Microsoft launches new 360 controller better D-Pad

By Mike on 1:01 pm

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The Xbox 360's controller is very nice. It's D-Pad is not. Microsoft opted for a rocker style pad in the original design. Many gamers didn't like it since the buttons were too low. It wasn't exactly meant for man sized fingers.

The new design is more like the D-Pad on Sony's venerable Dual Shock. Microsoft has raised it, which should improve its feel and ease of use. No more accidentally going to the wrong menu, or having a 2D character go where you don't want them to. Twisting it goes from the original to the new raised plus, depending on which you prefer.
This new controller only comes in a monochrome style. The coloured buttons have been replaced by grey ones. The border along the bottom of the controller is also now piano black rather than a matte grey. Otherwise, the basic design is still the same.

It will launch November 9th exclusively with the Play & Charge kit. The entire package will cost a hefty $64.99.

Major Nelson via Kotaku. Image courtesy of Kotaku.

Pokemon's creepy Lavender Town urban legends

By Mike on 11:44 pm

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Pokemon is a game where adorable monsters battle it out. When they loose the fight, they feint. All they need is a little rest at the Pokemon Centre to bring them back to fighting strength. But do Pokemon die? Even though it's just a kids game, the original Pokemon Red & Blue says they do. It's even implied that the games villains kill the lovable creatures. That's heavy stuff Doc.

People seem obsessed with Lavender Town because of that. It's the only location in the series where there's a Pokemon cemetery. Even though it's a fairly minor location, it has spawned plenty of urban legends. Many of these are downright disturbing. Here are some of the more bizarre Pokemon ghost stories.

The Existential Pokemon Silver
This legend appeared on 4Chan, posted by an anonymous user. It reappeared linked to an article on Kotaku, posted by commenter Travakh.

A gamer bought a used copy of Pokemon Silver from a Gamestop. Upon loading the save file, he found the last owner had all 251 Pokemon, had played for 999 hours, and had all gym badges.

The game started up in Bellsprout Tower, inside an inescapable room. The trainer, simply named "..." had five Unown in his party with a sixth Cyndaquil named "HURRY". Unown were a species of Pokemon that looked like letters of the Latin Alphabet. The gamer discovered the Unown spelled out "LEAVE".

After finding a way out, he was confronted with a sign that read "Turn Back Now". HURRY suddenly fainted for no apparent reason. A new team of Unown replaced him, spelling out "HEDIED". The deceased is replaced by a Celebi.

Still trapped in the tower, the gamer engages in a battle with Red, the final boss of the game and protagonist from the first generation. The fight was between his Pikachu and the gamer's Celebi. Pikachu uses curse. Both Pokemon die at the end of the fight instead of feinting. His Celebi is now gone from his party. The gamer then notices his avatar's sprite is missing limbs and has turned transparent.

The game then cuts to the trainer's house at the very beginning. He has no items, his Pokegear doesn't work, and outside the house is nothing but a black abyss. After wondering aimlessly for awhile, the gamer eventually encountered himself, or rather his regular sprite. The sprite says "goodbye forever ..." He checks the Unown in his party, which now spell out "IMDEAD". He then finds himself in a room with blocked walls. A final text reads "R.I.P". The gamer figures out his trainer is dead and this is his grave.

The gamer believes the moral of this hack is about the futility of life. Despite his efforts to become the greatest Pokemon trainer, "...", who he refers to as Gold, was unable to cheat death. His adventures become forgotten in time. We've all had this go through out minds at some point. Usually lying in bed wide awake at 3am.

Since this was originally posted on 4Chan, we can assume it's fake. The site is famous for its viral pranks and hoaxes. However, it is plausible since hacked cartridges do exist. Like all great urban legends, stories like this are impossible either prove or disprove.

Lavender's Missing Frequencies
Lavender Town is known for it's sad, haunting theme music in the original game. This legend is based on reading between the lines, and finding missing sounds. Almost like a Pokemon DaVinci Code.

A young man and his best friend Anthony were obsessed with Pokemon as kids. They go their separate ways in college but Pokemon ties them together. They keep having wifi battles nearly every day. Anthony eventually asks him to replay Pokemon Red & Blue together. Despite not really wanting to, the young man goes through with it. When he asks Anthony why, he says he might find something nobody else has before.

Three weeks later he receives a call from the Anthony's parents. Anthony has died. He suffered what appeared to be an intense seizure, despite having no history of epilepsy.

The man finds his friend had been obsessed with the music in Lavender Town. Anthony bragged about finding a rare rip from the original Japanese release. This rip apparently contained audio frequencies later versions missed. It was supposedly due to sound limitations of the Gameboy. Anthony began experimenting to replace the missing frequencies.

The young man describes finding the audio.

Driven by my desire to know what caused his untimely death, I opened the properties dialog box for the audio file, without opening the file to listen to it. Within the comments section of the metadata, he had written, "binaural tones, i added the necessary frequencies, i know why lavender town sounds so sad, and i know the part that was missing". Even eerier, I looked in his default audio program (still without listening to the file) and found the playcount for this file. One. I chatted with a sound enthusiast online in hope to decipher these cryptic comments. He gave me some special software which would analyze the audio in real time and said that was the most that could be done. This video is a screen recording of me running the aforementioned software with the original audio file. To this day I have not listened to the actual audio, as I am too emotionally disturbed by my best friend, Anthony's, death.

The story implies the missing frequencies caused Anthony's seizure. You can listen to the remix here along with the full story. I seriously doubt it will cause your head to explode as Anthony's did.

This particular story is very implausible. No audio engineer could work on something without listening to it multiple times. It sounds all too similar to the "brown note" legend, where a specific audio frequency was said to cause loss of bowel control. It also has a dash of a real world Pokemon incident. In that case, flashing lights in one particular anime episode triggered seizures in Japan.

A similar legend claims the original Lavender Town music contained frequencies only children could hear. The tones apparently caused Japanese children to go insane and die. While it's true Lavender Town originally did have slightly different music in Japan, no deaths have been linked to it.

Pokemon Black
Pokemon Black, not to be confused with the real Black & White, is supposedly a hack of the original Red. The gamer claims it features a "Ghost" pokemon, with the same sprite as the mystery ghosts found in Lavender Town before obtaining the SilphScope. It acts as your starter and cannot be removed from the party. It also only comes with one move, "Curse". When used, the move apparently kills the target Pokemon, and their trainer. The trainer is replaced by a tombstone with their name on it in the overworld.

The story gets a bit more interesting after you beat the Elite Four.

After viewing the Hall of Fame, which consisted of Ghost and a couple of very under leveled Pokémon, the screen cut to black. A box appeared with the words “Many years later…” It then cut to Lavender Tower. An old man was standing, looking at tombstones. You then realized this man was your character.

The man moved at only half of your normal walking speed. You no longer had any Pokémon with you, not even Ghost, who up to this point had been impossible to remove from your party through depositing in the PC. The overworld was entirely empty — there were no people at all. There were still the tombstones of the trainers that you used Curse on, however.You could go pretty much anywhere in the overworld at this point, though your movement was limited by the fact that you had no Pokémon to use HMs. And regardless of where you went, the music of Lavender Town continued on an infinite loop.

After wandering for a while, I found that if you go through Diglett’s Cave, one of the cuttable bushes that normally blocks the path on the other side is no longer there, allowing you to advance and return to Pallet Town.

Upon entering your house and going to the exact tile where you start the game, the screen would cut to black.

Then a sprite of a Caterpie appeared. It was the replaced by a Weedle, and then a Pidgey. I soon realized, as the Pokémon progressed from Rattata to Blastoise, that these were all of the Pokémon that I had used Curse on.

After the end of my Rival’s team, a Youngster appeared, and then a Bug Catcher. These were the trainers I had Cursed.

Throughout the sequence, the Lavender Town music was playing, but it was slowly decreasing in pitch. By the time your Rival appeared on screen, it was little more than a demonic rumble.

Another cut to black. A few moments later, the battle screen suddenly appeared — your trainer sprite was now that of an old man, the same one as the one who teaches you how to catch Pokémon in Viridian City.

Ghost appeared on the other side, along with the words “GHOST wants to fight!”.

You couldn’t use items, and you had no Pokémon. If you tried to run, you couldn’t escape. The only option was “FIGHT”.

Using fight would immediately cause you to use Struggle, which didn’t affect Ghost but did chip off a bit of your own HP. When it was Ghost’s turn to attack, it would simply say “…” Eventually, when your HP reached a critical point, Ghost would finally use Curse.

The screen cut to black a final time.

Regardless of the buttons you pressed, you were permanently stuck in this black screen. At this point, the only thing you could do was turn the Game Boy off. When you played again, “NEW GAME” was the only option — the game had erased the file.

I played through this hacked game many, many times, and every time the game ended with this sequence. Several times I didn’t use Ghost at all, though he was impossible to remove from the party. In these cases, it did not show any Pokémon or trainers and simply cut to the climactic “battle with Ghost.

I’m not sure what the motives were behind the creator of this hack. It wasn’t widely distributed, so it was presumably not for monetary gain. It was very well done for a bootleg.

It seems he was trying to convey a message; though it seems I am the sole receiver of this message. I’m not entirely sure what it was — the inevitability of death? The pointlessness of it? Perhaps he was simply trying to morbidly inject death and darkness into a children’s game. Regardless, this children’s game has made me think, and it has made me cry.

Pokemon Black was also posted on 4Chan so it's authenticity can't be verified. The unnamed author claims he lost the game cartridge years ago. Some versions claim he sold it out of fear. One variation on the story says a demonic image appeared on the screen after the character's death, with the words "you're next." It's still a great ghost story for any gamer out there.

Image courtesy of Bulbapedia, originally from the Pokemon anime.

A brief timeline of the digital audio revolution

By Mike on 12:34 pm

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Twenty-eight years ago today, August 17th, the first compact discs were released to the public. Digital audio enthusiasts consider this the big bang of the digital revolution. It changed the way we listened to music forever. Let's take a trip through history to see how digital music has evolved since the beginning.

-Sony demonstrates an analogue prototype optical audio disc.

-Soundstream becomes the first digital tape recording format. The format encoded audio at 50khz and 16-bit. For three years it reigned as the format of choice for producing audiophile grade vinyl records. No home players were released.
-Sony demonstrates a prototype digital optical audio disc offering 150min play time at 44.05khz with 16-bit sampling.

-The first test CD is printed in Germany. A public demonstration is performed on Britain's BBC.

-The first CD player is released in Japan as a joint venture between Sony and Phillips. The format was a 12cm disc encoded at 44.1khz / 16-bit sampling, with up to 80min playtime. This was double the playback time of vinyl records. It proved an instant hit with audiophiles.
-The first album released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street.
-The tape format continued to evolve into the early 80s with versions produced by 3M and Sony. The latter introduced DASH in 1983, a digital reel-to-reel recorder. Mitsubishi released ProDigi in that same year, which was also reel-to-reel.

-The first CDs are released in the United States.

-Sony releases the DiscMan, the first portable CD player.

-Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits becomes the first CD album to sell 1 million copies.

-Sony introduces Digital Audio Tape. It offered the same audio quality as CDs, but in a compact cassette tape form factor. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) tries to lobby against its sale, claiming it enabled piracy by enabling perfect digital copies. Their bid was unsuccessful.

-CD recorders make their debut, allowing individuals to make their own audio CDs at home.

-Sony debuts MiniDisc. The first small digital audio player that became the basis for all modern MP3 players. It used Sony's proprietary ATRAC format and could hold 80min of music on a disc half the size of a CD. The format remains popular in the radio industry.

-Creative launches the Sound Blaster 16, an expansion card that brings true 16-bit audio to home PCs. It allows people to record and play back their own CD quality audio.

-The Fraunhofer Society, a group of German audio engineers, releases the first MP3 encoder.
-WXYC, a radio station in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, begins streaming their broadcasts online digitally.

-Fraunhofer releases WinPlay 3, the first MP3 playback software for home computers.

-DVD is launched in Japan with theatre quality surround sound audio tracks. It popularizes 5.1 home audio systems. Full concerts are released on DVD in surround sound.

-DTS begins experimenting with a 5.1 music format.
-WinAmp, a popular MP3 software player, is released. CDs could now be ripped to computers in the MP3 format, allowing discless playback.
-Audio Highway releases its Listen Up player, the world's first portable MP3 player.
-The MP4 Advanced Audio Codec (AAC) is introduces as a more efficient successor to MP3. Unlike MP3, it includes optional copy protection.

-Sony releases the Super-Audio CD, also known as SACD, as a high resolution audio format aimed at audiophiles. Strict copy protection, cost and lack of player support means the format fails to catch on.

-DVD-Audio is released as a competitor to SACD. It suffers from the same issues that held the former back.
-Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker launch Napster, a peer-to-peer service that allows people to easily share and pirate music over the Internet. It launches the digital download revolution. Legal alternatives wouldn't be available for another three years.

-Apple debuts the iPod. The device revolutionizes MP3 players due to its large storage capacity, small size, and simple interface. The iPod soon becomes a pop culture icon and catapults Apple from a struggling computer company to a consumer electronics giant.
-XM Satellite Radio becomes the first commercial digital radio provider in the United States. It offers commercial free music for a monthly fee.

-Napster ceases operations and its assets are liquidated. It is replaced by other illegal services such as Kazaa and LimeWire. CD sales begin to drop with the rising popularity of MP3.

-Apple opens the iTunes Store, a portal and web store that allows consumers to legally buy and download songs online. Songs are sold for 99 cents.

-Sony issues copy protection on CDs released through their BMG label to stop the tide of file sharing. The DRM violated Phillips' Red Book audio standard, the base format for audio CDs. The protected discs fail to play in computers and some stand-alone players. Sony is sued and the defective discs are recalled.

-Microsoft introduces the Zune and Zune Store to compete with iTunes. It rapidly becomes the second most popular portable digital audio player in the United States.

-Apple intros iTunes Store app on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Users can now purchase and download digital music directly from their player. launches Amazon MP3, one of the first major online stores to sell digital music without controversial copy protection.

-SlotMusic launches music on MicroSD flash cards. The format gains little traction against digital download.

-Apple strips controversial copy protection from its entire music library on the iTunes Store. Prices of new songs rise to $1.29 as a result.
-Vinyl albums stage a comeback, with sales doubling this year.
-CD sales worldwide, for all variations including data, total 200 billion.

-Digital Singles have eclipsed album sales by this time. In response, 70s rock band Pink Floyd pulls its catalogue from the iTunes Store in protest of its songs being sold "a la carte". They demand their songs only be sold as part of entire albums.
-Audio CD sales declined over the past 8 years.

Worst of Shovelware: Grizzly Murder Edition

By Mike on 12:28 am

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Naughty Bear (PS3, Xbox 360)
505 games, you've been very naughty. You've released a game that just might be one of the worst major releases of the year. You see, Naughty Bear is a very naughty bear. He's not invited to a birthday party for all the other bears on Perfection Island. So, he takes out his revenge by... uh, scaring them to death.

What the trailers presented was far from what the game actually was.

This is why you should never trust trailers that don't show gameplay.

We expected it to be a stuffed animal orgy of gore. Killing the beloved Care Bear-esque enemies in increasingly creative and gruesome ways. Instead, Naughty Bear proved to be a rush job with clunky controls, ugly graphics, bad animation, technical glitches, poor AI, and limited gameplay.

focuses more on chasing and scaring the other bears for points. So much for Manhunt with teddy bears we were promised. IGN called it "an embarrassment and shouldn't be purchased by anyone anywhere." All this and more for just full retail price! This may be a candidate for shovelware of the year.

Worst of Shovelware: Sensual Massage Edition

By Mike on 8:39 pm

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After more than a year, we're serving up some fresh shovelware to all you casual gaming fans. So sit back and relax. Enjoy Your Massage, but no happy endings.

Enjoy Your Massage (Wiiware)
Wii want you to relax. Care for a sensual massage? Sorry babe, it usually doesn't go off like that. Enjoy Your Massage has you rubbing some beautiful ladies, professionally of course. This is a family console after all. Enjoy Your Massage is a memory game like Simon. A series of squares on the person's back flashes. Rub the right squares in the right order and you relax your client. Fail and you're relegated to giving happy endings in a Camden, New Jersey back ally.

Dot Man (DSiWare)
Na na na na na na Dot Man, Dot Man, Dot Man. Actually, a game about a crime fighter would be cool. Instead, Dot Man is a poor Pac Man clone out of Japan. Your mission is to drive around in a maze in the Dot Car, collecting Dot Coins, and avoid the Dot Cops. Dot's Graphics look strait out of a bad Dot NES game. The hot anime Dot Girl at the beginning of the video is a nice piece of deceptive Dot Marketing.

Stay tuned for next week's Worst of Shovelware, when everyone's favourite incompetent serial killer Naughty Bear takes the stage.

EVGA intros dual CPU gamers' motherboard

By Mike on 11:59 am

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Back in the early 2000s, if you were a gamer and you had a dual socket motherboard, you we're the hardest of hardcore. Not that they did much since nothing was written to take advantage of two processors at the time. That all changed when the Pentium D and Athlon 64 X2 came about. They put dual socket into one small package. These boards virtually disappeared in the enthusiast market.

Entre the EVGA Classified SR-2. A dual socket LGA-1366 motherboard capable or running two i7 bases Xeon processors for up to 12 cores and 24 threads of pure nerdgasm. On top of that, it supports up to 48gb of DDR3-1333. Naturally, it also has 6GB/s SATA3, USB 3.0, and seven PCIe 16x slots.

EVGA's red and black behemoth. No, it doesn't accelerate human evolution.

But how does it handle? Hot Hardware did some benchmarks on it. As expected, it slaughters the competition in raw processing power. But not so much in real world performance. Performance in Crysis was only 10% faster using the 12 core-dual processor setup versus a single quad core running at the same speed. That 10% gain requires 50% more power to run. Most games still cannot take advantage of more than four cores so this is a useless indulgence for gamers.

Where a 12 core system would come in handy is video editing, science, and server applications. Those already use heavily multi-threaded apps. Obviously EVGA isn't targeting those crowds.
This board costs a hefty $599 and it's just not worth it in my opinion.

Brutal Legend Review

By Mike on 10:14 am

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"I kept hearing that metal is dead and Ozzy's dead and people that like Ozzy are dead. I have never had an empty seat. I've always sold out, so who's saying it's all over?" - Ozzy Osbourne

Eddie Rigges is a legendary roadie working for Kabbage Boy, one of the world's worst heavy metal bands. His job is to make the band look good from behind the scenes. Eddie is crushed by the stage scenery saving the life of a band member when a stunt goes wrong. His blood leaks out into his belt buckle, awakening Ormagöden. The best kills the band and transports Eddie into a metal themed underworld. There he gets wrapped up with rocker chick Ophelia and a small group of humans fighting the evil General Lionwhyte and an army of demons.

Brutal Legend is the brainchild of legendary adventure game designer Tim Schafer. Schafer is responsible for classic games such as the Monkey Island series, Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango. So you know this game is going to have a unique twist to it.

Gameplay is a cross between a classic action-adventure title and real-time-strategy. Eddie gets an axe which he can attack or defend against enemies. His other axe, Clementine, can bust out some serious tunes to incinerate and shock enemies, rise relics, or create vehicles out of thin air.

Brutal is an open world game where you can choose to follow side-quests of focus on the main mission. Much of the game revolves around defeating the flamboyant Lionwhyte and his army of glam metal-heads. It eventually leads up to a battle with the demon lord Doviculus.

Much of this involves large scale battles that are a cross between action and RTS. Eddie recruits his army of metal-heads and can direct them to attack enemies or defend positions. It's just like any other RTS in that respect. However, he also joins in on the battle.

Rock on with a battle of the bands

It's an interesting concept that I don't think I've ever seem before. But, it's not exactly smooth. You really have to keep tabs because you can't see where all your troops are at any given time. The game also doesn't allow you to select individual units. Your troops can only be ordered to attack in a specific direction, and will battle any enemy they see.

A weak AI means you`ll also find yourself carrying most of the load single handedly. The one problem with console RTS games is they`re overly simplified and it can be a bit of a learning curve for those seasoned on the PC.

I wasn't able to get far into the game so I didn't see the full range of units available. The three basic types are head-bangers (melee), razor girls (gun unit), and Thunderhogs (medics). You can team up with other units to do combo attacks or get special perks. For example, with head-bangers, they`ll make a human shield to protect you. Titan spirit wells act as spawn points for more units once you build a merchandise stand over them.

There is some vehicle gameplay as well. Eddie gets the Druid Plow, a car which he can use to travel quickly across the overworld. It can be upgraded in the Metal Forge using in-world currency. While there are some vehicle missions, they don`t factor in as much as other types.

The overall difficulty of Brutal is fairly low. You're not going to encounter too much of a challenge. Boss fights are epic but not too hard once you get the pattern down. It's more of a casual open world experience. Brutal feels like a short game compared to other open worlders. You can extend it by doing all the side quests if you like but the main story should only take a few hours to finish.

Game design isn't as sharp as some other titled from the past year. Brtual Legend really holds well to the classic metal look though. Dark but flashy with an epic feel to it. Schafer`s team had done a great job at capturing the metal scene.

The game really shines with its licensed sound track and voice acting. Brutal has an A-List cast of metal rockers lending their talents: Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halfard from Judas Priest, and Lita Ford from The Runaways. Jack Black voices Eddie Rigges and also plays himself. Tim Curry plays the demon emperor Doviculus, which is a brilliant choice. Most of their characters are modelled after the people who voiced them, which is a nice touch. Ozzy as the Guardian of Metal was definitely a laugh out loud moment.

Speaking of Ozzy, the game features a great licensed soundtrack including songs from Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Rob Zombie, Judas Priest, and many lesser known metal bands. Brutal wouldn't be the same experience with an in-house soundtrack.

I didn't encounter any technical issues with Brutal Legend. The game`s graphics do look a little outdated but I can get past that. Schafer was going for a more cartoonish style. The game runs at 720p and features an excellent audio track. I didn't notice any glitches or slowdowns on my PS3.

The AI does leave something to be desired. I often found myself carrying most of the load because my units were off somewhere else. Sometimes they seem to ignore the enemies right in front of them even after telling them to attack. It's definitely something that could be improved.

Brutal is an interesting game that combines action with RTS, just not all that well. AI hiccoughs, short length, and low difficulty leave something to be desired. However, it`s still a fun title and I absolutely love how much they put into the metal aesthetic. Great voice acting and a great licensed soundtrack really carry it. The lower difficulty makes it well suited for casual RTS players. It's definitely worth a rent. Rock on brothers, rock on.

What works
-Great licensed soundtrack
-Superb voice acting
-Variety of mission types keeps it from being stale
-Fantastic game design with a unique metal themed world
-Not too hard, makes it a great game for casual RTS fans

What doesn`t work
-Poor unit AI
-Can feel too easy at times
-Overly simplified RTS controls
-Feels a bit too short

Score: 8 out of 10

Images courtesy of Wikipedia