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If you're looking to put in an offer on a house, then you'll need a mortgage. You arrange a mortgage with a provider. The Estate Agent can help you with this (they get commission for it, so they're very keen on helping!), or you can do some research (through magazines such as Which Mortgage? or on the net) to find out what mortgage suits you best, then talk directly to the bank/building society offering it to see if they'll approve you. Different banks and building societies will each have slightly different mortgage products. They will have different interest rates, will be willing to lend different amounts to the same person (e.g. one bank will only give a £60,000 mortgage to a person on £20,000 p.a. whereas another might happily lend £80,000). They will have different repayment periods (e.g. pay back the mortgage after/over 20 years, or 25, or 30). They may also have different "incentives", such as giving you some cash when you take out the mortgage, which can be helpful to pay stamp duty or solicitor's fees, or have a discounted interest rate for the first year or two. There are a huge variety out there. Think about what you might want. Typical types of mortgage are: 1. Discounted. This mortgage will have a lower interest rate for a short period, so that the first few mortgage payments are cheaper. This period can last for a few years in some cases. After this period, the interest rate reverts to normal and the monthly payments go back up again. 2. Variable. Here the interest rate on the amount that you've borrowed varies in line with changes in the actual interest rate. Sometimes this is linked to the Bank of England's interest rate changes (often called "Tracker" mortgages as they track the base rate), sometimes it's more at the discretion of the bank when and how much it changes (and they tend to take advantage, by not reducing it entirely in line with base rate changes). 3. Ca
pped. Here the interest rate will change from time to time, but will not exceed a certain maximum interest rate. 4. Cashback. This is normally a variable mortgage, but the borrower gets a cash lump sum when they take out the mortgage. The "incentive" type of mortgage, such as cashback and discounted mortgages, will come with a "lock-in" period where you can't remortgage with another bank for a fixed period without paying a release fee. Otherwise you could take out a cashback mortgage, get a free cash lump sum, then move straight to another mortgage provider! These are just the varieties in interest rates and incentives. There are also more fundamental differences which affect how you repay the amount you've borrowed. There are three main types of mortgage in this respect. 1. Repayment - under a repayment mortgage, every mortgage payment you make goes to pay off the amount you've borrowed. Very straightforward. 2. Endowment - less popular at the moment because the stock market's not been performing too well. Here, every payment you make goes to buy stocks and shares or similar products, and the idea is that at the end of your mortgage period these stocks and shares will have accumulated in value to the point where they can be sold, and the amount raised pays off your mortgage. Obviously a bit of a gamble - if the market's down then you might not have enough to pay off your mortgage, but if the market's up you might be left with extra cash! 3. Set-off - here, all your bank accounts are linked with your mortgage account, and you can choose to forego interest on your savings account and current account, in return for which your interest rate on your mortgage is reduced. These are usually used in conjuction with repayment mortgages. As you can see, it's a pretty complex area because so many different products are available. Read up about it in a suitable mortgage magazine, or
on the web. If you feel confident enough to make your own decision then, fine, but otherwise you could always go to an independent financial adviser or the estate agent. Don't forget that, if you fall behind with your mortgage payments then you may lose your house, so don't borrow more than you can afford! Always remember that, if the interest rates go up in future, so will your monthly repayments, so although you might be able to afford a big mortgage now, don't overstretch yourself.
Jamjar.com bills itself as the online equivalent of a motoring supermarket. Great deals to be had on a huge range of products, smooth transactions and no hard sell. And it comes so close to realising this goal, but fails to clear the two highest hurdles of all - customer service and ease of use. The Site: The website itself is less than perfect. It all looks very slick and well organised, but it has succumbed to that most terrible of crimes, the pop-up. Pop-up windows abound, and will spring to life at almost every page refresh. I can't abide these things, and invariably close them down before the content has even loaded, and I think most other people do the same, so they serve no real purpose other than to annoy the customer. The other main problem with the site is the loading speed. Jamjar obviously has a webhost with decent bandwidth, as it loads fairly quickly considering its high graphic content. The problem here, however, is that every time you click on a link to navigate through the site, it reloads the entire window. Why they can't just use frames to cut down the load time I don't know, but the constant reloading means that it can take an age to get from the homepage to the part of the site you're really interested in. My final complaint is that the site as a whole is pretty unreliable. I tried to place an order a few weeks ago, and it took me three or four attempts to get the order processed. When it finally went through, the text on the confirmation page looked really messed-up. I was worried that there was some sort of bug, so I phoned Jamjar up to check the order had gone through OK, only to be told that there has been a problem and I would have to place a new order via the telephone. This meant that I ended up paying two deposits and having to wait for the first one to be refunded. There has clearly been a lot of thought put into the site design, but the implementation could h
ave been done much better. The Products: Jamjar offers everything to do with cars - the breadth of choice is incredible. That doesn't mean to say they have everything in stock, but if they don't have it, they know a man who does and they will try to source it for you. And the prices are very competitive indeed. You can save literally thousands of pounds on new models, and not only on imports but on UK sourced models too. Jamjar won't always offer the best deal, but you'd be well advised to check them before you buy. They came in at the cheapest on my car by a few hundred pounds. My local dealer couldn't even come within fifteen hundred pounds of their price. My only complaint here is that Jamjar is fragmented. They have several separate shops - one for new cars, one for car accessories and alarms etc. So if you want to buy a new car and have them fit an alarm to it before they deliver, you'll find it difficult. Jamjar will probably do it for you, but you have to persevere and argue the toss with them. I don't understand why companies take this attitude, but it can be very frustrating. The Customer Service: Jamjar have tried very hard with the customer service - you never have to wait on the phone, they pick up immediately. Having said that, you first have to figure out which number to call - they list several different ones on the site, all with different opening hours. I don't know why this is, as I've never been told to call a different number - they always accept my call and try to help, no matter which number I dial. If you prefer to use the internet rather than speaking to a fellow human being, there is a 'glovebox' feature. The glovebox operates a little like a dedicated Hotmail account - once you have placed an order, Jamjar will send all messages relating to your purchase to the glovebox, which you can access via their website. If you want to con
tact them you can put a message into your glovebox and they will pick it up and respond. It's quite a neat idea, but I found that they were so easy to contact on the phone that I never used it. Also, when they send a message to your glovebox, they will also send you an email advising you to check your glovebox and pick up their message. Quite why they couldn't email you the message itself in the first place I don't know - it would seem more convenient. The customer service itself is of questionable quality. They tend to tell you that they will look into a problem and call you back, and then fail to do so. You have to keep harassing and calling them to get much help, and more often than not you will be given a completely different answer depending on who you speak to. Overall: Jamjar could be a very, very good car shopping site. Unfortunately, it lets itself down by making the whole process very difficult. First you need to navigate the constantly reloading site to find the car you want. Then you have to persuade the unreliable software to let you order it. Then you wait... The website says that, when you place an order, they will confirm the order details within 24 hours. Well, it took them 31 days to confirm my order. Hardly inspiring, as they were completely silent from the time I placed the order until they finally confirmed, a month later - I was worried they'd lost my order. Furthermore, I had to place the order twice, as the website crashed the first time round, and so I have paid two deposits. I was promised that the first would be refunded, but it has still not been a month later. Then, if you want to buy any non-factory fitted extras, you have a real struggle on your hands, as it means that Jamjar car sales will have to deal with Jamjar car accessory sales. And they seem incapable of organising themselves in this way.
Tesco, the well-known supermarket chain, has moved from out-of-town to online. Their website offers more than the usual store, however, with not only the usual groceries, electrical and fashion goods on sale but also a baby store, home living, books, gifts, entertainment and personal finance as well! The site looks pretty good, and the prices are as low as you would expect from Tesco, but how well have they managed the move from high street to desktop? Unfortunately, in my experience, not very well at all. Tesco vie for the title of Worst E-Tailer I Have Ever Used. Surprising for a clicks and mortar site, maybe, but I have placed two orders with them and their response has been so woeful that I'm never going back. To begin with, you need to register, which was like pulling teeth. To enter your address, you need to input your postcode and the website will then present you with a drop-down list of the various businesses and houses within that postcode, and you choose the correct one from the list. Great in theory, but when I did this the drop down list seemed to contain about 10 items judging by the size of the box, but all of them were blanked out. So I had to select one at random as being my address, finish registering and then look at my account details post-registration to find out what address I'd been allocated. To add to the frustration you can't change your address online - you need to either re-register or email customer services and get them to change it for you. So I had to repeat the registration process eight times using different email addresses before I got the correct address details in my account. This means I get eight of every junk email they send me. Once I'd managed to register with them, which took nearly an hour, I ordered an item (box set) from their site. It took about a week to deliver, and when it arrived it didn't include all the advertised items. I sent an email to complain, and after a day
or so got a response telling me if I didn't like it I could send it back for a refund, but they wouldn't send me the item as originally described. Not brilliant customer service, to say the least. Well, when the January sales rolled around I decided to give them another chance. I ordered three items on December 28th. Time passed, and the Order Tracking system continued to label my order as merely "Accepted", rather than sent. I then received an email from Customer Services saying that due to a computer error, my address details had been lost (and after all the effort I had to go through to input them in the first place!) and could I reconfirm them. I sent an email with the details, and they responded promptly saying that once my card had been authorised the goods would be dispatched. By 10th January, 12 days after ordering, there was still no sign of the parcel, so I telephoned their Customer Services who told me that the item would be sent tomorrow (11th January, 13 days after the order was placed, despite all the items being in stock). Great, I thought. Thursday came and went, as did Friday, with no sign of the package. So I phoned Customer Services who told me that the courier had tried to deliver the package unsuccessfully. I explained that the address was a business address, clearly signposted and marked, and was always occupied during the day, and that no courier calling card had been left. The Customer Services representative told me that the courier would try to redeliver on Monday. Monday came and no parcel, so on the phone to Customer Services again. Apparently, the courier had tried to deliver the parcel a total of seven times now, without success - surprising considering that the address was correct and so complete as to include which floor the addressee was at, together with the building name and number and full postcode. No other e-tailer has ever had a problem delivering there. I explained this to the Customer Serv
ice representative, who promised to get in touch with the courier, find out what the problem was and call me back tomorrow (i.e. today). No phone call came - I rang after lunch to chase them, only to be told that she was looking into it and would call me back. Still nothing at 4:15pm. I was also warned on the phone that as these were "sale items", if the parcel was returned to Tesco by their couriers it was unlikely they'd be able to send me replacements! Now, I accept that much of the problem is caused by faulty website design and by a crap courier firm rather than by Tesco (not that this should really be an excuse). However, Tesco themselves have failed badly on Customer Service: * Why did Tesco not contact me when my delivery failed? Why did I have to contact them? This is an ongoing point - delivery has apparently 'failed' many times now, yet they have never contacted me, I always have to contact them. * They have my daytime phone number in my registration details. If there was a problem delivering my order, why did they not pass it to their courier to contact me? * They promise to sort things out and get back to me and don't. * They fail to deliver products as advertised, then say my only comeback is to return the goods delivered - they will not fulfil the order as placed. This is a contemporaneous record of the events I have experienced - no order has been trouble-free with this company. To their credit, their customer services telephone number is answered promply (although they always ask for your Customer Number, which I've never been able to find from the website...) I await delivery of my order with baited breath!! Oh, and the order tracking page still says "Accepted", rather than "Sent", making you wonder why they bother having it if it doesn't work...
Do not buy anything from this website. Don't even be tempted. At best, it appears you can expect a two-three week wait for delivery, but more realistically you just won't receive the goods you ordered. Which would be fine, except for the fact that they'll charge your card for the items straight away, and you'll be left out of pocket. This company have recently been sending out emails to customers who haven't yet received their orders (after several months) saying that they're having financial difficulties, and that they should contact their credit card company for a refund. If you used a debit card to buy from these guys, chances are you're out of luck and will have to bear the loss yourself. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the website is still open for business! Whatever you do, don't be tempted. Their CD's are pretty competitively priced, but you're not getting a bargain, as they'll just take your money and run. UPDATE: 6/12/2000 This site has now vanished without trace - whilst it's regrettable that people have lost their jobs here, at least noone else will be ripped off, and one more reason for people to be nervous online retail has gone.
I picked this up at a discount bookshop, and on reading it realised why it was discounted. The premise is simple enough; a serial killer is on the loose in Minneapolis, dubbed "The Cremator" by the press because he burns the bodies of his victims. A young prostitute witnesses him burning one of his victims, and Kate Conlan from the Victim Protection Unit is assigned to look after her and draw the evidence from her. The book follows Kate, and through her the police investigation into the crimes. It attempts to fool the reader into suspecting one or other periphary characters of being the Cremator, and tries to keep a romantic interest between Kate and one of the investigators bubbling along as a subplot. This could all be readable, enjoyable enough stuff, if somewhat unoriginal in these days of serial-killer fiction overload. The problem is, however, that Tami Hoag credits the reader with no intelligence whatsoever. The metaphors and references in the book are bludgeoned home, then lit up with a big neon sign just in case you didn't get them. The general prose style is overly dramatic, with plenty of lines like "a void was welling up inside her, threatening to swallow her whole", and "fear hit him hard like a hammer in the solar plexus". It was the writing style that really made this book hard going for me - to say that descriptions of characters emotions just weren't convincing would be an understatement. Finally, the whole thing was just too predictable. It's pretty obvious who the killer is from early on in the book - the clue being, as is too often the case in cheap thrillers, that the guy who did it is the one who fits the profile and whom noone suspects. The killer's psychological profile is described early on in the book, and only about three people fit it. The relationship which is formed by a killer with another person is highlighted halfway through the book to add ano
ther layer of intrigue, and this is central to the plot. However, at the end when all is revealed, this relationship is given only the most cursory of explanations, leaving the reader unsatisfied. Perhaps the best indication is that whilst in the middle of reading it, I put it down in a cafe and forgot about it. After leaving the cafe, I really had to think about whether or not to bother going back to get it. Having finished it, I wished I hadn't bothered.
I have used C&W on three separate occasions at different addresses over the years, twice for indirect telephone service (dialling 132 over a BT line to re-route my call through the C&W network), and once for analogue cable television and direct cable telephone. Of these three occasions, only one of them was trouble free. The other two were an absolute nightmare. TELEVISION: When we moved into our new house, we decided to get cable tv and telephone, as the service is cheap (£10 for line rental monthly, which includes a basic cable TV package as well). We signed up, and were told that the existing analogue service would be upgraded to digital in a month or two, and we would be upgraded free of charge. The problems started straight away. We frequently got no picture at all on the television, and when we did it was often very blurred with lines and snow and no sound, making it completely impossible to watch. We had engineers out approximately 20 times in the five months we had service, but it was never fixed (as is the way of these things, half the time the problem "fixed" itself whilst the engineer was present, only to reappear once he left). Several times the engineer just failed to turn up, and although C&W will pay £10 compensation when this happens, you often end up having to argue the toss over it ("We have no record of an engineer having been booked", or "He turned up but noone was in(!!)"). C&W have their engineers turn up at totally inconvenient times - you can only book one of three slots, all of which will entail you having to take time off work to be in for them. This becomes very annoying after the third time of them not turning up. More than once I was told when I called at 9pm to ask where the engineers were that they were running late all day, and it got to 8pm when they stop work and they simply hadn't got around to me yet so went home, and would I like to rebook for 10am
tomorrow and take more time off work? In the end the cause of the problem was never identified and so it was never fixed, and I stopped using their television service after 5 months. I was refunded most of my tv bill for that period, and given £35 compensation for all the hassle involved. This was despite being specifically told on the telephone by Customer Services that the usual £35 ceiling for compensation was excepted in very bad cases, and would be in mine. Digital services never arrived, and still haven't, six months after I was told they would be introduced in my area. The most annoying aspect of all, however, is the customer service number - it usually takes about 20 minutes on hold to get through to someone, only to be told that the department you need is only open 10am-4pm or similar ridiculous hours. The way cable tv is structured is also annoying - they make no effort to disguise the fact that they are trying to fleece as much money from you as they can. C&W recognise that most of the channels they supply are pretty dire, and there are only about 8 or so that people really want. To make as much money as possible, they divide up all the available channels into eight or so "packages". You get the basic package free with your phone line rental, and pay extra for each additional package, some being cheap and some more expensive. Each package basically consists of one decent channel and three or four awful ones. So if you want to be able to watch the eight or so goodish channels, e.g. UK Gold, Sky News, Sky One, Discovery etc., you need to subscribe to _all_ of the packages, at hideous expense. TELEPHONE: There are two types of service - direct, where you are connected directly to the cable network, and indirect, where you use a BT line and reroute all calls over the C&W network by dialling a prefix number. Indirect: You would have thought that the indirect telephone ser
vice would be easy enough to administer - no cabling required, just get the customer to prefix all calls with "132" and then bill them accordingly. We chose the service because at the time I was flatsharing with three other people, and C&W offer "Cost Centre Coding". Cost Centre Coding is a facility whereby each person in the flat prefixes all the calls they make with a two digit number unique to that person, i.e. 132 xx 020 7....... where 132 routes the call from BT over to C&W, and xx is the two digit number. Then, when the bill comes in, it's divided into a separate bill for each Cost Centre Code - so no messy dividing up the bill and trying to work out who made what call - each flatmate has their own bill. A very useful feature. However, when we signed up we chose an international calling plan, because we make lots of international calls. When we had the first bill through, we saw that C&W had put us onto a local call plan, so we were paying a lot for our international calls but very little for local calls, which we hardly ever made. We called up (allow at least half an hour to call up C&W customer service) and told them of their error. Several times. They eventually recorded and understood our complaint and promised to recalculate our old bills and refund accordingly. They then said they would send us a "LineWise" socket which means we wouldn't need to dial "132" before each call - the socket would do it for us. However, this didn't work, and nor did any of the replacements they sent to us. Direct: The direct telephone service has been pretty good so far. I don't think you can get caller i.d. on the cable network, and once I was randomly disconnected for just over a day when an engineer knocked out the wiring at the box down the road. Also, they can't spell my local area correctly, so every call I make to friends in the neighbourhood comes up
on the bill as "Plumbstead" instead of "Plumstead", and despite reporting this nothing has ever been done. However, that's nitpicking really, and by and large the phone service is ok. I would have moved to BT just on the basis of the terrible tv service, but BT charge about £100 to connect new lines. Verdict: Don't bother for TV - the picture was unwatchable when we got one at all, and if you choose extra packages (as almosy everyone does, just to get the watchable channels) the service is expensive for what you get. The telephone service is better, but it's probably cheaper to get a BT line and use an indirect service like SkyTalk or OneTel if you're not getting the TV at the same time. Customer Service is definitely the worst I've ever experienced from any company, and it's this aspect that is the most annoying. You're quite likely to need to call them, as the service is not without problems, especially the TV service with the imminent (apparently) upgrades to digital taking place area by area. We're now with Sky Digital for TV, and have no complaints. For the same money we get a picture AND sound (!), and also a much greater variety of channels. Plus we get the limited interactive services, which even many Digital Cable viewers don't yet get (don't think that just because C&W have finally decided your area will go digital you will get interactive digital - you'll have to wait even longer for that!) UPDATE: Cable & Wireless have now been taken over by NTL. I have no experience of this company, so cannot comment on whether the service is likely to be improved or not, but frankly I doubt it. The baffling, expensive channel packaging system is still in place, for a start. I suspect that, as television and direct telephone services are a market with consumers facing a choice of usually only two competing companies (NTL v Sky, or NTL v BT),
there is too little incentive to improve performance. I sincerely hope they prove me wrong.
It is a well known fact that only women have children. Men go through their lives, from birth to death, remaining childless, unable to carry on their family names. Women, on the other hand, conceive by themselves. Children only have one parent. Or this is what Mothercare would have us believe. Men should never be so foolish as to venture into these stores and expect any level of service. Staff will ignore you at best, at worst give you edgy looks as if to accuse you of hanging around in their shop in order to ogle small children for your own sick pleasure. God forbid you ever take your child in there alone, without your wife/partner. There certainly aren't any gentlemen's lavatories in my local branch, only women's, so you can't change your child should you need. Your only option would be to ask a member of staff if you can use the women's lavatory. This is impossible - staff members, if you can find one, will ignore your attempts to engage your attention, so you are left with the only option of wandering in without asking the staff, an inadvisable course of action as staff members think all men in their store are perverts to begin with. Thankfully I've never needed to use the non-existent changing facilities they don't provide. This is just a viewpoint of the store from a man's perspective. In terms of products, they stock a wide range, although they're not always competitively priced, and it tends to be good quality. But what's the use of this if you can't get to the store (as they're now being moved to out of town retail parks, entailing at least one change of bus to get there if it's served by public transport at all), or if you can get there the staff are just so offhand or even rude, and the store lacks the most basic facilities necessary for fathers with young children. Uninspiring at best, at worst downright frustrating.
The GameCube, Nintendo's newest console, has been shrouded in mystery for months, if not years. Even the name was top-secret, the console cryptically being referred to as "Project Dolphin". Nintendo has traditionally been very hush-hush over new products, to keep the competition guessing and also to drive up hype about the product. As a consequence, now that the machine has been unveiled, public expectation is so high in parts that, unless the GameCube can fly, cook your dinner and beat Deep Blue at chess, people were bound to be disappointed. The real question is how does it match up to the other next-generation consoles, and will the games be any good? THE SPECIFICATIONS Official Name NINTENDO GAMECUBE MPU("Microprocessor Unit")* IBM Power PC "Gekko" Manufacturing Process 0.18 microns Copper Wire Technology Clock Frequency 405 MHz CPU Capacity 925 Dmips (Dhrystone 2.1) Internal Data Precision 32bit Integer & 64bit Floating-point External Bus Bandwidth 1.6GB/second(Peak) External Bus Bandwidth 1.6GB/second(Peak) (32bit address, 64bit data bus 202.5MHz) Internal Cache L1: Instruction 32KB, Data 32KB (8 way) L2: 256KB (2 way) Internal Cache L1: Instruction 32KB, Data 32KB (8 way) L2: 256KB (2 way) System LSI "Flipper" Manufacturing Process 0.18 microns NEC Embedded DRAM Process Clock Frequency 202.5MHz Embedded Frame Buffer Approx. 2MB Embedded Frame Buffer Approx. 2MB Sustainable Latency : 5ns (1T-SRAM) Embedded Texture Cache Approx. 1MB Sustainable Latency : 5ns (1T-SRAM) Texture Read Bandwidth 12.8GB/second (Peak) Main Memory Bandwidth 3.2GB/second (Peak) Color, Z Buffer Each is 24bits Image Processing Function Fog, Subpixel Anti-aliasing, HW Light x8, Alpha Blending, Virtual Texture Design, Multi-texture Mapping/Bump/Environment Mapping, MIPMAP, Bilinear Filtering, Real-time Texture Decompr
ession (S3TC), etc. Other Real-time Decompression of Display List, HW Motion Compensation Capability *The Gekko MPU integrates the power PC CPU into a custom, game-centric chip. (The following sound related functions are all incorporated into the System LSI) Sound Processor Special 16bit DSP Instruction Memory 8KB RAM + 8KB ROM Instruction Memory 8KB RAM + 8KB ROM Data Memory 8KB RAM + 4KB ROM Clock Frequency 101.25 MHz Maximum Number of Simultaneously Produced Sounds ADPCM: 64ch Sampling Frequency 48KHz System Floating-point Arithmetic Capability 13.0GFLOPS (Peak) (MPU, Geometry Engine, HW Lighting Total) Actual Display Capability 6 million to 12 million polygons/second Actual Display Capability 6 million to 12 million polygons/second (Display capability assuming actual game with complexity model, texture, etc.) System Main Memory 24MB Sustainable Latency : 10ns or lower (1T-SRAM) A-Memory 16MB (100MHz DRAM) Disc Drive CAV (Constant Angular Velocity) System Disc Drive CAV (Constant Angular Velocity) System Average Access Time Data Transfer Speed 16Mbps to 25Mbps 128ms Media 8cm NINTENDO GAMECUBE Disc based on Matsushita's Optical Disc Technology Media 8cm NINTENDO GAMECUBE Disc based on Matsushita's Optical Disc Technology Approx. 1.5GB Capacity Input/Output Controller Port x4 Digicard Slot x2 Analog AV Output x1 Digital AV Output x1 High-Speed Serial Port x2 High-speed Parallel Port x1 Power Supply AC Adapter DC12V x 3.5A Main Unit Dimensions 150mm(W) x 110mm(H) x 161mm(D) AN OVERVIEW: What does this all mean? Well, it's difficult to say. Until we get our hands on an actual console and play a real game, it's going to be impossible to judge the GameCube against the other consoles in any meaningful way. The polygon count looks good in terms of a real-time game
environment count, as does the sound capability, but we really need to see for ourselves. It's unlikely that Nintendo will be light years either ahead or behind Sony and Sega. The company's been around too long to be stupid enough to release a substandard console, and given the fact that the PS2 and Dreamcast were released earlier than the GameCube, we'd expect to see some sort of advance in technology, and certainly not a significant regression. The figures are more than respectable, but that's all they are - figures. One of the facts we definitely can judge from the specs is the size of the unit - it will be the smallest of the consoles - about the same height, width and depth of one of the 8cm discs it runs, and comes equipped with a carry-strap for convenience. This makes it easy to carry and to store, very practical thinking from Nintendo. CONTROLLER: Much has been made of the new controller, but the fact is that it's going to be impossible to judge for sure until we hold it in our hands. There are more than enough buttons - seven in all, plus two analogue sticks and a D-pad. One development is that the rumble-pack will be integral to the unit, to the joy of N64 owners. No more messing about with batteries! The N64 controller was always ergonomic and comfortable to use, and I'd be very surprised is Nintendo had made a gaffe with the GameCube controller, but we'll have to wait and see to be sure. Either way, third party controllers are sure to be released, so if you don't like the official design, pick up a third party. One development that's certainly welcome, and bound to be copied by Nintendo's rivals, is the development of the wireless "WaveBird" controller, which can be used remotely. No more trailing wires! MEDIUM: The GameCube will run proprietary format 8cm mini-DVD disks. These have been chosen partly to keep down expense, and partly to
deter piracy. Nintendo seem to have learnt from their mistake with the N64, when the use of cartridges deterred developers due to their expense. The new console is apparently easy to develop for, and the choice of medium is cheap - an excellent combination! The mini-DVDs will be cheap to produce, and will hold about 1.5 gb of data - twice a conventional CD rom and about 200 times the size of many cartridges, so more than enough room. One drawback of the format is that, unlike the PlayStation2, the GameCube won't be able to play DVD movies. To get around this problem, Matushita/Panasonic will be releasing a version of the console which will have this extra capability. In a way, Nintendo are planning a marketing advantage here - those who already have a DVD player or don't want one won't be paying extra for the capability, whereas those who do can pay more and get it. GAMES: Many software developers have been linked, speculatively or otherwise, to the GameCube. Confirmed are Rareware (Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie), LeftField (Courtside 2, Excitebike 64) and of course Nintendo themselves. Many others have indicated they're planning on developing for the console. All reports indicate that the platform is easy and cheap to develop for (unlike its competitor, the PlayStation2), so the GameCube should have far more software than the N64. Nintendo has apparently learned from its mistakes. Given Nintendo's rich history of excellence, with the Zelda, Mario and Pokemon franchises not to mention innovative new games such as GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie etc., we have little to fear on quality. GAMEBOY ADVANCE: It has been confirmed that the new handheld console, the successor to the incredibly successful GameBoy and GameBoy Colour, will be "integral" to the GameCube. What this means is uncertain, but it's likely that the handheld will be able to be used as a control
ler for the GameCube, with the small screen acting as a second display in some way. What's almost a certainty is that the existing 'Transfer Pak' technology which links the GameBoy to the N64 and allows the transfer of data from GameBoy games to their N64 equivalent. RELEASE: The GameCube is slated for release in July 2001 in Japan and October 2001 in the US. Speculative prices are about $175. No UK release details have been given, but we can expect a later, and more expensive, release - probably just in time for Christmas! Let's just hope that Nintendo avoid the debacle of the PS2 release.
Baldurs Gate was always going to be impressive. It spans 6 CD Roms, for a start! I bought it on the recommendation of a friend, and six weeks later emerged from my study, blinking in the bright daylight, and thanked him. This is possibly the most addictive game I have ever played. The storyline, although simple, is quite immersive, and I found myself constantly wondering what the next twist or turn could be. This is an RPG in the traditional style, although melee combat rather than turn based is the default. You get to assemble your team of warriors and mages, with a pretty vast range of characters to choose from whom you meet in your travels. Although the main story is linear, there are a myriad of small side quests to divert you - and they will. Part of the charm of these mini adventures is that you're never quite sure if they are part of the main plot or not, just like "real life" would be. The game is never too difficult, and I didn't find myself dying over and over again at any point, which can always be frustrating. Tactics win the day, which makes it all the more rewarding. This game is worth every penny, especially now it's discounted due to the release of the sequel. Buy it now, and forego a social life for the next few months!
The Ocarina of Time is the latest in a string of Zelda games to come from Nintendo, with the sequel imminent. It is, without doubt, the most acclaimed game on release for the N64, and one of the best games for any platform. Zelda alone justifies the purchase of the console. To say the gameplay is immersive is an understatement - it really feels like an entire world has been created, and it is the attention to detail which brings this home more than anything - you can ride horses, grow plants, cut grass etc., and the interaction with other characters is enchanting. Couple this with one of the most intuitive command systems ever developed, and a logical and interesting storyline and the game is an instant classic. The game is half first person hack and slash, and half adventure/RPG. The puzzles are demanding, but solvable with a little thought and the application of logic - you are never left grasping at straws, or wondering where to go next. I can't recommend this game highly enough - perhaps an indication is that it's the first game I bought, and despite buying ten or twelve since then, I've hardly even tried any of them, as I keep returning to Zelda to get just that little bit further...
I recently purchased this phone and it's an absolute steal for the features it possesses! A digital answering machine, outgoing fax, 700 name (and address, email, fax, mobile, office no, home no) address book with probably the best "search" facility I've ever seen, and of course the email function. I'll be honest and say that I'll probably never use the email function - I got the phone for it's brilliant address book and answering machine, together with the fact it's got the coolest backlit screen ever. I'm even less likely to use the email function now I know that the charge for sending/receiving email is a local rate call plus 12 pence - Amstrad say they subsidise the cheap cost of the telephone with the quite high dial-up charges. However, you can set up the telephone to only check for email when you tell it to, so these charges can be bypassed. A note of caution - I used to own the model on which this was based - the PB-1500, I think, which had a similar address book and pocket-dockit portable address book function, but it died on me after two weeks. Hopefully this was a one off, any any problems have been corrected with the new em@iler.