave up. It would sit in the cradle and flash merilly away, then stop flashing after a while, then, when I picked it up its' light would glow, flash at me for a few seconds, then go out.
I gave up in disgust and bought a new Wired mouse - unfortunately also from Packard Bell. That one works fine though so I'm relatively happy.
One day I plan to shell out for the Creative Wireless mouse - my husband has one of those, and it takes normal batteries instead of having its own built in ones. At least if that has battery troubles it is easy to fix.
I realise that this mouse was unusually bad, but trouble with TWO units makes me think its not worth the risk of trying another one from them.
I'm not a very sociable person, and I don't like chat rooms very much, so it might seem odd that I would write an opinion on a program for connecting to a chat network.
But, mIRC is for more than just joining generic chat rooms and going through the same boring a/s/l (age/sex/location) chat with a bunch of people you don't know, who probably aren't even of the gender or age they claim to be. Yes, there are chat rooms devoted to just chat in general, but there is so much more out there.
mIRC is a client for IRC (Internet Relay Chat). There are many others out there (such as pIRC) but mIRC is arguably the best, both for beginners and experienced users, and there is a 30 day trial available for download from www.mirc.com. Registration costs only $20 for lifetime updates - great value.
===== Getting Started =====
Once you have mIRC installed, and filled out the details it asks you the first time you run it, such as your chosen nickname, getting started is as simple as going File > Select Server, then picking a server from the drop down list - the list is huge, and that isn't all the servers that exist either, just the really big and well known ones. I like Criten because the admins are sensible on there and good about getting rid of people who spam or try to hack people.
Once you're connected, you can go Tools > Channels List then get a list of all the channels - there will probably be quite a few hundred of them - select one with a topic that interests you and then join it by double clicking on the name, or by typing /join #channelname .
You might get a message like 'only registered nicknames can join this channel' - if you get that, then go to the screen that shows up when you first connect to a server and type
/msg nickserv register mypassword myemailaddress
You might want to set up a throw away email address for this if you don't trust the server.
That will register the nickname to you, so other people won't be able to use it.
Once you have done that, then every time you connect to that server from now on, you will have to type:
/msg nickserv identify mypassword
To prove that you are the authorised user. There is a way to automate this so that you don't have to type it every time, and a nose around the settings for something called a 'perform' should lead you to it quickly enough.
There are a few precautions you should take - make sure you're running a firewall of some form, and don't click on links in messages you recieve unless you trust the sender and are expecting a link from them - the same as with normal chat programs.
===== But Thats Just Normal Chat =====
I don't use mIRC much for chatting - I do use it often to access tech support for my web hosting - they have their own chat room, and their java applet for accessing it is useless.
Sometimes the guy who can answer my query is away for ages so I just idle in the channel and use a script I have set up to trigger when my name gets mentioned and copy that conversation to another window.
I also like to lurk in some channels that have bots or trivia games - theres even a game called Idle RPG where the object of the game is to stay connected to the channel without speaking or changing your nickname. You gain levels for set amounts of time connected, and loose time if you speak or disconnect!
Some of the bots are really useful - you type in a question and it answers it. There are ones that will define words for you, give information about geography, science and IT, and ones that will give you artist discographies or info about films.
As much as I love the way you can search the IMDB from your browser with a search toolbar, I still often find myself using a bot in my favourite IRC channel, partly because it is faster, and partly because the people in the channel have similar interests, and may notice my query and tell me 'Oh, that film sucks' - I trust their feedback.
You can even use IRC as a means of downloading files - some channels offer downloads of torrents, which you can then use your favourite BitTorrent client to download, and others just offer files directly. These files are usually illegal, and you are taking a risk that they could be fake or virii, but usually they are more likely to be real than the ones on peer to peer services. It is up to you and your conscience to decide if you want to download files like that though.
There are chat rooms for just about every subject, from entertainment, to music, to games, to politics, to academic subjects. These are usually quieter, but much more interesting, than the general chat rooms that people often get dumped into when they first connect to a server.
===== OK, But Thats IRC, Why Use mIRC The Software? =====
Ok, you've caught me, I've talked mostly about what you can do on the network, not about the software itself.
There are a lot of reasons to use mIRC instead of the other clients.
Firstly, it comes with a huge list of pre-defined servers, making it easy to get started without having to hunt around for a good server to connect to. It is very easy to get started, and being so popular, there should be a lot of people able to help you if you get stuck.
Secondly, in recent versions it has become a lot more secure and reliable. It even supports secure connections for the people who are really concerned about privacy and security.
Thirdly, it is a client that will grow with you. As you get used to online chat you may find that you want more from your client than just displaying text on the screen and letting you send text back. You may become a channel operator, and want to automate the task of kicking people out of the chat room if they swear. You may get sick of the spam you are getting, and want to auto-filter private messages to get rid of the bulk of it. You may want to set up some highlighting for messages you might miss if you go AFK. You may even want to share some (legal, of course) files with people in the room.
mIRC will allow you to do all that and more.
There are tons of scripts out there for you to download, and there are even pre-modified installs of mIRC that have a lot of things set up for you, from the trivial, such as playing different sounds when certain events happen, and changing colours around, to very complicated ones that keep track of when you last saw someone online and inform other people when they type a certain question into the channel.
You can get some of the scripts from:
You can write your own scripts for mIRC if you have some knowledge of programming - it uses a C - like scripting language, and if you can be bothered to learn it then you can do some cool things with it.
mIRC is not without security risks, but lately these have been reduced, and the worst are easily avoided by use of common sense.
If you are currently using either a Java chat applet, or something like Trillian, or even Operas IRC client then give mIRC a look! It has a lot more features, and is plain more reliable, than most of those. I do use the Opera IRC client from time to time, but usually find myself missing IRC and going back to that instead.
The Matrix Online is an MMORPG - a huge, online game with up to a couple of thousand players connected at the same time. It is based on The Matrix films, and set after the end of the last one.
I first played it back when it was still in the beta-testing stages. It felt a bit like another MMO called City of Heroes, which allowed you to play a crime fighting super hero that could be a clone of pretty much any comic book hero you could imagine. You see, this game had the same graphics, the same way of handling quests, and the same way of using 'contacts' to give you missions. The problem was, this game also had bugs. A lot of them. Even the day before release the game was almost unplayable, it was that unstable.
So, I decided to leave it a while when the game was released - let them iron the bugs out before paying to play.
I almost forgot that this game existed after that. I only remembered it when Warner Bros decided to get rid of it and sell it to Sony Online Entertainment, the same people who make Star Wars Galaxies.
Sony made a great marketing decision, and put this game on their 'Station Pass' service, a discount subscription that comes to around 15 pounds UK (it may be less if you have a nice bank that doesn't charge you for conversion from US dollars, its only really about 23 dollars) to access ALL their online games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Planetside, The Matrix Online and Star Wars Galaxies, plus a few rubbishy browser games nobody ever plays). When this announcement was made, my first thought was 'Its a shame The Matrix Online is rubbish'.
If you don't have a station pass then the monthly fee is around 15 dollars.
But, as I already had a Station Pass, I figured I'd pick up a copy anyways - it costs less than a tenner on Amazon.co.uk, and its something else to play when the Star Wars Galaxies servers go down.
So....in the past few months, has the game gotten any better?
I'd say, sort of.
Launching the game for the first time it downloads a HUGE patch. If you're a dial up user I'd install the game, launch it a couple of times (the first one is quick), then when the big patch starts, go out for a bit - it will take a long time.
I managed to experience a crash during character creation, but once I was in and playing it was pretty smooth.
The lovely thing about this game is that you get a lot of options at the start for how your character looks, and you only have to make one important choice right away to set your base stats such as belief, focus, etc.
You start off being offered either a red or a blue pill. Make the right choice and you enter a new world, 'The Matrix' - make the wrong choice and the game boots you back to Windows :)
Once you enter The Matrix, you have the basic 'Awakened' abilities. You get given a contact from Zion who you can run missions for, and the missions act as an extended version of the tutorial where you were given the pill. Once you have run enough missions to have an idea how the game works, you get contacted by someone from The Machines, and another person acting on behalf of The Merovingian.
Any choices you make here aren't permanent - you can always change sides, although if you have done a lot of work for one side your faction with the other will be very low so it will take a long time to prove yourself to the other side again.
===== Skills and Experience =====
I really love the skill system in The Matrix Online - you get experience for running missions, and also for killing things. Experience gives you levels, and levels give you memory. You can spend that memory on skills from a variety of paths:
Operative - gives you martial arts, gun ability, spy skills, etc.
Hacker - gives you both offensive hacking skills and healing / defensive skills.
Coder - gives you the ability to make things, and also the ability to call 'daemons' or 'simulacra' - a bit like pet classes in other games.
You can spend money (called $Information in this game) to level up these skills and make them more powerful.
Any choice you make here, again, is not permanent. All it takes is a trip to a 'Hardline' (phone box) to unequip your old skills and load new ones. Theoretically, you can have as many skills as you want and switch between them depending on what the circumstances call for.
In reality, you won't be able to do that early on, because it costs a lot of $Information to keep your skills upgraded to your level.
You can mix and match skills to a certain extent, but only once you are fairly big. To become, for example, a 'Guardian Patcher' (someone who can apply upgrades to team mates to make them stronger) requires you to have several skills from Hacker, and also the basic 'Patcher' ability. If you want to get that skill early on in the game, then the chances are you will spend most of your memory doing so, and will have to get several more levels before you could equip any other skills.
===== Crafting =====
The crafting system is odd. You can make almost any item in the game, including some lootable items. Firstly, though, you must obtain the item yourself, then 'decompile' it.
Once you have 'decompiled' it you learn the schematic for it, and you can make a certain number of them. Making an item requires 'compiling' it from Code Bits and Variable Fragments.
You can obtain these either from loot, or from decompiling other items.
You start with a knowledge of how to make a few basic items, and how to make some of the lower skills in the game. You gain more skills as you learn Coder.
You have a choice of either making items in The Matrix itself, which is free, but you have a chance to fail, or, you can go to the 'loading area' and be certain that you will succeed in making the item, but have to pay some $Information to do so.
===== Combat =====
The combat system sucks. Seriously. Its a game of rock, paper, scissors, block.
It LOOKS nice, the basic self defence moves that everyone gets are pretty to watch, and if you learn any of the martial arts skills then you get to do some nice looking moves. It does look like something from the films, but it doesn't take long for the intelligent gamer to realise that you don't have that much control.
There are two styles of combat - Interlock and Free mode.
The whole interlock combat system is based around four moves - speed, power, grab and block. You choose a move and roll a die, your opponent does the same.
It really doesn't matter what you do though. You can alternate your moves or spam them, you will still win either way, its that easy.
Or....you could do what I do - get a skill called 'Avoid Combat', hit the key to roll out of combat if you do ever get pulled in, and then spam either gun shots, or, if you have any damaging hacking skills, use them. You'll win that way too.
I've never seen a combat system so boring.
===== Death =====
You will probably die a lot when you first start the game. A lot of the missions send you to areas that have enemies far above your level. If you stick to the road you should be safe a lot of the time, but even then you will run into something that can kill you easily.
The first few levels there is no death penalty. After that, you loose any code bits that were not 'uploaded' at a hardline before you died, and you suffer a slight penalty to your experience and a short reduction in skills.
The death penalty is not very severe at all in my opinion, so dying is not a big deal. Its partly this that keeps the game fun.
===== Graphics, Sound and Lag =====
You will need a monster of a machine to run this - it has lovely graphics, and a lot of detail in the world - cobwebs in abandoned warehouses, newspapers and litter blowing in the wind, knocked over dustbins, they really have the urban slum look done perfectly.
In the nightclubs there are dancefloors, spotlights, bars, speakers, private booths, its great.
The clothing that the players can wear is varied and interesting. Its a shame most people go for the Neo or Trinity look - they aren't taking advantage of the number of options out there.
The sounds are nice too - from the tinkle of casings after a gun shot to the thunk when a body falls on the floor. Some of the sounds from the films are in too, and there is the occasional cut scene with good graphics and voiceovers too.
This game lags a lot though. My ping is often in the high 400s, and I get a lot of 'rubber banding' where the character moves forward a bit then bounces back. It seems to be a server issue and it is worse at peak times. If you play during the day its a lot better than on an evening.
===== Grouping and Guilds =====
You can do a lot in this game solo or with a small group of friends. If you want to take part in big groups though the option is there.
There are short term mission teams, permanent 'crews' of up to twelve people, that share a chat window and a bank account (although only the crew leader can withdraw from that account) and then Factions, which are player alliances containing multiple crews, and that are aligned themselves with one of the three main factions.
Its easy to form a crew, you only need two people. I like this as it means when you're just starting out you can get together with a few friends and feel like you've made something. In most other games forming an alliance requires either a lot of people or a lot of money, so I think they got this right.
===== Top Level =====
They have kept the way open for expansion packs to add new levels to the game, so once you hit the top level (50 at the moment) there should still be the prospect of content for you.
While you wait for an expansion, there are things you can be doing.
For starters theres PVP - on the normal servers this is limited, so you won't be getting killed every five minutes. There is a 'hostile' server you can play on where you are open to attack from level 15 upwards, if that is your kind of thing.
The PVP system is nowhere near as structured as, say, Dark Age of Camelot, but they have managed to keep it fair and balanced, and fights can go on for a while.
If you aren't into PVP, then you could just follow the storyline. I won't ruin it for you, but the Wachowski brothers are continuing the plot of The Matrix series in this game, and they have done some shocking things so far. The reason behind them is yet to be revealed, but it will be as the plot gradually unfolds in the game.
===== Support =====
Some people may be concerned that now the game has moved over to Sony, but I can say they have no reason to be. A lot of the original staff were kept on, and I have found that they do respond to problems.
As an example - I went into a dungeon and there was nothing there at all. Nothing to fight, not even any corpses to indicate somone had just passed through. I went to the bottom where the big 'boss' was supposed to be and waited a while.
After nothing showed up I raised a support ticket. It took 26 minutes for a response. The GM who responded told me that they had looked and indeed there was a problem, which they escalated to second line. It took a lot longer for the ticket to get closed, but at least they kept me updated.
Of the last five tickets I raised for another Sony online game, four were deleted without any response, and one took three hours for a 'we can't help you' response. By comparison the support for The Matrix is top class.
===== Conclusion =====
I'm glad I didn't buy the game at realease. It has improved a lot now. The lag is annoying, but considering the combat system is so snooze-worthy it isn't as if the lag is game-breaking. The screen freezes for a while, then when the lag finishes, the mob is dead.
I don't play this game for the combat, I play it for the eye-candy, and for the missions. A lot of them are simple destroy / rescue / assassinate things, but the key faction missions, and the live events, can be very entertaining.
Theres some great people playing this game - mostly more mature and polite than your average online gamer.
I know I've criticised a lot about this game, but it is fun, and it gives you a lot of flexibility in what you can do.
If you have a spare few quid and a good computer (2Ghz or faster processor, at least 1Gb memory), and liked The Matrix trilogy, then I advise picking this game up even if just for the free month. If you are already a player of any of the other Sony games then get a Station Pass and try it out!
I've had this Muvo a long time now (well over a year). It was originally purchased for my husband, but I inherited it after he decided to just use his mobile for MP3s.
The original reason for its purchase was, mostly, because it was a)cheap and b)small (literally a tiny bit bigger than two AAA batteries netxt to each other).
For the budget we had for an MP3 player (Less than 70 pounds) the choices were small at the time - either big and ugly with lots of space for MP3s, or small in all respects.
We also chose Creative because we have other products made by them, and they have never let us down.
This MP3 player is exactly that, an MP3 player. Nothing else at all. No speaker, you have to use headphones. No mic for recording speech, no display for the names of tracks, nothing. Just an MP3 player.
But, its a very small one - perfect for carrying around in your pocket.
The unit comes in two parts - one tiny compartment that slips off to allow the insertion of the AAA battery, and another which is the core of the player. It takes normal or rechargeable batteries, so you don't have to worry about some wierd third party battery dying on you and you having to rebuy something that costs more than the unit itself.
The main part of the unit has the USB plug on it, which you use to plug into your computer to transfer MP3s to it. The player can store whatever files you want, so it can double up as a thumb-drive - I find I use it more for general file transportation than I do as an MP3 player.
It did come with some Creative brand software to allow people new to the MP3 scene to rip their MP3s, but I don't use this. I find the interface annoying and prefer using my own software. You can use anything you want to make the MP3s, and you don't need any drivers to transfer files on to the player as long as you are using Windows 98 or above - just plug the drive into the USB port on your computer, wait a few seconds, then treat it like a normal drive.
As this Muvo only has 64Mb of storage space, you can't fit many files on there - probably 15 normal MP3s if you are lucky. I found that by using some free software such as CDeX I managed to get quite a lot of MP3s shrank to about 2Mb each - allowing for double that amount. There is a small deterioration in sound quality by doing that, but they are still OK to listen to, and with a bit of tweaking it isn't too bad.
The Muvo is really easy to use - the buttons on it look just like the buttons on an old tape player, but smaller. Not ideal for anyone with huge fingers because it is easy to press the wrong button, but for someone with small hands like myself, its fine.
In terms of battery life, well, I never timed it, but I could get a few days of travel to and from work out of it (30-45 minutes each way) before changing the batteries, and since it only takes one AAA battery it isn't really any problem to carry a spare. I use rechargables and haven't noticed any problem.
The headphones that come with it are the in-ear type. I don't mind these, but found the particular ones that came with it to be rather cheap feeling, and the sound quality wasn't brilliant. I replaced them with some other ones I'd bought to use with my nGage and found the quality much better, so if you are an audio snob and thinking of buying one of these then take note.
If you are an owner of a Creative speaker system for your computer, you can use the Muvo with the volume control unit as an alternative volume control - it just plugs in to the existing control knob. I don't do this as I actually prefer the knob to the buttons, but it is a nifty feature.
The build quality of the Muvo is brilliant. Mine has been sat on, dropped, had the main unit stood on, been rained on until it was soaked, and is fine. I doubt it would survive being stood on if the battery compartment was attached since that is more flimsy, but it has been dropped when it was fully assembled and it was fine.
I have even once managed to get the entire unit covered in chewing gum (my boss walked in while I was chewing so I spat it out and put it in a napkin in my pocket, then forgot about it and left it all day - it escaped the napkin.) when I found this little disaster, which has stuck the keys down completely, and even wormed its way into the USB connector, I sat down and cleaned it up. Some had made its way under the buttons so they were a bit sticky for a little while, but after giving it a day or so to dry up, it was fine.
This thing has taken a lot of abuse in my hands, and it is still going strong.
If you don't want to carry your entire music collection with you at all times, or just can't afford a bigger MP3 player, then this one is well worth a look. The batteries last long enough in my eyes that they aren't a problem, and you can get enough songs on it that unless you are going on a long journey they shouldn't repeat.
The only problem for me is I like to sometimes put new music on it and then listen to them while I'm travelling. The lack of a display for track names means that I have to guess which song I'm listening to, or spend time again at home re-listening to them when I know the names of the tracks.
That said, a display would have made the unit use more power, and likely increase in size, so its a trade-off that was worth it.
I like this player a lot. If you can still find it on sale (I've seen it in some branches of Dixons, but not all the ones in my area) then its well worth it.
Over the years I've tried most browsers out for a little, and I've seen how they've evolved. I've never been a massive fan of Internet Explorer, for a while (years ago) I used it out of necessity because web developers, in the main, were too lazy to make their pages look any good in anything else, but I've always dabbled in other browsers too.
Most recently, I was a Firefox user. Firefox is a great browser, really, it is. For a long time I thought I was happy, that I had found browsing perfection, but, the signature line of someone who posts regularly in a forum I am a member of kept telling me that 'Opera Rocks'.
'Nah', I thought. 'Opera is that buggy, slow, ad-supported thing, no way that could be better than Firefox.'
But, seeing the same signature day in day out, I started to wonder. 'This guy does know his stuff, maybe it got better'
So I went to the Opera web site and had a browse around.
The thing that persuaded me to download Opera was that one of the beta versions had added Bit Torrent support. Bit Torrent is a form of file sharing that has been growing in popularity lately. I don't like most of the clients out there, so an alternative sounded attractive.
I'm sold now - seriously. Opera really does rock. It does everything you could possibly want, and the ads aren't annoying either!
If you're not convinced, look at it this way.
Currently, its a browser, that's it. No search bar, one page open per window. You don't even get a popup blocker. You need a different client for email, another client for chat, another client for downloads, and thats just for the basics! If you want anything more fancy then you're really in trouble.
Its really bloated and if you have too many windows open on an older machine it will slow down pretty quickly.
Yes, thats going to change. Yes, at the moment things such as the Google toolbar will allow you to get some extra functionality from this ageing browser, or, you could just wait for the next version that will allow you to open web pages in different tabs in the same window (if you haven't experienced that yet you will love it when you try it!). But why wait? Other browsers have offered this for years.... too little too late, Microsoft.
Firefox is a free alternative to Internet Explorer. Even now that I am an Opera convert, I still use Firefox occasionally. It is small, fast, and simple to use. It has a clean interface, and a lovely array of plugins you can download to tweak your internet experience.
It has tabbed browsing, and search bars so you can search things such as Amazon or Google,(and with extensions, TV-Tome and the IMDB) without having to visit those web sites.
Firefox comes as a small browser, that's virtually all it can do. You have to put a little effort into customisation, but it is worth it. I installed the ad-block feature, two different RSS feed-readers (to get news streaming directly to my desk-top), and a chat extension. I also installed some little features to make designing web-pages easier, such as colour pickers, and CSS file readers.
Once you have Firefox set up to your liking, you will probably turn into a huge fan. Looking at web pages in other browsers will feel slow and bloated by comparison, and you will miss all the extra features.
Making the jump to Opera is worth it though.
Moving over was painless - there is a function to import all your old email and favourites, so you don't loose anything. It is a shame it doesn't import your old adblock settings for Firefox, since I spent a long time setting that up, but I don't mind re-doing it all for a nicer experience.
You get most of the functions of a customised install of Firefox, by default! You can change it to do almost anything you want, and you still have the options of extra plugins. The
Since installing Opera, I've found that I rarely use anything else, for, um... anything.
Opera is my browser, my email client, my newsgroup client, my chat client, my notepad, and my bit torrent client and my RSS feed reader. It is very rare for me to need to launch anything else now, apart from instant messaging software and stuff for Uni.
The wonderful thing about Opera is how it all ties together.
I have a huge list of favourites. They are all categorised, but there is just too many of them to have to trawl through all the time to get to the things that I want. So, I've made my own button bar that has all the sites that I use daily listed on it. If I need anything more specific, I navigate through my favourites list to find it, but everything I need daily is only one click away.
When I'm on a web-page, if I see some useful information, or a link I want to save for later, I can right click on it and 'copy to note' - that will save that information in a text note, which can easily be reached by clicking on the notes option on the side bar.
Tabbed browsing rocks - if you see a link you want to click on to read later, but right now you don't want to leave the other page, all you need to do is right click and select 'Open in background tab' the page you are reading now stays visible, and the other one is waiting for you when you are ready.
I have notes for lots of purposes, from general funny stuff, to to-do lists, to things I need for Uni. If I want to use a note, perhaps as part of an Opinion on this site, or in an email to someone, all I need to do is right click and use the 'insert note' option.
Opera allows you to insert personal details that way too, so forms can be filled in very quickly and easily.
The way Opera handles contacts and email is nice too. It took me a little tweaking to get all my email filtered into folders, but no more so than it would with any email client. As well as the folders you set up Opera intelligently sets up 'views' for you - you can click on a persons name in your contacts list to see all emails to or from that person. It can also identify most mailing lists for you automatically and you get a 'Mailing lists' drop down where you can view all email related to that list.
You can search your email quickly and easily by a bunch of dropdown options - view only email from senders of a certain domain, or a subject that contains 'these words'.
Newsgroups and RSS Feeds are viewable in the 'Mail' pane also, and the newsreader offers all the important features such as threaded discussions, and the all important 'Cancel post' option.
The chat client can be set up to auto-connect to an IRC server and join whatever channels you want it to. It can accept file transfers, but thats about the extent of its abilities. It isn't a perfect client, so hardcore users of mIRC would probably want to keep using that, but for most purposes it is good, and I do use it for a couple of channels that I lurk in.
The Bit Torrent client integrates seamlessly with the rest of the browser. Go to a web site, click the torrent file, select where you want the torrent to go, and you're done.
Opera still has the famous mouse-gestures that allow you to click and move the mouse in a certain way to go forward (Opera guesses where you want to go), backward, refresh the page, etc. I don't like most these, but they are still in for people who want them, and you can create your own. Personally I use a couple and turn off the others.
Opera also supports the 'magic wand' which will remember your user-id and password and auto log you in to pages.
There are several skins available - some better than others. I just use the plain old Windows one, and turn off most of the bars and menus so that there is a wide aread of the screen on show.
Instead of having a huge banner ad, I get two small text ads stretched across the top of the browser window. The text ads are context-sensitve and recognise whatever page I was just on. This might be too intrusive for some people, but I don't mind it. I have even clicked on a few of the ads out of interest.
If I wasn't a skint student supporting their book habit by writing opinions for sites such as this one, I would pay for the ad-free version of Opera. As it stands I'm just glad I tried this out. It isn't perfect yet - a lot of people still write bad web pages that stretch or squish in Opera, so I have to drop back to Firefox for them, but most of the time Opera does a perfectly good job.
Having web pages, email, newsgroups, chat and a notepad all in one has really made my life easier. I don't think I need to mention the lack of spyware and other problems faced by Internet Explorer. Yes, other browsers are starting to see problems now, but the dominant browser is always going to be a more interesting target.
Be different, try Opera! Then you can turn into a fan and annoy all your friends by trying to convert them. It will happen.
If you can't be converted to Opera, go ahead, use Firefox. Just don't use IE, please.
Go, now... www.opera.com and download it.
I have never really been a regular Iceland shopper until recently, usually prefering to just drop in to larger supermarkets that happen to be near home / work or whatever.
Being a student though, means being more careful with money, and I've fallen in love with Iceland. This review speaks mostly of the one Iceland that I frequent most often, although there are two others close by and they are all pretty similar, even in layout.
I'm a bit of a snob. If I think that food isn't stored properly, or if I suspect it is getting close to its sell by date or whatever, I won't buy it. I also tend to only go for makes that I recognise. That doesn't mean just 'big name' foods, but I like to have some idea about the company. If its a small company known for its ethics / buying policy / environmental policy, then I'll buy their food.
Iceland used to be (and still are) a good company ethics wise. Their home appliance range includes some great energy efficient appliances. Their own brand food range is also good - they were, a few years back, one of the only supermarkets that were showing concern over GM ingredients in foods. Unfortunately they went back on their complete ban of GM ingredients in their foods, but at least they were honest about their policy change. They have stuck to their labeling policy too and it is easy to identify their GM Free / Additive Free / Vegetarian stuff.
Not only that, the food is cheap. I mean really cheap. You can get 10 inch pizzas for only one pound each, and they often have offers where you either 'buy one get one free' or 'buy this and this for a fiver and we give you all these free'. Those kinds of offers aren't always amazing but sometimes they can be useful. One of the recent ones was an offer where you could buy some frozen meats, and get some chips, some veg, some cake and some ice-cream all for a fiver. I don't always take these up because I'm a picky eater and a vegetarian, but for families I could see the value of such offers.
Even more suprising - the food tastes good! I'm not a fan of Safeway/Morrisons because their own make stuff often tastes like cardboard. You would think that this problem would be amplified with frozen food but Iceland manage to make their stuff both edible and attractive.
Their fresh produce isn't as good as their frozen, and their selection of fresh stuff is smaller, but I can usually find everything I need in there unless I'm in the mood for a good salad or a specific sauce for pasta.
The layout of their shop makes finding stuff annoying sometimes. You have a logical freezer layout for the most part, and clearly labelled, but their drinks, bread, and snacks are spread out all over the shop, and other stuff such as condiments, spreads, sauces, etc are on top of the freezers in un-related areas (If they put sauce and vinegar over the chip freezer and wafers / cones with the ice-cream it would make sense, but that logic seems to have escaped them). Then you have the fridge section hidden away in a corner somewhere all too easy to walk past.
Once you have been there a few times you do get used to it though.
The isles are small, so it can be annoying at peak times with lots of people trying to ram past each other with trolleys.
Since the shop is small they don't have a self-service till, but they do have several manned checkouts and the staff are for the most part fast and efficient.
If you spend more than 25 pounds they will offer you free home delivery, pack up the goods for you, and arrange a time. I don't tend to use this, prefering to get the stuff home myself immediately. I have friends who do use it and complain that the produce sometimes arrives a bit battered, so consider that if you are going to use them.
I have only had one bad experience from Iceland so far, and it was handled very well. I bought a carton of orange juice and got it home to find that it had already been opened and half the contents were missing. I complained about it using the form on the Iceland web site, and got an email of apology the next day. Then, a few days later I got a ten pound voucher from them as a 'gesture of goodwill'. Very kind in my opinion since the juice only cost around 70p.
I wouldn't make Iceland my only stop for food shopping - it doesn't do enough fresh food or drink for that (even good wholemeal bread is lacking), but as someone on a budget, their frozen range allows for one big shop to stock up to last a couple of weeks, and if I have to eat frozen junk I'd rather eat additive-free, gm-free nice tasting frozen junk :)
I've had several bank accounts, but the one that I’ve stuck with for the past four years is my Lloyds TSB Current Account. I used to have a credit card with them, but wasn’t so impressed with that, and ditched it quite quickly.
Lloyds offer several other financial products, but I will only comment about their Current Account and its related services in this opinion.
My experience with Lloyds has mostly been a good one. I took out their standard Current Account service about four years ago, and then converted it to a student account when I went to university. The service is essentially the same, except I get a large long term interest free overdraft because I am a student. The account comes with a debit card, and supports all the usual stuff like Direct Debit (although with a hefty returns fee) and standing orders.
If you are a very financially concious person then Lloyds may not be the bank for you. Their interest on balances in their current account, at 4%, isn't the most competetive, and their charge for going above an agreed overdraft limit - £30 isn’t great either. I’ve found myself regularly getting into a cycle of going overdrawn one month by accident, then every month afterwards going overdrawn again because of the last months overdraft charge.
What keeps me staying with Lloyds isn’t the interest or charges, but the extra services and the branch staff.
Their online banking is quick, efficient and easy to use - it allows instant transfer between other Lloyds accounts, and access to statements going back several months. You can set up extra accounts (e.g. savings) and tweak your overdraft limit. You can look at other products they offer and either sign up online or arrange for someone to call you, and you can set up standing orders and direct debits instantly and easily.
They also offer a phone banking service, which I have used a couple of times and found more annoying than anything else, but its still nice to know its there if you have anything too complicated to sort out online. It suffers from the usual call center problem of being transfered from person to person for different queries. I found it reasuring however that each time I got transfered to another person they asked me to re-authenticate myself with several security questions.
Another service Lloyds offer is text-messages regarding your account. There are two options for this - one will text you every time there is activity on your account. I haven't tested this one so don’t know how reliable or fast it is. I use the one that will text you your balance and the last few transactions once a week at a set time. It can take up to two weeks for that one to activate depending on the day of the week you request it and the day you want the texts, but once it is up and running you can change the day, or the type of messages you get, quite quickly.
The staff at most branches that I have visited have been very knowledgeable and helpful. Recently I needed to check my balance but didn’t have my bank card. When the staff were checking my balance they had the courtesy to let me know that my student status was due to expire in September, and that if I was continuing to study for any reason I would have to renew it. The last bank I had while I was at college didn’t do this, and just let my account lapse without telling me.
I've had some hassle with duplicate transactions / odd conversion rates on international transactions, and while I don’t know if any of this was actually the fault of my bank to start with, I do know they were very helpful in getting it sorted out, and when one of these problems wiped out my entire pay for a month they arranged something to make sure I had enough money to live on, proving they aren’t completely heartless! They did warn me that if I was wrong and it wasn’t a mistake then I would be charged extra for the temporary loan they had given me, but thats fair enough in my eyes.
I use two branches on a regular basis, and drop into the others in my area if I'm just after something quick and simple. The branches I use regularly know me by sight and are very friendly and helpful. They remember my circumstances and sometimes if I'm speaking to one staff member and another that usually serves me is close by they will come over and interrupt and take over the transaction if it looks like it could get complicated.
I've had transactions take 30 minutes or more and never felt rushed - on one occasion I was attempting to send a payment to someone for an ebay purchase and the seller hadn’t provided me with enough details to finish the transaction - the cashier tried to piece together the details from what I had, and then allowed me to use the phone there and then to call the seller rather than making me leave and then queue for ages to finish it off once I’d gotten one piece of information.
Service like that really makes me feel special. I'm a peniless student yet they treat me like an important customer. If I left they’d actually make money since I’d have to pay off my overdraft, yet they still treat me like a client that they don’t want to see go!
Perhaps I'm a fool for staying for the service instead of going to a different bank with lower overdraft penalties or better interest rates in case I ever actually get a balance for them to pay interest on, but I like the service I get from Lloyds and I like the reassurance that should anything ever go wrong they will sort it out rather than just refer me back to whatever company it was that billed me, who will refer me to my bank, etc.... it’s worth the extra fee just to break that cycle of blame, in my opinion.
So, to conclude, if you deal online a lot with unknown companies, or just want to know that your bank will give you personal service and *listen* to you, then I highly recommend Lloyds. If you want to get the lowest fees or the best rates, then I don't think they’re the bank for you.
It may seem strange to write a review of something as old as this, but I was recently reminded of the existance of Turbo Pascal when I dug through some of my old source code.
I must stress, I detest Pascal (purely for its picky syntax), but I will try to be honest about the benefits the language has.
Turbo Pascal was released by Borland, that good old company that also released TurboC and TurboBasic, as well as in more recent times 'C Builder' and other similar products for Windows.
Borland are a pretty nice company. You can educational versions of their product from their web site (www.borland.com) for free. They even have a software 'museum' where they release their oldest full versions for free, and write about how the products have changed.
=====But, anyway, what is Turbo Pascal?=====
Turbo Pascal 'combines the simplicity of Apples Object Pascal with the power of C' according to the Borland web site.
Or, put simply, it is an Object Oriented programming language that is both simple and powerful.
Back when this first came out, Object Oriented Programming was around, but hadn't really taken off as a mainstream thing. Most people still coded the old-fashioned way using 'Procedures' and 'Sub-Routines'.
The old way can work, but for large programs it can get confusing. You end up with hundreds, or thousands, of routines each doing one small thing, and you can't always remember what they all do.
With Object-Oriented programming things are easier to manage - you create an Object, and set its Properties, then give it Methods it can use.
I'll use the traditional example of a toaster:
It has Properties that you can set:
Lets make this a toaster of the colour silver, material metal, and it is currently not making toast so it is cool.
It also has several Methods: -
Add-toast, eject-toast and set-temperature.
Hopefully you can see how that is fairly simple to remember and understand. You couldn't get as easily confused between toaster.set-temperature and microwave.set-temperature as you could get confused between similar things in an old-fashioned procedural language.
=====OK, So Pascal Has Objects, What Else?=====
Well, Pascal is a very good learning language. It isn't quite as simple as English but it is as close as you are likely to get outside of Cobol or Basic.
To give some examples, procedures are opened with a 'begin' and closed with an 'end;'. If you want to print a line of text on the screen you use 'writeline'. How much easier can you get?
Actually, it isn't that easy really. Pascal is picky, really picky. You need every quotation mark and semi colon in exactly the right place. Even some white space (spaces or lines between bits of code) can cause problems, and if you get your variable types confused then I take pity on you.
Thats part of the reason why this is such a good learning language. Especially today when there are scripting languages such as Perl out there that will trust you and do crazy things like try to add 'abc' to 123 without batting an eyelid, it is good to get into a habit of double checking your code and making sure that you get everything right.
One good thing about Pascal (at least compared to modern languages) is that it compiles (makes the code into something you can actually run on your computer) the code you write *fast*. I hate Visual Studio sometimes because when a project gets to any decent size you have enough time to go make a coffee, and wait for it to cool a little, before the compile has finished.
=====So if I learn Turbo Pascal I'll be fine?=====
Well, not exactly, it is a good starting language, but this version of Pascal is very old, and is designed to run in DOS, not Windows. It may be annoying to get it to run under Windows XP (I can do it without problems, but I know people that have difficulty.).
Also, the world of programming has changed a lot since that version. Pascal is still used these days, as is a newer variant called Delphi that most Pascal programmers should be able to pick up without difficulty.
For most things though, C/C++/C# or Java are flavour of the month. I would recommend starting on Pascal then picking one of the above and transfering your skills to one of those.
=====Summary and Useability=====
Turbo Pascal is a nice starter language. If you have a very old computer then you should still be able to get it to run without problems.
The interface, something I haven't mentioned up to now since I've been focusing on the language, is clunky and archaic. If you have never used an old DOS application before you may be slightly put off by it, but stick with it. There are only a few commands you will really need regularly and you should learn them quickly and be using it like a pro. If you are an old DOS veteran then the memories will bring a fond tear to your eye.
It is not suitable for developing modern day applications, but it should be relatively easy to transfer the basics from Turbo Pascal to another, newer language. If you learn Pascal you will have a good, strong foundation to build upon.
If you already know another language such as Basic, and wish to learn about OO programming, then you could use Pascal for this since the syntax is similar enough that you shouldn't get too confused. Personally I would advise against this though and suggest you move straight on to C++, unless your end goal is to be a Delphi programmer.
Since Turbo Pascal is available as a free download it doesn't hurt to try it out. If you want to learn then what better way is there than trying something out for free (it comes with decent documentation.)
For older programmers - go download it now and have a play with it. You will either be glad those days are gone, or wish for simpler (pre-windows) times. I can't quite decide which side of that fence I'm on.
Juiced is finally out - was it worth the wait?
Originally scheduled for a year ago under Acclaim, a spot of bad luck hit, and it was shelved. THQ picked up the title, tweaked it a little, and here it is. Living in the shadow of Need For Speed Underground 2, Midnight Club 3, SRS: Street Racing Syndicate, and many other titles.
I really want to like this title. On paper, it has all the features that we have come to expect, and many weve always wanted in a modern racing game.
Lets start with the basic features. This is a car tuning game. The modding system is nice, although basically a treadmill of mods, but broken up by grade so it is easy to keep track of what you have already installed. For cosmetic mods, you have a nice paint system that has three types of paint and a nice, broad selection of colours, as well as the usual skirting, spoilers, streetglow, etc. It is easy to get a car that looks nice, and easy to tune your car and test it on the dyno - something other games sometimes make a little laborious.
Handling wise, this game is a mixed bag. It is more realistic than Need For Speed Underground 2, but more arcadey than some of the driving sim style games. Accelleration is fast, and if you are skilled you can throw the car round corners at insane speeds, but at the same time it is very easy to spin out and loose control. When you spin, if you hit anything the car often comes to a dead halt. If you mount a kerb going wide on a corner, then you are highly likely to loose all control. Changes to car setup, or swapping to a different car, can mean big diferences in handling too.
Fortunately its playable both on a driving wheel and a normal controller, although re-configuring keys is a bit of a pain because the config section isn't in the game itself, and you have to drop back to windows and run a different program to change the key setup.
Once you are used to the handling you can come to like it, so dont let it put you off, but be warned that it does feel unusual at first.
Graphically, the cars are nice. The scenery is a little dull, but when you are racing you dont really stop to enjoy the graphics do you? The game takes place during the day, which makes the racing much more pleasurable than some of the night drives in other racers. The cars do take damage in the form of subtle dents and scratches, as well as in the form of your repair bill at the end of the race.
The sound effects arent anything special, but they arent bad either. I turned them fairly low so that I could hear the music better. They have a decent sound track featuring mostly electronic and rap, with a tiny bit of rock, although not enough for my tastes. You can add your own tracks, which is a welcome bonus.
=====The Single Player Game=====
Now on to the modes. As usual you get a custom race mode and an arcade mode, plus a multi-player mode which Ill come to later, and the all-important career mode.
In career mode you start out as an unknown racer, and are challenged to a race against T.K from the group Urban Maulerz. If you win that race, you get some money to buy yourself a car, and, more importantly you get some respect.
The respect system in this is slightly different to normal. Instead of one stat, you have multiple respect levels for different racing groups. You earn respect for leading, winning, having a well tricked out car, and driving well. You loose respect for crashing or loosing a race.
As your level of respect increases you gain privileges with each group - to attend races, participate in them, place bets with people, and race them for slips. Having so many groups to earn respect from means that the game takes a long time to get through.
Racing for money or slips can be pretty painful - unlike most games if you are loosing you cant just restart the race - that is registered as a loss, with any respect penalty that would go with it. In a way, this really boosts the adrenaline factor of racing - this isnt a practice run, its REAL.
The problem is, its too real. Its too easy to end up loosing everything. If you loose your good car, and loose races with any backup car that you have, then you can find yourself unable to afford to meet a growing repair bill, lagging in upgrades, and not being able to enter many races. There are free races, but they get rare in the later stages of the game, and the upgrade treadmill to keep up with the competition can be steep.
I did enjoy the career mode, the feel of racing against 'people, earning their respect and then taking their car from them was one that I enjoyed, and the money problems just made me more determined, but the irritations I experienced would probably deter me from playing career mode again.
One of the biggest irritations is building your crew. Racers contact you and ask to join. They usually have low racing ability when they join, and you train them by having them do races in your place. You have to watch the race in real time, and can order the AI to speed up or slow down. The racers are frustratingly stupid, and you will probably suffer many losses increasing their skill.
You need these racers for the team events, where the winner is whichever team has both their cars cross the finish line first.
Racing isnt all circuits or sprints - there is a show off mode where you perform tricks in front of an audience. The tricks are slightly annoying at first, but once you get used to them this mode is pretty easy. Scores increase rapidly as your car gets more modded, making this mode one of the easier ways to get money.
=====Moving on to Multi-Player.=====
This game has several multi player options, this game has several, from console-link, to split screen, to full blown online.
You can have other players join your crew and race in career mode with you, or you can race against players - even for their car if you want. There is a strange satisfaction in taking a car from another player - something Ive longed for since the death of Motor City Online, but the feeling of loosing a car to another player isnt something I really want to face given the other problems with the game. That option is for the brave or the confident only.
This game faces a lot of competition from more well known series. It suffers from its delayed relase, but it is still a great game. The respect system is a brilliant idea, the money / repair bills add realism, even if they are rather unforgiving, and anything that allows you to race for slips is well worth a look.
The team racing is a little clumsy, but in multi player it works well, and the graphics are more than up to scratch. The ability to add your own music to the sound track is something that many other games have lacked.
If you are a fan of racing games, this one is worth adding to your collection. If you arent all that into the genre, then it isnt the most friendly of introductions but it is still worth a look if you are curious.
Im hoping that THQ and Juice Games will listen to the feedback from racing fans and tweak their system a bit - this game shows promise - perhaps for a sequel?
I first heard about Cravendale Milk from a friend who recommended it as a long-lasting alternative to normal milk.
British made, Cravendale Milk is not just pasturised, it is also filtered to get rid of any bacteria whilst still leaving the goodness intact. Additive free, still good for you, but long lasting milk? Ideal!
It is slightly lower in calories and fat than regular milk also.
My husband drinks much, much more milk than I do - Im just an occasional splash in coffee person myself whereas he eats Shreddies the way most people snack on chocolate or crisps. He prefers full-fat milk, and loves the taste of Cravendales full-fat version.
Recently he decided to go on a health kick, and swapped over to their semi-skimmed version - he thinks it tastes almost as good as normal full-fat milk, and certainly miles better than regular semi-skimmed.
As someone who doesnt like the taste of full fat milk myself, its hard for me personally to compare, but I will say that Cravendale semi-skimmed tastes creamier than the normal semi-skimmed that I use.
So, for our household, Cravendale is perfect. We now have a milk that we both like, that helps with hubbys new healthy lifestyle, and that lasts us from one shopping trip to the next.
It is supposed to come in several bottle sizes - one pint, one litre, and two litre, but Ive never seen anything other than the two litre size, which costs about 15pence more than the generic brand in my local shop. The price difference is worth it to me though, as a regular 2 litre bottle might get used up over a weekend on cereal, but during the week it would likely get wasted. The 7 day lifespan means less wastage, and less trips to the shops.
One final comment though, about the packaging - this milk comes in a very distinctive (because of its size) white plastic carton. I hate it, because it means that a)you cant tell how much is left without picking the thing up, and b)when pouring you cant always tell how far to tip it up, and sometimes you pour out too much. It might be a small point, but it really irritates me!
One point docked because of the packaging, but I would recommend this milk to anyone who needs something that lasts a little longer, or is looking for a nice tasting low fat alternative.
MSI are one of the best computer component manufacturers in my opinion. I do prefer Gigabyte for motherboards out of sentimentality, but when it comes to graphics cards I either choose PNY (for their amazing after sales service) or, if it's performance I want, then I go for MSI.
The MSI FX5900 was in my PC until very recently. I've now upgraded to a 6800 - also made by MSI. My husband has two PCI-express graphics cards in his machine - the height of performance and power, but not everyone has the ability to use PCI-express cards, myself included. For those of us with slightly older machines, AGP cards are the only really viable option.
The MSI FX5900 is a nice graphics card. It fits into the AGP slot, which most computers made in the past few years should have. It has an absolutely massive heat sink and fan on it, and some smaller heat sinks covering the memory modules. This card does get very hot, and if you are putting it into your computer you may want to check that there are no cards in the slot next to it to allow more space for ventilation.
The card needs a four pin power connector from the power supply plugged into it for the fan to operate. In theory if you forget to do this, then the computer will not boot at all, although I have seen a computer boot once without this connector plugged in. It was however very unstable and rebooted itself after a couple of minutes. All I can say is be careful and make absolutely sure that you connect the power cable up otherwise you risk melting an expensive card!
MSI, in their usual generous and wise manner provide you with a power splitter, so if your power supply is an older model with very few connectors then you can always unplug one, plug the splitter in, then reconnect everything back up.
That said, if your power supply is old, it might be worth checking first to make sure it can run this card - I would recommend a 350 Watt or above. According to the manual you can run it on less, but from experience I disagree with the manual on that one. The card is now in a spare machine and the 300 Watt power supply in that one didn't like having this card along with multiple drives and a AMD 2400 processor.
This is really a card for gamers. The 128Mb of graphics memory isn't amazing - I would prefer to have 256Mb to allow more for textures for certain games, but it was running everything from Doom 3 to Farcry to Half Life 2 at more than acceptable framerates.
NVidia produced the Dawn and Dusk demos - interactive 'videos' of Pixies that you can tweak, zoom in and out of, and alter the expressions and skin tones of, to show off the power of the 5900 cards. They are absolutely gorgeous and have made many of my non-nVidia owning friends jealous.
For any geeks that are interested, the last benchmark done with this card, which wasn't on a freshly installed system so may be a little low because of all the junk running in the backround, scored about 5000 3DMarks in the 2003 benchmark. The 6800 that has replaced this card got around 8300 on the same system, so while this card was close to state of the art when it came out, it is slipping a bit now.
Again, for the geeks, the core clock runs at 400Mhz - which is actually slower than the 5800, although I'm not sure why and the memory clock runs at a meaty 425Mhz - the memory is DDR 850Mhz. The card is DirectX 9 compatible which is great news for modern games, and it supports up to 8X Anti-Aliasing. If you were playing a game that really strains graphics cards, such as Half Life 2, I wouldn't recommend turning the anti-aliasing on, because it does have some stability problems with the current batch of drivers, and it will create a massive drop in performance. It is nice to see the option supported even so.
This card also has a TV-out connection, although I have never used it.
You get a lot of free software and game samples with this card - including a '3D desktop' which is fun to mess around with but not all that useful, and some DVD software. It all comes in a nice wallet style set so it's easy to keep all the drivers and everything together.
Speaking of drivers, thats one really good thing about MSI. I have their Live Monitor and update software installed because it came with my motherboard. You can use this to automatically update your drivers. MSI are slightly behind nVidia in their releases but their drivers are always stable and I have never had any problems with them. Hassle free updates appeal to me too.
You get some overclocking software with the card - it allows you to overclock the processor of the graphics card, and also the memory. It works in small increments, and you can either set it yourself, or allow the program to push the card to its limits. If the computer crashes, it will restore the card to its default settings so that the machine will work properly. I'm not a fan of overclocking myself so didn't really use this much, although I did try it out once and saw a slight improvement and no drop in stability.
This card is AGP 8X, which means it will be nice and fast in very modern motherboards, although it will work in older ones. As I said it is now in a spare machine, and that machine is a rather old one that only has a 4X AGP port - it worked straight away, and although it isn't as amazing in games it can still run pretty much everything at an acceptable rate.
The biggest problem with this card is its age. We are now up to the 6000 range, and although this card should beat the lower range ones like the 6600 any day, it is not as good as a normal 6800 or even an Ultra. For those who are not a fan of nVidia, I will also concede that the rival graphics manufacturer, ATI have superior cards out now, although the prices may be higher.
If you have any problems, there is a decent manual, and also tech support from the MSI web site. Sometimes the site is busy and you get an error message accessing it, but the knowledge base is very good. I haven't had cause to contact tech support about this card, but have for a motherboard and they were fairly helpful - not quite up to the standard of PNY , but they solved the problem promptly which is all that matters.
I went to check the current price of this card on scan.co.uk and found that it was still retailing for around 200 pounds. A check of eBuyer found one for 109 pounds which is more realistic.
If you are on a budget but want some decent power, I would recommend this card over the newer budget cards like the 6600. To simplify, from benchmarks at least it seems like the top end older cards outperform the low end newer cards.
I've had my card for a long time now - almost a year I think, and it is still going strong. I would probably recommend anyone who could afford it opt for a higher end card than this - perhaps its big brother the 6800, but if you need power at a low price this is a great card too.
I'm recommending it - just remember this isn't the newest, and it isn't the best, but it's still a great option. Four stars simply because it is an older card now.
I have to confess, I've never been a huge fan of the Thief series up until now - it always sounded good in principle but I found the camera angles annoying and the interface a bit clumsy. Call me a heathen if you like, but I couldn't get into them.
I'm a convert now though.
I have several copies of Thief: Deadly Shadows it came with my soundcard, the three graphics cards I bought recently, and, I even picked up a copy of my own before it started coming free with every device in the world.
Thief: Deadly Shadows is a great game. It stays true to the original concept of thief, and has an interesting plot. It's also given the game a graphics upgrade, and, while the camera is still mostly first person it is a lot nicer to use now.
Thief: Deadly Shadows, which I'll call Thief from now on, is a mission based game, but it gives you a lot of freedom - between missions you can wander around the city mugging people, dodging guards, or just exploring. In missions you get a lot of freedom too - if something goes wrong you can flee the scene and come back later, or just hide and wait for things to calm down.
There are many ways to complete the missions, and along the way you can pick up some nice loot - although how Garrett carries all that stuff is beyond me.
Garrett is an interesting and believable character, and the missions actually held my interest - I found myself craning to hear every line of dialogue (for some reason the speech was very quiet on my machine) - normally I skip cutscenes out of boredom so they must have done something right.
They have added a shop, and now you need to buy your own gear for missions, which is a bit annoying but does add to the realism.
The graphics are nicely done, and add to the atmosphere of the game.
This is a very dark game, taking place entirely at night, and with lots of shadows for Garrett to hide in. That said, it's not i-can't-see-a-thing-this-game-is-rubbish-dark like Doom 3 though - more a shadowy, dull, dark - you can still see things, and it doesn't interfere with the game play, but it does add to the tension and the feeling you're sneaking around.
There are some faults - the items, scenery, and some of the people look really good, but others look plastic and fake. Some of the animation is smooth, but other parts of it just looks wrong - the cutscenes, for example, are very well done and entertaining to view, but some of the fighting looks like it was done by someone who doesn't know how the human body moves. Blackjack someone and you will see what I mean.
This isn't too distracting though - most of the game is spent in first person view (you have a third person option but I never really used it) and from there, unless you're beating someone up, things look great.
A lot of the old voice actors have returned - apparently. Like I said, I'm not a fan of the older thief games so I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't been told it.
All I know is that the voices for the main characters are very good. The in game sound effects are great too. I spent a lot of the game holding my breath while I was sneaking and when I heard little sounds in the distance, and everything from distractions to lockpicking sounded authentic enough for my ears.
It takes a lot to get me immersed in a game, and this managed to do it.
The controls are very simple and easy to pick up. I used to find the camera angles made navigation nearly impossible but that has changed. The light meter at the bottom of the screen indicates if you are well hidden or not.
The inventory system works well, and things like looting although a little strange (what does he do with those huge paintings when he picks them up?) are easy enough.
Lock picking seems to take forever though, and could do with being a little more erm.. interactive.
The keyboard controlls sometimes lock a bit when side-stepping round corners, but I believe that is a deficiency of my keyboard, and not the game itself.
Thief requires a fairly decent machine - not ridiculously high requirements, but a Pentium 4, 256 MB RAM and a GeForce 3 or above. You also have to be running Windows 2000 or XP - any older versions, including ME, are not supported.
The lack of support for older versions of windows might lock out a lot of potential buyers, but the system requirements aren't too bad if you are someone who plays a lot of games. If your PC is more than a couple of years old though you might be out of luck.
I played this on a very, very modern PC and it ran like a dream. It really is worth a system upgrade if you need one because it is such an engrossing game.
The tutorial is basically a very simple mission that introduces you to the light gem, sneaking, the blackjack, lock picking, stealing, and your special tools such as noisemaker arrows..
It's fairly nicely done - not patronising, not irritating, and not too fast or too slow.
It's rare that I actually bother with tutorials, but I think you do need to give this one a look unless you're already familiar with the series and have played very recently. It's easy enough to figure out most of the keys if you forget, but considering this mission is well written it never hurts to have a refresher.
I love this game. It has its faults, but they're easily overlooked. There is one big problem though, and that's walking through the city. It is broken up into several zones, each only a few streets big - that means that you don't have to go very far before you hit a loading screen. Some of the missions are also split across several zones, and, sometimes you need to travel almost from one end of the city to another.
Spending most of your time loading is something I'm used to in online games, but for an offline PC game I expect better. Perhaps it's because it is an XBox game too, but why should PC gamers get an inferior game just because of the console people?
Other than that, As I've already hinted at, I get really into this game. I play a thief class in another, much older game, and love the buzz from breaking in to places. I get almost that same feeling in this, and I never thought I could get that anywhere else.
Sneaking around is normally something I resent in the first person shooter style games, but Garret is a thief - he can sneak up and attack people, but wouldn't be able to beat them in a straight out fight. He can also run away, and eventually the enemy will run out of stamina and stop chasing him.
It all adds to the buzz.
It's so well done and I can't believe how much Thief has changed for the better.
If anyone reading this is a fan of the original game, I apologise for criticising it - I know a lot of people loved it - I loved the idea, and I was interested in The Dark Project, but something about the interface annoyed me. The changes in Deadly Shadows are subtle but make the world of difference for me.
I know fans of the original, and they assure me that while there are a couple of changes that they don't like, it's mostly true to the older games and they still like it.
So, take it from me as a new convert, and from my many gaming friends - this is a great game. It gave me plenty to get my teeth into, tested but never quite broke my patience, and was a long-lasting gaming experience.
If you've ever fancied snooping around mansions and swiping a few things, give it a shot!
Minus one star for the loading screens, but definately recommended.