February 28, 2010

"Heavy Rain" is brilliant, except for the part when it freezes

Like many a PlayStation 3 gamer this weekend, I'm totally engrossed in the dark, Fincher-esque world of "Heavy Rain," a gripping and surprisingly emotional noir that effectively blurs the line between movies and video games. Indeed, "Heavy Rain" is so absorbing that I often find myself forgetting that yes, I do need to pull the R2 trigger to get my grim-yet-determined gumshoe detective (or the desperate father, resourceful mother, or the tech-savvy FBI agent) walking again.

But there's one issue that keeps ripping me out of the mesmerizing "Heavy Rain" experience, and that's the fact that the game grinds to a screeching halt every so often, locking up so completely that I have to get up and do a hard reset on my PS3. Most notably, it happened in the "Crime Scene" chapter early in the game, after my character wandered a little too far away from the action. The sound kept going, but the screen froze, and not even the PS button could shake things loose; I literally had to press and hold the PS3 power button for a hard reset, losing much of my progress during the chapter in the bargain. And once the console rebooted and the game restarted, it took a good five minutes on the loading screen (which features one of the four main characters in extreme close-up, staring right at you—creepy!) before "Heavy Rain" came back to life.

And that's not the only technical problem I've encountered; screen tearing is rampant, marring the otherwise stellar graphics, and the "loading..." screens regularly take minutes at a time to complete, especially when there's a trophy involved (and yes, this is after I downloaded and installed the recent patch).

The only real tip for dealing with "Heavy Rain" freezing on you is to be patient; as this Joystiq post notes, you may have to wait several minutes for the game to load up a save file after a hard reset. That's too bad, because annoying glitches aside, "Heavy Rain" is shaping up to be one of the best games of the year.

February 27, 2010

Apple: OK, fine, we fixed those glitchy 27-inch iMac displays. Happy now?

Well, it only took four months—yep, months—for Apple to admit something was wrong with its flagship 27-inch iMac displays: namely, that the screens were flickering and had a distinct yellow tint (or "jaundiced," as Gizmodo cleverly put it). Given that Apple typically comes out with a new line of iMacs (either a spec bump or a full-on revamp) every year or so, four months is basically an entire third of a production cycle. Then again, even more of an eyebrow-raiser is the fact that Apple—which has a tendency to dismiss defects altogether—copped to the problem at all.

In any case, Apple says that any 27-inch iMac owners who are still having trouble with their displays can contact AppleCare for help (and as Gizmodo notes, there are indeed still plenty of iMac users saddled with glitchy displays); in the meantime, those of us who were considering buying one of the new jumbo-sized iMacs—myself included—are left to wonder whether we should risk it or wait and see if the kinks have truly been ironed out. My advice: wait a few more weeks, just to be sure.

February 20, 2010

Can OnLive deliver on its promise of "in the cloud" gaming?

The idea behind OnLive is a good one: A hosted, "in the cloud" gaming service (currently in closed beta) that streams high-end, console-quality games (like "Crysis," "Mirror's Edge," and "Burnout Paradise") to cheap, paperback book-sized "micro-consoles" and/or a garden-variety laptops; yes, you'd have to pay a monthly fee, but you wouldn't need any pricey gaming hardware, either. Sounds good, but can the folks behind OnLive (which was first announced almost a year ago) actually pull it off? Which titles will be available at launch? How will the graphics look? What about latency ... any just how much would a subscription cost, anyway? Hopefully, we'll get some answersand perhaps even a firm launch datecome March 10, when OnLive founder Steve Perlman is slated to deliver a keynote at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Stay tuned.

February 12, 2010

Trying out Extensions in Google Chrome for Mac

The beta version of Google's Chrome browser for Mac finally got support for Extensions (which are essentially little widgets you can install onto the Chrome interface), so naturally, I've been spending a good chunk of the afternoon testing one extension after another. So far, I've seen a series of ad blockers, two or three Facebook extensions, several Gmail checkers, and (of course) an extension that keeps track of your extensions ... so no, nothing life-changing yet. Will keep looking. Got any suggestions?

February 11, 2010

Good news: Original Xbox DLC is back online, will be there 'till the bitter end

So tweets Xbox Live's Major Nelson, and that's great news for those of us who'd wanted one last chance to play Halo 2 and other original Xbox games online but couldn't because we were missing one or more chunks of mandatory DLC.

As you may recall, Microsoft recently announced that it will pull the plug on Xbox Live support for the original Xbox on April 15;  however, many gamers (myself included) were surprised to discover that the DLC for old games like Halo 2 had been pulled early -- and without the right DLC, some titles (like, you known Halo 2) won't let you engage in any online multiplayer mayhem. But now that original Xbox DLC is back on Live, there's still a chance for those of us who zapped our old Xbox DLC to relive the old days before ... The End.

February 09, 2010

The "Mass Effect 2" endgame: spectacular

Wasn't I just griping about how tedious it is to mine planets in the new "Mass Effect"? Well, yeah, but having just completed my first play-through of "ME2," all is forgiven. I won't spoil anything here, I promise, but the end of the game is truly spectacular, worthy of (if not superior to) any Hollywood blockbuster.

I also love the fact that my ME2 ending may well be radically different from yours, depending on your choices throughout the game: which upgrades you opted for, the teammates whose loyalty you earned (or didn't), and whether you played the game as a paragon of virtue or a ruthless renegade. Indeed, I've already started a new play-through as a bad-ass female Shepard in the hopes of having a very different experience the second time around.

In any case, kudos to the entire BioWare team for a job well done (on top of the superb "Dragon Age: Origins" from last November, as well). "Mass Effect 3" can't come soon enough.

Yahoo! Tech, R.I.P.

A sad day, but don't worry -- as Chris Null wrote earlier today, our blogs will live on over at the Yahoo! News technology page. I'm looking forward to the new venue, but still ... it's never fun to see a site that you spent years working on go dark. In any case, Chris and I will continue blogging on Yahoo! Tech until March 11, with our blogs making the leap to Y! News once any necessary back-end work is complete.

February 08, 2010

Planet mining in "Mass Effect 2" is a crashing bore

We're just a little more than a month into 2010, yet we already have one of the best games of the year in "Mass Effect 2," the sequel to 2007's RPG smash that managed to improve on the original in practically every way ... save the part where you have to mine planets for resources that let you upgrade your weapons, armor, and other technology aboard the Normandy.

Mining a planet involves little more than guiding a smallish, circular reticule over the planet surface and pulling the right trigger whenever your sensors start to twitch ... a tedious, mind-numbing chore, especially when you consider that it can take up to 20 "probes" to strip-mine a planet completely. Fun it ain't.

Luckily, I found a few short cuts. The Mass Effect 2 wiki has a convenient guide to all the planets in the game, listing which resources are found where; even better, here's a list of the five top planets to mine. Last but not least, check out these four essential tips for making planet mining a bit easier (tip no. 4: bribe neighborhood kids to mine planets for you).

Meanwhile, well...you'll have to excuse me; I've got a suicide mission to finish.

February 07, 2010

A few changes, under the hood

Yes indeed, It may not look like it, but this blog has undergone some fairly radical changes over the past couple of days, especially in the wake of Google's announcement that Blogger will no longer support FTP come March.

Yahoo! Small Business used to be the Web host around here, but that's all over now; BlogSpot has taken over, although Yahoo! is still hosting my domain (with a little help from Melbourne IT). It was a move of necessity given that Blogger is cutting off FTP support (too much effort for too few users, apparently), but now that the work's all done, I'm pretty happy with the result. The site publishes posts and edits much more quickly, and the new Blogger page-layout tool (well, new to me, anyway) means I can tinker with widgets, columns, colors, and fonts without having to dig into the nitty-gritty of code. I wish Blogger had a few more blog templates to choose from, but hey ... I'll live.

Anyway, that's the scoop on the "new" site, although I have to admit: annoying though it was sometimes, I'll miss the old-school ways of FTP. Ah, the good ol' days ...

Update: Well, I couldn't help it; after more Google searches than I care to remember, I've settled on a new template. Now all we need are some new blog posts to go with the revamped layout.

February 06, 2010

Testing, testing...

Don't be alarmed; this is just a test. No big thing, just cracking open the hood here.

Just want to test out the line spacing. It's been a little wonky on previous posts, and I'm trying to see what's what.

This is only a test.