A Couple of Days with Mac OS X Leopard

It says something that a new OS X release is an event to be celebrated in the Mac world, whereas even a Windows service pack is approached with trepidation and furious backup-taking. And while forums across the world are filled with moaning about recalcitrant Vista installs and pining for the good ol’ XP days (remember how much fun those were pre-SP2?), I’m enjoying Mac OS X 10.5.

Leopard isn’t without flaws though, and I suppose you have to give the benefit of the doubt to any new OS release to a certain extent. Here’s what I think so far. Mac geekery will follow.

The new Finder is a good improvement that’s been needed for a while. I like it and the only feature that I really want is a way to easily set the default window size and layout style so that I can set certain folders to open in Cover Flow (awesome way to navigate images and PDFs, incidentally), etc.

Quick Look is probably the thing that I’m going to use the most. I have a lot of similarly-titled Word documents that I rely on Spotlight to look through and this just adds another way to quickly navigate documents.

Spaces is quite useful when you’re doing something that involves a lot of different programs. I was doing some website work earlier and so had the play programs (Camino, Adium, iTunes) open in one, TextWrangler (text editor) and Transmit (FTP) open in the other, and Photoshop open in the third one. It definitely makes things less cluttered when you’re working with limited screen space and don’t want to keep minimising and hiding programs to keep them out of the way. Too bad that it can’t magically add more RAM though, eh?

Continue reading A Couple of Days with Mac OS X Leopard



Much has been made about the value of The Orange Box, the new Half-Life 2 compilation, and to be honest it’s beyond dispute. This is one of the best first-person shooters ever made (I still think it’s a bit overrated, but that’s another post) in its first decent console excursion, with two expansions (one of which is brand new), and then two whole new games thrown in on top. And all for the price of one game. Considering the stuff that gets away with a £50 sticker nowadays, Orange Box is a steal.

But anyway, what I really want to talk about is Portal. The real unknown quantity here, what with Half-Life and Team Fortress both coming from established series, it’s almost the first really next-gen puzzle game; one that doesn’t work solely on the principles of Tetris or Bejeweled with some particle effects on top.

Back in 2003 Half-Life 2 taught us that as graphics begin to plateau it was physics that were the next big thing, and so I find it odd that this is the first mainstream title to really exploit it purely for puzzles. The early hours of Half-Life 2 were filled with so many moments that utilised the flashy new Havok engine that even today, when it’s almost ubiquitous, we’ve rarely seen it used for more than making barrels fall convincingly. Such an engine coupled with mind-bending portals – about the only memorable thing in the otherwise wholly forgettable Prey – gives two new ideas, united in their ability to distract from the task at hand, a whole game in which to shine.

Far from being a simple skeleton on which to hang a couple of neat ideas, however, Portal fits into the Half-Life universe as a side story. There’s not a mention of Gordon Freeman and only hints at the Combine invasion (the disembodied voice of GLaDOS, the computer, makes references to ‘them’, and the hastily-abandoned facility speaks volumes), but the unsettling sense of there being more to what you’re seeing than you’re allowed to know remains, particularly in later levels.

I was also surprised by the quality of the writing, being that your character is the only human in the game. GLaDOS is an omnipresent observer who never quite seems to be on the level with you and whose mechanical detachment makes for amusement, and the turrets talk like small children as they try to find and shoot you. They’re like virtual embodiments of the way that violence is sanitised, using phrases like “dispensing product” as a euphemism for attempting to kill you that fits well with the sterile environment. I recommend looking at the script to see what you missed when you finish it.

And the song that plays over the credits is just wonderful. So good that it deserves its own paragraph, see?

Portal takes only 2-3 hours to finish and as such would probably flounder outside of a bundled game or a cheap download, and I think even the $19.95 for the solus download on Steam is pushing it. But as it is a bundled game in a package that would be exceptional value even without Portal, what we have is a proof of concept that has the potential to be the next big puzzler. It’s a wonderfully realised game and quite possibly the best thing in that pack. I’ll regret saying this, but bring on the downloadable content.

Xbox 360 2-0 Me

Red Ring of Death

Right as we go into that busy time of year for gaming my second Xbox 360 has kicked the bucket. It’s no more. It’s ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker (in a cardboard coffin). It’s a stiff. Pushing up the daisies, etc, etc, etc.

I’d suspected it was coming for a while, since the drive kept spinning down randomly and audibly struggling to focus on a disc, and sure enough it froze up while playing Halo 3 on Monday. It froze again on the title screen when I restarted, and then on the third attempt it froze on the 360 splash screen. I could hear the death clock ticking. No graphical corruption, unlike the first time, but you know what’s coming when a 360 starts to play up.

After a night unplugged, it made it a few minutes into Half-Life 2 before freezing, and then wouldn’t even make it to the dashboard without freezing. But it hadn’t red ringed yet, and there was no chance that I was paying for repairs again. I started to look for ways to induce the rings to qualify for the warranty extension, ultimately just turning it on and off repeatedly until, after less than a minute, those evil lights revealed themselves.

So now my Halo 3 and Orange Box will have to sit unused for two weeks (better than the frankly ludicrous 5-6 weeks people were being quoted around the Halo 3 launch), at which point Call of Duty 4 will be almost here. I’m looking at my PS3 collection for things to play and beginning to feel depressed…

Better not look at the Wii library in case I get suicidal

In any case as soon as the replacement arrives it’s getting traded in towards an Elite or 65nm and HDMI-equipped Premium.

PSP Themes: My First Attempt

Having shared some of my favourite custom themes for the PSP in the previous post, I now bring you what I have to show for the last couple of days.

I don’t think it’s half bad for a first attempt, although perhaps I could have gone for a bit more consistency with the logos I used to mark options. And it is, of course, yet more proof that I need something more productive to do with my time.

Feedback is welcome.

PSP Theme Showcase

The recent 3.70 PSP firmware (also in the 3.71 M33 custom firmware) added support for custom themes to personalise the XMB. Using this utility it’s possible to make your own, and since the homebrew community has been customising the XMB for months through less legitimate means, it naturally hasn’t taken long for some good, highly professional ones to show up.

I downloaded a rather impressive theme pack and trawled some forums for the best, as well as a couple that are a bit rubbish really but I found funny. Here are some of my favourites, both official and fan-made:

Cookie (official)




Continue reading PSP Theme Showcase

A Childhood Fantasy Comes True

Sonic vs. Mario

So Solid Snake isn’t the only non-Nintendo character to make it into Smash Bros Brawl, as Nintendo has announced that Sonic will be pitting himself in mortal combat against Mario for the first time. Now we know how Sega got permission to put Mario into its Olympic game, then.

I was very indifferent towards Smash Bros Melee, probably because it came out at the same time as I was getting into Street Fighter III: Third Strike’s home debut on Dreamcast and, let’s face it, in a battle of fighting mechanics only one of those is going to come out on top. It was an enjoyable little fanwank but I find myself constantly baffled by lists putting it up there as one of the best games of all time. It’s not. Seriously, it’s not. It’s not even close to being the best game on GameCube, and that’s saying something.

As such, my anticipation for Brawl was almost nil. I still need to buy Metroid Prime 3, and that gets the nod over Smash Bros for having a proper single player experience in there. But this has changed things entirely. The original Smash Bros may have been wish fulfilment for a lot of people who grew up with Nintendo, but in making a fighting game with Mario and Sonic, Nintendo have gone and created my most wanted game from about 1993. Seriously, if I’d told 8-year-old self about this game my little head would have exploded.

So what are the odds on Snake slitting Sonic’s throat for that awful next-gen abortion? Don’t go all family friendly on us, Nintendo.