An Unemployed Summer being filled with Rich Videogaming Delight

“Plant!” you shout at me in the street, causing mild surprise! “Why do you have a lovingly drawn header of Super Meat Boy on this post, something everybody grew sick of hearing about in 2010?”

Well, my very rude and very hypothetical friend, the root of the answer lies in the fact that despite reams of resumes sent to the four dark corners of the globe, I don’t have a job this summer. This means that I’ve been spending quite a lot of my free time – free time in which most of my regular socialites and girlfriend are working for their finals, which were billed later than mine – finally redeeming my £4.27’s worth on the last few Humble Indie Bundles.

Despite donating towards them at the time, I never really touched them for more than a glancing blow due to some deadline or other steaming ever closer and finding a fair few of the games less interesting than this receipt I’ve just found that tells me I bought three cans of macaroni cheese on Valentine’s day.

“But Plant, you handsome stallion!” you retort. “Why are you telling me about them when this isn’t a gaming blog in the slightest? Why do you never talk about your life as a student biologist instead? And when are you going to finish that post about your crappy UoS-approved house?”

I’m getting to that, you fictitious nuisance. And I’ll do it when I can write a funny joke about all my taps being backwards. Comedy gold.

Okay, so that’s not entirely true, some of the games were interesting enough as I did pay money for them in the end and I’m too impoverished to give away money without getting something useful in return. Useful being a relative term where videogames are concerned, but my point is that some of them are actually really good fun.

Indie games are a personal soft spot of mine. That’s debatably because my brother and I are currently developing one for Windows Phone, but at least partly after Minecraft left an impression upon me comparable to that of crack cocaine. I used to get a kick from LEGO, but now I’m looking for the bigger thrills. I now have to re-arrange cubes at least once every other day or I get the shakes.

The Humble Bundles have left me with a few choicy picks, such as the delectable Trine, a game whose USP is the ability to switch between three unique characters with individual skills in a manner reminiscent of Sonic Heroes, only not shit, the artsy and cinematic Trauma which at first appears more pretentious than a beret with built-in latte foam dome and goatee curler but turns out to be a compelling and ethereal experience, and Super Meat Boy, which is most unashamedly a videogame and is a great big squishy beanbag of fun. Between these three and Minecraft, I have been left with piles of wasted time, a knackered gas lift on my office chair and an intense, warm glow of satisfaction.

“Do you have a point to this?” you reply, glancing pointedly at your watch and having taken a seat on a nearby bench.

Not really, apart from letting my housemates and girlfriend – who read this blog and have likely declared me legally dead by this point – in on precisely what I’ve been doing in here for the last few days.

Wasting time at my computer, of course, but thanks to indie games, in one of the best ways.

Factory251 OR A practical guide to distressing your Chucks with Ecstasy

The nightlife in Salford is terrible. Oh, there’s the Crescent, with its plethora of Real Ales to choose from, and Bar Yours, the Union bar, which has regular entertainment provided by the various societies around the University. Some of it is even entertaining.

My point in saying this is that if you want to go for a night out, you have to go into nearby Manchester. The nightlife situation here is understandably much better, with all the major chain clubs like Tiger Tiger and Baa Bar making an appearance, and independent bars like 5th Avenue, which is full of hipsters*, and the delectable Font, where brightly-coloured cocktails flow like water. However, with every Yin must come a Yang, and Manchester serves one up on a golden plate. Factory251 is the name of this dish, and it’s stone cold and two hours late.

At a glance, Factory251 doesn’t seem any different to any other club in Manchester, except perhaps a little smaller. The club is split into three floors, with each its own DJ and genre of music. The ground and first floor change with each night of the week, but from my experience the second and top floor is always dubstep. You enter on the ground floor, confusingly named the first floor by the club’s advertisers**.

* My derision against hipsters from a couple of months back has evaporated.

** This isn’t unique to Factory251. It seems a lot of people like to call the ground floor of a building the first floor. Yes, this would be correct in America, but here in Britain it’s always the ground floor. Textspeak is one thing, but when spoken language degrades to the point where the location of, say, a room in a building is ambiguous then something is clearly badly wrong. But I digress.

The second thing you’ll notice about Factory251, subsequent to the lightened pocket and anal soreness after paying the entrance fee, is that you can’t see a damn thing. Most clubs will have some form of ambient lighting alongside the spotlights and strobes in order to provide visibility, however limited. Factory251 dispenses with this, and in case the dizzying array of rotating lamps gave you enough visibility, there’s a fog machine that is never switched off. That’ll teach you to try and walk around.

The only static lights on each floor are on the bar, to which the extremely numerous clientele are attracted rather like moths*. Did I mention how long it takes to get a drink? Put a schoolboy at the back of the crush for the bar, and by the time he gets to the front he’ll be old enough to get served**. Due to a curious combination of this and the sweltering humidity, I usually feel completely sober within 15 minutes of entering the place.

After making your choice between a Jagerbomb, which is comparatively cheap*** but consists of barely 150ml of booze, or a pint of lager which costs £158, you have to join the dance floor. Again, in most clubs, joining the dance floor is voluntary, with at least half of the club dedicated to tables, booths, benches, seats, or at the very least an area you can stand away from the hive and where the music is a little quieter. This means the area is suitable (loud) talking, enjoying a drink, or mingling with attractive ladies****. This is a good thing. It’s something you want in a club.

* Or probably a taxic response to smelling Stella Artois.

** Although in total fairness this is a problem in any busy club. There was an idea floated in the newspapers a few years back for an arrangement where customers queue and go to numbered stations on the bar when called forward, like in the Post Office. It was a great idea. Why has nobody done this?

*** Ish.

**** Font is very good for this, especially because the girls in there tend to have higher brain function.

Factory251 has no such area, and the jostling is relentless. Enjoying a pint of Stella would be impossible under the best of circumstances, but I’m sure even Hobgoblin would be terrible in Factory251 if they sold it. Some beers recommend on the bottle being drunk with a fine meal or in the warm rays of a summer sunset. None recommend being drunk whilst crushed between a hooting Burger King shift manager in a muscle shirt and a woman who looks like a bison that’s been shaved and hurled through Primark.

Ducking into the toilet provides little respite from this. Always present in there, as much of a fixture of the gents toilet as the actual fixtures, is the staple of Manchunian nightclubs: the man who sells squirts from his huge stock of cologne. Actually, that’s not quite true, as the term selling implies some choice in the matter. It’s more that he accosts you with the spray when you least expect it, and then demands a pound, usually when you have no change. I consider it a Hugo Boss branded mugging.

Anyway, the man in Factory251’s gents has a unique selling technique involving shouting crude sexual puns in broken English, much to the amusement of the patrons of the toilet. I won’t judge the clientele of Factory251 because, in fairness, they’re very, very drunk* by the time they get there. Therefore I can forgive conversations as perennially inane as this, usually conducted between two peers on either side of me at the urinal:

Drunkard #1: Arrr yeah, kid, gonna get fuckin’ clunge** tonight, lad!
Drunkard #2: YEAH LAD! Gonna get us some fuckin’ birds, Wooo!
Drunkard #1: Fuckin’ Hi-Five, lad!
They Hi-Five, awkwardly leaning around behind me to do this.
Drunkard #1: Wahurr, Hey Spray Guy, what d’ya think of this, hurr?
Cologne Seller: NO ARMANI NO PUNANI

* A situation in which I’m hardly close to godliness. Think staggering around my shared kitchen whilst bellowing the lyrics to The Girl from Ipanema.

** I hate this word. Of all the slang for lady bits, “clunge” is the least sexy and “sausage wallet” the funniest.

So in Factory251, ducking into the toilet for a moment of peace is clearly not an option. And where would I be ducking from, you would ask if this was a conversation and not a blog post? The second floor, of course, where the music is dubstep and the street drug of the night is ecstasy, which as far as I can tell makes you lie on the floor periodically springing up to give a stranger a big hug. A very, very tight hug. An airless hug. The kind of hug where their full weight presses the broken glass and dirt from the soles of their boots into the toecaps of your brand new Chucks. This kind of hug doesn’t exist in the realm of sobriety, and the world is a better place because of that.

So there you are. Factory251 in Manchester. I’ve a few loose ideas to wrap up here, so here’s a big list of disordered advice to fool you into thinking this post has a point:

  • Don’t go if you’re entranced by the idea of a floor of indie music, as there sometimes is. The much superior 5th Avenue is practically next door.
  • Go if you like air that has had all the oxygen removed and replaced with BO.
  • Go drunk. Very drunk.
  • Have pocket change for the cologne guy. I’m serious, this guy has incredible spraying reflexes and does not take no for an answer.
  • I once saw a guy walk into the middle of the gents and piss on the spot. Classy.

I will give one plus point, though. If you’re drunk, the cologne guy is an absolute riot. And that’s just about the only thing I like about the place. Cologne guy, for brightening up many a poor clubbing experience, I hand it to you.

Sorry, Factory251, it could have been beautiful, but it just wasn’t to be. Avoid.

Dull Hypothesis Visits a Christmas Fayre

Last week, I went to a Christmas market. End of story.

If only it were as simple as that. In a desperate attempt to stave off complete emotional necrosis and actually feel seasonal for a couple of weeks, I hauled myself into Manchester to visit what I was promised would be a bustling Santa’s workshop itself, where holiday goodwill pours from the stands of German traders like hot, spiced wine.

Ever heard of a German Christmas fayre? I have no idea if they’re a recent thing around here, but over the last few years they have been oozing into Britain’s major cities every December to flog Lidl bratwurst in rolls of stale bread to suckers who will pay £4.50 for the privilege. Citing the above-mentioned lack of any Christmas cheer, I shackled up with some friends and braved the impossibly busy city centre. Not an easy feat.

Don’t complain about this horrifying dead-eyed effigy of Santa. It was far worse when it was lit up the week before, so I’m glad that some feckless engineer hasn’t looked up from his porn mag long enough to fix it. Look at those eyes. Those are eyes that have seen the worries of the world. Don’t worry, Santa. We’re here for you.

A staple of Christmas Fayres is the Bavarian swing grill, where the aforementioned Lidl sausages and rubbery hot dog buns are teamed up in order to disappoint those stupid enough to buy one.

That’d be me, then. It tasted like shredded tyres.

With my stomach full and wallet empty, we pressed on through the stalls. The food stalls were grouped together into a fenced-off area, which was surrounded by policemen authorized to use the force of rudeness should anybody try to sneak out booze into the city centre and corrupt the roaming gangs of teenage arsonists that inhabit Manchester with bootleg mead.

The stalls contained ungodly horrors from a world to which style is as alien a concept as leg cramp is to an eel. By this time, the girls I was with had bought some mulled wine. I won’t disclose how much it was, but it was far, far too much.

This thing didn’t even have an excuse to be there, not being related to Christmas in the slightest. On the other hand, that ‘Fairy World’ display stand – minus fairies – is only £20, so my brother’s Christmas present this year is sorted.

I only have a photographic record of a couple of these stands, so they barely draw testament to the acres upon acres of resin I passed by. I regret not taking a photo of those glittery dragons left of centre, so you’ll just have to take my word as to how stroke-inducingly vile they were. Mythical sky-ruling beasts of inferno and slaughter reduced to a tasteless plastic centrepiece. It’s almost enough to bring a tear to one’s eye. On the other hand, I wish I’d seen those hourglasses while I was there. They look pretty bitchin’.

So long then, from Manchester’s German-Christmas-Festival-Market. Did I feel any more seasonal as I boarded the train back out to the campus? Did I fuck.

I wonder if anybody bought that fairy world stand.

PS. Thanks to Vittoria for most of the photos here. For this, she is awarded the coveted status of Dull Hypothesis’ Official Italian!

Keeping the G4 alive – A practical case study on modern use of Apple PowerPC hardware

By James Plant

In this latest segment of the digital age, the domestic computer market is dominated by the x86 processor architecture and its derivatives. Until the mid-2000s, Apple had been a major exception to this rule, placing only PowerPC processors at the core of their computers, and as a direct result, at the core of their software strategy. When the decision was made to switch to x86 with the rest of the industry, Apple transitioned their software strategy to the new architecture, slowly dropping official support for PowerPC. With OS X 10.6 marking the official end of the PowerPC era, can the architecture still hold relevance in an x86 world? Let’s find out.

The eMac was designed as a budget alternative to the ‘lamp’ style iMac G4.

First of all, let me speak from experience. Alongside a primary Linux-powered machine which I use for daily activities, I run a 1.25GHz eMac as a media center and my main field computer remains an 800MHz iBook G4. Both were purchased second-hand, the eMac in 2008 for £125, and the iBook G4 in 2011 for £60 noninclusive of minor upgrades. Both of these machines run OS X 10.4 and see daily use. I shall begin with the iBook, and for comparison I will use a EEE PC 1005PE bought late last year.

Unfortunately, the differing architectures and operating systems between the compared machines presents me with a significant roadblock in a comparison: To my knowledge, there is no benchmarking software common to both PowerPC OS X and Fedora Linux, making it impossible to gather benchmark scores with any meaning. In lieu of such a figure, I will list the specifications of each machine;

EEE PC 1005 PE

iBook G4

CPU

1.66GHz Intel Atom N450

800MHz IBM G4

Memory

1GB DDR2

640MB DDR

Storage

250GB

40GB

Screen size

10.1” 16:9

12” 4:3

Battery life

10 hours expected

6 hours per battery expected*

* I own more than one iBook battery

Unsurprisingly, given that it is a much more modern computer, the EEE PC out-performs the iBook on paper. In practice, however, the difference is not so clear-cut.

On a 802.11G WiFi connection with good signal strength, both machines load the landing page of this very site in the region of ten seconds, and both show signs of slowdown when the multitasking load begins to stack up. Booting time is similarly matched, at about one minute from power button to login prompt. It should be noted that the EEE PC is running Fedora Linux for these tests, and not the stock Windows 7 Starter.

Software support for the EEE PC is the usual Linux fare, but to my surprise the standard Linux fare also frequently extends to OS X in the form of PowerPC or Universal binaries, with many open-source projects still supporting the architecture. This surprising fact is the best bet for PowerPC in remaining relevant in the modern world, as almost all off-the-shelf Mac software this long after the Intel transition no longer supports the previous architecture. Even some closed-source software – For example, I am a Spotify subscriber – retains active development for PowerPC*.

The iBook G4 was the last of Apple’s PowerPC consumer notebooks

Moving on from the portable to the desktop, the eMac performs admirably as a media center, running Spotify – a subscription music streaming service – and playing DVDs. Web browsing is infrequent, as I use my aforementioned primary machine for such activities, although it should be noted that the extra megahertz in the 1.25GHz processor make it fast enough for most Flash objects and even Youtube. A comparison with my 2.8GHz quad-core primary machine would be completely unfair.

Both of my G4 powered machines are restricted by their PowerPC lineage, as in they cannot run the latest versions of OS X and off-the-shelf software is out of the question. While the computers are definitely past their prime, they are by no means obsolete. For most of the activities a user would want to do on the machine, the world of open-source provides an appropriate tool, often with a PowerPC package. Unless you have highly specific needs as a computer user, these older computers make excellent sidekicks to their more modern brethren, especially considering they can be picked up for petty cash online and in used hardware stores.

And while completely unconnected to their PowerPC hearts, it’ll look a damn sight nicer on your desk than a wintel rotbox.™

* This was true at time of writing, but as of October 2011 Spotify are soon to be dropping updates for the PowerPC platform, although I believe a legacy version of the player – as well as several unofficial players – will still be available.

[James Plant is a blogger from a folded corner of the UK near Liverpool. He mainly sticks to infographics, but occasionally likes to blog like a human being.]

Got an opinion? Tell us in the comments!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

eMac image courtesy Tyler9xp on Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-2.0)

iBook G4 image courtesy Akira Kamikura on Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-2.0)

TMSD Reviews 3 – Jet Ion GP

In the beginning, there was Wipeout. And James looked down upon it, and he saw that it was good.

Actually, that’s not true, is it? There was F-Zero and whatnot, but I’ve never had anything to do with that, so we shall be brought to a prime example in games I like to call Wipeout-alikes, Jet Ion GP.

You know these types of games. Futuristic racing games with hovering ships that can generally fire weapons at each other. This sort of thing was, if I’m right, started by F-Zero and brought to mass prominence – where I am at least – by Wipeout. I should probably add here that I’m a huge fan of the Wipeout series, up to Fusion at least because I haven’t bought any of Sony’s newer consoles since it became apparent that they were utterly soulless. That said, my old PS2 has had something of a comeback in TMSD HQ as of late, with the discovery that some downright great titles can be bought second-hand for buttons these days. Plus, hey, it’s still current. They’re still making games for this thing ten years later. Blame the Wii for having such similar graphical capabilities that a port can be made simply by replacing flailing with button-mashing.

But I digress. This recent personal resurgence of the PS2 has resulted in my purchasing of quite a few second-hand titles for it, one of which is the subject of this review: Jet Ion GP.

Jet Ion GP is a Wipeout-alike game  published by Crave and Ubisoft back in the year 2000. It does, however have a few differences from Wipeout in that there is three dimensions of movement rather than just along a track. Racing takes place along “Power belts” which hover in mid-air, along the ground and through tunnels. Deviating away from these power belts causes the screen to fade to black and for you to be placed back on the said belt. Then again, it’s virtually impossible to do this because the game automatically keeps you on the belt unless you specifically set it not to. This is incredibly annoying, at best it feels like there’s a second player controlling the same ship as you and at worst the game will pretty much play itself if you hold down “X”.

The design of the ships is what I like to refer to as an Anime robot mess. I’m far too lazy to actually get some screenshots – I can’t anyway because I don’t have a TV capture card and an emulator would make Sony’s lawyers very sad – but look it up anyway. Then compare it to the ships from, for example, Wipeout Pulse. There is no compare.

It’s probably apparent at this stage that I don’t like Jet Ion GP very much.

I can’t honestly say I’ve had the patience to play it a whole lot. I only bought it because the box made it look a little like Wipeout. It reaches the verges of complete unplayability, with the irritating auto-correction and an absolutely dire framerate for the most part (And don’t think that’s due to impressive visuals either.) The boxes’ promise of “speeds of up to 2500 MPH” is just annoying, as they blatantly fiddled with the speedometer to make this true. Even bumping diagonally along a wall from a standstill has you doing 300 MPH, apparently. Ooh, whiplash.

There are promises of items – which I haven’t come across, for some reason – Total freedom of movement, which isn’t true as said before, and the promised “exclusive smooth techno/trance musical score” sounds like it was made in a pirated copy of FL studio by Hitler.

Apparently there is a “strong background hidden behind each team & pilot”. Read this as “We hired somebody from the nearest Gundam fanfiction BBS to write a paragraph of text for each option in the ship-select menu.”

I paid £2.50 for it. I guess I can’t really give it a score out of 10, as it’s your choice given the facts to decide whether it sounds good or not. My verdict is this: With this knowledge, I wouldn’t buy it again.

-James