james debate
james debate

Friday 20 February 2009

Well it's been a tiring week. On the one hand I've finalized a flat for the rest of the year, by which point hopefully prices will be low enough that I can buy. But this hunt has been carried out on top of all the hardcore medicine I've been getting up to, 2500 word case study now complete, examinations are starting to come together, clinical skills solidifying, and frankly i've had about enough of clinical experience, can I have some more lectures please? Some words I never thought i'd say...

Now comes the fun part of having a flat, the housewarming. I'm a little hesitant after the furor caused by the last one, and because I don't much fancy getting my ass kicked out so quickly, but something will be done, and in traditional style it will be awesome. I think it's time to come up with a theme

However I have had the joy of a little privacy once again, with the entire house to myself for two weeks. I've resisted the urge to throw any crazy house parties during that time, but I've certainly been getting up to a fair bit of entertaining. Probably has something to do with how i've managed to find myself out more nights this week than not, which needless to say has not been doing much good for my hospital routine. Hell sometimes it's worth going in late the next morning when you have a reason to lie-in.

A friend of mine recently told me he's thinking of quitting Imperial, and it really got me thinking about this place. I'm starting to enjoy it again myself, after becoming a bit disillusioned, but I can see where he's coming from. At times this university feels less like College and more like a bad teen drama, i'm sure it has to do with the stressful course we're on, but far too many people here are just uptight, insecure and far too concerned with how people look at them. Not the first time i've said it, won't be the last, and it's exhausting sometimes. The important thing is to find the more laid back people around here and just let the rest drive each other nuts if they want.

In more amusing news, now that Hiddink is at Chelsea, suddenly those season tickets of mine are hot properties again, already got the next 3 home games booked out, let's just hope the team starts doing better!

And the most important news of all, it was Didier's first birthday 2 days ago! Happy Birthday Didier!

happy cat didierDidier - 3 weeks old

happy cat didierDidier - 1 year old, opening his present

Developed by Sports Interactive
Genre Sports simulation
Platform PC/Mac
Release date(s) 4th November 2008 (download), 23rd January 2009 (retail)

Football Manager Live

Football Manager, the seminal series from developer Sports Interactive, has long been one of the most successful and universally acclaimed video games series around for many years, ever since it went by its old name 'Championship Manager'. If you live in England, and you like football, chances are you play this game, and I'm sure the same is true all over the world these days.

As such it was only a logical next step in this increasingly wireless, online world of ours to create Football Manager Live, a massively multiplayer online version of the game.

The basic premise then, is to divide the game into different 'gameworlds' consisting of around 1000 players each. Each of these players then creates his or her own club from scratch. And I mean you can really design it from the ground up in full detail, you name the club, design the kit, design the stadium right down to the grass patterns on the pitch, and then you pick your team, with each team being able to pick players from the massive and world famous SI database of hundreds of thousands of players (and each player can only be picked once in each game world). You can then join a football association chosen depending on when and how often you plan on playing the game, and you can develop your management ability by training your own skills in classic RPG fashion. Of course there were serious reservations about this concept from long time fans, it all sounded very ambitious, and many had doubts that it would work well.

Well I won't sugarcoat it, it is a game that takes some time and effort... but then most people who play normal Football Manager probably waste plenty on that game as it is, so they can just redirect that football lust towards this game instead. And it would indeed be worthy usage of said time as well, because the game is very well done.

The first tip I should give is to join the game in a newly created gameworld, don't jump into one that's already several seasons in, it'll be far too much catching up to do with other clubs monopolizing all the money and good players. Join a new gameworld and get off to a good start to establish yourself as one of the big clubs, and make sure you remember the good cheap players from FM because money is hard to come by at first.

The first day you sign up will be spent mostly dealing with the background details of your club and picking the right squad, and then there will be a space of about a week to play friendlies and tweak tactics, build skills and generally sort yourself out before the start of the season. Then when the season begins it lasts about a month, during which time games are given deadline dates, and if the two people involved haven't played by that point one or both of the teams can be controlled by computer for that match, to make sure the season keeps flowing. This ensures that there are rarely problems involved with people not showing up when they're supposed to.

That's just one example of how well thought out the game is, they've clearly put a lot of effort into imagining the various issues that might come up with an online community of players and made smart moves to deal with issues, such as the one mentioned above. Similarly the user feedback system, working much like the eBay feedback system, works well, and is even worked into the game with manager descriptions in news items. For example, my manager was described as 'honorable' on account of my high sportsmanship rating. Its lovely little touches like this that make the game a joy to play, where even the little things and decisions you do have a visible and tangible effect on the gameworld.

However this is also where the majority of criticism for the game can be directed. The developers have clearly made a concerted effort to skew matters to favor casual gamers rather than people who put effort into the game. This is a smart game design move on the surface as it will increase the game's marketability and userbase, but bad in the sense that it ends up with them going 'too far' on a number of issues and compromising the integrity and realism of the game world.

For example, one can only have 5 players in their team protected by permanent contracts, which is a fairly absurd move designed to ensure that no team can just monopolize the best players, and that players constantly rotate around from team to team on a frequent basis. This heavily undermines the spirit of the game to run the 'club of your dreams', as they clearly don't realize how big a part player endearment plays in football club spirt and fandom. As a result this move simply ends up making the user very VERY aware that they are playing a videogame, rather than an effective simulation of football.

Similar to this is the decision to impose a 100% sales tax on all transfers for the first few weeks, going down to around 50% eventually. The aim of this is to prevent early players from signing the best players and then selling them at a massive profit in the first days of the game. I can understand the need for this to minimize the heavy advantage of the early bird, but 100%? that's just ludicrous. It would be like telling shops to sell all their goods at wholesale value, it's bad for the economy and the transfer market. Smaller taxes may have been a smart move, but such heavy ones simply serve to kill the market in the game for the first season. Stupid move.

It is just these few glaringly dumb moves to appease casual gamers that bring the game down in the end, but not enough to change how awesome the rest of the game has been pulled off. I definitely recommend this game to all football manager fans and to anyone who fancies trying an online game for a change.

Directed by Peter Avanzino
Written by Ken Keeler, David X. Cohen
Starring Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio
Release date(s) 23rd February 2009
Running time 88 minutes

Futurama wild green yonder

Most people already know how I feel about Futurama. For me it is one of the best tv shows ever made; one of those rare examples in television of a tv show that can successfully and poignantly mingle joyously silly and witty fare with touching and meaningful serious moments, which are all the more effective for their skillful juxtaposition. It's the sort of art that has been so successfully crafted by shows like Scrubs and Life on Mars in the past, but a tact the likes of which has never been dared before by any cartoon.

It is for reasons such as these that the tv show developed such a loyal fanbase that led to it following in the footsteps of Family Guy and being resurrected in the form of 4 movies (which was later converted into another season's worth of tv).

The first movie was exceptional, funny and yet also touching in classic Futurama fashion. The second and third movies were plenty funny, but really not quite up to the standards set by the show during its glory days. Giving this perplexing matter some thought, I figured that like with most tv shows, the beginning and end of the tv season are the best bits. As such I decided that while the second and third movies were most likely the filler from the middle of the season, and so this final film of the four would have to be pretty damn special.

In 'Into the Wild Green Yonder', an accident causes a piece of necklace to lodge in Fry's head, giving him the ability to read minds. He joins the Legion of Mad Fellows, who are trying to prevent evil from destroying the gateway to the "green age". Meanwhile, Bender falls in love with a fembot married to Donbot, head of the Robot Mafia and Leo Wong goes to demolish an arm of the Milky Way for a miniature golf course, prompting Leela, Amy and LaBarbara to join an eco-feminist society on the run from the government and Zapp Brannigan.

Now don't get me wrong, this film is still very funny, and hey, it's Futurama, so how bad could it possibly be? But unfortunately this one has turned out to be my least favorite of the four films. There are some sweet moments (the last 5 minutes are pretty good) but overall, the touching moments never match classic scenes from past adventures, and the funny jokes are just too few and far between for this to really be classic Futurama.

There was no moment in this movie where I really felt blown away by what I was seeing, nor was there any gag that really sent me into a laughing fit as usually happens at least once in any episode of Futurama. That 'Scary Door' episode from the third movie had me in hysterics for a long long time, there's simply nothing THAT funny in this one sadly.

What makes it even more disappointing is that this could well be the last ever adventure of Futurama. This is the final movie planned (and with no production of any kind planned for the future, it all depends on how well these movies sell, so fingers crossed) and as a big finale it simply doesn't hit as hard as it should do. A show like this, one would hope, would go out with a bang, and this simply isn't it. So what would have been just a mediocre episode of Futurama turns into a big disappointment, just because I was hoping for so much more from such a significant moment in the franchise's history.

Also something I was looking forward to this movie for was the explanation behind the mysterious The Number 9 Man, a character who has been placed mysteriously in the background of the show since the first season. They did something similar during the first 5 seasons where Nibbler was revealed to actually have been present in the very first episode (and he is, you can go look for yourself) which gave us an amazing moment of realizing that the writers had the whole thing planned out for years. Sadly this number 9 man has just got some generic shoe-horned plot and I can't help but feel they really missed an opportunity to do something cool here.

The final moments of the film are very nice, and I expect a lot of people would be satisfied if the show left things at that, but frankly I don't feel it leaves me with a big enough sense of closure, partly because of the intentionally open ending they gave it. So welcome back wonderful Futurama, maybe for the last time, but i'll remember you for much more impressive outings than this one.

Developed by Eversim
Genre Real Time Strategy
Platform PC
Release date(s) 20th January 2009

geopolitical simulator 2009

The mania surrounding President Obama has yielded much paraphernalia on which one would not ordinarily expect to see a President depicted; from designer fashion wear to Spiderman comicbooks (which now go on ebay for hundreds of dollars). Thus it was only to be expected that our 44th President would eventually become the inspiration for videogames, and that is pretty much what has happened here.

Last year Eversim released their first version of Geopolitical Simulator, towards which the critical response was something along the lines of 'well its the thought that counts...' and went largely unnoticed. Now they have come out with a new version, released on the day of Obama's inauguration, clearly hoping that his incredible popularity, and the unprecedented interest young people are now taking in politics as a result, would inspire people to buy this game. Indeed one of the game modes in single player even has you playing as a newly elected african american President promising change for a left-centre country, clearly based off of our current situation.

So what exactly is this game then? Well really it is just the most in depth political simulator you will ever see. If you have ever wanted to run a country right down to the smallest detail then this game is for you, the level of detail and the tiny minutiae you can control in this game is quite amazing.

You can take control of any country in the world, each one clearly having it's own economy, military, government structure and technology, and then you can guide them towards your vision of the utopian society. You can control the economy, agriculture, industry, energy, healthcare, education, labor, science and technology, military, espionage and intelligence, culture, sports, religion and much more. You can tweak the budget to suit your exact details, for example putting funding into specific lines of research like energy or computer technology, placing priority on different types of culture (film, literature, musical comedy), different facets of healthcare, even different sports to concentrate in and how much budget the organizations get, and that's just a small sample.

Clearly with the wealth of options here the possibility exists to really do whatever you want. Indeed when you play this game you ultimately go through three phases, first there's the overwhelming variety of things you need/want to take care of, then there's the sheer joy of realizing just how much you can shape the country to be everything you've always wanted it to be, then there's the realization of whether or not it all actually works.

So let me just tell you briefly about how things went for me in this game. First and foremost, the priority was to fix up the economy, as in real life. Now the tools for this are about as good a simulation of economic growth as i've yet seen in a videogame, so if you know anything about the economy, as I do, then you can sort out a system meddling with interest rates and controlling inflation in order to get it all back to normal within a year or so, though doing that whilst keeping unemployment levels low is a harder challenge. So far so good. However it's once the economy was under control that things started to go a bit haywire.

First of all, the people in this game that you preside over are the whiniest little pricks i have ever known, and i've known a few. They will protest in the hundreds of thousands if you do anything too drastic, I had mass riots in the streets over my proposed tax cuts for example... which is odd, I think i'd be quite happy if I found out i didn't have to pay so much in taxes. The secret in practice, however is just not to make any sudden movements, do it a little bit at a time and you SHOULD be fine.

Then things just went nuts. 2010 and the dems just made even bigger gains in congress, so I start putting in my energy bills (alternative energy) and social reforms (no religion in politics, tax breaks for real estate investment), culture reforms (reduced censorship, more funding), increased investment in infrastructure and making science and healthcare a priority. To top this off, I had successfully removed troops from Iraq and placated Iran enough to have both countries as my allies. The world was fast becoming a utopia...

Then suddenly, and without warning, Russia decided to invade America... soon they brought their friends China, North Korea and... err... Jamaica... with them to fight against me, and a third world war broke out for no particular reason. At this point it becomes painfully obvious that diplomacy does fuck all in this game as there are simply too few options and no country will ever accept anything you offer them from the options provided, this part of the game is simply broken. So war were declared, and my economy suffered due to extra expenditure on the military, but eventually peace broke out as suddenly and for no reason as it had been ended before.

Then as soon as I thought I could get back to making my utopia, the unemployment rate shot up to around 52% from the low 4% it had been for over a year... and again with no obvious cause as to why it happened. And so one short military coup later I was out of office, still with a 100% approval rating and having just won re-election oddly enough.

I'm only touching the tip of the ice berg here, there is a lot lot more that can be done with this game, but sadly little of that matters just because very little of it actually works well together, and like its predecessor, this basically becomes a game of good intentions that simply collapses under the weight of its own ambition. There's genius here, but there's also some really really dodgy simulation models, making the game nigh on unplayable at times since it's so prone to randomly implode without warning (and without an autosave, or even a multisave feature). It's hard to recommend this game unless you have too much money and too much free time, wait until they refine the game to the perfect version, and when that happens i'll tell you all about it.

song of the day: "My Road" by "Quinn Walker"

thing that makes me smile today: Valentine's day, always fun :)

pic of the day:
arrested development banana stand
Circle Line Pub Crawl

Doctors and Nurses Pub Crawl
Clinical Experience

Monday 2 February 2009

Directed by David Fincher
Written by Eric Roth (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel)
Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
Release date(s) 25th December 2008
Running time 166 minutes

brad pitt benjamin button

Whilst I saw this film a while ago now, I never got around to reviewing it. However, in light of the fact that it has achieved an impressive number of thirteen oscar nominations, and seems to be a big front runner in the best movie category, I figure I should finally get off my ass and do this.

If you think that this lack of desire to write this article is an indication of my feelings towards the quality of the film, you're wrong. It's not my favorite film this year but it is very good.

The film is based off a short story by the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald, and concerns the eponymous Benjamin Button, a person who is born as an eighty year old man and ages backwards throughout his life.

But the film is so much more than that. It bristles with intrigue and sighs with emotional paradoxes that many films would shy away from. It all cultivates a lavish period piece covering child rearing, undergraduate behavior and courtship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

If it sounds a bit unusual, it is, but Fincher has brought it all together here into a fantastic piece of cinema, a rich and satisfying example of storytelling at its finest.

The main acting performances here are equally impressive, particularly Brad Pitt giving perhaps his finest ever performance in this film as Button. If anyone still has any reservations about whether this boy can act, this movie should put that to rest, he is magnificent and nuanced and should consider himself one of the front runners for the best actor award.

If there is anything that can be said against this movie is that most of the emotional twists and turns can be seen coming from a mile away, and ends up feeling like a fairly by the numbers affair, not quite living up to the level of uniqueness one might expect from the premise and setting.

A very fine piece of cinema. Frankly it wouldn't be my pick for the best movie oscar, but seems highly likely to win it anyway.

Who would have known all those months ago that my cheap Obama button that I bought would turn into the must have fashion accessory of the year, and possibly this one too. This is a perfect example of the sort of hype and fanaticism that has swept the planet with regards to Obama. However at the end of the day he will be remembered for how he performs as a President, so let's look back on his first week and a half in charge and see how he's done so far.

president obama

After his groundbreaking campaign and unprecedented level of grassroots involvement, it was imperative that Obama find a way to carry this spirit over into his Presidency, and it is to this effect that the new website is designed, heralding a new style of open, transparent governance. It is also here that Obama delivers his weekly youtube address, earning him very strong comparisons to FDR and his fireside chats.

One of his first actions as President was what can only be described as 'the bleeding obvious', essential though it may have been. So universally despised is Guantanamo Bay, which has become a symbol of the hatred that has been directed at the United States these past eight years, that whoever became President would have closed that thing down as soon as possible, and put an end to the barbaric torture techniques used by the military. That there is anyone in the country who would justify the use of such techniques is one of the nation's greatest embarrassments of the last hundred years. The facility is being closed over the course of the next year so that care can be taken with relocating the inmates to suitable facilities.

After this came Obama's big gesture for the environment, indicating that America finally realizes how important it is to act NOW. He has allowed states to individually decide fuel emission standards, which means that states can forcibly impose stricter standards than automobile companies would have wanted. He also set in motion his grand plans for introducing clean energy cars and hybrids to the country and making them the dominant presence on the roads within just a few years.

On top of this, Obama's big stimulus package has passed in the house and now moves onto the senate. Many baulked at the ambitious plan to have the package ready and approved by mid February, but now it all seems very likely. Indeed if Obama can pull this off it will be incredibly impressive and a major coup for his administration at this early stage.

However the most important thing Obama has done, he did even before he was sworn in. All of a sudden the most hated nation on Earth is popular and respected again. The world newspapers are full of headlines like "The Day America Became Cool Again" and "Welcome Back America".

Suddenly our Government is stressing a commitment towards actually co-operating and working WITH other Nations, rather than treating them like inferior forms of life, starting with Obama's unprecedented extension of friendship towards the Middle East, live on Middle Eastern tv. "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist" is the official line from Obama's now legendary inauguration speech.

This new approach is paying immediate dividends, with Iran responding to Obama's message with warmth and friendship, in a situation which until recently seemed bleak. On top of this Russia has backed down in it's very scary and controversial cold war-esque plan to install missiles in Kaliningrad to counter the proposed US anti missile shield, which they don't trust is really for 'defensive purposes'. This concession is very unexpected and a massive boost for the recently rapidly deteriorating relations with Russia, and he specifically cited Obama's 'new approach' towards foreign relations as the reason. McCain probably would have bombed them by now...

So not bad for one week eh? Hell compared to Bush's entire first term it still looks pretty good.

So how are the GOP responding to their new marginalized position? Not well. For starters they've gone and elected this man as their new chairman. When a party that has next to nil black people in their ranks, has never pushed for equal rights since the days of Lincoln and has a very large racist following, when they elect their first ever black chairman, immediately after their complete trouncing by the first ever black President... well one could be excused for thinking they're being a bit cynical in their approach.

Sarah Palin was forced upon an unwilling John McCain as a token woman, someone who they thought would steal votes away from disgruntled ex Hillary fans and women. Needless to say pretty much every woman was insulted by this insinuation and we all know how that ended up for them. Nevertheless they have continued in this fashion. Immediately after their defeat they began suddenly tipping every single minority in their ranks to become their next presidential candidate, hoping to recreate that Obama magic. Bobby Jindal was first, and now Steele has been put in a prominent position.

At the end of the day, the GOP clearly still thinks Americans are all idiots who will be impressed by intentionally picking minorities just for the sake of getting the minority vote. As awful as Bush's administration was, at least you could say that the GOP campaigners were clearly very good at what they do, but this is just becoming a parody. Embarrassing.

Steele has wasted no time in making an impression by giving a speech full of buzzwords like 'awesome' in a lame attempt to appeal to kids (getting even more embarrassing isn't it?) showing how the GOP really is out of touch with America and has no clue what it is that makes Obama so appealing. Using words like 'awesome' won't do it i'm afraid... On top of this Steele has become the first politician in America to actively speak out AGAINST bipartisanship. Because clearly co-operation between our politicians is bad, and the government works best when at each others' throats and trying to undermine each other. This is, of course, the most retarded thing anyone has said in a long time, but he said it nonetheless.

Steele has therefore encouraged all Republicans to shoot down everything the Democrats do, starting with Obama's stimulus package. However what he clearly hasn't noticed is just how small the Republican presence in our government is these days. This may just be too obvious for a Republican to realize, but in situations like this, acting like a bitter spoilt kid and throwing ones 'toys out of the pram' is really not going to get you anywhere. Instead, the masses who recently voted against you are going to see you as unprofessional, arrogant and not working in the best interests of the voters themselves, which is a sure way to get yourself voted out next time round. In short, if the Republicans don't grow up and start working with the new government they could well suffer even worse losses next time. Perhaps senate minority leader McConnell's prediction of the GOP devolving into a regional party is pretty accurate after all.

Developed by Valve Corporation
Genre First person survival horror
Platform PC, Xbox360
Release date(s) 18th November 2008

left 4 dead

Now I want you to think about that film 28 Days Later. Remember that? Man that was a sweet film. Now I want you to imagine playing that film in a videogame form. Then you probably have a pretty good idea what this game is like.

This is a survival horror, where you control one out of a small group of survivors (either online with friends or offline on your own) and attempt to survive a zombie onslaught. These are no shuffling Resident Evil type zombies mind, this is more like 28 Days Later 'infected', running towards you in massive packs at high speed like a snarling animal and then lunging their teeth right into you. Your team consists of Bill, an aged, ex vietnam vet with a gruff demeanor and an ass kicking attitude; Lou, a regional assistant at some tech company with lots of pent up rage ready to be unleashed; Francis, a bad ass biker to whom a zombie invasion is like Christmas, Easter and New Year's combined; and lastly Zoe, a hot college student who watches too many horror movies.

You will end up fighting hundreds of these guys in open spaces as well as in claustrophobic corridors as you desperately attempt to make your way to the next safe house, and to do this you have access to all manner of goodies, double pistols, shotguns, assault rifles. It's incredibly frenetic, tense, and will shake you to your core. It's bloody brilliant.

Whilst clearly designed to work as an online game in your team of four, the single player will still keep you entertained for ages, thanks largely to some really excellent AI work, though I did encounter one or two glitches, players getting stuck and the like, but it ends up not mattering anyway as you can immediately start at any stage of the game from the moment you get it, as opposed to the usual mechanic of having to unlock new levels to play.

So what's wrong with it? Not a whole lot. I suppose some more could have been put into the single player mode, maybe some cutscenes tying together the individual chapters rather than making them so disjointed and abrupt, and as I mentioned I did encounter some AI glitches now and again. And of course, the game is really a bit short, not that that's a surprise for a game mostly intended for online play, but still.

Overall this is a very fine game and a must have for any fan of Valve or of zombie movies. Very exciting, very gory, very good.

song of the day: "First Time High (of Chicago remix of Eluardian Instance)" by "Of Montreal"

thing that makes me smile today: Arsenal slip sliding away out of the top 4, maybe even further

pic of the day:
moloko vellocet clockwork orange
Aston Villa

No snow!

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