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Camping Video Game Selections

By reading my previous post, most of you might have figured out that I would be camping this summer. Indeed, as I’m currently settled in Bar Harbor, Maine. For this trip I decided to bring a cellphone for emergencies, a PlayStation Portable (PSP) and my iPod Touch. As one might expect, I carefully selected several games for both the PSP and iPod.

For the PSP, I tried to limit myself to games that could be installed on the Memory Stick. Since I’m using a custom firmware on my PSP (I only install titles that I’ve purchased), I can install games that are curently not available in the PlayStation Store. Below are the three of the PSP games that I brought a long on my camping trip.

Resistance Retribution: Quite possibly the best third-person shooter on the handheld. The game’s story and gameplay made this one a no brainer. The developers managed to capture the essence of the PS3 iterations and squeze it down into an interesting portable version. Retribution’s excellent aim assist system make it one of the most compelling and interesting titles on the PSP.

Resident Evil – Directors Cut: The first Resident Evil title is hands down the best campfire game ever. And thanks to its recent PSN release, there’s never been a better time to experience the game that kick started the modern wave of survival horror. Step into the shoes of Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine and uncover the mysteries locked within Resident Evil. Make sure not to smother your screen with marshmellow residues.

Lumines 2: Lets just say that this is one of the best time wasters on the system. The sequel to the PSP launch title offers more of the same with additional songs and scenarios. The best way to unwind from a hectic vacation day.

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Camping Along With Your Portable Gadgets

One of my favorite summer activities is camping. If you’re like me, it can be difficult to detach yourself from your connected lifestyle. But thanks to portable gadgets such as netbooks, smartphones and handheld gaming consoles, it’s easier for one to leave the confines of his (or her) digital hub while enjoying a semi-disconnected sabbatical.

Protecting your devices from the elements is one of the most important things one must consider. Purchasing a waterproof case might be the ideal solution, but it might not be the most cost efficient option. If you already own a protective case for your gadget, why not invest in a $5 box of Ziploc Freezer bags. A well sealed Ziploc freezer bag will provide you with extra protection against the harmful effects of humidity.

Keeping your device powered might also be an issue while vacationing outdoors. Mind you, most campgrounds offer electricity as an option, this privilege is not available to those who choose to camp in the wilderness. If electricity is available, it would be wise to bring along a surge protector to avoid any damages due to voltage spikes. A $20 purchase might save you a few headaches down the road.

If electricity isn’t an option, investing in a car adapter (which plugs into your car lighter socket) or purchasing an inexpensive portable solar charger can be an excellent alternative for keeping your devices powered. A car adapter can be purchased for as low as $9.99, while a portable solar charger will set you back approximately $49.99 if you shop around.

If you desperately need to stay connected, accessing the Internet from your wireless handset might not be the most cost effective way to do so. Cellphone roaming costs could easily result in higher than expected usage charges. With this in mind, disabling your phone’s data roaming capabilities, and using public Wi-Fi hotspots to fuel your connected needs would be the ideal solution. These days, many campgrounds have free Wi-Fi access as an incentive to using their facilities. Local cafes might also offer Wi-Fi access as part of their service. A site, such as http://www.wifi.com will assist you in finding a hotspot in which ever area you are visiting.

These are just a few simple tips for using your favorite devices while vacationing. The most important tip of them all is to simply have fun, while knowing when to leave the gadgets behind. As much as you might enjoy the notion of having access to some of your preferred gadgets, keep in mind that those around you might simply prefer that you disconnect yourself temporarily from your digital routine. Always remember that vacation is defined as a period of suspension of work, study or other customary activities, so make sure your take the time to relax and enjoy yourself.

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All Your Entertainment in One… Xbox

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On June 1, 2009, Microsoft announced several entertainment focused add-ons to its Xbox Live Service during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California. Following the keynote, one thing seemed clear, the Redmond Software giant is poised to push its Xbox 360 platform as the media-centric device for your living room.

Our goal has been to make the Xbox 360 console your one-stop place for all your entertainment needs,” explained Glenn Purkis, Project Manager at Xbox Live Canada, during a recent phone conversation.

Our focus has been bringing entertainment to the Xbox console. It’s a one-stop entertainment console for all your games, music and movies. Xbox 360 is all your entertainment in one box.

Looking through the announcements, it is clear that most interesting add-on to Xbox Live will be the introduction of the new 1080p instant on demand streaming service released under the new Zune Video Marketplace guise. Which, speaking of the Zune Video Marketplace, will be replacing the current Xbox 360 Video Marketplace.

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Many HD enthusiasts have been wondering how a such a service can be possible under today’s current broadband infrastructure. Purkis revealed that this is all possible due to a proprietary adaptive technology developed by the Zune team which scales itself in accordance to the user’s broadband connection.

You will be able to enjoy content directly from your console. No disk, no download and no delay.

So, how will the Zune Video Marketplace actually differ from the current Video Marketplace? Purkis indicated that the main difference will be the way the content will be delivered. He noted that the current offering is more or less download-based, while the Zune Video Marketplace will offer an instant on demand stream.

Like the current video selection, the content on the Zune Video Marketplace will be on a rental basis. He added that they hope to eventually be able to add TV content to the service. Puriks added that they are constantly working on getting new studios on board.

For the time being, the Zune Video Marketplace will launch as a service on the Xbox 360 and won’t offer interactivity with Zune portable media players.

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Last fall, Microsoft launched the Photo Party application which enabled you to share photos with your friends through Xbox Live. Purkis indicated that they will be expanding on that idea with the introduction of the Xbox Movie Party application.

You will now be able to view a movie with up to eight of your Xbox Live friends. Your avatar will be displayed on screen giving you the opportunity to interact with your friends as if they were in the same room with you.

Purkis added that Microsoft will be the first to bring the world’s top two social media networks, both Twitter and Facebook, to your TV through the Xbox.

We’re adding the two biggest social networks to Xbox Live, which is the world’s biggest television social network. We’re bringing it all in one place so that you can stay connected with all of your friends,” explained Purkis.

Purkis also revealed that developers will be able to add Facebook Connect to their titles, giving gamers the opportunity to upload screenshots or movies from their gameplay sessions.

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Canadian Xbox Live subscribers will also be treated to the Last.fm music streaming service at no extra charge. According to Purkis, Xbox Live Gold members will be able to stream all of the music they want without any limitations, while Silver account holders will have timed playback sessions on a monthly basis. It is currently unknown how long these timed sessions will be.

Another interesting addition to the Xbox Live Marketplace will be the ability for console owners to purchase Xbox 360 titles directly from their unit.

In August, gamers will be able to purchase titles such as Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed and Bioshock directly from the Marketplace,” explained Purkis. “The nice thing about the way the marketplace works is that all transactions are tied in with your gamertag. If, for some reason, you need to delete a game you’ve purchased, you will be able to download it again later on.

All Xbox 360 titles available for purchase through the marketplace will have a monetary value (instead of using the Microsoft Points system), and gamers will be able to purchase these games using a credit card. Purkis indicated that the games will be comparatively priced to their retail counterparts.

Purkis added that there are currently no plans to forgo the Microsoft Points system as consumers will still be required to use the said currency for Zune Marketplace transactions.

The new Xbox Live Entertainment features are expected to launch on the platform this Fall.

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Gaming Bandwidth Usage

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Over the weekend I decided to do some online gaming while monitoring my bandwidth usage at the same time. I’ve been interested in doing so for a long time now due to the recent trend of Internet service providers (ISP) capping their bandwidth. I started keeping an eye on my bandwidth needs several months ago in case my own ISP eventually decides to implement its own cap, which has been the rumor now for nearly six months.

After playing approximately five hours online, I noticed that my upstream bandwidth was well over 500MB (the rough estimate was measured using DD-WRT V24-sp1 on my Linksys WRT54G router). I ended up playing a few hours of “NHL 07” on the PlayStation Portable, which was followed with a few sessions of “NHL 09” and “Gears of War 2” on Xbox Live.

Without going into exact analysis, a hardcore gamer playing about two hours of daily online gameplay would end up using about 6GB a month (this is without taking into account the patches and add-ons that are being released on a regular basis). Considering that a 720p movie rental through the Xbox Live Marketplace is roughly 6GB, online gaming isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things. But the bandwidth can quickly add up on one’s ISP account over time.

Now that we are living in a digital world that has HD downloads/streaming, podcasting and online gaming, among others, bandwidth caps don’t make any sense. With the amount of legal HD content on the web, an average user could easily go through their allocated bandwidth before the end of the month, which would lead to additional charges or interruption of service depending on the ISP.

Hopefully one of these major ISPs will eventually wake up and realize that we are currently living in a GB world that’s headed towards an HD revolution, which will eventually hit the half a terabyte range within the next few years.

Expect a follow-up in April as I will be making a full analysis of this month’s usage.

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Torpex Games’ Schizoid Reviewed

Schizoid

I have been a long standing champion of retro gaming. You can throw in as much 3D modeling, bump mapping and dolby surround as you want into a game, it doesn’t necessarily make it a good play. The beauty of retro gaming is the necessity in the design of the classics, these are games that were developed in a time where gameplay HAD to come first, because you didn’t have the luxury of winning people over with high end graphics and sound. A certain amount of finesse had to go into designing the gameplay experience. A game had to be easy to learn, easy to control, and most importantly, fun to play.

Fast forward 20 years, to the age of XBOX Live Arcade and downloadable games and you can tell that the standard set in the age of the NES is just as, if not more important today. Games have gotten harder to develop and infinitely more complex, but what makes a game fun to play has more or less stayed the same. Which is the real beauty of console online services like XBLA, PSN and Wii’s Virtual Console. In the age of disposable first person shooters and glorious HD sports games, console makers still provide an avenue to find some entertaining and innovative games that retain that fun factor of older games, but with updated graphics and sound. A few years ago the market for titles like this on any console was next to nothing. Flash forward and retro gaming is back, in a very big way.

Schizoid is one of those types of games. The kind that grabs you immediately, and makes you wonder where the time went. Developed by Torpex Games, the game is the first to be released on XBOX Live Arcade that has been fully developed using XNA Game Studio Express, Microsoft’s free game development toolkit. Upon first playing the game, you can really tell that Microsoft is putting a lot of power into the hands of their Arcade developers. A few minutes of Schizoid and you’ll remember why retro gaming was so much fun.

The game describes itself as ‘the most co-op game ever’, and this is no exaggeration. On the surface, the game appears fairly simple to play: you pilot a blue ship through a series of levels, and the object of the game is to destroy all the glowing enemies that share the same color as you. Unlike other Top Down shooters like Geometry Wars and Mutant Storm, Schizoid technically has no single player campaign. With you at all times is a 2nd red ship, who you need to help in clearing the level of red enemies. As you progress through the game, you quickly learn that you and your red counterpart have to act together in order to survive. Your ship is vulnerable to enemies of opposing color, which makes it handy to have a second ship watching your back, and vice versa.

Graphically the team at Torpex Games have gone quite a ways to distinguish the look of Schizoid from other comparable games. Enemies take on a very microscopic, biological feel, like protozoa and under a powerful microscope. Breeder enemies spawn eggs which hatch into nebulous Flitts, Skulks and Scorpios target you with claw like mandibles. Even the level design is highly organic, with swaying, fibrous walls that trap enemies and swirling energy obstacles to avoid. You really wouldn’t need this level of detail to enjoy the game, but it goes to show how well crafted Schizoid is over other Live Arcade releases.

Another oddity amongst games of this type is that there is no shooting involved. players destroy enemies by touching them. This makes the control system as simple as it could possibly be; one analog stick is all you need to play this game. Naturally, the game gets harder as you go along, which is why teamwork is such a necessary aspect of the gameplay. Staying together to kill enemies of your color will allow you to get through levels unscathed, which in turn, gives you gold medals for progress. Power ups are scattered throughout the game, which again rely on teamwork. In order to activate a power up you have to bring the two ships together so you can both benefit from increased speed or a powerful bomb attack.

Another innovation is the automatic skipping of levels you have already passed through with no lives lost. This is, in my mind, one of the attractive features of Schizoid. There are hundreds of examples of games out there that force you to trudge through stages you have already passed in order to retry those harder to beat areas. Schizoid saves your progress stage by stage, so you can decide whether you want to play just particular level, or retry all the stages where you may have lost a life. For those of us who enjoy short bouts of gaming, this save system is a welcome feature.

Where this game really shines is in it’s Play Modes. You can choose you have your counterpart’s ship controlled by the computer, or by a friend in Local Co-Op, as well as over XBOX Live. Not to be left out, you can also play the game in Uberschizoid mode, controlling both ships at the same time with the same controller, using dual analog to control each ship. Let me just say that this mode is called Uberschizoid with good reason. It takes a master control jockey to pilot two ships in completely different directions, while fending off enemies and whenever needed provide help for each other. I tried it for a few levels, and I must say, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!

Overall the game hits it home in every category. It’s easy to learn, incredibly easy to control and, after 5 minutes of play, becomes wonderfully addictive. The negatives are very few and very minor. The single player campaign is great with an AI controlled wingman, but casual gamers who rarely play online or with friends might not get the full effect of this game’s play modes. The real enjoyment that comes from playing Schizoid is the teamwork factor that comes with playing the game with a friend sitting next to you or over XBOX Live. People who get bored easily with this kind of release might end up unfairly passing it up based on it’s single player campaign. This explains why the clever ‘most co-op game ever’ marketing for the game. Achievements also cater better to a two player campaign, which might get the Gamerscore junkies a bit frustrated. But overall these are very tiny complaints, and don’t really detract from enjoying the game as a whole.

The days of 8-bit gamin may be long gone, but retro gaming may be alive and well again, reshaping itself into an entirely new entity. As games get easier to develop and distribute, we’ll be seeing more games like Schizoid, which fulfills in every way spirit of old school gaming: Fast, simple, great fun.

by corrigann

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Previous News

Peggle on iPhone OS Available for $0.99

The iPhone OS version PopCap Games‘ highly addictive “Peggle” is available for $0.99 through the iTunes App Store. The catch is that you have until midnight on June 14 to make the purchase. Be warned though, you might have a hard time doing anything else but play Peggle on your iPhone/iPod Touch.

All Your Entertainment in One… Xbox

On June 1, 2009, Microsoft announced several entertainment focused add-ons to its Xbox Live Service during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California. Following the keynote, one thing seemed clear, the Redmond Software giant is poised to push its Xbox 360 platform as the media-centric device for your living room. “Our goal has been […]

Zune Marketplace Post on Decabled.com

Visit Decabled.com to view a post of mine that was published pertaining to the recent Xbox Live Entertainment announcements. Click here to go directly to the article.

E3 2009

E3 kicks off in a few days. I’m interested in seeing what will be brought to the table. Surely there will be alot to talk about in the next few days.

Fallout 3: The Pitt Now Available

This one’s for those looking for some extra “Fallout 3” playtime. The Xbox only downloadable content, “The Pitt” is available for purchase through the Xbox Live Marketplace for 800 Microsoft points and weighs in at 492MB . Below is a blurb taken from the XBLA Marketplace: “Pittsburgh was once the industrial center of the pre-war […]

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