The GPU Guide: Part 1 Buying a Card

By Mike on 8:50 pm

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In order to stay cutting edge in gaming, chances are you'll eventually have to purchase a new video card. There's obviously a lot of choice out there. The two major GPU companies are ATI and nVidia. They make the vast majority of third party graphics chips in the world. New generations of chips are usually released on an annual basis. New generations are usually faster and provide new features. Currently available cards are ATI's HD 3000 and HD 4000 line and nVidia's Geforce 9 and GTX200 series. We'll stick with the HD 3000 line and Geforce 9 for the purpose of this article since the newer series of cards haven't seen a full releases yet.

GPU Variants and Naming
Generally, each generation is broken down into three segments. Enthusiast, mid-range, and entry level. Enthusiast represents the fastest and most powerful cards. They are usually the most expensive and consume the most power but offer the best performance and are most suitable for gaming. They usually cost over $300. Entry level cards are cheap, low power cards. They will provide better performance than onboard solutions due to having their own dedicated memory. They are suitable for desktop acceleration (Vista Aeroglass, Linux Compiz) and HD video acceleration. They use the least amount of electricity and produce the least amount of heat, making them ideal for a home theater PC. However, they are unsuitable for gaming. These are usually priced around $100 or lower. Mid-range cards represent a compromise between the two extremes. They are usually priced around $100 - $200. Mid-range cards are suitable for light to moderate gaming as well as every day use. They won't provide top performance but they generally offer a good bang for the buck. The following is a break down of current graphics cards based on their category.

Entry Level: ATI Radeon HD 3400, HD 2400 / nVidia Geforce 8400, Geforce 8500
Mid-Range: ATI Radeon HD 3600, HD 2600 / nVidia Geforce 8600, Geforce 9600
Enthusiast: ATI Radeon HD 3800, HD 2900 / nVidia Geforce 8800, Geforce 9800

Under each of the mentioned GPU series are sub cards, usually marked with higher numbers or stuff like "GS", "GT" or "GTX". Higher numbers usually means a better card. nVidia likes to use stuff like GT though ATI used to use it as well, but they no longer do. A GT card will be better than a GS card and a GTX is better than a GT. The number game can be confusing to first time buyers so it's a good idea to visit benchmarking sites to compare a card's performance to see if you're getting what you want.
Recently, some top line cards such as ATI's HD 3850 and 3870 have come down to around the $200 price point so there is some confusion as to whether they are mid-range or enthusiast. ATI has been working to produce a card with the best performance per dollar. In other words, they're trying to make their cards cheaper while still being at or on par with nVidia's top end cards. I woul classify them as enthusiast.

nVidia vs ATI/AMD
The ultimate question is whether you should go nVidia or ATI. There are a couple of factors, primarily depending on what you'll use the card for. nVidia currently takes the performance crown but their cards are more expensive. I currently use an HD 3850 from ATI. However, I find nVidia has better drivers and is more compatible with older games. nVidia is also more compatible with Linux if you want to run that OS. nVidia has a slight edge in OpenGL rendering too. ATI's current line of cards run cooler and consume less electricity than nVidia's. They also have a slight edge in DirectX rendering and are much cheaper at the enthusiast level. If you're looking for an enthusiast card, ATI is the way to go right now since you won't have to spend a lot of money to get something good.

Another point worth noting is that nVidia and ATI rarely release their own cards, they just make the GPUs. Third party companies assemble the components to the circuit board and usally add their own touches. Some companies use a basic reference design for the card where as others might integrate better memory, more memory, or different cooling techniques. In the end though, there really isn't a lot of difference other than build quality of the assembled product. Common companies that market graphics cards are Asus, Diamond, XFX, eVGA, and HIS but there are many more besides this.

Graphics Memory
Another thing to consider is the amount of memory (RAM) a card has as well as it's RAM type. All graphics cards today use GDDR which is soldered to the card itself and can't be upgraded. The amount of memory a card has doesn't really affect performance overall but rather performance at higher resolutions. For most people, a 256mb card will due if you're playing at 720p (1280x720) or in that ballpark. Even at 1080p, 256mb may be enough though I would suggest spending extra on a 512mb card. A common marketing gimmick is to put a lot of memory into entry-level or mid-range cards. Companies will sometimes put 512mb or even 1gb of memory into an entry-level card. This is useless since these cards can't even game at the resolutions that much memory would be required for. Since GDDR is cheap enough, it's not like you're getting hit in the wallet but don't be fooled into thinking more memory on the card is going to boost the speed to mid-range or enthusiast levels. Another marketing gimmick is Turbocaching (nVidia's term, ATI has something similar). This is a card that can use some of the computer's system memory while keeping a small amount of it's own dedicated RAM. The problem with this is that system RAM is slower than GDDR so you might be thinking you can have limitless memory for your card but in reality it's at a performance cost. It also consumes valuable system RAM space. This is frequently used in entry level cards.
In terms of performance, faster RAM is going to make a bigger performance difference than more RAM at the resolutions most typical gamers play at. Memory speed determines how quickly the memory can handle the data the GPU is giving it. You'll frequently see cards labeled GDDR2, GDDR3, or even GDDR5. That stands for "Graphics Double Data Rate [Generation #]. Most cards today are using GDDR3 or 4 while some are using the new GDDR5. Generally speaking, the newer the generation, the faster the memory. Since actual clock speeds usually aren't listed on the box, this is a good indicator of what you're getting. The actual clock speeds though can easily be found online. Faster (higher clocks) is better for gaming.
One final note on memory is the memory bandwidth, measured in bits. Entry level and mid-range cards should have at least 128-bit memory bandwidth while enthusiast cards should be 256-bit minimum. You might have to do some digging to find this info. This represents how much data can move between the GPU and it's memory at the same time. Bigger is better. High RAM speed with a high bandwidth gives optimum performance.

First of all, you'll need to determine what bus your card will need. There are two, PCIe (aka PCI Express) and AGP. This is used for connecting the card inside the computer. Most systems today use PCIe 16x since it is technically faster than the older AGP. If you have an older system, you'll need to specifically look for an AGP card. In reality there isn't a lot of performance difference right now but this will change as cards become more powerful. PCIe has the added advantage of allowing multiple graphics cards to be used in conjunction with each other through nVidia's SLI or ATI's Crossfire technology. Your motherboard will need to support one or the other to use this and will need two or more PCIe 16x compatible slots.
From there, you'll also need to determine what you're hooking the card up to. If you want to use an HDTV, you'll need a card that has an HDMI port or DVI-HDMI adapter, or one that has component video out. Most cards today do. Some cards now allow audio to pass through their built in HDMI port for easy connection to a home theater system. For HD video from Blu-ray or HD-DVD, you'll need a card that is HDCP compatible. HDCP stands for High Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection. Quite frankly, it's a marketing gimmick by Hollywood disguised as DRM. I firmly believe it was cooked up to force people with older HDTVs, graphics cards, and monitors to buy new hardware. If your card doesn't have it, it will reduce the image resolution of HD movies to that of a regular DVD. (There are ways to cheat it though) Most newer cards a have this chip. However, it only affects Blu-ray and HD-DVD, not HD gaming, free HD video downloaded off the web, or regular computer activities. However, it may affect commercial HD video downloaded from the web, though I don't know what DRM schemes various sites are using.

SLI and Crossfire
Some motherboards today allow you to use more than one graphics card. In order to use this feature your GPU must support it, which most today do. Your motherboard must also have two empty PCIe slots and support either nVidia's SLI (Scalable Link Interface) or ATI's Crossfire. Since it's controlled in the motherboard's chipset, the board can only support one or the other and not both. Your motherboard will indicate which it supports either on the manufacturer's website, on the box, or in the instruction manual.
SLI and Crossfire allow you to use up to four GPUs provided there are enough 16x PCIe compatible slots. There is a law of deminishing returns though meaning the performance boost gained is cut in half with each card added. SLI must be in matching pairs (both cards must be the same) while Crossfire can be mismatched provided they're of the HD 3000 series or higher. The cards are connected to each other via an internal ribbon cable.
SLI/Crossfire is good for both mid-budget and high budget gamers. Mid-budget gamers can take a cheaper card and add a second one at a later date to boost performance. High budget gamers can add two or more top of the line cards to get the ultimate in performance.
In addition, some cards are labled "X2" such as the Radeon HD 3870 X2. These cards have two GPUs on a single card, which allows people without proper SLI/Crossfire capable systems to gain the full benefits of dual GPUs. Furthermore, two "X2" cards can also be put in standard dual PCIe slot SLI/Crossfire systems for a four GPU setup.

Power Consumption
As I mentioned before, higher end cards use more power than lower end ones. Before buying a card, you'll need to make sure your computer's power supply is up to the job. I recommend a minimin of a 450w power supply for gaming, which should be fine for most systems. Enthusiast cards may require a 500w power supply. You'll need a minimum 600w one if you intend to run SLI or Crossfire. Most higher end cards today need to get power directly from the PSU. Your power supply will need at least one six pin "PCIe" connector. If your power supply doesn't have one, you can buy adapters which convert two 4-pin "molex" connectors into one six pin PCIe connector. The 12v rail on your PSU should measure at least 18 amps as indicated on the side of the unit. If using the molex-PCIe adapter method, the card should ideally be on it's on dedicated line if possible.

You may want to measure your case to make sure the card fits, as some newer ones can be a tight squeeze even in common mid-tower designs. Low profile cards are available for TV top HTPC systems, which have smaller cases.

PS3 Firmware 2.4 Dated for July 2nd

By Mike on 9:41 am

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Originally, rumors had us waiting three weeks until Sony's E3 presentation before update 2.4 with in-game XMB had come out. Sony has officially confirmed that the update will be released on July 2nd. In-game XMB is pretty self explanitory. When playing a game, you'll be able to access XMB functions rather than having to quit the game first. This is perhaps the most demanded non-game ability for the PS3 after the DualShock 3. Gamers mainly wanted it so they could access the chat and messaging functions for PSN while they were playing games. If you're playing with friends online, this obviously makes sense. Microsoft's Xbox Live has had simmilar in-game messaging for some time now. Some other features with in-game XMB allows for custom soundtracks. It's pretty primitive right now. Basically, you can play your own music and playlists over a game complete with a mini-controller. Settings can also be changed now in game. Say I'm playing a game and I want to change the sound from HDMI over my TV to RCA on my stereo, now I can do that without having to quit first.

Two other included XMB features are date and time, which will appear in the top right corner of the screen like on the PSP. Also thrown in for kicks is a rather useless Google search option under network as was done in PSP update 4.0. (Useless since you can just go to Google using the web browser)
Also added is a trophy system similar to the one used on Xbox Live. This will allow you to record acomplishments in some games. Currently, not a lot of titles are supported. Slated for trophies so far are LittleBigPlanet, SuperStarDust HD, BUZZ! Quiz TV, MotorStorm Pacific Rift, NBA 2009, PAIN, PixelJunk Eden, Resistance 2, SOCOM: Confrontation, and Warhawk. Trophies can be shared with friends over PSN. There are a couple of official blog posts complete with videos that explain how all this works.

Walkthrough Part 1: The XMB
Walkthrough Part 2: Trophies

The second post confirms the date. Yes, I promise I do have some non-PS3 stuff in the works.

Update: July 2nd
I had a chance to play around with 2.4 this morning. I can't exactly say I'm impressed. For starters, Sony was kind of vague on the abilities of the in-game XMB so I figured I'd be able to do certain things based on what was said in the videos. For example, as I mentioned above, I thought you could adjust any system settings in game. However, in reality, you can only adjust settings for "accessories" such as Bluetooth devices. All other settings such as sound and display require you to quit the game. Also, Sony indicated that I would be able to play my own music in game, any game from the way it sounded in the video. I loaded up Gran Turismo 5 Prologue thinking I could play my own driving music. A message popped up saying that "music content isn't available for this game". I tired Uncharted and I couldn't play my own music for that game either. I figure it's the same for all my games. So apparently, games must support that feature and it's not as easy as simply turning down the in game BGM volume as the video showed.
Furthermore, in-game XMB does not work for PS1 and PS2 titles, which was only revealed in an interview with Gamespy but not mentioned in any of the official material. The new clock is a handy feature but it also doesn't appear in PS1 and PS2 games when you press the PS button. I'm getting the feeling the in-game XMB feature may have been rushed. It has a very incomplete feel to it. While it's interesting overall, it's pretty useless except for chat. Lastly, the XMB from within games has some lag in switching menus, equal to what you'd get using remote play over your PSP. Overall, this update is pretty disappointing. As the old lady said, "where's the beef?" Since I don't own any of the games that currently support trophies, I can't comment on that feature.

Update 2: It appears Sony has "temporarily" pulled firmware 2.4 from the internet due to a "limited number" of issues. Apparently it's bricking some systems. I personally haven't experienced any issues but people in the PS community are recommending you back up your saved data in case this happens. Why it would effect data stored on the HDD is a mystery to me but it's always a good idea to back up any computer system before major updates. Apparently if you do have a problem, it will happen right away, so if 2.4 installed successfully, you're alright. Over on PSU, there's rumours that Sony will release FW 2.41 in 24-hours to patch the issues.
The Inquirer is claiming Sony's Playstation website has been hacked and some in the PS community are saying this has something to do with the 2.4 issues. I dobut it, and besides, anything from The Inquirer should be taken with a grain of salt.

Fatal Inertia EX Demo Review

By Mike on 11:24 am

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There are rare cases out there in which a port can actually be better than it's original. Especially if the developer goes in and retools the code to fix the issues, since porting usually exacerbates them. This is the case of Fatal Inertia, originally an Xbox Live game that has been ported to the PS3. Where as the original XBL version was considered a passable mess, the PSN version is actually a pretty solid improvement. Without having played the original XBL version, I'm relying on hearsay so lets get down to business for the PS3 version.

Fatal Intertia EX is an anti-gravity racer. I'd call it a combination of Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer and WhipEout. Like the N64 classic, the tracks aren't linear but rather diverse "off road" environments with plenty of natural obstacles to deal with. Like WipEout, it's a combat racer with deverse weapons that can be picked up from powerup pads. The demo is pretty long and features three tutorials and four races, making for a total of seven playable levels. There are about five or six tracks featured by my count. Most of them located in the desert with the last one being a tropical beach track. Racing uses a simplified control scheme. X accelerates the craft and the left stick turns and pitches it. Weapons are controlled by the L1 and R1 buttons. A charged boost like Episode 1 Racer is also available for a quick speed jump. There's really not much else to say about control. It's pretty easy. I would have preferred the trigger buttons used for acceleration and break for more control but how simplified the races are, you really don't need them. I'd say the game is almost too easy since the AI don't put up much of a fight. Granted it's only the first career level at the easiest difficulty so futher races in game may be more difficult.
For weapons, your main ordinance is magnets, picked up from item pads scattered throughout the course. Magnets stick to a craft slowing them down. They can also stick two craft together. A quick tap of the R2 or L2 buttons rolls the craft and shakes any magnets off. Other weapons include rockets, smoke bombs, a tow cable, magnetic pulse, and an energy pulse. Rockets and energy pulses if fired in reverse can be used as speed boosters. A deflecter shield is also available which provides temporary invincibility from attack. Items are provided randomly though some races may restrict what types are available.
This game also features a multiplayer function which allows up to 8 players online or two can race in split screen. The demo throughs this in as a bonus. I personally think this game would be better against the living than it is against the AI so give it a try next time you're online.

For graphics, the game looks ok. The graphics are kind of blurry and feature a very liberal use of HDR rendering. Given that it's a downloadable title, this isn't too big of a deal but I just can't figure out why so many games appear so blurry while others don't. HDR is also the flavour of the month amoung developers and as I've discussed in the past, it's over used. Your craft look ok though aren't extrodinarily detailed. Some reviews of the full version claimed frame rate issues but I didn't notice any. The sound track is kind of mild and pedestrian unlike WipEout's techno beats. Sound effects are decent but not out of this world.

Fatal Inertial is not exactly fatal but it's a pretty decent game for a downloadable title. The full version costs $40 and is only available on PSN. Is it worth $40? I don't really think so. As I said, it's not bad but it's not great. Remember that Gran Turismo 5 Prologue was $40 when it came out, complete on Blu-ray disc and a lot more features than Fatal Intertia has. Maybe if this game was $20 or even $30 it might be worth it but at it's current price point, it's too expensive.

What Works:
-Good looking tracks
-Simplistic arcade racing
-Long demo with lots of variety
-Multiplayer both online and split screen

What Doesn't Work
-Blurry graphics with too much HDR
-Unimpressive audio
-Can be too easy at times

Score: 7 out of 10

PS3: Firmware 2.4 Confirned to have Trophies & In-Game XMB

By Mike on 8:16 pm

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Sony has confirmed that In-Game XMB and trophies will be included with Firmware 2.4. The new features will allow players to access various XMB functions in game. Many gamers wanted this, particularly for chat and instant messaging, as well as the ability to play their own music while playing games. A trophy system will also be added, which will presumably be similar to the one currently used by Xbox Live. As usual, Sony has dropped just enough information to get peoples interests perked without releasing any concrete information. 2.4 will supposedly contain some "other new enhancements" but there was no hint on the official PS blog as to what these could be. XMB date and time is rumored to be one of these "enhancements". Sony also did not allude to a possible release date. Another firmware update, version 2.36, is due out soon which promises to provide more stability tweaks just like the last firmware did. I would expect 2.36 to be released either tomorrow (June 18th) or on June 25th, given that Sony traditionally released PS3 updates on Wednesdays. 2.4 will likely be released sometime in July.

Source: Official Playstation.Blog

5 Reasons to Use Linux

By Mike on 9:32 am

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For the longest time, if you wanted cheap PC hardware, you had to use Microsoft Windows. Using Windows is a bitter pill for many. It has it's raging fanboys who will defend it no matter what Microsoft does but many people are just fed up. However, there are alternatives while keeping your PC hardware. In the first of a series of articles, we'll talk about how to install and use Linux as your primary operating system on any PC. Here are 5 reasons to use Linux.

5. It's not Windows
A lot of people just hate Windows. Linux is not Windows and that's plenty reason for a lot of people to use it. They say they use Redmond's OS at work and they want to use something else at home. Maybe they don't like the restrictions placed on them from it's proprietary software. Maybe they feel Windows is unstable and bloated, or simply costs too much. Linux provides a Windows/Mac-like environment along with Vista Aeroglass/Expose style visual effects through it's Compiz program. Therefore, you can get the full modern experience with it without the clutter. It also can be customized to run faster on older systems, which Windows can't be.

4. It's more secure
Making the source code for the OS freely available, you'd think hackers would be having a field day. However, for every hacker, there are dozens of programmers working to patch the holes. Security and software updates are released on an almost daily basis unlike Windows and Mac which are only updated monthly or bi-montly. Therefore, problems are fixed faster. Linux also isn't affected by most viruses and other malware (rootkits and spyware) out in the wild. It's low install base on home computers also allows it to fly under the radar. Hackers want to do as much damage as possible, so they focus their efforts on Windows systems.

3. There's no Digital Rights Management or Copyright restrictions
Linux is not commercial and it's being developed by thousands of programmers all over the world. They are not pressured by Hollywood to include DRM in their OS like Windows does. Software like MythTV doesn't comply with the optional broadcast flags meaning you can record all the TV shows you want to an HTPC. The OS isn't locked down by combersome proprietary codecs and copy protection schemes, something Vista is notorious for including.

2. Includes full software packages
Windows comes pretty bare bones. Linux comes with a wide variety of open source software right out of the box so to speak. Open Office is the included Office suite, the GIMP as a Photoshop-like image editor. Other open source software can be easily downloaded and installed right from the Add/Remove Programs menu with just one click, comeplete with categories and ratings. This means that you can find exactly what you need without having to track it down or spend hundreds of dollars buying proprietary alternatives.

1. It's Free:
Since Linux is open source, the OS itself and it's source code are provided completely free of charge. For that, you get a completely full featured operating system. You can download, burn, and try different Linux distributions to see which one you like best. As your mother used to say, the best things in life are free.

Qore: Will People Pay for PS Podcasts?

By Mike on 5:01 pm

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On Thursday, Sony released the first instalment of Qore magazine on the Playstation Store. They described it as a "highly interactive, monthly original program that covers the world inside PlayStation." However, people wanting to watch these video podcasts had better fork over some more dough to Sony. The download fee is $2.99 per episode or $24.99 for a one year (13 episodes) subscription. Qore is supposedly interactive, allowing users to change the viewing camera angle or to have picture-in-picture. Sony has also said it will feature interactive ads. Supposedly the program will offer Playstation news and behind the scenes looks at future titles.

Perhaps if Qore had been released 10-15 years ago, people might have paid for it. The internet didn't really reach mass appeal until at least 1998. Before then, gamers relied on magazines for their gaming news. Today most people have become used to accessing the same content for free that Qore is now asking a monthly fee for. I can hop onto IGN, or PSU, or Gametrailers, or even the developers own website to access this content. Some of the other blog comments I've seen on the program are already equating with paying Sony to advertise their games. Personally, I think Sony should have gone the free, ad backed route with this like every other gaming website out there. For $2.99 an episode, the program still isn't ad free as Sony has indicated it will contain "interactive advertisements". I think with all likelyhood, Qore won't survive past one year.

IL-2 is Back, The Return of the Combat Flight Sim

By Mike on 6:00 pm

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Flight simulation is not a very popular genre. I'm referring to hard simulation which render accurate physics, controls, and flight models. This has typically been the sole domain of PC gamers, with titles such as Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane. Most flight simulators on consoles are combat oriented but are arcade style which tend to over simplify everything. The problem with hard simulators is the steep learning curve required to play them. Therefore, they've always remained a niche market for aviation fans. Hard combat sims are less common.

It's been four years since Russian developer 1C/Maddox released Il-2: Forgotten Battles. It was a re-do of 2001's original WW2 combat simulation, featuring improved graphics, more planes, and additional campaigns. What made Il-2 different is that it took place on the Eastern Front, where as most WW2 games take place on the Western Front. The player could fly for the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany in a series of dynamic campaigns. Several expansions for Forgotten Battles have been released over the years, including the stand alone Pacific Fighters. The games were excellent. However, it was arguably the last decent hard combat sim. I can count on one hand the number of decent ones released in the past 10 years.

1C hopes to change their direction a bit by moving the Il-2 series to consoles. The new game, Birds of Prey, will be a console exclusive. In an interview with IGN, 1C has said that most console flight sims are arcade style with simulation elements mixed in. Birds of Prey hopes to be hard simulation with some arcade elements. The game will feature adjustable difficulties ranging from arcade style to hard simulation. The flight models are supposedly the same as in the PC games but Birds will feature vastly improved visiuals. Seeing some screenshots, we're getting very close to mimicking the actual experience. IGN has some screenshots and a gameplay video. There are five areas in the game: The Battle of Britain, Berlin, Stalingrad, Sicily and Korsun. Unlike Forgotten Battles, Axis planes will only be available in multiplayer.
The game will be released on both the Xbox 360 and PS3. There is no PC version announced at this time. Surprisingly, it will also be made available for the PSP and Nintendo DS. One thing that concerns me though is flying. The game will definitely need flight stick support since flying with the Dual Shock 3 or 360 controller can be a bit awkward, especially for rudder control. No release date has been announced yet but it will likely come out in late 2008 or 2009.

Borne Conspiracy Demo Review

By Mike on 11:26 pm

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Jason Borne, the man without an identity, brainwashed by the government to become the ultimate killing machine. I enjoyed the movies so it peaked my interest when I found out a Borne game was coming out. The films were known for their fast paced action sequences as Borne dodges assassins and find out who he really is. The game supposedly isn't based on any of the movies. The demo has been out for a couple weeks now on PSN but I finally got around to downloading and playing it today. The demo of Borne Conspiracy (BC) has three levels: escape from an embassy, assassinate a terrorist, and escape police while driving through Paris. There's really not a heck of a lot to say about the demo other than I felt like I had just played through the entire game.

BC is a third-person shooter game along the lines of Naughty Dog's hugely successful Uncharted: Drakes Fortune. I think Uncharted really set a benchmark for the genre so it's worth comparing BC to it. Unfortunately, Borne does not live up to Nathan Drake. Gameplay mixes both fighting and shooting elements. The hand to hand combat mechanics are good. You can use Square for a light attack and triangle for a heavy attack. X button allows you to block and dodge. Some enemies use their first or melee weapons, though apparently Borne doesn't know how to use the latter. Building up adrenaline (blue bar on hud) allows you to execute a powerful combo attack which can quickly take out enemies. You can also sprint takedown or use sneak attacks. Unlike Uncharted, you can't really control Borne's movement with the analogue stick during hand-to-hand combat. Borne can sprint using R2 outside of combat or use it to ram into enemies.
Shooting is like Uncharted. You can use X to hide behind cover. L2 draws, L1 aims, and R1 fires. Shooting though feels kind of clumsy and unresponsive. The enemy AI is just horrible for this day and age. Enemies didn't really respond to getting shot until they died. They seem rooted to the ground as well. They don't move much to attack you. Melee combat has patterns with little variation.
The driving mission was pretty basic. It uses digital controls rather than the analogue triggers. Oddly, your Mini has no breaks, just a parking break. The goal is to basically escape from the police chasing you through the streets of Paris. The mission was short and overly easy.

The graphics in the game aren't that great. They look dated compared to other titles, about equal to an early 2006 PC game. Not much use of HDR. The indoor embassy scenes, the Paris Streets, and the NPCs look cartoony. The outdoor scenes look good. Physics in game are ok even though it's supposedly accelerated using Ageia's software PhysX engine. Boxes break apart realistically when they get shot but that's about it. Audio is decent. It would have been something if they got Matt Damon to voice Borne like Robert Downy Jr did for the Iron Man game. Your PC only mildly resembles Damon and is kept generic. I guess he didn't given them the rights to use his likeness.

Overall, I wasn't impressed with the demo. I suppose it's not a bad game. The bar has been set quite high by games like Uncharted. There's not a whole lot to say about The Borne Conspiracy. The demo is nice and long for a demo. I'm not sure how long the full game is or what extras it provides. However, I give it a rent only for now.

What Works:
-Good hand to hand combat system
-Use of PhysX
-Long demo

What Doesn't Work:
-Dated graphics, some environment scenes cartoony
-Sluggish shooting controls
-Driving missions simple and non-innovative.

Score: 6.5 out of 10

Legal Downloaders Are Idiots

By Mike on 10:04 am

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I bet that title caught your eye. One New York record store owner is saying this though. John Kioussis of record store Rockit says that whether you download a song legally or illegally, it sounds the same. Of course he's not shooting himself in the foot by doing this. A lot of audiophiles have have embraced the digital age but a lot of people are upset at paying top dollar on legal download sites for lossy quality songs. Therefore, you're better investing your money in CDs and ripping them to lossless formats. It would be nice is lossless formats were more widely adopted. A handfull of MP3 players do support lossless formats but many still don't. Lossless digital downloads are almost non-existant. CDs (by law) and LPs are also inherently DRM free so your music is not shackled.

Source: Audiophiliac

In Game Advertising Will Kill Games

By Mike on 6:50 pm

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Sony apparently wants to add dynamic in-game advertising to their games in the future. This is BS in my opinion. Here's an interesting article from Digital Home, a CNET blog on the faults of in game advertising.

Check it out.

Guitar Hero on DS? Maybe We Should call it Accordion Hero

By Mike on 6:26 pm

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I don't talk about the DS much. This perked my interest though. Back in March, Nintendo and Activision announced the development of the Guitar Grip for Guitar Hero. It's basically the four button neck of the guitar peripheral for consoles compressed down to DS size. It appears to interface with the system through the Gameboy Advance slot. Personally, I think the game looks and plays more like an accordion than an axe, hence the article title. If you're wondering how struming is done, you use the touch screen. Crave thought it looked awkward to use.

Apparently this device has become a reality and is coming to stores this summer. It will be sold as a special Guitar Hero DS bundle which includes the game, Guitar Grip, and a silver DS with guitar hero logo on it's cover. Hopefully the logo silk screened and not just a cheesy sticker. The rumor mill says it's due out on June 29th at the bargian (sarcasm) price of $180. Presumably the game will be released on it's own around the same time. I expect the street price to be about $50.

I'm really at a loss of what to make of this. I've never played any of the Guitar Hero games though I do have enough of an idea what they're like. I agree with Crave that it does look very ackward to use, especially if you have adult hands. The bundle also seems a little on the expensive side, though you are getting a bargain buying it assuming I'm right about the price of the stand alone version. If you're wondering whether there will be a Guitar Grip for the PSP, I do recall an article a while back in which they said there would not be a PSP version.

Source: Crave

Eee Box Looks Good

By Mike on 4:29 pm

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The Small Form Factor (SFF) PC market has long been dominated by Apple's Mac Mini. The entire system is about the size of two typical CD wallets stacked on top of each other. The Mini has a couple of issues with it though, namely it is in my opinion the Apple system that has the least value given it's rather pedestrian specs. However, in terms of PCs, there really is nothing that small that can directly compete with it.

Asus is looking to step things up in that market to challenge the Mac Mini. Today, they officially announced the Eee Box along with full specifications and pricing. The official specs are...

  • Operating system: Linux System/ Hardware Compatible with Windows XP
  • CPU: Intel Atom N270 (1.6 GHz, FSB 533)
  • Memory: 1 GB / 2 GB DDR2
  • Hard drive: 80GB / 160GB 5,400 rpm
  • Chipset: Intel 945GSE + ICH7M
  • Integrated graphics chip: Intel GMA 950
  • Networking: 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN, 802.11n WLAN, Bluetooth optional
  • Media card reader supporting: SD, SDHC, Mini SD, (Micro SD through adapter) ; MMC, MMC plus, MMC4.x, RS MMC, RSMMC4.x (MMC mobile through adapter);MS,MS PRO
On top of that it includes two USB 2.0 ports, gigabit LAN adapter, DVI output, audio out connectors with SPDIF, and a socket for the Wifi antenna. The version of Linux used wasn't specified but it will presumably be Xandros. The great thing about Linux is that it's easy to install the distribution of your choice. The base model with Linux is $269. The base model with Windows XP is $299. The top end Linux model is also $299.

I wasn't too impressed by the Eee PC but the Eee Box is definitely shaping up to be a very nice system. Obviously this isn't a gaming system. Some people have also expressed concern about it's Atom processor not being able to process HD video. It also lacks a CD/DVD drive. Given it's low price, I'm not too too concerned about that. It sports plenty of horse power for SD video and it's decent size mechanical HDD can store a lot of music, photos, and movies making it perfect as a basic HTPC. Compared to other off the shelf HTPC systems such as the PS3 or Xbox 360, it's cheaper and offers plentiful storage. Built in Bluetooth makes it ideal for setting up in a living room so people can surf the web or do work from their couch, with the system connected to an HDTV. Asus has also made the HDD easily upgradable for future storage expansion. It uses a standard 2.5'' SATA laptop drive. For the average user, this system will fulfill all there needs.

Source: Crave