Category: Gaming

Sony Xperia S: A step in the right direction for mobile gaming

Perhaps more than any other company in the consumer electronics industry, Sony has repeatedly baffled customers and analysts alike with its product strategies. Music players that could only playback proprietary formats, cameras that could only use proprietary memory cards, a tablet that could control your entire home theatre but not your Sony PS3, an iPod-competitor that isn’t PlayStation-certified, and phones that could provide a great mobile gaming experience but couldn’t display those games on your TV.

That’s just a short list.

Much of these decisions can be attributed to Sony’s desire to exert the kind of control over user experiences that Apple is famous for. Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio even lends credence to the idea that Apple learned this lesson from Sony. The other explanation is that Sony is a company divided. With interests in consumer electronics and media publishing, the fabled Japanese tech giant has been fighting for harmony amongst its divisions for decades, with few visible successes.

But this might be changing.

Consider the new Xperia S, the first Sony smartphone in Canada to ditch the old Sony-Ericsson branding. It’s a dual-core, HD smarpthone running Google’s Android 2.3 OS (upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich later this year) and like it’s predecessor, the Sony-Ericsson Xperia Play, it’s PlayStation Certified which means you can enjoy a catalog of games from Sony including older PlayStation 2 titles that have been optimized for the mobile device.

Unlike the Xperia Play, these games are no longer confined to the phone’s 4.3″ touchscreen. Equipped with a micro-HDMI port, the Xperia S lets you enjoy video and gaming on your HDTV.

Sounds like a solid feature right? Well, yes and no. Yes, the ability to view your mobile games on the big screen makes a ton of sense. Not only will they look better on an HDTV, but friends and family can watch the action without having to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with you. But there’s a down-side too. The Xperia S, unlike the Play, is a touch-screen only device. There is no slide-out set of physical buttons (the Play’s slider featured a PSP Go layout). So while you’ll be able to view games on your TV, it will likely be impossible to control the gameplay without looking down at the phone to make sure you’re swiping and tapping the control areas accurately.

Let’s hope that Sony brings back the Play’s slider form-factor on their next model so gamers can really harness the HDMI-out feature to its full extent.

The Xperia S also features a 12.1-megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video along with NFC (Near Field Communication) – a technology that will enable everything from mobile payments via Google Wallet to content sharing between compatible devices, so gaming isn’t the only reason to consider this smartphone.

Pricing has been set at a very reasonable $99 on a 3-year phone & data package from Rogers Wireless. The Xperia S will be available exclusively through Sony Stores when it launches April 17th.

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Pre-orders for the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 in Canada start today

Have I shared with you my enthusiasm for remote-controlled helis and their quad-rotor brethren?

No? Well I love ’em.

I’m 42-years-old and there’s just something about these little indoor choppers that fulfils a boyhood dream which I’ve apparently been harbouring for a long time.

The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 pictured without its optional indoor hulls

Whatever the reason, I think these things are awesome so I was delighted to learn that the coolest remote-controlled toy on the planet, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 will be up for pre-order at The Source starting March 9th. General release for the device is May of this year.

What’s this? You’ve never heard of the AR.Drone? Allow me to introduce you: The Parrot AR.Drone is remote-controlled quadrocopter (4 rotors instead of the usual 1) that can be controlled via your iOS or Android device of choice over Wi-Fi and comes equipped with 2 on-board cameras – one that looks forward, the other looks straight down.

The latest version (2.0) of the AR.Drone lets you watch the feed from the forward-facing cam on your controlling device in real-time to give you a “pilot’s eye-view” of the action, but you can also record this video feed for acquiring the bragging rights to an especially impressive flight. These videos can be recorded to your smartphone/tablet’s memory or saved via the built-in USB port on the AR.Drone.

We got a chance to see the AR.Drone 2.0 in action at CES 2012 this year and their demo was impressive.

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Of course, the original intent behind the cameras was to enable AR gaming (thus the AR or Augmented Reality in the AR.Drone’s name) is still very much the focus of this craft, and with the optional game downloads you can engage in air-to-air combat with other AR.Drone pilots.

Just like the original AR.Drone, version 2.0 comes with a removable set of indoor “hulls” – basically styrofoam bumpers that surround the blades of each of the four rotors. You can keep these on when flying outdoors for greater crash protection, but the vehicle will be much less stable in windy conditions.

Until now, the only Canadian retailer who carried the AR.Drone was BestBuy, but it seems Parrot has established a slightly larger distribution network for the 2.0 release of the product by partnering with The Source. This move makes tons of sense. Not only are there way more The Source locations in Canada (over 700) but The Source is already the go-to shop for RC enthusiasts. I doubt there is another bricks and mortar retailer with a greater selection of RC toys and the AR.Drone is the perfect complement to that collection. The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 will be $329 when it goes on sale later this year.

A Skater's Take on Tony Hawk Ride

Activision's new video game, Tony Hawk Ride, comes with a wireless skateboard controller

Activision's new video game, Tony Hawk Ride, comes with a wireless skateboard controller

Tony Hawk Ride is a ground-breaking game that seeks to bring the virtual a real worlds ever closer by introducing a special skateboard-deck controller into the gaming arsenal. So while traditional game reviewers can certainly weigh in on what they think of the game, someone needs to ask the question: What do real skaters think? So I asked. The answer came from my colleague, Matt Forsythe, editor over at Push.ca and no stranger to the asphalt-and-road-rash-real world of skateboarding. Better yet, Matt has clocked some serious hours with previous titles in the Tony Hawk game franchise. Here is his take on THRIDE for the Xbox 360…

Despite the Tony Hawk games turning into roller coaster simulations over the past few releases (boring, over-the-top, easily setup tricks [see chart]), I’ve got a soft spot for the series. Being the first game to do a decent job of representing skateboarding, I put more playtime into the demo of the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater (THPS) than I have into other full games, sticking with the series until Tony Hawk’s Underground. After losing ground to EA’s competing Skate franchise, the Tony Hawk team has gone for broke with a complete reboot of their series in Tony Hawk Ride. You won’t be able to miss the package in stores: the calling card of Ride is the included motion-sensing skateboard controller that’s a requirement. It seemed like as good a reason as any to give Tony another chance.

Like anyone who skates, first thing I wanted to know right out of the box is if you could actually get some pop on this thing. Thanks to a solid build and some weight, the board doesn’t feel like a cheap toy; you don’t want to shin yourself with this thing. Four visual sensors on the top of the board give it a serious “this thing is high-tech and I shouldn’t break it” feel. I passed on the ollie in case the safety warnings were true (and it wouldn’t be possible to review the game with a broken fake skateboard).

Some advice when getting started: make sure you’ve got a controller handy because if you’ve ever tried navigating a menu with a skateboard, it’s not easy. The inconsistencies of when you can and can’t use the board to get around make things worse. The board has full buttons and a d-pad, but if you’re reaching to the floor for that, you may as well grab your controller (or turn it into a sweet “multiplayer” game. I call menu guy, dibs!).

The basic mechanics of the game consist of balancing this mock skateboard to steer, while making different foot motions to pull off tricks while skating through different levels. There’s three options for how much work you’ll have to do: “Casual” keeps you on rails, leaving you to focus on tricks, “Confident” removes the rails, but supposedly stills helps (I did not get that feeling), and “Hardcore” moves when you move. The funny thing is that the “Hardcore” control setting seemed easier than the “Confident” setting, feeling more like the response of an actually skateboard (well, as close as you might get without trucks and wheels…and actually rolling).
Actually getting to the levels is the next trick. The load times are yawn-inducing, with the constant insistence of re-orienting your board (choosing regular or goofy, which should just be a menu option) adding insult to the wait when you think you’re finally ready to play.

When you get to the “skateboarding”, things get weird. Turns out, you’re going to need actual balance skills to make a real go at the game (which is odd, because real world skill and videogames rarely mix), and that’s just to keep you going in a straight line. Tricks, on the other hand, are a shot in the dark. Performing specific tricks is a crapshoot, devolving to strange ritual dance motions that translate to sick moves on screen. It’s supposed to help that there’s a small on-screen display mirroring your motions on the board, but putting your hand over one of four sensors to perform grabs gets old fast when you can see the display registering your movements, but not translating to tricks in the game.

Any hardcore THPS fan will be familiar with the repetitive stress injuries associated with “start, down, X”, the pause/menu combo used to restart a level while trying to complete one particular, stressful thing in early Tony Hawk games. Without having a controller in your hand, and dealing with vague controls, you have to suffer through chains of challenges with one incomplete piece, waiting for the end of a run to start over…again and again.

With so many points working against it, it was no surprise that I saw more kids at the skate park this weekend in below zero temperatures than were playing this game online.

At a $120 admission price, you’ve got to want to go fake skateboarding pretty badly to get on this Ride. And without anything to lose, I did try: you can actually get some pop on the board. It results in some possibly damaging noises, yet it’s still not as fun as the real thing.

— Thanks Matt!

Gorgeous: Thermaltake Level 10

level-10-angledIt’s not often that I find myself wanting a desktop computer these days. After finally getting rid of my aging desktop PC last year in favour of a 17″ Dell laptop, I’ve been perfectly happy without a big box taking up space under my ridiculously small home office desk.

And yet, every now and then, a product comes around that screams so loudly at my geek soul that I experience a moment of pause while I reconsider my new allegiance to portability.

Today, that product is Thermaltake’s Level 10 Case. In a word: stunning.

The black tower made of extruded aluminum, with its red striping and lighting accents evokes imagery ranging from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the exquisitely designed digital cameras systems made by RED. And that’s just the cosmetics.

On the practical side, this beast has hot-swappable SATA drive enclosures, separate compartments for every major component and an integrated cooling system that is both effective and silent.

The Level 10 should be available for purchase later this month at an estimated price of $700 USD, which will put a huge dent in the pocketbooks of those whose hearts have been stolen. That is, if they can get their hands on one. Given the general reaction that geek sites like Maximum PC are having to the Level 10, it may be in short supply.

More photos for you to drool over…

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