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.

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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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Internet Stamping Ground

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The internet can be a bewildering place and at times it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for.  Even with Google being just a click away, finding reliable sources for information, wallpapers, applications and so forth can be a taxing and downright frustrating exercise.  With that in mind, I’ve decided to compile a list of sites I frequent in the hopes of offering a little assistance.  Since a multitude of Linux distros enable users to download apps from their desktops (in essence) with the help of built-in features such as Ubuntu’s Software Center, this list will be for Windows users (for the most part).  Windows remains my primary OS (and probably will be for some time) for as much as I enjoy using Ubuntu, I am a gamer and unfortunately Windows still offers the best platform for gaming, though thanks to Steam that might all change as Ubuntu is officially supported by the platform.

Desktop

While many operating systems come preloaded with a multitude of wallpapers and themes, they tend to get old very quickly, luckily the internet has countless resources to remedy this dilemma.

4walled | A very handy image scraper for popular Chan sites, modify search criteria (screen resolution etc) in order to suit your needs.

The Paper Wall | Arranged by categories and resolution.  Offers wallpaper packs for download as well as a featured ‘wallpaper of the day’.

Wallpapers Wide | Offers organised categories for ease of use and automatically detects your screen resolution.

Rocket Dock | These guys haven’t really provided any meaningful updates in a long, long time, however Rocket Dock still offers a very nice and clean way to manage desktop icons.

Fences | Stardock has offered Windows users alternative themes and skinning for years now, and not until recently I began using a very nice app called Fences that allows you to segregate your desktop icons into customisable categories.

DisplayFusion | If like me, you have a dual monitor setup then DisplayFusion is definitely worth considering.  DisplayFusion allows you to spread a single wallpaper over multiple screens, set different wallpapers on each and offers a variety of window and image options.

Applications

While Windows certainly offers a variety of preinstalled software, users will typically have to download additional software and packages in order to customise their computing experience.

File Hippo | Offers a plethora of software, arranged by category.  Also offers the option to download older versions of chosen software.

CCCP | Still my first choice in codec packs, has the added benefit of installing Media Player Classic (just remember to set MPC to auto-load subtitles).

File Sharing

While file sharing sites certainly attract all sorts of controversy, they are nonetheless a necessity for millions of users, including myself.

µTorrent | My torrent client of choice for Windows, user friendly and intuitive.

Kickass Torrents | Sure Pirate Bay has been around for ages and is perhaps the most controversial file sharing site out there, but I find Kickass to be more useful and comprehensive than its infamous competitor.

Browser add-ons

By now you will have no doubt selected your favourite browser for your internet exploring needs.  I like to use a combination of Chrome and Firefox – Chrome is fast and stable but lacks features, Firefox is buggy and filled with bloat, but regardless the latter remains my primary browser due to a combination of add-ons that are fundamental to my browsing experience.

Adblock Plus | Available for Chrome as well, Adblock Plus is an extremely useful deterrent for unwanted and invasive advertisements as well as pop-ups.

DownThemAll! | A useful image scraper, I use this add-on primarily for Chan sites, open a page and download all the images without having to open each link individually.

Video DownloadHelper | The indispensable video download tool, works great with YouTube allowing you to choose the desired resolution.

Security

Comodo Internet Security | It’s a well known fact that Windows Firewall is severely lacking and one of the first things to do after a fresh install is to locate a more efficient means of securing your PC.  After trying out a multitude of free solutions, I find Comodo to be the most effective and least invasive tool to do the job.

Enjoy this post, wish to add to it? Then add a comment or click the like button.  Constructive criticism is always welcome and I’d like to hear about your favourite apps and sites too, or perhaps even better alternatives.