Console Wars – Book Review


I bought this book because I was very much an 80’s Nintendo kid and there has been quite a bit of buzz about it.

The first thing that must be said about it is that this is a book with a very narrow scope. It’s not a history of the console wars, it’s not even a history of Sega (check out Service Games for a better book on this subject). Instead it is a history of how Tom Kalinske successfully marketed the Mega Drive to become the dominant console in early 90’s America before Sega spectacularly shot themselves in the foot with the Sega CD /32X / Saturn debacle.
Non Americans should be aware that markets outside of the US are largely ignored.

Despite it’s limitations it’s a very detailed and clearly well researched book and even people who’ve read quite a bit on the subject will probably learn something. It’s written in an engaging novel like style and is an enjoyable read (though the imagined dialogue is horrific)  For people considering a purchase it’s important to realise that it is at it’s heart a book about marketing not video games, or tech.

Though there is little doubt that Tom Kalinske was a marketing genius and pulled off one of the all time underdog upsets when Sega USA pushed Nintendo in the second place spot, the book is guilty of being a bit of a rose tinted love letter (The author even name checks him as a “Great guy” in the acknowledgements).

Most of the achievements of Sega are attributed to him and his team while seemingly blaming anything bad that happened on Japan. This is especially jarring with the 32X which is portrayed as something that was foisted on him when most sources agree that it was largely Sega USA’s baby and developed by a team under his control.
Perhaps worst of all the book asks the question why Sega Japan was so hard on Sega USA and comes to the conclusion “No one knows, probably jealousy” without acknowledging that Sega USAs overspending and price slashing saddled Sega with large debts that restricted their ability to compete with the Playstation.

Despite all these complaints it’s an entertaining book as long as you take it with a substantial pinch of salt and I’m sure most gamers of the early 90’s will enjoy the warm glow of nostalgia.

For a number of years I’ve been an avid poster to the Music Radar Forum.

It simply had a better community than any of the other guitar sites out there, but despite that I found myself getting frustrated with it.

It was based on the somewhat dodgy VBulletin and would often be riddled with bugs which the owners Future didn’t seem to have the time or inclination to fix and it’s gone offline for extended periods several times in the past. As I write this it’s been offline for over two weeks and it took them a week to even acknowledge there was a problem with no date for a proposed fix.

With this in mind me and some geeky ex forumites took it upon ourselves to see if we couldn’t knock up a better forum in a week, one that was run by the members, for the members, and do you know what, I think we’ve done a pretty good job.

So it is my great pleasure to introduce to you:



Get Lamp and Interactive Fiction

I finally got around to watching Get Lamp which I’ve been meaning to do for a while now.

It’s an interesting documentary though it clearly shows it’s low budget nature (it could seriously use a narrator) and I can’t imagine it would have the appeal outside of the gaming community that something like King of Kong had.

I think the most interesting element of it for me was just being reminded of how much I enjoyed those games in my childhood. I’m probably amongst the first generation where video games really were ubiquitous. The first game I really played extensively was Super Mario Bros so unlike the guys who got into gaming in the late 70’s graphics was always an option even at home.

My real introduction to text adventures (apparently you call them IF now) was Hitchhikers Guide. Long after such things had fallen by the wayside I was a huge Adams fan and sunk hours into playing this impenetrable monster of a game into which the great man had clearly invested a significant amount of time.

Straight after watching the film I went to the competition site mentioned in the film and played a few of the high ranking games. Despite all the intervening years I fell right back into the joy of the genre.

As inevitably happens in such situations it has awakened in me a long held desire to write a text adventure. I have always felt that there was a novel in me somewhere, but all of my past literary projects have come to nothing and so I have largely restricted myself to non fiction writing in the past few years. A text adventure would I think tickle that part of my brain which enjoys coding as well as the more creative part.

Part of the appeal is discovering that Inform 7 one of the principle development tools used for writing these games uses a declarative domain specific language based on a natural language like syntax. I learned Prolog at university and found it quite an interesting approach to programming (if painful at times). The first thing you learn on a Comp Sci degree is that we have programming languages because attempting to write programs in natural language would be a non starter. The large number of Inform 7 games would seem to suggest that for specific application and a narrow definition of “natural language” this may not be the case. Software engineers tend to be so focussed on the default OO/procedural approach to software design that it’s easy to forget that any other paradigm can exist and I’m sure the experience would sharpen my saw.

As anyone who knows me about 1 in 10 of my projects comes to fruition so don’t hold your breath waiting for a dazzling piece of interactive fiction to appear on here unless you are interested in free diving, or experimenting with the properties of your vagus nerve.

When Cheap is Better Than Free

This week Google announced Keep a free online note taking product to rival Evernote which I will not be using.

I’m an avid premium Evernote user, but I haven’t always been. Back in 2006 I was introduced to the world of online note taking by a free online note taking app called Notebook made by a company called Google. I used to fill these notebooks with interesting things I’d found using my favorite feed reader also provided by Google and sometimes if really liked a news feed I’d pin it to the front of my iGoogle homepage.

Nothing but a G Thang

You might go so far as to call me a Google fan boy. I have used GMail and Docs since it was invite only, I have an Android phone and tablet. I’m even writing this article via Chrome.

The reason I use so many Google services is that they are so frequently an unassailable combination of the best product at the best price which is as we all know is free, or is it?

At What Price Free?

I used to write this blog on a site called Posterous which was a really great platform with the nice twist of allowing you to blog by e-mailing them whereupon lots of clever code would format your ramblings into a nice looking blog post. Like many web start ups Posterous apparently had no business model whatsoever. In the face of this they did what all startups want to do and got bought by one of the big boys. In this instance Twitter who promptly shut them down.

Last week we discover that Reader (and iGoogle) are also to be shutdown and I find my self looking for a replacement in a marketplace that has stagnated due to a free product completely wiping out the competition and then disappearing in a waft of corporate bullshit about “focus”. Google are nothing like Posterous in that they are clearly very good at making money, but the situation is identical. I don’t pay Google for Reader or Posterous for my blog so they can take it away if they so choose because I’m not the customer.

I shouldn’t be surprised after all as I mentioned in the first paragraph I was an avid fan of Notebook which died in 2011. Indeed this excellent Guardian article suggests Google services have an average life expectancy of about four years.

Feedly Falls Flat

Hunting around for a new provider for my Reader I saw a great number of recommendations for Feedly. Pretty as this site undoubtedly is (I do have some technical misgivings I shall share in a future post) I can’t bring myself to use it because it offers no obvious business model and currently lacks a premium offering. This means that at some point in the future they are going to start charging an as yet unknown amount, or will shut down through acquisition, or just burning though their VP money.

As a consequence I’ve decided to selfhost my blog using WordPress and my RSS needs using Tiny Tiny RSS. These services can’t be taken away from me because I own the source and the data and even if my web host and the developer went under my services would continue to work.

Why Evernote Premium is Better Than Keep for Free

Some of my friends have questioned why I continue to pay for services like Dropbox and Evernote when Keep and Google Drive are free. The simple answer is that both services are inexpensive and I have come to realise that some things on the internet are better when they are cheap than when they are free. I have no doubt in my mind as to the business model of Evernote. It is simply to sell as many premium accounts to their note taking service as possible. Their revenue stream and thus there loyalty is with me not an advertiser, or a potential acquirer. Put another way Evernote’s purpose is to delight me with their product, not to delight an advertiser with my personal data.

I did briefly consider that I might be being too cynical until I read the other big tech news this week. Sumly have been acquired by Yahoo for a large sum of money.

The app is already being shut down.


Todays Mac Irritation

I installed a plugin for Chrome which made it do some weird things and seemed to be impossible to fully uninstall (Not Apples fault).
Fine thinks I as one of the things you are always told by Mac users is that installing and uninstalling is much simpler, you just drag the app to the apps folder to install and delete it to remove none of that silly registry nonsense.
Except when I reinstalled it all my settings and the broken plugin persisted so that’s clearly a crock.
Ah, it turns out that additional application data is stored in your home folder in a sub folder called Libraries except you can’t see this folder. It’s been hidden so you can only get there if you know it’s there. Not in a sensible way like in linux where folders prefixed with a dot are hidden unless you specifically look for them. No it’s just arbitrarily missing and you can’t get there unless you know it’s there.
Hmm this is a new feature that was introduced in Lion. It reminds me of something. Oh yes the default XP behaviour of stopping you from going into the Program Files directory which everyone agreed was fucking stupid and immediately turned off.
That isn’t making things easier it’s making it imposible to fix.

New Blog Home & Site Update

I’ve been neglecting my blog for some time now and my homepage at was a shambles that hadn’t been updated since 2008.

I recently discovered that my chosen blogging platform Posterous is due to be shut down in April which has spurred me into action. I’ve migrated my blog across to a new self hosted WordPress and over the next couple of weeks the plan is to update my site with some new content and to adapt the content of the old site for WordPress.

Review – Deus Ex Human Revolution


I’ve just finished a run through of Deus Ex so I thought it would be a good time for another in my increasingly infrequent series of game reviews.

Human Revolution is the sequel to Deus Ex the game commonly considered the greatest in PC history (which I must confess I’ve never played). I’m not going to recount the whole plot as Wikipedia can fill you in should you desire, but in brief you play Adam Jensen the head of security for a biotech mega corporation who is maimed and subsequently rebuilt as a bionic badass when his company is attacked by mercenaries. I’m a sucker for a cyberpunk setting so I’d been looking forward to playing Deus Ex for some time and it hasn’t disapointed.

The reviews I read before getting the game were positive, but tended to dwell on a few things that Deus Ex gets wrong (of which more later), but what really struck me when playing it is how many fundamental things it gets right.

I found it incredibly refreshing to play a game where even handguns feel dangerous (especially compared to Uncharted where some human opponents can survive a direct hit from an RPG). If an opponent sneaks up on you, or if you get careless in a firefight you will be dead in seconds, couple that with the relatively slow health regeneration and you have a recipe for some very tense action sequences. It is a credit to the game that though you will die a lot, it rarely feels cheap. 

At its core Deus Ex is a story about the transhumanism and the ethics of unregulated biotechnology. You are frequently called upon to make moral choices, but it avoids the horrible goody-o-meter which recent games (I’m looking at you Infamous) seem to be much enamoured with and it mercifully doesn’t equate ethics to unlocking abilities.

Human Revolution gives you complete freedom to choose your play style. In nearly any situation you can get through it with stealth, hacking, charm or a bit of the old ultra violence. Indeed it’s possible to complete the game without actually killing anyone (for which a trophy is available). In most games I’ve played of this nature you always suffer if you play a non combat focused role due to missing out on loot and experience from slain grunts, but Deus Ex very cleverly awards extra XP for stealth takedowns, locating secret routes etc, meaning a Rambo style play through will probably net you fewer points than a more cerebral approach. 

I know the sales figures of the COD franchise suggest I’m in the minority, but I don’t do FPS games as a rule. I just can’t work out how you are supposed to avoid getting flanked when you can’t see around you and I tend to spend at least some of every FPS game aimlessly spinning around trying to work out who the hell is shooting at me.

Human Revolution cleverly gets around this by switching to third person when you are in cover. 


The game develops a great sense of place and mood. The city levels are small and densely packed meaning you don’t end up trudging for miles between missions and the newspapers and ambient conversations update to reflect what’s going on in the game. When hacking it’s great to stumble on petty email squabbles between NPCs. It helps that the side quests are generally consequential and tied to the main plot (rather than the typical meaningless fetch quests). By completing them you learn more about the protagonists back story and expand the world. 

It alas this review can’t be a total love fest so I do have a couple of things to bitch about: 

Your abilities are powered by a multi segment energy meter of which only the last segment automatically recharges. Other segments must be recharged by eating. This would be fine, but performing mundane tasks like carrying heavy objects drains your energy so you end up leaving your energy meter at one and only topping it up for combat. The idea that Adam is locked in a deadly firefight while cramming down Mars bars, seems a bit silly. (You can also chug a litre of vodka to regain health in a move which seems more like it belongs in Duke Nukem)

The lack of any melee weapon is also frankly barking mad. You can use energy to perform instant takedowns, but if you are facing more than one foe it’s either punch one and then fumble for an assault rifle while the other immolates you, or thump one, eat a chocolate bar then strangle the other one using what I’d like to dub the “punch up at Weight Watchers” technique. Gordon Freeman’s crowbar where art thou. 

Without resorting to spoilers the end is very unsatisfactory. Your moral choices throughout the game basically result in a video montage plus voiceover end sequence which varies very little regardless of what you do. The ultimate fate and future of most of the characters and society as a whole is left hanging. The game is well written enough that you really care what happens to some of the characters so to just say “The End” is a bit of a pisser. 

Any other complaints about the game pale into insignificance when the boss fight sequences are considered. These come dangerously close to ruining the whole game. At various points through the game you are dumped in a rectangular room with a near indestructible walking tank who proceeds to sling armfuls of grenades at you. Apparently these sequences were provided by an outside developer and you can really tell as they seem to be from a different game (specifically a mediocre 90’s PC shooter). The deadly combat means this is not a fun experience if you are playing as a combat focussed character, but the nature of the game is such that many players attempting a pacifist play through will get dropped into this level with only a taser and a tranquilliser gun and have to go back to an earlier save, or simply give up. The disjointed nature is underlined by the fact that there is no way to get past a boss without killing them which the game awkwardly gets around by not counting them as kills for pacifist players. 

The only thing that prevented me from giving up during these sequences was the discovery that bosses are not immune to the instakill Typhoon smart bomb weapon. I’m not sure if this is a glitch or just the developers covertly acknowledging they had made a balls up and providing a means to opt out.

Though I have had a big moan about certain aspects it’s only because they stick out like a more thumb in an otherwise excellent game. Deus Ex is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time and if you are a fan of cyber punk, or action RPGs I recommend tracking it down.