Updated Windows Policy – Forced Upgrade to Windows 10

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Recently the net has been abuzz with the controversial and aggressive update/upgrade policies that Microsoft have been implementing.  While it’s true that Microsoft have made updates mandatory, some users have already found ways around this with software that either circumvents the update process or by installing the KB3073930 update which will delay the updates.

So while this entire update fiasco has been incredibly frustrating – especially for users utilizing metered connections, the Windows 10 experience has been pretty enjoyable thus far (I use a local account as I’m not interested in the MS apps or one-drive and so forth), that is of course if you actually chose to install Windows 10…

That’s right, if you are using Windows 7 or 8, you will be forcibly upgraded to Windows 10 whether you opted for the upgrade or not.  Microsoft has seen fit to use a sizable chunk of your hard-drive space in which to download their 3.5GB to 6GB hidden folder labelled ‘$Windows.~BT’.  So in essence, Microsoft have given users the illusion of choice – “upgrade when you are ready” and have decided to placate users with what has clearly been lip-service from a company who decided they wanted to be all about transparency.

Bottom line, whether you want it or not, if you intend on using any of Microsoft’s previous operating systems with an internet connection you will be upgraded to Windows 10.  Of course this decision has been rationalized by the company by saying that opting for Windows updates (presumably on the automatic setting) will download the “Windows 10 update”.  Sure, you can choose not to receive updates on Windows 7 & 8 but then you’d miss untold amounts of security and performance patches that as history will show, are usually necessary. Microsoft’s Windows-as-a-service model means that Windows 10 is utterly dependent on regular updates and patching as Windows 10 is essentially part of a continuous improvement program.

Why Microsoft felt the need to force this change on users is beyond me.  I can’t help but think that if they don’t rethink their aggressive upgrade policy that they will invariably lose users to the likes of Linux, OSX and so forth.  Does it bother me? Not so much, I was an early Windows 10 adopter and at the same time I use Linux as well.  Life is about choice – I wonder how long it will take Microsoft to realize that…

First Impressions – Windows 10

With Microsoft’s latest operating system mere hours from being launched to the general public (midnight launch tonight), there has been much anticipation surrounding Windows 10 and whether or not Microsoft can right the wrongs that Windows 8 committed. Needless to say Microsoft have promised a number of great things which they are adamant Windows 10 will be able to deliver.  Perhaps the biggest change is that Windows 10 will be “the last operating system ever” as the business model of the OS has now shifted to being offered as a service.  What does that mean for us? By being offered as a service, Windows 10 will be part of a continuous improvement process as the OS is continuously upgraded and tweaked via mandatory system updates (more on that in a bit).

Pressing on, I have managed to obtain Windows 10 Pro Edition (x64 of course) and decided to format my Win 8.1 installation in order to put the new OS to the test.  Bearing in mind that this article is merely my first impression upon successfully installing the OS and there will most likely be a follow-up article where I take a much closer look at what’s on offer.

The familiar system information screen, almost identical to Windows 8 and still devoid of the Windows Experience Index.

The familiar system information screen, almost identical to Windows 8 and still devoid of the Windows Experience Index.

So perhaps the most important aspect of installing a new OS (at least for me) is its ability to maintain compatibility with existing hardware and software – will I be able to install all my favourite games and applications successfully?

Starting at the top, I installed my Asus motherboard drivers (via driver disk) followed by AMD’s Catalyst 15.7 GPU package – both installed quickly without error.  Secondly, I attempted to install Driver Navigator (extremely useful app) however the software would not install due to a compatibility issue.  ACDSee Pro 8, Java 8, Adobe Flash, VLC Player, CCCP, Office 2013, Winrar, Witcher 3, Dragon Age Inquisition, CCleaner, Firefox, VeraCrypt, Rocketdock and Inkscape 0.48.5 all installed successfully – tested working. Because I found Windows Defender to be a little too enthusiastic (where cracked games are concerned), I installed AVG Internet Security 2015 which rectified the problem.

As expected, UAC makes a return and as usual it's the first thing I disable.

As expected, UAC makes a return and as usual it’s the first thing I disable.

Next, I wanted to test Apple & Android devices, I installed the latest version of iTunes and connected my iPod – detected, tested working.  Plugging in Android devices proved to be painless as well as both my Samsung S4 and Lenovo IdeaTab A3000 connected and were accessible without errors.

As Driver Navigator wasn't an option, I attempted to update several drivers via device manager, working surprisingly well (for a change).

As Driver Navigator wasn’t an option, I attempted to update several drivers via device manager, working surprisingly well (for a change).

As previously stated, I experienced no issues installing the 15.7 Catalyst Suite – omitting the components I didn’t want (AMD HD Audio driver) and that’s where Windows decided to “help out”. At this point I decided to run the update service to see how it works, sure enough, there were a number of security updates as well as the AMD Audio driver I had omitted installing from the Catalyst Suite.  Annoyingly, there was no way to stop this, however Windows does allow you to uninstall problematic drivers.

This aggressive mandatory update policy for Windows will undoubtedly change sooner or later especially since KB3073930 has already been released.  These mandatory updates have already proven to be problematic for Nvidia GPU owner’s as the auto-updates conflict with Nvidia’s own GeForce Experience application – an issue that will undoubtedly be addressed shortly.

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The KB3073930 update allows you to stifle/alter the mandatory updates to a degree.

Needless to say, as promised, Windows 10 comes with DirectX 12, which is also backwards compatible with a lot of DX11 cards such as my AMD R9280 OC GPU – great news!  Microsoft’s proprietary apps work as well as expected, such as Photos, and the updated Music application which I am quite fond of – upgraded from Windows 8.  I have yet to test Cortana as there were a myriad of updates for it and as Microsoft so proudly stated, Edge is fast, really fast but it will unlikely replace Firefox as my browser of choice anytime soon.

The sought-after DirectX 12 - an integral part of Windows 10.

The sought-after DirectX 12 – an integral part of Windows 10.

In closing, Windows 10 has made a good first impression with me, unlike the horrific ordeal I had with Vista back in 2006 (an unmitigated disaster).  I will continue to test and unearth what Windows 10 has to offer and if they manage to resolve this whole mandatory update fiasco they will earn further brownie points with users undoubtedly.  My opinion on all these “reasons not to upgrade to Windows 10” articles that are floating around? Ignore them.  The minimal requirements are negligible where the modern PC user is concerned and even older PC’s will run it quite comfortably.  Microsoft have learned their lesson since Windows 8 and I look forward to seeing how Windows 10 evolves in the coming months.

[Update – 2015-07-29:] I installed the latest version of Driver Navigator (version 3.6), installed successfully – tested working.

[Update – 2015-07-29:] Cortana Would not run due to my region (South Africa) not being supported.

How-to Install VeraCrypt on Ubuntu 15.04 (Vivid Vervet)

If like many people in the world, you are concerned with privacy and security, there are many avenues one can take in order to safe-guard their precious data.  I am an avid subscriber to the VeraCrypt project and use it on my Windows machines and generally have an encrypted volume or two stored on external hard drives or thumb drives – it is a great application, intuitive and effective at what it does.  So while it’s all fine and well having it on Windows, how does one install it on Ubuntu…no surprises, look to the terminal and you will have it installed and running in no time.

As VeraCrypt is available via PPA, installing VeraCrypt 1.0f-1 on Ubuntu 15.04, Ubuntu 14.10, Ubuntu 14.04 and derivative systems is easy. All you have to do is add the ppa to your system, update the local repository index and install the VeraCrypt package.

To Install, open the terminal and type the following;

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:unit193/encryption
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install veracrypt

and to uninstall;

$ sudo apt-get remove veracrypt

Installed and ready to use.

Installed and ready to use.

 

Silicon Valley

4343564778Creator of the infamous Beavis & Butt-head series (he wouldn’t even let his kids watch it) as well as the cult film Office Space, Mike Judge has returned with Silicon Valley – an eight episode, character-driven series (renewed for a second season *hooray*) that uses humour and satire in order to explore the world of software development.  Unlike The Big Bang Theory, Silicon Valley doesn’t pander to the masses, in that it does not single out popular aspects of ‘geek culture’ in order to exploit it for monetary gain or ratings (this is not to say that I don’t enjoy TBBT, quite the opposite in fact).  Put simply, Silicon Valley uses the more realistic ‘business model’ and premise of a bunch of socially awkward, geeky guys trying to make it big.  Obviously some liberties are taken (it is after-all, satire), but the series does offer some insight into the technology world, even though certain industry pundits have lambasted the series as being a negative representation of developers and the industry itself.

So while an article on a television series may seem a little unorthodox for a technology blog, I feel that as computer & video-games are very much part of the technology world, it’s logical for television to be a viable medium to represent technology, and Silicon Valley is part of that representation.  The image above is indicative of ‘making it big’ – “Where everyone wants to be an icon” such as the one (Steve Jobs) the protagonists are attempting to portray in this promotional poster.  T.J. Miller’s character (Erlich), dons the Steve Jobs persona (to great comedic effect for the most part), and even though he’s one of those love-to-hate, irritating characters in the beginning – forgoing his share of ten million dollars (for the bigger picture) and bitch-slapping a 10-year-old (who does that anymore?) in episode 6, reaffirms his position as a valuable member of the team.  For all his stupidity, Erlich plays a fundamental role in the group’s start-up company Pied Piper, as a type of enforcer as well the public voice – owing his lack of social awkwardness to his unending and seemingly misplaced confidence.

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Thomas Middleditch portrays Richard Hendriks – founder of Pied Piper as well as the compression algorithm that earned them their initial funding from billionaire Peter Gregory – portrayed by Christopher Even Welch who unfortunately passed away from lung cancer in December of last year.  Richard is the group’s anchor, even though he is painfully shy and awkward, this deficit is outweighed only by his brilliance.  Another character worth mentioning is Martin Starr’s ‘Bertram Gilfoyle’ – programmer and Satanist (you read that correctly) who has perhaps some of the best lines in the show (check out the interview clip below).

The combination of offbeat characters and sublime writing ensures that the show never dilutes into mediocre drivel (the fate of many a series), and I think that due to its relatively short eight episode format (at least for this first season at any rate) that it enables the show to maintain its humour and entertainment value to the point where audiences crave more.  Overall, a highly recommended gem of a series, populated with black humour and plenty of ‘geek moments’ more accurate than some would care to admit.  I look forward to seeing how Mike Judge will expand upon the show’s mythos.

How-to | Solve Windows 8.1 “You need to use an account with Administrator privileges” Error

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Thought it would be a good idea to start off the new how-to section with an article focusing on Microsoft’s latest operating system, given that it has given so many users unwarranted amounts of grief.  I think Microsoft’s first problem was that after seeing how well the Android OS had infiltrated the end-user, they panicked and decided to release a desktop OS optimized for tablets, with the result that desktop users were left with a frustrating, user-unfriendly experience.  However, in light of this short-coming Microsoft released the 8.1 upgrade (approximately 3.6Gigs) for free download on the Microsoft Store provided you have a pre-existing Windows 8 installation.  So that’s all fine and well, until one is accused of not having administrator privileges and is thus unable to download the upgrade.

I’ve encountered this error consistently with the Dell Optiplex units (though not limited to these machines) which are preloaded with Windows 8 Pro OEM.  If you happen to have one of these machines and are experiencing the same issue then the following may help you:

Go to Control Panel >> Programs and Features, on the left hand side you will see a link called “View installed updates”, click on it and scroll down until you find KB2871389 (it will be there since 8.1 requires that 8 be fully updated first.  Uninstall the update and accept the prompt to restart your PC.

Once your PC has rebooted, go back the Windows Store and select the Windows 8.1  update once again, this time you should have no admin issues at all.

Lenovo IdeaTab A3000

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With so many options to choose from in the tablet-PC market, it can be tough choosing the right device for you.  While Apple’s iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Amazon’s Kindle are well-known to hardened technology enthusiasts and casual users alike, there are many alternatives available, one such alternative being Lenovo’s IdeaTab range.

The IdeaTab A3000 is Lenovo’s mid-range offering, but not to be overlooked as this device has plenty of power beneath its chassis.  With its 1.2GHz quad-core processor, it easily competes with its more popular brethren. Combine that with 1GB of LP-DDR2 memory and the   PowerVR SGX544 GPU and you have a pretty beefy piece of kit, especially if you intend on gaming with it.

I on the other hand chose the A3000 purely for comics and books, and thanks to the IPS (in-plane switching) display, it was my reader of choice over its Samsung counterpart in the same price range.  While I definitely considered the superior Lenovo S5000, a lack of any sort of memory expansion (no microSD support) meant choosing the A3000 over it, especially when one is able to effortlessly slap in an extra 64GB of space.

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As one would expect, the A3000 comes preloaded with Android’s Jelly Bean 4.2.2 as well as a multitude of preinstalled apps that people have become accustomed to (Gmail, AccuWeather, Skype and so forth).  However, as is life, one must tweak a device based on their personal preferences and tastes so in my case I replaced the default image viewer with the superior QuickPic and downloaded Moon+ Reader as my reader of choice.  Moon+ is feature-rich and does an excellent job of managing a multitude of formats such as mobi (Kindle files), epub, txt, html and cbr (comics) and facilitates night-time reading.

Since Lenovo doesn’t fall under the aforementioned ‘big 3’, I struggled to find any sort of accessories, covers or protective sleeves for the A3000 however, a quick browse of the Lenovo site enabled me to purchase the Folio Case and Film.

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The Folio case protects the screen together with a protective film covering the glass. The front section connects to a hard plastic cover that replaces the default back cover.

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The front of the cover is made of a stylish leather.

The overall look and feel of the A3000 is satisfying.  The device is stylish in its design (available in Black Slate and White Satin) and small enough (11mm (0.43″) thick and weighing in at a mere 345g (0.76 lbs)) to facilitate one-handed reading making it an ideal companion for commuters.  The device’s 3500mAh Li-Polymer battery offers up to 7 hours of WiFi browsing and can remain idle for an impressive 2 weeks before needing recharging.  The A3000 offers a maximum resolution of 1024×600 and manages to produce a sharp, crisp picture and bright colours ideal for reading comics, books and watching movies.  While a resolution of 1024×600 may seem meager, especially in comparison to the iPad 3’s ridiculous resolution of 2048×1536, in terms of a reader and competitor to dedicated readers such as Kindle, the A3000 shines.

Additional features include a 0.3MP front-facing webcam as well as a 5MP rear-facing camera ideal for photos and so forth and apart from WiFi connectivity, the A3000 facilitates dual sim cards (3G/2G + 2G) – an extremely lucrative feature for the device.  All-in-all, I’d recommend the A3000 as a perfect mid-range offering in a flooded tablet-PC market, especially for the budget conscious looking for maximum bang for their buck.  Slim, stylish, functional and fast, the A3000 won’t disappoint.

The Pirate Bay – Pioneer of the File-Sharing Generation

1125666854Up until recently, I wasn’t too knowledgeable on The Pirate Bay, as admittedly I hardly ever use the site, having preferred the newer Kickass Torrents file-sharing site.  However, I’m sure by now everyone has heard of The Pirate Bay – the largest file-sharing site on the planet with over a billion views per month and the focal point of much controversy surrounding breach of copyright laws and various other legal difficulties.   Be that as it may, The Pirate Bay has been around for a decade and continues to grow strong  So why the sudden interest in a service I don’t use?

I have an insatiable interest in learning and technology, so when I came across the documentary film – TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard, I owed it to myself to discover more about this infamous site.  I have no intention of discussing the inner workings behind The Pirate Bay so if the subject interests you then check out the film here.  The Pirate Bay has its roots in Sweden and was founded by Gottfrid Svartholm, Fredrik Neij and Peter Sunde.  The general consensus was, as the site’s servers were in Sweden, The Pirate Bay was exempt from America’s laws on copyright and intellectual properties, of course this wasn’t the case and all three founders found themselves embroiled in a lengthy court case.

1123666955The one aspect of the film that I found to be the most interesting (and perhaps distressing), was the amount of time and effort placed onto the court case, the length and resources at which America and Sweden (among others) went to in order to try to convict The Pirate Bay is worrisome.  I say worrisome because it was like watching a trial for America’s most wanted, it’s my opinion that the various law agencies need to reevaluate their priorities.  So much time and effort is being exhausted on a file-sharing issue when there are real threats in the world like human-trafficking and terrorism.  It seems that the older generation fail to realize that as technology changes so do people.  We live in a culture fueled by a need for free information, social media and file-sharing.  Due to this ‘pirate culture’, the film and music industry need to understand that if they want people to buy their products then they need to increase their value.  Increasing the value doesn’t mean increase the price, it means make the product more lucrative for consumers.  The gaming industry has the right idea, sure I can download a cracked version of Killzone 3 but if I wanted that limited edition Helghast mask then I’d have to purchase the game legally (as I did).

File-sharing has become something of a cultural phenomenon and the growing advances in technology make sharing data all the more easier.  File-sharing is usually associated with illicit downloads and while that may be, when you consider that torrent clients can even be installed onto a user’s phone, one needs to embrace the fact that file-sharing is ingrained in our society as much as any other cultural activity.  Another thing that interested me was the idea that the founders themselves were making millions off of The Pirate Bay and that they were an organized and well-funded entity.  However, the fact is that The Pirate Bay founders are just a group of average guys, with a love for technology and a desire to create the largest file-sharing site ever conceived.  The Pirate Bay is funded by advertisements and merchandise, so despite what the authorities think, Gottfrid and co are not the multimillionaire villains they’re perceived to be, especially when you factor in the server and maintenance costs involved in running something like The Pirate Bay.

So yes, in the eyes of the law, The Pirate Bay is an illicit enterprise, and while Gottfrid is indeed imprisoned at this moment (most likely held for his drug usage and other hacking related crimes), file-sharing lives on, so much so that Gottfrid implemented such apps as the PirateBrowser (already downloaded 2.5 million times since its release in August last year) – software designed to circumvent censorship, and is already working on a successor.  In the end it’s all about perspective, when you consider the lengths at which certain software (games mostly) goes to in order to ‘protect itself’ and actually be functional (online validation, mandatory internet connection, DRM protocols and so forth), then it’s no wonder that people have taken to ‘illicit’ file-sharing in order to play the latest games or watch their favourite television series.  In closing, I think that if companies made their product more valuable then they might very well see a decline in file-sharing, then again, there are those who reckon that file-sharing actually helps the industry so who can really say?

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Phones & tablets | the sleeping giants of mobile gaming

Up until recently I’ve not taken much notice of the Android gaming scene, or rather the potential of Android as a gaming platform.  While I’ve read plenty articles stating that mobile gaming has (and will) put a significant dent in the console gaming market in recent years, in my experience Android games (even the most popular ones) such as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja have served merely as distractions to kill time and as such, I’ve not put much thought in the prospect of how smartphones and tablet PC’s can level the playing field…until now.

In comparison to computer and video-gaming, Android as a gaming platform is still in its infancy.  Mobile, handheld gaming has been around for a while now, and received a lot of attention back in 1989 with the introduction of the Nintendo Game Boy (discontinued in 2003) and later, the Sega Game Gear (1990 – 1997).  The Game Boy and Game Gear would become the building blocks for future handheld consoles such as the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, and up until recently I never really thought of Mobile phone games as threatening, least of all to current generation consoles such as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.  So what changed my mind exactly? Well, a game called Dokuro did.

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Dokuro, initially a PlayStation Vita game, ported to the Android platform.

Dokura is a PlayStation Vita game that has been ported to iOS as well as Android.  I was ignorant to the fact that PlayStation Vita games were being ported to other platforms and while I own several Android devices and do play the occasional bout of Angry Birds, as I stated before, it merely served as a time-killer.  Out of boredom I decided to Google search the ‘top Android games of 2013’ and sure enough, amongst that particular list was Dokuro as well as a handful of screens to accompany it, convincing me immediately that this game required further investigation.

So I won’t be doing an in-depth discussion on Dokuro as that isn’t the focus of this article, rather I intend on backing my claim – that Android is a viable alternative to what’s available and is an emerging ‘superpower’ of gaming.  Now there are a few things one needs to take into consideration, for one, bear in mind that mobile phones are like PC’s – everyone has one and everyone needs one.  Mobile phones are also evolving faster than consoles (again like PC’s), and as they continue to increase in power, they become more and more lucrative as a gaming platform.  Think about it, both Sony and Microsoft spend millions trying to convince you to part with your hard-earned cash because I’m sure they realize that unlike mobile phones, the next generation of console is not a necessity.  Everyone needs a phone, after-all we live in an age where a 3366923656constant means of communication is mandatory throughout our daily lives (BBM, Whatsapp, Skype and so forth).  So the power of modern mobile phones allows manufacturers the opportunity to exploit the market, with visually pleasing and stimulating mobile experiences such as Dokuro.  There is an estimated 6.8 billion mobile phones on the planet, with iOS and Android making up 91.1% of that total.  Now factor in that of that 91.1%, each device is capable of playing games, of which a large amount are available free-to-play and you indeed have a gaming juggernaut on the horizon.  As PlayStation Vita games continue to be ported, it tells me that mobile phones are becoming worthy competitors to dedicated gaming consoles, be they portable or otherwise.

Let’s conduct an experiment, I will compare the specifications of the PlayStation Vita to that of the Samsung I9500 Galaxy S4 (as I have one), to see how the world’s most popular mobile compares to a dedicated video-game console.

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As you can see, mobile phones have evolved into powerful mini-computers, able to compete with leading brands of mobile console, even surpassing the visuals of some PC and console games all together, just look at Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour (pictured below).  At the same time, due to the accessibility of mobile phones, I’d imagine that Android would be the perfect platform for indie-game developers to unleash their creations on, and perhaps Sony have foreseen this and in lieu of that fact,  allowed indie-developers to publish their own games, such as with the PlayStation 4 in order to gain a better foothold on the gaming market.

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Gameloft’s Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, on par with many first-person shooters available today.

Mark my words, the day will come where the likes of the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS will be considered to be part of a niche market, a time when mobile phones, regardless of manufacturer, will be easily synced with the latest and greatest offering from Sony and Microsoft.  Mobile phone/tablet gaming is definitely here to stay, and while it certainly wont extinguish console gaming all together, it will continue to encroach upon the domain that manufacturers such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo thought to be theirs.

Time for Nintendo to take a page out of Sega’s book…

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There was a time in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Nintendo was the top dog, a household name, the gaming name of the business. A time when Nintendo were defending their title against the likes of Sega and whatever other game manufacturer dared to crossover onto their turf.  Needless to say, those days are long gone.  Due to a series of poor decisions (this article focusing on those poor decisions…) and having to compete with the likes of Sony, Microsoft and now Valve’s Steam Machine, the viability of Nintendo developing consoles is looking ever bleaker.

Lets be frank, the world doesn’t really need more consoles, with two or three companies generally dominating the console gaming arena, there really isn’t room for yet another and because I doubt Valve is going anywhere anytime soon, the logical conclusion point is that not only is Nintendo’s glory days far behind them, but so is their console development.  Sega knew when they were beaten, and at the time it was hard to believe that the industry giant could ever topple, but it did and after the aftermath of the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast, Sega decided to abandon console development and do what they do best – develop games, and that’s exactly what Nintendo needs to do.

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The ill-fated Sega Dreamcast, Sega’s last console to date. Though it was ahead of its time, it was overlooked once the DVD-capable PS2 arrived.

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Losing Final Fantasy VII to the PlayStation was perhaps the largest nail in Nintendo’s coffin.

At this point I imagine that some of you would say, “Well Nintendo has sold over 110 million Wii consoles…”, and you’d be right in saying so however, with the Wii U only expected to move 25 million consoles in its entire lifespan Nintendo is definitely in trouble.  I will justify the latter statement with two examples of poor decision-making.  Firstly, the decision of implementing cartridge storage as opposed to superior CD-ROM back in 1996 meant that the Nintendo 64 lost out to Sony’s PlayStation console.  To give you a little perspective, the N64’s worldwide sales only totalled 32.93 million whereas the PlayStation topped out at 102.49 million.  Now that’s a pretty huge gap, and it doesn’t stop there, Nintendo’s love of the solid-state storage media meant losing one of their exclusive third-party developers, namely Squaresoft.  As Nintendo had exclusivity on the Final Fantasy series, Nintendo naturally expected the next instalment to feature on the N64.  As Final Fantasy VII was developed with a 3D engine, producer Hironobu Sakaguchi expressed growing concern that the N64’s cartridge format would not be a viable option for Final Fantasy VII.  As the N64’s ROM cartridges could only hold 64MB of data, that meant that the 3-CD game would have to be split over close to thirty cartridges.  Not only are cartridges expensive and time-consuming to manufacture, they’re vulnerable to long-term environmental damage too and due to their space limitations, full-motion video was rarely feasible.

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Even though the N64’s architecture was technically superior to the PlayStation, the poorly chosen decision to implement ROM cartridges meant losing to PlayStation.

This brings me to my second point – the Wii Mini.  Historically, once a company’s console has been on the market for some time, they tend to release a revised, slimmer and superior version of their kit.  So think new cooling systems, more efficient micro-circuitry and so forth such as with the slim PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.  Unless of course you happen to be Nintendo, who in what I can only imagine could be called utter desperation decide to release a slimmed down version of their most successful console to date.  When I say ‘slimmed down’ I mean devoid of features, a bare-bones console in the same vein as the SNES, so much so that they chose to use a composite cable as the video input.  Really Nintendo? A composite cable in this day and age… So what does that mean on a consumer level? Well, Nintendo’s main drawing point for the Wii Mini is its price, at just $99 you get access to an entire library of titles and all the fun of the original Wii console…buuuuut you don’t.  The original Wii was never designed for high-definition gaming, having a picture output of 480p, but as it implemented component cables, the picture 4499688711quality was still pretty decent, even though it had to scale (stretch the image).  With the Wii Mini however, the use of composite cables means that not only will the image be stretched in order to display correctly on the average HDTV, it will be fuzzy too, so fuzzy in fact to the point where games become unplayable due to the console’s 380p output.

I think it’s a safe bet to say that even a charismatic, Italian plumber will struggle to pull Nintendo out of the drain.  The Wii Mini will definitely sell due to ignorant parents rushing out to get their kid the Wii (read: Wii U) they ‘wanted’, thus allowing Nintendo to rake in a few million before the new year but if you’re reading this and are considering getting yourself a Wii Mini then I strongly urge you to reconsider and rather find yourself an original Wii.  Earlier I said that the Wii Mini was a ‘bare-bones’ console, so what is meant by this? Well for starters, apart from utilising a composite cable, unlike the original Wii, there is no internet connectivity and no internet (not even WiFi…really?) means no Virtual Console retro games and of course no WiiWare.  If that wasn’t bad enough, Nintendo’s own Ethernet adapter does not work on the console’s single USB port and there’s no backwards compatibility with GameCube titles, even though the disk drive could facilitate them.

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The butchered innards of the Wii Mini console. No component cable support, no internet connectivity, no backwards compatibility, no WiiWare and no Virtual Console retro games.

In conclusion, Nintendo’s latest hardware revision is merely a crippled version of the original Wii console and as a result it has no justifiable reason for existing apart from fulfilling the purpose of spitefully squeezing cash out of ignorant consumers. In a similar fashion akin to a dying man clutching onto his last breath of life, Nintendo needs to acknowledge that they can no longer stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Sony and Microsoft and that it’s time to let go.  However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Nintendo, if they’re smart they’ll tear a page out of Sega’s book, abandon the manufacture of consoles and become a third-party developer.

God of War: Ascension

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The God of War series is one of Sony’s most lucrative franchises so needless to say I was interested upon hearing that there would be life after the last instalment.  Like I said, interested but not necessarily overly pleased.  Can Ascension match the epicness of God of War 3? In short, no.

Your initial thoughts may mirror my own, who exactly is left for Kratos to kill (torture and maim) and how exactly does Santa Monica Studio intend on progressing the narrative? Well that’s the real question isn’t it, because after the events of God of War 3, the only direction that they could’ve gone is backwards and that’s exactly what the developers have done as Ascension serves as a prequel to the entire series.

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God of War: Ascension is set ten years before the events of God of War, in which the narrative begins with Kratos being tortured by a Fury (Furies were spawned into existence before the Titans or the Olympians and are the guardians of honour, punishing those they deem to be quilty) for the crime of oath-breaker, after Kratos renounced his servitude to Ares.  The three Furies; Megaera, Tisiphone and the Fury Queen Alecto serve as the main antagonists in Ascension.  Unfortunately, not much can be said about the latter as the Furies pale in comparison to the Gods of Olympus (Gow 3′s Poseidon battle anyone?) and as a result of this, the Fury battles never really feel like boss battles.

To compound matters further, since Kratos has pretty much killed every prolific character in Greek mythology, God of War: Ascension is populated with lesser-known characters that less face it, are lesser known for a reason and because this is a prequel, Kratos wouldn’t have eliminated any of the gods because Ascension is leading up to where the first game begins.  Basically, the antagonists in Ascension, be they serpent, beast or Fury, never stood a chance to begin with.

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What God of War: Ascension does offer is a look into Kratos’ past as it expands upon the character’s mythos, namely the death of his family and his betrayal to Ares.  Ascension gives us a more humanized Kratos as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his family.

To say that the game mechanics have been radically altered or bettered since the Spartan’s last outing simply wouldn’t be true.  While there are indeed some changes, Ascension plays fundamentally the same as its predecessors with its ‘modified’ God of War 3 engine.  Not to be misconstrued, I did enjoy Ascension thoroughly, the problem is that just doesn’t feel like the first three games, serving as a companion to the series rather than a full-blown continuation.3326996589

God of War: Ascension’s combat is fast, fluid and fun (excuse the use of alliteration) and brutally slaying your foes is as satisfying as ever.  Ascension just somehow  manages to miss the mark, failing to reach the grand scale of its predecessors, least of all God of War 3 which might possibly be one of the greatest games of all time.  The shiny visuals of God of War 3 (some of the best graphics seen on the system) have been replaced with what appears to be a pastel-esque colour palette and for reasons unknown, there is very little dialogue in this game and those familiar with the series will know that Kratos is very vocal.  The lack of dialogue from the familiar voice of Terrence C. Carson definitely impacts negatively for Ascension, giving the overall experience a (dare I say it) cheap feel.

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The sense of urgency and purpose of the original trilogy has been replaced with a more generic hack and slash adventure as Kratos kills one nameless beast from the next.  Ascension is devoid of the charisma and awe-inspiring magnitude of the Olympians and while this prequel certainly has its share of challenging nasties, it simply cannot compete with the likes of the (aforementioned) Poseidon battle, Realm of Hades or the impressive final battle with Zeus.

However, what sets God of War: Ascension apart from its predecessors is the addition of a multi-player mode.  Players can engage in 8-player death-matches, in specially designed multi-player arenas.  Align yourself to a god (Ares, Hades, Zeus or Poseidon), gain special attributes (Ares focusses on melee attacks for example) and level your character up.  The online play runs smoothly and it didn’t take too long to find available games to join.  While Ascension’s multi-player mode is certainly not the best around, it will add significant longevity to the game once you’ve completed the story mode.

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All in all, God of War: Ascension serves as a competent, if somewhat uninspired prequel to an otherwise flawless series.  Whether or not Santa Monica Studio intends to bring Kratos to the PlayStation 4 remains to be seen, I can only hope that if they do it’ll follow in the footsteps of God of War 3.  Bottom line, if you’re a die-hard fan of the series then I recommend God of War: Ascension, especially if you can get your hands on a copy of the collector’s edition, just don’t expect Ascension to blow you away like its predecessors did.

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