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Nintendo’s Suicide by Wii-U

Nintendo has for decades been a game-changer in the world of console gaming. Heck they practically, along with Atari, created console gaming. The NES, SNES, and Gameboy were not just great selling machines but cultural touchstones for many of us. The Wii introduced motion control to gaming, changing how we played as much as what we played.

So what happened? The Wii U has been a sales flop, with Nintendo choosing to slash prices to boost sales. However many are saying that it’s simply too little too late. While the Wii was innovative at the time, its technology and adoption was surpassed not only by Sony’s motion control but especially by Microsoft’s Kinect. So Nintendo added a tablet to their system which added another new level of play. The trouble is that game developers haven’t really found great ways to implement it into their games. My brother-in-law, who is a game developer who worked on some major games for Red Storm, thought that the pad could really be used well in some instances, but in real life it just hasn’t brought it. Developers have started to find best uses for it, such as in Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition for the Wii U. It uses the secondary screen as a map and weapon chooser among other things, which allows more screen space for the visuals.

The price cut to $300 also seems pricey to many, especially when superior (or at least more hyped) systems such as the XBox One and PS4 are lurking in the shadows. Both systems are hardware-wise superior at least. But compared to current systems it is a legit competitor. Take the screenshot below for example: the Wii U has better texture and lighting than the PS3.

Screenshot from Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition (photo Nintendo Frontier)

It’s tough comparing game catalogs though, as there often is not much overlap between Nintendo Wii titles and those for other systems.

You do have the benefit of the Nintendo catalog, which produces games strictly for its own systems and have their own cult followings. Nintendo is also more friendly to independent game creators. However the catalog for the Wii U is simply pitiful at this point. The 3DS has more titles than the Wii U and is a heck of a lot cheaper.

So is the Wii U a mistake or an underrated contender? Is it a victim of poor marketing or poor adoption by game developers?

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Get 8 awesome EA games, pay what you want, and support charity!

…but its a really good bow and arrow

EA’s Humble Origin Bundle lets you get up to 8 select games from their library for as little as $5, and the proceeds go to support charity. As of the time of this writing over 73,000 bundles were sold! Titles in the bundle are Dead Space 1 & 3, Mirror’s Edge, Crysis 2 Maximum Edition, Burnout Paradise: Ultimate Box, and Medal of Honor. Donate at least $4.74 and get Battlefield 3 and Sims 3 Starter Pack.

XBox 360’s successor unveiled, and it is killer

Microsoft’s successor to the XBox 360 had been codenamed the 720 for some time, but that apparently was too convoluted. What’s new being called the XBox One was recently unveiled and it is a remarkable entertainment machine.

The original XBox was completely gaming centered, and the 360 built upon that to make it a more broad entertainment portal. The One, however, eclipses them both admirably. It’s as much about watching live TV, stored videos, Skyping and Internet browsing as it is about gaming. And the interface promises to be smooth and voice/gesture activated via a heavily updated Kinect.

Read more on Maximum PC...

Oh, and AMD is making a custom CPU for it – win!

Hawken a great free-to-play online FPS

the view from the cockpit of your mech

There are a ton of online FPS games out there, and Hawken – currently free and still in Beta for now – is standing out among them for its graphics, gameplay, and cool environments. It is free to play, but you can pay for credits that will help you progress faster and customize your rig. While it is a lot of fun and very addictive, it has its problems.   The unique thing about Hawken is that rather than using human characters you are piloting mechs, which are sort of like walking tanks. There are a wide variety of mechs available from ones geared towards sharpshooting and sniping to repair and heavy firepower. The look of the vehicles themselves is remarkably realistic – your beginner mech looks a bit like the cab of a Mack truck with legs, complete with windshield wiper. You can change the look of your mech if you like, but that will cost you in the real world. Read the rest of this entry

Is PC gaming really dead?

Game is huge in the US, if not the whole world. In 2011 people spent over $16.6 on games in the US alone. As the industry has evolved over the years it has changed rapidly from favoring consoles like the NES, then shifting to PC’s, and then breaking out into multiple competing consoles like the XBox and Wii. As the market has evolved, console manufacturers seem to dominate the field in terms of market awareness: when people think of gaming, I think they picture an XBox 360 or PS3, or maybe even their iPad, not the big black box on their desktop.

The fact that some major titles like Halo 3 and 4 have avoided the PC has also lent credence to the idea that PC gaming is headed out the back door. Read the rest of this entry

Good & Cheap Game Review: World of Goo (PC)

World of Goo is a single player puzzle game that is simple enough for kids to learn and enjoy and full of enough snarky humor and social commentary to keep the more geeky adults in line as well.  It quickly took the place of the previously reviewed Crayon Physics as my 6-year-old son’s favorite game.

World of Goo is in many ways an amazing game.  It was created by 2D Boy Studios by a team of 2 guys with neither office space nor venture capital.  The game won several awards and lots of merits from the press and public for its design and gameplay.

The game revolves around living gooballs of various types, each with their own ability.  You then use these gooballs to build structures or solve puzzles, with the main goal to be to get a set number of balls to a pipe which sucks them up.  The games range from very easy to downright frustrating, but the good thing is that none of them involve incredible leaps of logical reasoning as in the Myst series.  The game itself is relatively short but in all very satisfying.  Even when you’ve solved the whole thing, you can go back and try to achieve “OCD” status on any level.

The game is notable not only for its gameplay but for the edgy humor that pokes fun at everything from geek culture to consumerism.  Some of it you’ll get and some you won’t, but it’s always good.

You can’t beat the price either – at $15 this is one of the best cheap games out there.  It’s available as a demo if you’d like to try it for PC, Linux or Mac.  It is also available as WiiWare for the same price.

Will the Wii go HD?

Recently there’s been some news about Netflix’ agreement to start on-demand video streaming for the Wii sometime late this year.  This has come comparatively late, considering that the Xbox 360 and PS3 have had Netflix streaming for over a year now.

The big question seems to be how it will do so.  The Wii’s resolution is lower quality than HD, so you won’t get the quality that you would streaming it through your PS3 or other HD device.  So how will it work?

One theory that’s being batted about online is that Nintendo is planning on an HD update for the Wii, either as a new unit (with a blu-ray player?) or as an upgrade to an existing one.  This is not a bad option at all, seeing that many gamers who don’t even plan on streaming video will throw down cash for a better quality gaming experience.  Video quality has not been the Wii’s main selling point, and fixing that problem may add life to the stalling system.  Plus the Wii has been around for a while, and the Netflix decision may just be the herald of the fabled Wii2.

A second theory – my own – is that Nintendo won’t upgrade its system to HD initially but will upgrade its Opera browser to improve playback and video quality enough for Netflix viewing.  My main beef with the Wii has been the nearly useless Internet channel which doesn’t have a Flash version capable of running sites like Hulu or Pandora.  A software upgrade like this would not involve any major tinkering, just an update and poof!  you have Flash.

A perfect world would have both the Internet upgrade and the HD hardware upgrade.  We’ll see what Christmas brings!

Your Best Post-Pirate Bay Torrent Sites

Though its site is still up and running, it’s quite likely that The Pirate Bay’s days are numbered.  After a landmark court case, shareholders have approved sale of the site to a Swedish firm that is likely to turn it from the free-for-all file feast that it was to a pay-to-play model.  This will likely go over with the torrent community like DRM (which prevents files from being copied in the first place).

“Torrents” are shorthand for files distributed via a file-sharing protocol designed by BitTorrent through peer-to-peer networks.  Rather than downloading a file through a certain location, the BitTorrent protocol allows users to upload and download files from multiple hosts, which could be individual PC’s or larger servers, simultaneously.  While there are numerous legitimate uses for torrent files and search sites like The Pirate Bay, many uploaded files are illegal copies of protected material (music, software, movies) and many also contain viruses and other nasties.  Some sites which provide searching for torrents also are pretty nefarious, with racy advertising and even malware attached to them.

So when TPB finally goes down to the deeps, where else can you go to get your torrent fix?  Please note that use of these sites is at your own discretion – while they’re certainly useful, be safe and be legal.

  1. Mininova:  Mininova has been around for a long time and therefore is relatively trustworthy in the torrent scene.  It’s easy to navigate and its inclusion of comments is a definite plus.  Be sure to read the comments before downloading a file – other downloaders may have found something unsavory in the torrent that you should avoid.
  2. YouTorrent: This site advertises the largest legal torrent search service on the net, with over 67,000 files at last count.  While it isn’t as full-featured as other sites (not browse feature, no comments) it is still in beta and it lacked the racy advertising of other sites.  Definitely click-worthy.
  3. Vertor: Vertor promises a sort of torrent “scrubbing” service where before files are available for download, they are checked for viruses and accuracy.  This should weed out fake files, malware, mislabeled files and poor quality audio/video files.  The site is very clean and has some SFW (suitable for work) adult advertising.
  4. IsoHunt: This site has also been around for a long time.  It claims to be the most advanced torrent search engine on the web and offered over 3 million torrents at last check.  It offers a lot of legal music for download which makes it popular.  It’s well set up and easy to use, but does still have some adult-oriented advertising.
  5. BTJunkie:  BTJunkie also claims to be the largest search engine, but it may not be quite as big as IsoHunt.  Still, it’s an excellent site and seems to rely less on sexy advertising, which makes it good in my book.

All in all, BTJunkie and Vertor may take the place of TPB in my favorites list. I like BTJunie’s features and use, and if Vertor improves it will be fantastic as well.  And for a guilt-free torrent experience, definitely check out YouTorrent.

PS: Has Evony bought advertising on every file-sharing site out there??  Enough already!

Windows 7 means DX11: are the big players ready? (Updated!)

“Extremetech posted an article concerning ATI’s and nVidia’s preparedness for Windows 7.  The new version of Window’s builds on the graphics-handling developments of Vista and hopes to improve on them even further, making the graphical eye-candy of Vista less processor hungry (read more here).

Both ATI and nVidia have Windows 7 drivers for some current hardware, however the writer is worried that full implementation of DX11 will go beyond mere drivers and require qualitatively new hardware – not just faster clock speeds or more RAM.  And given that Windows 7 is practically on the shelves, there’s suspicion that neither the PC game makers nor hardware vendors will really be ready for it for some time.”

Well thankfully vendors have risen to the occasion and are cranking out DX11 capable video cards by the shovelful.  Even more thankfully, manufacturers are making DX11 capable cards available to the budget crowd.  ATI’s HD 5000 series cards are a great example.  While these budget cards are definitely “budget”, they are capable performers for those building new systems or moving up from a much older card.  Maximum PC reviewed the HIS Radeon HD5770 for example:

For the low price, you have to give up some graphical amenities, like antialiasing. It’s worth noting, however, that the HD 5770 still delivers 38fps in the Far Cry 2 action scene and 51fps in Ubisoft’s HAWX flight sim with AA and AF enabled. And like all the HD 5000 series, you can connect up to three displays to a single card.

Game Review: Crayon Physics Deluxe

Crayon Physics is a simple puzzle/sandbox game in which the solution to each puzzle depends on the creativity of the player.  The goal is simple: get the red ball to the star (or stars) on the field.  You do this by drawing lines and shapes that behave in accordance to how they are drawn: a slanted line becomes a ramp, a shape becomes an object with weight in proportion to it’s size.  You can also put pins which create anchors or pivot points for objects, creating wheels, swinging hammers and levers.  Solutions, at least early on, are relatively simple and straightforward in order to teach you how the physics of the game operates.  Further along your creative juices will be flowing and occasionally frustrated.

figure out how to get the ball to the star

figure out how to get the ball to the star

While simple, it’s very charming in it’s simplicity and style.  It seeks to be fun without being goofy, and educational without being stuffy.  Even simple games can become challenges to find the most interesting way to solve the puzzle, not the simplest.  No wonder it one of 6 winners in the 12th annual Independent Games Festival!  And the price is only about $20.  With the level editor thrown in the replay value is limitless.

It’s a favorite of my 6-year-old son Taylor, who when asked why he liked it said, “it’s just fun”.  The hours spent on it confirm this fact.