Halo 3 – Time to Finish the Fight

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – September 2007)

September 25, 2007 will go down in history…video game history that is. Halo 3, the much anticipated final chapter in the Halo trilogy was released at midnight on September 24th across the U.S, Canada and most of the rest of the world. Some 10,000 retailers in the U.S. opened their doors at 12:01 to allow thousands of fans to get their hands on the latest edition. Microsoft is banking on the fact that the Xbox 360 exclusive will not only be the biggest video game launch in history, but will also help catapult sales of the console itself, and solidify its position in the video game console market against rivals Sony (PS3) and Nintendo (Wii).

Halo 2 made history in 2004, when it brought in more than $125 million in its first 24 hours. And Halo 1 and 2 combined have sold more than 15 million copies since the series first launched for the original Xbox back in 2001. Two months ago, Halo 3 had already racked up over one million pre-orders, crushing all previous records, and would eventually hit almost 1.7 million pre-orders by launch time.

Microsoft has confirmed that Halo 3 grossed more than $170 million in sales in the first 24 hours after release. This is the largest single-day take in for any release in entertainment history, shattering the previous record held by the Spiderman 3 movie, which brought in $150 million in its opening weekend.

I remember when Halo first came out for the Xbox. Way back in 2001, critics were scoffing at Microsoft’s entry into the video game console market, but Halo was the killer app for Microsoft needed to turn the Xbox into a legitimate contender in the extremely competitive industry. This title was different than any games before it. It had beautiful graphics, an interesting story line, but most of all it was fun as hell to play. The multi-player campaigns were even more fun.

Halo 2 continued the story, and “the fight”, bringing with it a bigger focus on the multi-player game play, and was built from the ground up for play on Xbox live, Microsoft’s online membership service. Halo 2 is still the most played game on Xbox-live, even 3 years after its launch…something which is surely to change with the launch of Halo 3.

The third instalment opens with Master Chief hurtling towards earth in a Forerunner aircraft. After bailing out of the craft 2km above earth, Master Chief crashes into the dense forest of Africa where he is located, but though dead. After coming back online, Master Chief and his fellow humans begin the final fight.

After the first Halo is destroyed by humans, the second is activated and more are placed on standby, ready to fire. If the remaining Halos are activated by The Truth they will decimate all life in the galaxy, something that the human race along with their new found allies, the Elites, will do everything they can to prevent. You as Master Chief, along with your new ally, the Arbitor, must finish the fight against the alien Covenant and the Flood, destroying all remaining Halos in the process.

The first thing you notice when the game loads, is the gorgeous high-definition (HD) graphics. This is by far one of the best looking games to date. As you trudge through the different terrains, fighting the plethora of alien enemies, you can’t help being impressed by the incredible landscapes, and amazing realism that surrounds you. If you have played any of the Halo games before, then you are familiar with the game play. But Halo 3 continues the fun, by introducing a number of new vehicles, weapons and characters. The artificial intelligence (AI) of the characters is also impressive – providing more challenging game play.

Bungie, the game’s developer has introduced some really cool tools and features this time around. Like the addition of 4 player co-op over Xbox Live, and the ability to record your game play and send clips to all your buddies. The game also includes a new map building component called Forge. Forge allows players to “tweak, create, or even destroy the objects present on any multiplayer map.” In other words, players are able to customize maps, and then upload to Xbox Live for others to play.

If you already own an Xbox 360, then Halo 3 is an absolute must for your game collection…and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? It is an impressive game for a number of reasons, but I think the most important reason to pick it up, is the fun game play and ability to kick some alien butt with your buddy down the street or someone on the other side of the planet, over Xbox Live. So come on and join the fight to save the galaxy, and join the millions of fans who’ve already taken the pledge to “finish the fight”!

Windows Vista – Ready to Upgrade?

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – May/June 2007)

Windows Vista, Microsoft’s first new operating system in more than five years. Vista looks beautiful and has number of new features, but is it worth the upgrade?

When Vista was released to the public on January 30, 2007 I made a point of picking up a copy the first day. I must admit, I was excited to get my hands on the new OS after seeing some of the previews and screenshots of the new Aero interface.

For the non-techy, things could get a little confusing. Before even considering upgrading to Vista, you need to figure out if your current PC can run it effectively. You see, each new version of Windows typically requires a faster and more powerful PC to run it – and Vista is no exception. At minimum, Windows Vista requires a modern processor of at least 800MHz clock speed, 512MB RAM, and a DirectX 9 compatible graphics card. But these minimum specs won’t run Vista well.

In fact since running Vista in all its glory requires a pretty decent PC, Microsoft has made available, a free software download to test your system and tell you if upgrading your current PC to Vista is possible or even worthwhile.

Because I have a high-powered Dell laptop I ran the test, curious to see the results. Even though my Dell Inspiron XPS laptop was top of the line two years ago, I was interested to see how it would fair. According to the software, my PC was more than capable of running Vista without losing any functionality of graphical appeal. This mostly due to the 256MB nVidia graphics card on board.

I proceeded to install the upgrade over a recently installed fresh install of Windows XP – Media Centre version. After inserting the Vista DVD, the first thing that happened was a request to run the Windows Upgrade Advisor once again to identify any potential hardware or software issues. The test identified a few hardware drivers that may not function properly but for the most part there were no major problems listed. So after inputting the serial number which came inside the package, the install began.

The PC hummed as it chugged along, accessing the DVD and loading the installation. To my surprise it took at least 45 minutes before Vista was even ready to reboot for the first time. I waited patiently to see what Vista would look like upon reboot…but again I was unpleasantly surprised as more installation began to take place. I would have to wait at least another 10-15 minutes before seeing Vista in operation. All told, the upgrade took well over an hour, but finally I was able to see what new features and functionality Vista had in store.

My first impression upon loading – I was impressed with the new visual interface. Transparent windows, smooth animations and crisp graphics are the first thing you notice, along with other things like Windows Sidebar, and a new Start Menu.

There has been a lot of talk about how Vista resembles the Mac OS 10 with it’s visual appeal and affects. I won’t do a comparison here, but regardless I feel that the new Windows Aero interface is beautiful compared to Windows XP. The effects are possible through the newly designed graphics subsystem, and the introduction of DirectX10 which will allow for ultra-realistic games and program graphics in the future. Although a handful of games are under development to take advantage of DirectX10, users will also require a new graphics card such as the nVidia Geforce 8800 GTX which currently runs about $600 US!

Other advances include Windows Vista Instant Search which is fast and accurate. As you type in the file name, property or even text from within the file, it returns results before you even press enter. I found the search function performed very well.

Vista was built with security in mind. The OS functions in such a way that crucial parts of the code cannot be accessed by other programs such as malware and viruses. There are also a number of security features built in such as Windows Defender, firewall, and anti-phising software. Other security measures require the user to approve most changes to the system, such as when installing programs and approving any detected changes to the system files. It seems like overkill, but if it helps to keep the system from safe from online intruders and other dangers, then I might be able to live with it.

Windows Sidebar is kind of neat. The feature allows you to add gadgets to the side of your screen…cool things like a CPU and memory monitor, stock ticker, RSS news headlines, a clock or calendar and many more. They let you see information without opening a full program.

Most of the five versions of Vista have built in Media Center which helps you organize all of your digital entertainment including music, photos, movies and video clips. Users can utilize Media Center to play DVDs, record TV shows, or stream multimedia to your Xbox 360 if you have one. Although Microsoft has enhanced Media Center, it is essentially the same as the previous Windows Media Centre Edition.

I have now been using Vista for about two months and I have to say, there are a few things about it that really irritate me. The security measures I mentioned earlier, are a real pain to deal with. Vista asks for permission to do everything it seems, which really gets quite annoying, and I have found that several of my old programs do not work correctly with Vista, in fact a game I installed would not run because it was looking for a particular file that is not in this version of Windows. I have even had some trouble with programs that said they were Vista compatible.

All in all, I think that Vista is a nice step forward. The OS adds some neat features and some really great features, and does appear to be more stable and secure. However, there are significant compatibility issues that will take time to iron out.

My recommendation would be to pass on the upgrade of Vista and instead wait to get it with your next PC or laptop.