BioShock

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 12/03/2007 - 19:32
This weekend I finished BioShock and despite the 5 star review Gamespy gave it, I fail to see this as the next level of gaming. Note: Spoilers exist below.

Ok, I am no where smart enough to realize all the things going on in regards to objectivism that the staff at Gamespy did, and oddly enough the target market for gaming (I assume is 13 to 25 year old males) consists of a large portion who wouldn't get it. Maybe this is needed as gamers get older, but it doesn't mean we get smarter ;) Anyway the story was very good except for the inconsistencies in it, for instance the way Little Sisters are immune until you have to protect one (adding one line of dialog to cover this issue, feels like that scene from Thank You For Smoking where they have to justify smoking in space). These issues appear consistently in the game and are done for the sake of gameplay, but for a game which is supposed to be for the thinking man it really shouldn't have happened.

The look of the game is amazing, it is stylized perfectly with a consistent theme across the game but with each level having it's own unique feeling. The look of the enemies is also brilliant, I mean where can you fight a giant in 1940's deep sea suit with a drill for a hand.

The gameplay is fairly straight forward for anyone who has ever played a FPS, with few new elements. The combination of abilities, skills, weapons and mods all harken directly from Deus Ex (yes, and it copied it from System Shock) but with games that brought this before they were far slower and more thinking. BioShock has no issue to send 10 maniacs of different types at you at once. What this means is all those abilities to use different ammo or abilities come down to what ever you have loaded at that point, wasting what could've been a great system. The one difference to this is late in the game you lose control over your powers and randomly switch between them (even getting ones you never had before, breaking the story again), but this allows you to see what each power does and maybe change your mind about something late in the game. More of the game should be like this, especially the point where you become a Big Daddy, which basically means the difference is a stupid round screen rather than a square one and louder foot steps. 2k take a hint from Halo or Riddick, where near the end you get a big fun point (Halo has the warthog drive and Riddick the robot romp. Riddick's is better since it is the robot who has kicked your ass all round that prison). The gameplay has two points worth noting, firstly the camera which acts like a weapon (ammo = film) but each successful shot of an enemy, turret, drone etc... increases damage you deal to that type of enemy, or makes them less effective or gives you a new ability. It basically rewards you for taking time to do more than kill, or slowly attack your prey and get that good shot before the battle. The second gameplay element is not a good one, it's the vitachambers. These respawn you when you die, with actually more health than before and no penalty. Basically it removes the main stick from running headlong into battles and dying, in other words the complete opposite of the camera. In fact the AI is about as smart as a dog, since you can easily get them to follow you to the vitachamber so it becomes spawn -> shoot -> die -> spawn -> shoot -> die spawn -> shoot -> die, etc...

The AI is in fact smarter than a dog, but being built on the UT2k3 engine I would expect it into be better. Basically they attack stupidly (no squad control or use of cover), then when hurt enough run off to a medic station. If 2k seriously had one guy full time on water effect's why didn't they have one person full time on AI?!?

Anyway it is a much better game than Quake 4 or most of the crap that is coming out of the game studios, but it doesn't raise any bars.

Malawi +0days 19hours

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 11/26/2007 - 11:39
Johannesburg International was a bloody joke. It's so tiny and so many many people. To get into the international waiting area took over an hour and too many queues. Oddly enough if anyone had a brain about processes the bulk of it could be done on a single queue, greatly improving the overall performance of the item, anyway that will be the topic for another post soon enough.

Once on board the shaky plane, I had the usual crap airline food, and bad landing in Malawi (Blantyre to be exact, if anyone cares). So upon landing I met the new baggage carousel, namely the ground next to the terminal building (glad I didn't pack anything breakable) and the most pointless forms ever (two forms, one for customs and one for immigration, both ask the same question but you have to fill in both. PHOTOCOPIERS PEOPLE!!!).

Anyway from the airport it was off to the local ex-pat/backpackers pub for drinks, food, watching SA beat New Zealand in the cricket etc... all and all a nice evening. The fact all dogs wear a muzzle (it's law here) is a little scary the first time you see it (Silence of the Hounds?).

The humidity is another issue all together, I doubt I have sweatted this much in years. My hotel room (in the nice Mount Sosche Hotel) thankfully comes with aircon. It didn't come with water last night, due to an ongoing supply issue, but by this morning there was at least cold water. The area is really beautiful, very tropical in nature (reminds me of the north coast in Natal) and we are surrounded by mountains on all sides.

The biggest fear people seem to have when coming here is the malaria, however I have a new one. I am working for a telco here and there is the transmission station 100m from my desk. It's so powerful it kills the electronics of cars if the park too near it and here Mulder thought only UFO's could do that. The scary part is that I hope my third arm grows out the front and not the back, like a weird tail.

Oh and the bandwidth here  is killer, it's like how fast would you like to go. Telkom, you bunch of clowns, come to a real third world country to get some lessons.

Windows Vista Power Button

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 11/19/2007 - 09:23
In Vista there is the shiny new start menu with the shiny new turn off options, and until recently I have been using the fly out menu on lock to hit sleep or hibernate or shutdown etc... Thankfully I have gotten over that through two dumb luck experiences.

Firstly my home box I have been hitting the power button since it is quick to resume and I don't really worry about things. I always just thought it was putting it into sleep, well this weekend I stumbled across a new feature in Vista (well new to me) called help. It's amazing, it's like Google for windows off line Laughing

Seriously, in the help feature I found an article on what the power button does. Basically if you have an old machine the power button puts it into sleep. However if you have a more modern it puts it into hybrid sleep. This new mode, works like both hibernate and sleep in shutdown (i.e. it does both). Then when it needs to start up again it checks to see if the memory still contains the information (i.e. sleep mode) and if it does restores damn fast from that. If it doesn't contain (say due to power loss) then it restores from the hibernate information.

The power button is the ONLY way in the Vista interface to do this!

To check if you can use this or to turn it on/off go to power options (either off the battery icon in the task try or in the control panel), click Change Plan Settings on your selected power plan, next click Change Advanced Power Settings and under sleep you will see the options (see the attachment of this post for a screen shot).

RegularExpressionValidator Designer Will Die

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 11/13/2007 - 18:55

Working with Microsoft software is often a ride of highs and lows. Highs caused by a tiny feature which changes your life. These tiny features are the spark of genius from some lowly dev in Redmond which makes the magic happen (my favorite is the fact you can copy and paste the MSCRM license code into the installer and fills in all the blocks at once, not just the first block like other installers. Office 2007 has a similar good idea).

However there is the other side, the lows of the idiot. The people think about problems so much they forget how the rest of the world works/sees there item and thus makes it work in odd ways (MSCRM team bastardizing relationships in 3.0 to build certain things. Thankfully fixed in 4.0).

Today though I met another one of these issues, the RegularExpressionValidator in ASP.NET. You give it a RegEx to validate against and guess what it validates against that. Good, expected, normal. Here's the issue, leave the field blank or put only spaces in the field and BOOM! No validation! The workaround, and it is a workaround since this is supposedly by-design, is two validators per field (RegEx and Required!). I mean for heaven sake this is retarded. There is no reason why it should be like that, and if there is WHY OH WHY is there no property to make it work logically/illogically.

Let it be said that if I find you, Mr RegularExpressionValidator Designer Guy/Girl, you will pain for the torture you have caused me to go back through every field in my app and add another validator!

Malawi here I come...

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 11/13/2007 - 15:19

 Update (14 November 2007): Dates confirmed! I should be landing last afternoon on the 25th and flying out late afternoon on the 28th. Thats three nights there!

Sometime this month it looks like I will be in Malawi for work for a few days. This means I should have a little free time there (particular evenings), so if you are in Malawi and are looking for someone to do training, speaking or advising on a few hours basis on any topic I am involved in (MSCRM, CCF, I also have a great TFS evangalism slide deck, general dev...) please drop me an email or comment on this post and let me know.

SSIS and SRS Undo

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 11/12/2007 - 09:43
SSIS and Reporting Services are the two features of SQL that I use more than anything. I absolutely love what SSIS provides to the world (Baby BizTalk for Everyone!). However I often need to undo, in particular with SRS (mostly due to the bastardised VB style language in it, and that I work mainly in C# which makes it horribly difficult), and with both applications the undo is terrible. Definately something that needs to be fixed in SP 1 in SQL 2008! If you have used these just think about how much money/time/effort/head-smashing-into-desk could have been saved by decent undo.

Simon has some connect items now up to vote on these. Please vote on these so we can all spend less on Panado next year :) For details on that see Simon's post

ReportViewer Control: System.InvalidOperationException: Failed to map the path '/'.

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Fri, 11/02/2007 - 11:39

I had an odd issue with trying to get the reportviewer control to work on some ASP.NET pages. I was using VS 2008 beta (but it was a 3.0 project so it should be the same as what you get in VS 2005), and running the solution through the VS web server. When going to the pages (which used local reports) I got the error:

Server Error in '/ATL' Application.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Failed to map the path '/'.
Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

Exception Details: System.InvalidOperationException: Failed to map the path '/'.

No idea what caused it but the moment I changed to run it on IIS it stopped. I did get an error on IIS about reporting services not being able to access the web.config file which was fixed by giving Network Service access to it, that didn't do any difference with VS 2008 web server but it did mean the reports worked. I suspect that it has to do with the way that reporting services locates the web.config file as VS 2008 server runs it as http://localhost:<random port>/<project name>/ where IIS runs it as http://localhost:<random port>.

SQL Server Express with Advanced Services

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Fri, 11/02/2007 - 09:45
This really is the worlds most needed, most hidden and most marketing bs item ever. For those who don't know SQL Server Express is the light version of SQL Server, basically runs a database server but nothing else, not even a management tool. However it is free to redist with apps and it ships with Visual Studio etc... so it's out there a lot.
But you can just feel there are things needed to get it from almost useless to void filling tool (management tools being number 1). Anyway someone at MS realized this at some point in the last year and decided to bring out the Advanced Services edition (how is that for marketing spin, it should be the complete edition but no we need it to be advance, even though it install stripped down features of everything still).
Anyway above the standard express you get:
  1. Stripped down management tool
  2. Reporting services server (the /ReportServer, you don't get /Reports)
  3. and full text search.
These features are so advanced it's insane, oh wait they are all in the standard SQL server from day one.
Anyway if you need this you can get the 250 odd MB download, which you can just run on your vanilla SQL express to upgrade it, from
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=5B5528B9-13E1-4DB9-A3FC-82116D598C3D&displaylang=en
More details on this is available at
http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms365248.aspx