A change of direction.

So I haven’t posted since the end of last week.  That’s the ‘one post a day’ thing pretty screwed already.  I’ve given some time over this weekend to thinking about why I wanted to do a blog in the first place and I was loosing sight of that fast by the pressure to do one a day.  My daily life at the moment just doesn’t allow for me to make the time to take enough time out to craft articles I’d be happy with, and that would be enjoyable to anyone happening to read.

With this in mind, I’m removing that pressure from myself.  Yes, in one hand it’s a failiure but on the other you should see a much better quality from me.  I’m going to be posting at least once a week but I’d hope that 2-3 times a week will be more likely, depending on life away from the keyboard.

I hope you aren’t too disappointed, but please stick with it – it’ll be for the best in the long run 🙂

As an aside, I played badminton for two hours straight on Saturday night – and it’s safe to say I’ve found some form of exercise that I actually had fun taking part in and I’m looking forward to playing regularly, hopefully.

I’ll be back soon with some updates regarding the ongoing career change, Train2Game thoughts, games reviews and more.

Cheers for your support.

S

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Day 13: Trainee School Daze

Today has been fairly non-eventful. Work was fairly standard apart from the usual Thursday morning ‘staff meeting’, which, as any of my colleagues would confirm for you, is the same exact meeting, week in, week out – forever. I’m not sure who insists on printing 30 agendas each week when we all have it tattooed onto our frontal lobes.

I’ve been in touch with some old friends from our trainee school group. Although in my mind it should always have been called the ‘training school’ the trainee school was the programme through which I joined my current employer. I spent six months in full time training with 8 other individuals who became really important people in my life. Not least my girlfriend, Claire, but also a very close friend and a wider group of people I know i’ll always have a connection with.
Although the numbers of us still with my organisation have dwindled dramatically, we still meet up, and indeed today we’ve arranged to meet up on Feb 4th for a long overdue catchup. As those still working there, we’re all at risk of redundancy so it’ll be good to get some gossip from around the other offices! That and presumably moan and whinge about the situation we’re in…

This week has been a bit fluffy in terms of blog posts. I think I underestimated how tough doing one a day would be. I’ll just say stick with me through this first dip and see me emerge through the other side like a beautiful, if hairy and overweight, butterfly flying over the Internet dropping glittered crap in blog form.

It’s nearly the weekend, thank fook.

S.

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Day 12: Choices choices…

Another day, another, er.. day spent fighting to stay awake.  I went to school as planned and had my assessor observe my interviews with the Year 10 students.  All went well so at least that’s one less thing to fret about.  Heard on the grapevine that my Local Manager will be leaving as part of our current management restructuring.  I know I’m looking for something else, but it’s a bit sad to see him go.  He’s a fair bloke, and I’ve had more than my fair share of utter, utter bastards as managers over the years, so credit to him for not making that already sizeable list.

I’ve been doing some further research into this Train2Game malarkey.  I’m finding so much conflicting information it’s actually doing my head in.  Their forum is full of apparently happy students, ploughing through the work and feeling challenged and fulfilled.  The marketing seems to have improved 10-fold from when I first heard about it back in 2009.  They have some links to TIGA and a couple of Universities.

However.

There are dozens of forums, blogs, comments on websites that point to it being a waste of money, a scam and basically what I figured when I looked into it initially.  I can’t tell if this is just fallout and ill-feeling from the initial issues they had, and that they’ve genuinely improved, or if they are still a load of shite.  It’s quite hard to find an objective, neutral point of view.

I’ve spoke to my best mate via the medium of facebook statuses today, who has given me loads of valuable advice about the gaming industry and also asked his HR manager about whether the Train2Game qualification would be viable.  The answer was mixed, but not negative so that’s interesting.  He’s also said some very honest and nice things today that I think cheered me up a bit – really looking forward to spending some time with him soon as we don’t hang out nearly enough these days.  A good few hours geeking out with some Liero or Trackmania should see me right!

So, my new plan is to try and find a new job, before May, that has some semblance of enjoyment for me and offers similar pay to what I’m on now.  That will be challenging enough.  I’m also looking at retraining to aim towards a new careers entirely.  Not all that interesting, but that’s where I’m at folks!  Oh, and the Badminton court is booked for Saturday night…

Night!

S

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Day 11: Zzzz.. Etc.

Today has been a bit of a strange one. After yesterday’s poor, but personally profound, excuse for an entry I woke up this morning and.. Well, I didn’t quite wake up. It would seem that being back at work, particularly in my office is bringing out this tiredness in me again, in quite a grand way. One of my colleagues even asked if I had been crying as my eyes looked so tired and I was struggling to focus. Strange. By mid afternoon I just about felt normal before heading home. I’ve been trying really hard to avoid going for a lie down when I get home from work as that could be a slippery slope into sleeping all the time. Hopefully I’ll be feeling better as I’m in school for a series of one-to-one interactions with some Year 10s and I’m being assessed for my NVQ 4 (which is taking forever as it’s a huge, boring, irrelevant pain in the arse. A bit like Simon Cowell).

You’ll be glad to know (possibly) that I’m now going to play badminton with a couple of mates on Saturday night. This should prove to be interesting for a sleep-deprived 20 stone man. I’ll let you know how I get on, but it’s exercise so you can probably guess. I’m hoping to start Geocaching again this weekend which gets me out and about. If you are unclear as to what that is, take a look at geocaching.com and I’ll cover it in another blog post too.

I’ve been pondering my career change more today. I’ve started looking back at what I wanted to do when I was younger. Computer Games Development. I remember fondly as my careers adviser looked puzzled and tried to change the subject (ahh, how careers advice has changed!). I’ve always been a little gutted that I never ended up working in the industry.
I’ve been reading about the Train2Game courses today which are fairly controversial for their reputation in the gaming community. They have a apparently shady past which I remember reading about when I first looked into it some time ago, but it appears, at least, that they’ve got some momentum behind them now and they offer an apparently solid course in game development. I’ll be looking into it further but it’s an expensive venture if it turns out to be fruitless. Any experiences you might’ve had with them would be welcomed in the comments!

That’s my lot for now, I’ve been too half-asleep to make any clever observations today I’m afraid!

Night.

S

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Day 10: My statement.

2011.  This is it.

I’m going to lose weight, kick the bad food habits, get healthy.  I’m going to find and start a new career and turn my daily life around.

This is me putting it out there, for the world to see.  I will make these changes and improve my life and, if I don’t, this blog entry will always stand in place to embarrass me for not putting in the effort.

It’s a short entry, but a personal one for me.  Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Thanks for your support

S

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Days 8 & 9: The Xbox Kinect Special.

Microsoft's three-eyed wünderbar.

Novemeber 2010 saw Microsoft’s Kinect released worldwide.  Previously known as Project Natal, or simply Natal, the computing giant pulled no punches in expressing it’s intentions with this product.  This was the motion control system to rule them all.

Thinking back to early 2006, Nintendo announced at E3 that the much rumoured ‘Revolution’ project would be renamed as the Wii for launch.  Much of the gaming world looked puzzled as the obvious urine-related jokes emerged and general concerns of ‘epic fail’ surrounded the branding.  Few remember the concern now, as the Wii is now synonymous with videogaming in everyday pop-culture.  Everyone from Gordon Brown, to generic geriatrics have been getting in on the wrist-flicking tennis action and motion controlled games are as mainstream as monopoly at family gatherings, or drinking games at parties.

Ironically, Revolution would’ve been a far more fitting name to the little white box.  Whilst it did not bring the traditional gaming developments of shinier graphics, it took it’s control innovations, and thereby bust the gaming market wide open.  All of a sudden people that had never played games other than minesweeper, or indeed anything, were getting involved, buying hardware, software, peripherals and expanded the sales base within one Christmas period.

Nintendo managed to hold on to this highly profitable sector, almost exclusively, until 2010.  With the release of the Sony’s PlayStation Move system for their already well embedded PS3, Nintendo suddenly had a major competitor.  Nintendo of course had a three and a half year head-start (and a 40-month catalogue of shovelware to prove it) which had given it a chance to get it’s family-friendly reputation into the hearts and minds of buyers and place the Wii under their televisions already.  Sony of course, with the power of the PlayStation brand were no slouch either, but would their more ‘hardcore’ gamers be interested in Waggle-technology?

Well, for every gamer that tried the Wii and came away having been entertained, but ultimately disappointed at the limits of the accelerometer technology, the PlayStation Move answered their prayers.  With that extra time between the Wii and Move, Sony had invested in improved accelerometer tech, added gyroscopes and camera tracking thanks to the use of the PlayStation eye camera.  This suddenly meant 1:1 tracking ratio for movements using the Move wand and an unprecedented level of accuracy for gaming.  This took all of the games concepts that were possible on Wii, and made them more immersive, more technically impressive and of course, high definition.  Essentially, they made it interesting to core gamers (the community rarely uses the term ‘hardcore’ for gamers any more, they realise how pathetic it sounds).  Following the release of some solid launch titles, which conveniently echoed those most successful full on Wii (Wii Sports = Sports Champions for example) the PlayStation Move sold well beyond expectations, considering the lack of coherent marketing.  It was bought by those ‘in the know’.

Microsoft, never one to be to be far behind when there is serious money to be made from technology – took a rather radical approach.  Remove the controller entirely.

That, in a rather convoluted way, brings us to the point of this blog post.  The Xbox Kinect.  Much to my surprise, I received a Kinect and Xbox 360 slim for Christmas recently (Thanks Claire, Mum and Dad!).  As we already have the aforementioned Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3 with Move in the household, I thought I’d be in a good place to offer my thoughts on the Kinect.

The Kinect is a very smart combination of hardware and software that allows full motion body-tracking of several people at once, in almost any lighting situation.  This immediately overcomes one of the biggest issues with the PlayStation Eye camera, lighting requirements.  The Kinect raises it’s own set of questions and needs however.  How on Earth do you play games purely on motion tracking?  How much space does it need?

Well, to answer the first, surprisingly well.  The concept of using your body as the controller was initially concerning to a pessimist like myself.  Currently it does appear to limit the scope of the types of games you can play with them, there’s no first person shooters for example (and nor can I see how they might implement Kinect controls for one, as the sole input at least).  However, what it does offer right now, works better than I could’ve imagined.  The launch titles vary hugely in quality and experience but those that I’ve experienced include Kinect Adventures (the pack-in title that comes with Kinect purchases), Kinect Sports and Harmonix’s Dance Central.  I’ll come to those in a moment.

In terms of how much space it needs?  Well, rather a lot.  Unfortunately all of Microsoft’s advertising surrounding Kinect, shows players using the system in warehouse-sized living rooms, or in one instance, an actual warehouse.  The reality is that the software asks you stand at least 6ft back from the television, with 6ft of width minimum, this is for one player.  Two simultaneous players naturally will need more room depending on the game in question.  We have quite a small living room, and aside from bashing into sofas fairly regularly, we managed to work the games without much hassle.  We’re not ideal, but we’re not at a point where the system is not able to work.  Unfortunately for Microsoft, many, many bedroom gamers will not be in a position to utilise Kinect.  This would’ve included myself had I still been living under my parents roof!  The best advice here is to measure up, or even better, borrow a friend’s Kinect to check for sizing.  If you think it’s far too small, it probably is, if you’re unsure that it might be a touch too small, you’ll probably be fine with some creative placing of the sensor.

If they made overweight Avatars it'd be more accurate

Kinect Adventures, as I mentioned previously, is bundled with each Kinect Sensor.  It offers 5 fairly lightweight mini-games to give you a feel for how the Kinect operates and how it allows you to interact with the system.  It isn’t however, the most fun selection of games available, presumably in a smart attempt to give you a taster, but pushing you to seek out other titles.
From my perspective, the ‘River Rush’ rafting game (for one or two players simultaneously) is a favourite.  Reflex Ridge is surprisingly knackering having you jump, crouch, pose and crotch thrust in a bid to race and collect point tokens.  20,000 Leaks is pretty much a 3D version of Twister you play standing up (that’ll make sense if you play it) and Rally Ball is a 3D version of Breakout/Arkanoid, that you play standing up.  The really weak mini-game is Space Pop which basically involves you flapping your arms and stepping back and forward to collect point tokens.  Whilst your actions are faithfully represented on screen, it’s just a boring and aimless exercise.

Later in the week I’ll be looking at Kinect Sports and Dance Central in some short reviews as I don’t want to push your attention span for too long, plus I want to get to bed soon!

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and thanks for sticking with me this first week of blogging on Eighty Three.

A slightly different approach this weekend as I thought I’d be better placed to write a more in-depth article using the weekend as a whole rather than two separate posts for each day. Comments welcome.

S

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Day 7: One magical week.

Ok, so it’s all going to shit already.  I had mentioned at the end of last night’s post that I was going to bring you my lowdown on Xbox Kinect today, but I seem to have lost a day somewhere and haven’t had enough time today to get it done.  As it’s actually Saturday tomorrow, not today, I’ll do it over the weekend in a couple of parts.

On with today then.

It’s been a solid week of blogging, which I have to say, I’m quite surprised at!  I’ve had half-arsed attempts at blogs before, the most successful of which was when I did a rather extreme ‘Very Low Calorie Diet’ at the end of 2008 which had about 5,000 views, spread over 15 posts/2 months.  This time, I’m literally writing about whatever I feel like writing about, which is almost too much freedom.  If you’re reading along and have any questions or topics you’d like to see me cover, then please leave me a comment.

This evening, being an ageing, greying old 27 year old, I stayed home in front of the TV.  None of that £4 a drink, throwing shapes in a sweaty dark room for me.  I caught up with ‘Penn & Teller: Fool Us’ on ITV.  It’s rare to get Magic on TV these days, much less Magic from two of the best in the business.  It was a surprisingly entertaining watch too!

I don’t make much of it these days, I’ve grown away from it, but I used to love magic, from the ages of about 12/13 I absolutely lived it, and was the youngest member of the Medway Magic Society at the time.  I wasn’t very good, but I was keen to learn!
I became too cool for it by around 14/15 but had a surprising relapse in my early 20s.  I went a bit crazy and spent a fair amount of money on amassing props, gimmicks, decks of cards, training DVDs etc.  Magic is one hell of a pricey hobby if you don’t make any money out of it.  It is also one of the uncoolest things to do.  Ever.  Girls actually hate it I swear!  At least, that was my theory at the time. :/

See? Would you want to see his wand girls? (That isn't me by the way!)

As I settled into it, I came to realise that all the props, gimmicks and other assorted bullshit that goes with the industry is very overrated.  By far my favourite magic to watch, and that I aspired to be good at, was straight old sleight of hand, misdirection and skill, rather than gadgetry.  There is something to be said for someone that can inspire awe and confusion just using their hands (and not rohypnol).

Unfortunately this doesn’t make it any more cool.  All magicians, EVER, have been incredibly cheesy.  It’s either the Top Hat and Tails like the probable sex-offender pictured above, or it’s the complete other end of the scale where you get guys trying so hard to look cool, they end up looking like 80s rock stars with too much make-up.  This is then made even worse by the convoluted ‘patter’ they spiel, usually to tie a routine together or to aid misdirection.  It’s either in a ‘balls-haven’t-dropped fully’ broken squeak or in a forced ominous voice, a bit like Christian Bale playing Batman.  It’s just dreadfully awkward for everyone involved – and the magician thinks everyone thinks they are the epitome of awesome.

This guy? He may look more modern, but he'll still say 'Pick a card' like a total pleb.

I know what you’re thinking, the size of his nipples doesn’t correlate with his haircut.  That’s the nip, sorry, tip of the iceberg.

I don’t really know where I’m heading on this, it’s very much a ramble.  I think I’m just clarifying in my own mind, why I don’t want to be a magician any more.  Yes it can be skillful, awe-inspiring and incredibly clever.  A bit like proclaiming a Mensa membership however, you’ll always look a dick if you take it too seriously.

It’s just ticked over midnight, but I did write this Friday – promise!

S

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