new atomic

The latest Atomic is in stores now, with my big fat six-page feature on the state of Linux gaming. There’s also a tutorial on how to stream MP3s and videos, including DivX/XviD files thanks to the Fall update, from a Linux box to an Xbox 360. Getting the gaming feature in shape for this issue was tight, but I’m really happy with the result, and I’m looking forward to doing some follow-up tutorials.

KDE 4

There was a funny exchange on the Gamers with Jobs podcast a few months back, where the guys were grilling BioShock designer Ken Levine about some of the terrible games that he’s listed in the credits for on his MobyGames page:

Ken: Master of Orion III is on my MobyGames page
Certis: That’s right
Ken: Now I need to make a public statement about my MobyGames credit for Master of Orion III
Certis: Please do
Ken: I had a friend who produced it, and my involvement with Master of Orion III was I told my friend don’t ship it

That sums up my thoughs on KDE 4.

Basically, KDE 4 isn’t finished yet. I’ve been playing with the quite up-to-date KDE 4 pre-release packages for openSUSE, should be very close to the release version we’re being told to expect at the end of the week, but there are bugs and feature regressions everywhere. A lot of this is down to Plasma, the widget engine that’s meant to redefine how we interact with the desktop or some such nonsense, which is very clearly incomplete, and currently limited to pulling off bad Kicker and SuperKaramba impersionations.

That’s right: KDE’s panel, which has long been annoyingly inflexible compared to the GNOME panel, despite rants about how unconfigurable GNOME is in general, is even less flexible now. The new Kickoff main menu, which is based on the modified main menu used in openSUSE’s KDE 3.5, is also really annoying, making it much harder to browse through your available applications and essentially forcing you to use the (admittedly quite handy) search box they’ve stuck in there to find anything.

Of course, this release isn’t about the desktop at all — it’s about the platform, and I understand that they really need to get developers working on these new libraries, and getting users to test against them too. In a lot of ways it’s like Apache 2.0, which was also barely ready for public consumption, and which was also torn up internally in the name of portability. The new threading models did great things for Apache’s performance on NT, but they did nothing for Linux, where most Apache users are running. Likewise, it’s great that KDE’s new platform-independent underpinnings will help extend it to Windows and OS X, but for the 99% of KDE users running Linux/UNIX, there’s a lot less to gain.

Like Apache 2.0, I’m pretty sure that KDE 4 will eventually be something genuinely usable, and perhaps even impressive, but that’s 12 months away at least. In the meantime, it’s going to put a lot of distro maintainers in a very awkward position.

halo 2

While I’ve been taking pretty much every possible opportunity to play Forza 2, I did set aside some time yesterday morning to finish off Halo 2. As it turns out, I was up to the final part of the game anyway, so I was done in less than an hour. Gameplay-wise, it was basically more of the same, with a few tweaks that weren’t necessarily for the best, but it was still good fun. It’s clear that they had more time to invest in the level design, and the game looks a lot better for it, though overall it didn’t seem to improve the gameplay a lot over the more repetitive designs in the original Halo. The beauty of Halo 2 though, like Halo, is in those defining moments where everything just comes together, and it’s definitely worth playing through some of the less exciting parts to get to those key moments.

I don’t really want to comment much on the story, which I’m interested in but not blown away by, but I do have to say that I really would have been pissed if I’d played Halo 2 back in 2004, and not in 2007-8 with a copy of Halo 3 in the shelf beside it. At first it seems to wrap up the events of the game, but it quickly sways in to massive cliffhanger territory, with far more questions asked than answered. I probably won’t go straight on to playing Halo 3 though, unless I can round up some people for a co-op play-through.

half-life

I know I’m nearly ten years too late, but I finally finished playing through Half-Life today. I picked it up last week on Steam for $9, and once I started playing it, I found myself really enjoying it. I never really meant to play through it before I started playing Half-Life 2 and the episodes on the 360, but I’m glad it’s turned out that way, even though I know there’s not much to link the two stories. It’s also nice to know that I’ve finally finished it, after playing through the first couple of hours maybe half a dozen times over the years.

Though I guess it goes without saying, Half-Life really is a classic, and looking back on it now it’s very easy to see why it was such a revelation when it was released back in 1998. It does a great job of evoking a sense of place, and of involving you in the game’s story. The tale itself is solid, but the real innovation is in how the story is told through talking to characters and interacting with the environment, rather than sitting back to watch some annoying cut-scenes. If this is the calibre of work Valve managed in their debut game so long ago, I can’t wait to see what Half-Life 2 and the episodes have in store for me.

ninja!

I ended up getting the Scythe Ninja CPU cooler today — only a couple of places in Australia seem to sell them, but as luck would have it, one of them was open, and in the city. I had to head in to the city anyway, so I grabbed one this morning, and spent a couple of hours ripping the guts out of my PC to install it.

The Ninja is on the left, of course, with the stock Intel cooler from my Core 2 Duo sitting beside it. There’s no fixed fan on it, but it comes with a 120mm fan and clips that you can use to attach it to its side, blowing air through it rather than down on to it.

The results are fantastic: I’ve left my motherboard thermal-controlling the fan, but it barely hits 1000rpm when both cores are flat-out, with the CPU temperature barely hitting 40 degrees. There’s a faint whirr from the video card cooler, but apart from that, the box is basically silent now when the hard drives are idle. There’s not much I can do about the hard drives though, so for now, I’ve got a PC that’s about as quiet as it’s going to get.