Apr 302008
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that an emerging requirement for scientists is that they possess a laptop computer in addition to any desktop. It just seems to be an essential feature for giving talks at conferences and (crossing fingers) for jobs. For whatever reason it seems like you just can’t ever trust that your presentation will ever work on somebody else’s computer. Plus, on the rare occasions that I travel it might just be convenient to have one. So, I’ve decided to purchase a laptop, and would like some advice based on personal experience or whatnot.

The requirements I have are pretty basic. I don’t plan to do any heavy computational lifting or gaming with this machine. I need it to be capable of word processing, running Powerpoint (or equivalent), displaying images, and accessing the web. It also needs to work smoothly with external projectors (this used to be a problem with Macs; is it still?), have good battery life, and be hardy enough to get knocked around in a plane or in my car and still function well. I would strongly prefer that it not put out enough heat to neuter me if I have the misfortune to actually use it in my lap. Obviously, since this will be a secondary computer, I want it to be relatively inexpensive, not much more than my rebate check if I can help it.

So, any recommendations? Are there any Macs that fit the bill, or are they all in the way too expensive zone? Are the Dells (Vostro, Inspiron) a suitable option, or are they also too pricey? Does HP make any laptops that won’t burn your pants right off? Can laptops running Linux deal with LCD projectors?

Feb 192008
To be honest, this took a little longer than I thought it would. Toshiba has decided to halt production of HD-DVD players, although the company claims that it will continue to support existing products through maintenance, etc. It will take a little time for this to shake out on the larger stage—studios that had committed to HD-DVD will probably face a little uncertainty. In the end though, Sony is like every other company: it loves money. So I would not expect any more than the standard amount of groveling to be required. The Sony executives have to be feeling good, seeing as they managed to win this format war. Coming on the heels of favorable January sales numbers for the PS3, this makes for a wonderful February for them.

It will be interesting to see the effect of this development on the console wars. The presence of Blu-ray on the PS3 may have aided that format’s ultimate triumph. However, in this generation, only the PS3 is truly positioned as a multimedia center. You could get an HD-DVD player for the XBox 360, but it was an add-on. Given that Sony is a major supporter of Blu-Ray, it’s unlikely that they will produce a Blu-Ray peripheral for Microsoft’s benefit, though nothing in principle prevents MS from developing code to support 3d-party Blu-Ray peripherals. Because the PS3 is not that much more expensive than a good Blu-Ray player, it becomes a more secure 2-for-1 proposition. But that’s something the XBox never really was anyway. The PS3 might get a minor boost from people who were holding back because of a perceived potential for Blu-ray to fold, but this was probably never a significant portion of the console-buying public. And the simple fact is that unless some significant changes occur in the PS3’s game library, it won’t attract anyone who currently isn’t in the market for a console.

Jan 312008
It’s time to start with a decision-making process. I’m not definitely in the market yet for one of the three next-gen consoles, but I will be, perhaps within the next year. This is an open post that I’ll probably keep updating for a while. Keep in mind that my must-have games may not be the same as yours, though I’ll welcome your suggestions.

This table looks really screwed up and I don’t know why. I have no idea why all these break tags appeared in this post. Sorry for the megascroll. All fixed now. See what effort I go through to bring you my bullshit?

Positives Negatives Must-Have Games
  1. motion control = activity
  2. backwards compatible with my GC library
  3. awesome downloadable retro games selection
  4. system and games more affordable
  5. robust controller
  6. many WiiWare titles are totally awesome
  1. motion control = activity
  2. limited RPG selection (?)
  3. shovelware
  4. limited original downloadable content
  5. DS is enough for casual gaming
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
No More Heroes
Super Mario Galaxy
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
XBox 360
  1. robust online service (friends)
  2. robust original downloadable games listing
  3. great HD graphics
  4. very durable controller
  1. robust online service (John Gabriel’s GIFT)
  2. red ring of doom
  3. I don’t have an HDTV
Assassin’s Creed
Blue Dragon
Eternal Sonata
Mass Effect
Playstation 3
  1. comes with blu-ray player
  2. greater HD graphics
  3. Fumito Ueda
  1. expensive…
  2. …or not backwards compatible with my huge PS2 library
  3. I don’t have an HDTV
  4. will cheaper blu-ray cause buyer’s remorse?
  5. may melt my apartment
  6. flimsy controller
Assassin’s Creed
Final Fantasy XIII
Metal Gear Solid 4
Ratchet & Clank Future
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Valkyria Chronicles

Issues to consider:

Where will the RPG market land? Right now the Xbox seems to be leading on the quirky RPG front. Unless the install base widens significantly, it doesn’t seem terribly likely that the PS3 will be as successful in that regard as the PS2 was. However, the PS3 is a likely landing place for the main Final Fantasy titles and the Tales series. The low development costs of Wii games may end up turning the 2-D RPG and strategy RPG markets to that console, even though the Gamecube was notoriously weak in the genre. Thus, the Wii may end up catching the narrow-market RPGs I often adore.

Can the HD consoles attract classic adventure games? It can’t be a secret that I really like adventure games in the Zelda mold. Assuming that the X360 and PS3 split the RPG market, the clincher for either of these consoles will be success in attracting this generally ignored genre. Games like Beyond Good & Evil suggest that this genre can grow beyond the Zelda clones to include experiences of great emotional depth. Will the HD market go this way, or will the genre languish once again, save for the loving devotion of Nintendo?

Which console will generate the most interesting artistic innovations? I think the knee-jerk response here is the Wii, but it seems to me that developers have so far done much less with motion control than they could have. Instead, the Wii seems to have become a grand repository of casual-gaming shovelware, with a few truly innovative titles here and there. Despite its potential, the Wii has yet to see a game that achieves the true gestalt of emotional communication and interactivity that marks games as an artform. Does No More Heroes fill that void? And Sony Computer Entertainment cannot be ignored in this regard—Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were some of the best art made for the last generation of consoles. Also, as the PS3 and Wii have been getting up to speed, Bioware and Irrational have started to take interesting steps on the X360. This is currently an open question, but for me it’s a significant one.

And, to track my position by date:
1/30/08 – leaning towards Wii first, HD console (much) later.
2/13/08 – If the PS3 lacks backwards compatibility that is a major minus in my book. Baroque will come out on PS2, so it’s no longer in the Wii column. The more I hear about Lost Odyssey the more ambivalent I feel. On the one hand I like the idea that short stories are built into the game, on the other hand I hate games that string cutscenes together using lame gameplay, not to mention that I hate hate hate amnesia as a plot device.
2/15/08 – Okami hops into the Wii category. I was underwhelmed by the gameplay on the PS2, but this is a game that would really benefit from the motion controller.
2/24/08 – Added Insult Swordfighting’s controller reviews.
2/25/08 – Valkyria Chronicle looks really interesting. Into the PS3 pro column it goes.

Sorely tempted

 technology, video games  Comments Off on Sorely tempted
Aug 082007

For the first time I really have an urge to get an XBox. It’s a very curious thought, since the ‘feel’ of the XBox library doesn’t much coincide with my gaming interests. A console where the highest-profile exclusive offerings come in the form of FPS, racers, and Western-style RPGs generally doesn’t appeal to me. But it seems now like the XBox is catching some of the quirky RPGs that more suit my style. I’m specifically talking about Eternal Sonata, a new cel-shaded RPG set in the mind of Frederic Chopin shortly before his death of tuberculosis. The concept alone — and the idea of music informing the RPG mechanics — is pretty intriguing, but I’ve also been very drawn by the game art I’ve seen so far and the descriptions of the combat system. Ultimately it’s not quite enough to convince me to blow hundreds of dollars on a system that still doesn’t have much that I want. That said, if the XBox continues to get more of this kind of game, a sort that used to be more or less the exclusive province of the PS2, the case for it will get stronger and stronger in my mind.