Tag Archives | Gaming

Razer’s Project Fiona: A Tablet From Portable Gaming’s Alternate Future

Unless your head’s in the sand, you know where portable video games are headed: Cheaper to develop, less expensive to sell, easier to pick up and less time consuming to play. Smartphones and tablets are slowly pushing the established games industry in that direction.

Razer is proudly not participating in that version of the future with Project Fiona, a concept Windows-based tablet that plays high-end PC games. The tablet has controller handles on either side of the 10.1-inch display, each with their own thumbsticks, buttons and triggers. Inside, there’s enough processing power to run games like Warhammer 40000: Space Marine and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on high settings.

When Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan was telling me all this a couple weeks before the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I didn’t entirely believe the company could pull it off. But then I played with Project Fiona myself at Razer’s booth. I don’t know how the company did it–and I dare not fathom at what cost–but the concept actually works.

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Playstation Vita 3G Data Plans: Same Old, Same Old

Sony announced the Playstation Vita with AT&T 3G more than seven months ago, but never bothered to explain how the data plans would work. Now, it’s official: the Vita will come with the same data plans you already get with smartphones.

That means 3G for the Playstation Vita will cost $15 per month for 250 MB, or $25 per month for 2 GB, in addition to the $300 price of the 3G Vita itself. (A Wi-Fi only model will cost $250.) Both data plans will include unlimited access to AT&T’s Wi-Fi hotspots, of which there are 29,000 around the United States. The Vita launches on February 22 in the United States.

I’m disappointed that AT&T and Sony stuck with conventional data plans for the PS Vita. This would have been a great opportunity for AT&T to launch a shared pool of data among multiple devices–something wireless carriers have talked about doing for some time. I can’t imagine a lot of people will want to pay a recurring data charge just for a gaming device, especially when you get the same result by using a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot feature, which would also allow for faster 4G data and connectivity with other devices.

Sony and AT&T are hoping to lure people into paying for data plans by offering exclusive in-game content when players check in at certain geographic locations. We may be able to judge the 3G Vita’s success based on whether game makers continue to produce these kinds of exclusives long after launch.

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Smartphones and Tablets Get Their Gaming Buttons

As Sony and Nintendo cling to physical buttons as a major advantage of dedicated portable gaming systems, smartphone and tablet accessory makers have come up with an answer. At a CES press event, two companies were showing off attachable game controllers for smartphones and tablets, providing the tactile feedback that’s sorely needed for precision shooting and platforming.

I checked out one of these controllers, Gametel, from a Sweden-based company called Fructel. The controller clamps on to an Android phone or iPhone–or pairs remotely to an iPad–and communicates via Bluetooth. It includes a directional pad, four face buttons and two shoulder buttons on top. Gametel’s built-in battery runs for about nine hours before needing a charge from either mini USB or Apple’s 30-pin connector, depending on model.

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Wii U App Store Rumored, But Will It Really Be an App Store?

When Nintendo’s Wii U launches next year, it’ll have a “full-blown app store,” The Daily’s Matt Hickey reports, citing an unnamed source.

Or will it? As Hickey notes, Nintendo already offers app repositories through the Wii Shop and DSi Shop. The difference with the Wii U is that it’ll offer a wider variety of apps, beyond games and basic utilities.

But breadth of apps is not the best metric for a real app store, unless your definition is simply “a place to buy apps.” The way I see it, a true app store goes further by opening its doors to any developer. Whether there’s an approval process (a la iOS) or not (a la Android) doesn’t matter. What’s important is that anyone who knows how to code can contribute, so that the app selection grows in unexpected ways. You won’t find any great app stores that don’t allow this kind of outside development.

From Hickey’s report, I can’t tell whether Nintendo will open its app store to all developers, and I have my doubts. Game consoles are notoriously closed off to all but a select group of publishers. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is the only system that comes close to allowing outside development, through Xbox Live Indie Games, and even those apps are relegated to the darkest corners of the Xbox Marketplace.

So while I don’t doubt that the Wii U will have a wider selection of apps than Nintendo’s other systems–Hickey mentions MLB.TV and social networks as possibilities–I’m skeptical that Nintendo will let any developer run wild with the Wii U’s crazy multi-screen technology. But I hope to be proven wrong.

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Place Your Bets: Will Nintendo 3DS Dual Thumbsticks Take Off?

One thumbstick is rarely enough when you’re playing modern video games, so Nintendo’s 3DS is giving gamers a second stick via a $20 peripheral.

The Circle Pad Pro, which launched in Japan this month, is coming to the United States on February 7. The attachment snaps in around the base of the Nintendo 3DS, and includes an extra shoulder button as well. It requires a AAA battery to operate.

Here’s the issue: Existing games won’t work with the Circle Pad Pro, and developers will have to design future games to support dual sticks. So far, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D and Resident Evil: Revelations are on the roster of supported games.

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Computer Space and the Dawn of the Arcade Video Game

Forty years ago, Nutting Associates released the world’s first mass-produced and commercially sold video game, Computer Space. It was the brainchild of Nolan Bushnell, a charismatic engineer with a creative vision matched only by his skill at self-promotion. With the help of his business partner Ted Dabney and the staff of Nutting Associates, Bushnell pushed the game from nothing into reality only two short years after conceiving the idea.

Computer Space pitted a player-controlled rocket ship against two machine-controlled flying saucers in a space simulation set before a two-dimensional star field. The player controlled the rocket with four buttons: one for fire, which shoots a missile from the front of the rocket ship; two directional rotation buttons (to rotate the ship orientation clockwise or counterclockwise); and one for thrust, which propelled the ship in whichever direction it happened to be pointing. Think of Asteroids without the asteroids, and you should get the picture.

During play, two saucers would appear on the screen and shoot at the player while flying in a zig-zag formation. The player’s goal was to dodge the saucer fire and shoot the saucers.

Considering a game of this complexity playing out on a TV set, you might think that it was created as a sophisticated piece of software running on a computer. You’d think it, but you’d be wrong–and Bushnell wouldn’t blame you for the mistake. How he and Dabney managed to pull it off is a story of audacity, tenacity, and sheer force-of-will worthy of tech legend. This is how it happened.

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Miyamoto Scales Back, Nintendo Spins

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s legendary game designer behind Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, said he’s stepping down from large-scale projects.

Speaking to Wired’s Chris Kohler, Miyamoto said he wants to work on smaller games and leave the major blockbusters to younger developers. He is not retiring, but sometimes says otherwise to his co-workers.

“What I really want to do is be in the forefront of game development once again myself,” Miyamoto told Wired. “Probably working on a smaller project with even younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small.”

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Kinect Made Whole in Xbox 360 Overhaul

I bought a Kinect for Xbox 360 a few months ago, but not so I could flail my arms and legs around looking like a fool in Dance Central (although that, too, is happening). Mostly, I was curious to see how Kinect would fit into Microsoft’s Xbox 360 dashboard update, which went live late Tuesday night.

To my delight, Kinect now plays a significant role in the dashboard. It’s no longer penned into special menus with limited functionality. Instead, Kinect now allows you to control almost any part of the Xbox 360 with voice commands and motion controls. And it works really well.

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EA Sells iPhone Tetris Subscriptions, is Probably Genius

No one in their right mind would pay $30 a year for Tetris, right? Right?

Electronic Arts thinks people will. The publisher is relaunching Tetris for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, with an optional subscription for extra features, Gamasutra reports.

Here’s how it works: For $1, the basic Tetris app includes three game modes and a ranking system that allows people to level up as they play. For $3 per month, or $30 per year, players can join the “T-Club,” which provides performance-enhancing perks, faster rank progression and exclusive content. Yes, EA wants people to subscribe to Tetris.

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