July 16, 2007

Books: Ian M. Banks' Excession

I generally have a few English books on my shelves that I am saving for transcontinental flights to pass the time. On this past trip to Italy, before getting on the plane on an impulse I purchased SAGA Jun'ichi's Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan's Underworld (translated by John Bester.) It was a fast read, lots of fun, but not heavy reading overall. I don't know much about the Yakuza, so I can't comment on that aspect, but it is an interesting character study. I'm now a bit more interested in that side of Japan, but I don't know that I'll pursue that interest with any intensity.

On the flight from Italy to Japan, and then Japan to New York via Chicago, I started reading Ian M. Banks' Excession, a complex science fiction novel set in his Culture universe. It was a very interesting read, focusing mainly on the response of the large scale artificial intelligence system of the Minds of the Culture ship to an unexpected impossible-seeming phenomena.

I've read a few other Culture novels, Consider Phlebas (good, but not great), The Player of Games (also good), Use of Weapons (this one was very memorable, very good), and now Excession. There are a few more novels in this universe which I'll try to track down; Banks is a very enjoyable author and he really has quite a wide range of plot types.

While in New York I picked up five additional books, so I should have plenty to read on the trip home. Once I get back to Japan though, I had better concentrate on trying to finish Murakami's Kafka by the Sea, which I'm slowly reading in Japanese.

June 11, 2007

Emulating Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord on the GP2X

Not too long ago, I wrote about my old-school CRPG party-based gaming obsession. Randomly coming across a version of Wizardry I-III for cell phones in Japan rekindled my interest, but sadly my cell phone "terminal" (端末) is not compatible so I can't play it. It was very aggravating, because I know that there is a chance to play Wizardry while I'm in the subway - which is usually about two hours a day.

Instead, I decided to look around, and found another great old game, Dragon Wars, playing that at home on a laptop is a bit too difficult to do frequently. When I get home I am tired, and usually just plop down for dinner and some tv before going to bed. Something that is portable would be very nice...

Since I started thinking about playing older CRPGs, I thought that the most likely approach would be to get a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS and look at the state of emulation on those consoles. I'm not really a Sony fan, since they have had problems in the past with excessive Digital Restrictions Management / Digitally Restricted Media / DRM in the past, and I know that they discourage people running homebrew software on the PSP by releasing firmware that makes it difficult to run unsigned code. Things seemed a bit better on the Nintendo DS, but still requires some hardware solutions for using SD cards, and certain versions won't boot run homebrew software.

Then I found the GP2X, an amazing little portable linux device that runs off of a regular SD card, has a very nice 320x240 screen, and two ARM processors at 200 MHz that can be clocked faster and slower. The system is open, supports homebrew out of the box, uses open source software as a base, and has a plethora of emulators available for it.

Read on for more information about my (successful!) quest to get Wizardry emulated on the GP2X.

read more (1098 words)

June 2, 2007

Bitten by the CRPG Bug, memories of hex-editing savegames

A long time ago, back in the days when the big fight was whether an Apple //e or a Commodore 64 was a better machine (the answer is Apple //e, but I might accept Atari ST as well) I used to play a lot of Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs.)

Click the link to read more about computer RPGs and stuff. There is some actual useful information for people who want to cheat at the old game "Dragon Wars": I include hex offsets and directions for how to give your players some extra experience points for leveling them up. A lot.
read more (1600 words)

Babylon 5

In the past few months, I've been watching Babylon 5. I noticed the first season available for rent at Tsutaya, and since I really enjoyed the series when I watched it on TV back in the 90s, I decided to rent it. Of course, after watching the first season, I had no choice but to watch the rest. Tsutaya didn't have seasons 2 or 3 for rental, but they were available for sale over the web, and cheap too: 4000 yen per season, so about 700 yen a disc. That is a great deal, so I bought seasons two and three. Unfortunately, I couldn't find seasons four and five for sale, except as ridiculously expensive imports from the US. So I obtained seasons four and five as digitally time shifted broadcasts via the international world fat web. Coincidentally, I just found out that there is a new Babylon 5 related project: direct to DVD releases! The first one, Babylong 5: The Lost Tales will come out at the end of July. I'm really excited about that, and might have to import it. I hope that it will be on sale in Japan at the same time, but we'll see. Anyway, just a reminder to everyone out there that Babylon 5 is some of the best sci-fi that has been on TV. It definitely holds up to my two favorite things on the air right now, Doctor Who and the new Battlestar Galactica. I was also very surprised about how well the effects held up. I expected that every time I saw a graphics shot that I would be thinking "Amiga! Lightwave! Video toaster!" and so on, but I quickly forgot about the technical issues, and became wrapped up in the story. In fact, I was surprised at just how GOOD the special effects were over the course of the series. I'm really looking forward to what they will be able to do on the DVD releases due to the amazing advances in technology and CG that we've seen since then. Highly recommended, add Babylon 5 to your Netflicks queues immediately!

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