I didn't quite have time to chew thoroughly but I very much enjoyed playing through Fable 2. It's a good RPG, well told story and fun gameplay. Just like Fable in most ways but much better done. It's full of interesting and ambitious game design ideas that actually work this time.

As with most games these days it's the side missions and extra colour that are most interesting part. The NPCs inhabiting the world are fantastic. Particularly the AI: every one of the hundreds of townspeople has their own wants and desires, their own opinion and relationship with you. Like Bully, but even better. I found getting married really compelling, particularly as my spouse got woven into the main story.

The NPC AI gives room for emergent gameplay, too. I committed my only evil act in the game after a harlot wormed her way into my house with my husband and tricked me into going to bed with her. Dan was upset at my infidelity so I had to deal with her. I tried leading her away to a private place to commit murder unobserved but my husband heard of my evil deed and he was always a bit scared of me ever after.

Fable 2 also gives you a faithful dog, a cute and useful little fella with whom you have a much simpler relationship. I was surprised at the end of the game to find I was quite attached to him; that attachment plays a role in the narrative, too. There's also a real estate game where you buy homes and stores. Towns prosper or fail depending on your heroic actions, affecting your income, so there's a link between the economy and your questing.

As for the main story, Fable 2 works quite well. It embraces the classic Hero / Chosen One narrative rather than trying to alter it in some crazy postmodern way. The free play and main story alternate a bit clumsily, it's a little too episodic. But the main story episodes are great. And in two different circumstances the game makes a strong break from the traditional gameplay, taking you out of your usual milieu. Normally I hate that kind of thing but it's quite powerful in the context of Fable 2. Can't say much more without spoiling it, unfortunately.

One caveat: the game is buggy. Lots of little bugs you can mostly ignore, also some huge terrible game stopping bugs like quests that fail and prevent you from continuing your only saved game. No doubt the worst will get patched, but it's shameful to see an A-list title released with souch bad quality control. My own heroic story end was ruined by the disappearing spouse bug. I'm supposed to return home to the rest I earned, but my husband had disappeared about halfway through the game not to be found. Hope I didn't miss anything.

  2008-10-28 16:57 Z
I can't say enough good things about my Sonos music system. If you want to play MP3s in your house off a file server and you have more than one room, take a look.

Sonos just got a little better today thanks to the new iPhone controller app. Free app from Sonos lets you control the music queues in all your zones. Works great. Sonos' wireless controller is a big selling point for the system, I'm surprised they developed an iPhone app as an alternative.

Setup was easy as with all Sonos network configuration. The only real caveat is your iPhone has to be on Wifi on the same local network as the Sonos system. It doesn't work via Edge, 3G, or Internet.

  2008-10-28 16:30 Z
The problem with A-list games now is that they're too good. Too many gameplay options, too much art, too much story, normal people can't possibly complete them.

I've finally finished Grand Theft Auto IV. It's a real tour de force of a game, sophisticated and beautiful and a lot of fun. It's also overwhelming. I only managed to finish GTA now, six months later, by knuckling down and grinding through the story missions. I finished with 42 hours of gameplay logged, which seems like an awful lot.

But I only enjoyed half of what the game has to offer: no side missions, no races, no pigeons or stunt jump completions. I barely even got to see New Jersey Alderney since I kept taking cabs everywhere.

I don't feel cheated, 42 hours is plenty. I just wish the game rewarded casual exploration more. I agree with Rob: there's a lot more room for content in the exquisitely modelled virtual city. But the game has no way to track and encourage casual exploration and wandering aimlessly gets old after awhile.

My favourite technical feature of the game is the dynamic lighting. Bright sunny days, cool grey dawn, colourful beach sunsets, dismal rain. Liberty City keeps changing how it looks depending on the time of day and the weather and the various moods are quite beautiful.

GTA IV is a lot to absorb and while I appreciate the gluttonous satiation of the game I get bored of the flavours before I can finish the meal. I'm hopeful that we'll see more beautiful, small games like Braid that can be fully enjoyed without making a huge time commitment.

  2008-10-21 14:33 Z
I got my first electric bill for my new house and suddenly I'm on a power-saving kick. I broke out my trusty Kill-A-Watt and measured how much power the various bits of my new audiovisual rack use.

Idle, my rack consumes an astonishing 80 watts. That's like leaving a lightbulb on all the time, and at my punitive rate of $0.35 / kilowatt-hour it's costing me $20 / month just to own this rack. What's it doing?

38W Tivo (Standby mode saves 2W)
35W Five Sonos players
4W Network switch
2W Superfluous power conditioner lights

Of course, it takes more power to actually use the gear.

32W Listening to music upstairs (1¢/hr)
Running three amplified Sonos zone players
85W Main amplifiers (3¢/hr)
Just turning on the amplifier and the subwoofer amp, not actually using it.
4W Watching TV
The Tivo consumes so much power when idle that actually watching it doesn't add much. Of course, I need the amplifiers on too.
25W Watching Blu-Ray (1¢/hr)
The disc player is hungry. It seems to use this much power even when sitting idle at a disc menu.
184W Playing GTA4 on an Xbox 360 (6¢/hr)
What an inefficient beast. It generates so much heat I have to leave the door open, too. Saves about 30W when sitting idle on the dashboard.
I don't begrudge the operating costs when actually doing stuff, even the Xbox. But 80 watts when idle is terrible. The Tivo is never truly idle, I can understand what it's doing with the power. But why do the amplified Sonos players consume 7W each when doing nothing? At least I can turn off the stupid power conditioner lights.
  2008-10-09 01:46 Z
Lots of randomness in my life lately with the move. Here are some good things I've been enjoying.

Eating breakfast or lunch at Toast. Like American diner food only high quality and carefully prepared. The new place at 24th and Sanchez is just as good as the original at 29th and Church, only with twice the seating.

Typing on a Humanscale 5G keyboard tray. Stable, slim, easy to install and adjust.

Watching Planet Earth in HD on my Samsung A650 TV. Clear bright colours, beautiful subtlety in the mid-tones. My new home is my first time having an HDTV and every time I see the flock of tiny white birds all crisp on a dark blue background my jaw drops. Even better is the beautifully rich brown tones of the African plains.

Cleaning up contractor mistakes with Goof Off and Goo Gone. For all I know Goof Off is just paint thinner in a can, but it's great at removing stray bits of paint. And Goo Gone is the master at removing sticky residues from hard surfaces: tape gunk, grease, etc. The web site says it's "a combination of Citrus Power and scientific technology," which is nearly meaningless, but it smells like oranges and works great.

Playing Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. It's the game Spore should have been, a cute and engaging garden simulation game. You entice colourful animals to live in your garden with good husbandry. It's dressed up in kid's game clothes but has a lot of depth to it.

  2008-10-03 23:01 Z
For a decade now people have been babbling about "digital convergence". The typical vision involves some proprietary set-top box from your company name here and the grandiose plan to be unify radio, TV, and Internet in one market-dominating service. That hasn't happened, but it turns out digital convergence is already here in our living rooms and no one has quite noticed yet. The driving factor isn't the consumer electronics manufacturers or the cable companies. It's Internet services like Amazon Unbox, Netflix, iTunes, and Youtube.
Youtube is now a full-fledged content provider on both Tivo and AppleTV. I can watch Youtube on my TV just like I watch Comcast. There's plenty of random things to browse and search as well as actual edited programming with YouTube's Featured Videos. YouTube on Tivo is great for bored channel surfing, particularly since you can quickly bounce around related videos. The video quality is atrocious, of course, but it starts playing fast and it feels like watching TV, not browsing the web.

YouTube isn't the only Internet service I can watch on my TV. Amazon's Unbox is also on Tivo with online rentals available for download right next to recording off the cable. Netflix is about to stream to the Xbox 360 if you haven't gotten around to spending $100 on a Roku player yet. Of course iTunes delivers TV and movies to AppleTV.

Internet companies are now making the end-run around cable and satellite distribution that's been predicted for years. If you have fast Internet in your home you can get something to watch Internet video for very cheap. The big sticking point is quality; streaming HD is still generally unavailable. The same A/V setups that can stream low-res content from the Internet are mostly being bought by people to play HD content, and watching a crappy 80 kbytes/sec YouTube video blown up to 1920p is a bad experience. Internet HD is doable; decent quality 720p AVI files are about 200kbytes/sec, within reach of home broadband. But it's a significant expense to provide that bandwidth to hundreds of thousands of customers. Also, I imagine content owners are loathe to license HD copies of their video for streaming. So traditional cable and satellite video distribution isn't doomed quite yet.

  2008-10-02 20:37 Z