iFixit tears down the late-2012 iMac, slightly worse than anticipated

By Mike on 2:21 pm

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After yesterday's Japanese teardown, the folks at iFixit have taken apart the new 2012 iMac. Unfortunately, this thing is not as repair friendly as originally thought. It appears that the LCD is indeed glued onto the chassis, instead of using magnets like older models. This makes it quite difficult to get inside, and requires the use of a heat gun. You'll also need double sided tape to reseal the whole thing when you're done. It's a better design than the retina Macbooks but still poor overall.

On the bright side, iFixit has confirmed that the CPU is user replaceable. However, they gave it a 3 out of 10 on the repairability scale, due to the glued display and buried components. This seems to be a huge price to pay for having a super slim computer, in an environment where it doesn't need to be super slim.

All-in-ones don't make ideal desktops in general due to the amount of compromises you need to make. Apple lately has chosen to put form over function. While it hasn't hurt the reliability of their computers, it does turn them into yet another disposable consumer good if anything should fail. I think we need to add a fourth "R" to that old environmental mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair. If Apple wants to make their systems impossible to fix and upgrade, then the price has to come down. Otherwise they're just not worth it.

If you're looking for an alternative to the iMac, Dell's XPS One series is something to look at. Specs are similar to the iMac, though the system is considerably cheaper. It also features a touch screen and is easy to repair. Some reviews state that it's noisy though. Once again, there's always drawbacks with all-in-ones. The old tower design is still king if you're a non-compromises type of person.

Source: iFixit

New iMac innards a step in the right direction

By Mike on 11:19 am

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Apple's new iMac is thinner and lighter than any desktop before. It really solidifies the idea that these are just laptops stuck to the back of a screen. Japanese tech site Kodawarisan submitted the late-2012 iMac to its first teardown. Inside we find some decidedly non-laptop design features.

The logic board is laptop-like in most ways. Very sparse compared to your typical desktop PC motherboard. Heatpipes with blower cooler keep the CPU and GPU sufficiently chilly. There's four USB ports, two thunderbolts, and an ethernet port. Looks like it takes up to three sticks of DDR3-RAM, presumably in a triple channel configuration. I'm told the 27'' model has a hatch to easily upgrade the memory, but the 21'' model doesn't.


The nVidia GPU stripped naked. The late-2012 iMac comes with one of four: GT 640M, GT 650M, GT 660M, or GT 675M. The first three come with 512mb of GDDR5 while the latter ships with a fill gigabyte of graphics memory. Even the lowly GT 640M should be enough to handle most current games at playable frame rates.


Is that what I think it is? It sure looks like a fully upgradable CPU. The image depicts an "Ivy Bridge" Core i5-3470S, which is a low power, quad-core chip running at 2.9ghz. It has a TDP of 65W. Apple has always used low voltage variants to keep the thermals down while keeping performance reasonable. Though it's likely the top end model uses a standard CPU. Intel doesn't produce low voltage i5s running at 3.2ghz.

The logic board appears to use an LGA 1155 CPU socket. In theory, there's nothing stopping you from upgrading to an i7, assuming the firmware allows it.


In the last picture, we see the iMac with all its innards exposed. Including a removable hard drive. Apple combines traditional HDDs with SSDs, called a fusion drive. You should be able to remove and swap out the drive with any 2.5'' one. The SSD is nowhere to be seen in this picture, nor does it appear to be soldered  to the logic board. It is possible Apple is combining the two drives into one package, as Seagate does.

As for getting into the system, it's rumoured to be quite easy. Simply remove the display with suction cups. Though at least one French site claimed it was glued. Due to poor translation, it's unclear. We'll have to wait for the first teardowns on this side of the pond to get a full grasp of how easy it is to take apart.

Assuming it is easy to get into, this is a major step in the right direction for Apple. When you pay that much for a computer, it shouldn't be disposable. Keep them fixable.

The new iMac starts at a relatively steep $1299, as one would expect.

Source and Images: Kodawarisan

This year kids want iPads, not consoles

By Mike on 12:05 pm

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I've been told for quite some time now that I'm wrong about mobile gaming. Many fellow gamers have said that smart phones and tablets are not cannibalizing the console and handheld market. A recent study by Neilson proves them wrong. Kids want Santa to bring them tablets, not games.

The study looked at interest in electronics for kids 6-12 and teenagers. Almost half off all children said they wanted an iPad. The Wii U topped second place with 39%. The iPod Touch, iPad Mini, and iPhone rounded out the top five. Only a quarter of all kids wanted an Xbox or PS3. In the case of portables, 29% wanted a 3DS and 18% wanted a PSP. Only 14% wanted a Playstation Vita.

In the case of teenagers, things are a little different. The iPad still topped the list with 21% wanting one. Computers, non-iOS tablets, Wii U, and iPhone rounded out the top five. Only 8% of teens said they wanted a game console, with the PS3 being the most popular. In the case of portable systems, the 3DS and Vita actually come out on top. It's a Pyrrhic victory with only 5% and 4% respectively.

Things aren't full of Christmas cheer for console manufacturers this year. Though we're hardly set for another crash, a lot of what's going on mirrors 1983. There's a strong interest in multi-functional devices over dedicated gaming systems. Interest in portables has taken a nose dive. Still, it's unlikely parents will be willing to spend upwards of $500 for an iPad. Especially for the little ones. If Sony and Microsoft take anything from this, they will need to get their new systems out by Holiday 2013. The current generation has finally run its course.

Source: IGN
Image copyright Bethesda, via Nukapedia

Xbox 720 fresh rumours served up hot

By Mike on 2:57 pm

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Dying gaming magazine Xbox World has decided to go out with a bang. They claim to have gotten the inside scoop from developers, delivering us the tastiest rumours yet.

The 720, which will be simply named "Xbox" will pack some fairly impressive hardware for a console.  Blu-ray support, 8gb of RAM, Kinect 2.0, possible augmented reality, and a quad-core CPU capable of running  two threads per core. You can pair this up with the earlier rumour that Microsoft plans to use AMD's Radeon HD 6670 graphics chip.

The magazine also shows a mock up of the console, which looks quite similar to a black Mac Mini, though about twice the size. The case is rumoured to be magnesium alloy, marking the first time we've seen metal used instead of plastic. Making an unfortunate return are proprietary hard drives.

Is this the next Xbox? Image by CVG and Xbox World. 
Microsoft has been silent on the next Xbox. Though I think we will see things start to accelerate over the next few months. We may even see a possible prototype at CES in two months time, readying for a possible Holiday 2013 launch. Now that Nintendo is pushed out the first eighth generation console, you can bet Microsoft and Sony will not sit on their laurels for too much longer.

Source: CVG

Weekly Cheap: PS Vita bundle sale and Steam deals

By Mike on 12:32 pm

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Been on the fence about getting a Vita? Now is as good a time as any with Christmas fast approaching. Our first weekly cheap comes from Best Buy Canada.Sony has released their first ever Vita bundle since launch, to celebrate the latest installment in Assassin's Creed.

Vita AC Liberation Bundle, Best Buy Canada: $200

The bundle features...
-PS Vita WiFi system
-4gb memory card
-Assassin's Creed: Liberation game

All for $250. That's a savings of $60 over buying everything separately. On top of that, Best Buy Canada is throwing in a $50 gift card if you buy it in store. So you can get an entire Vita system for just $200. If you've been sitting on the fence about getting a Vita for the holidays, this looks like the bundle to get.

Image courtesy of Sony
This week's Steam sales are heavy on horror, just in time for Halloween.
-Left 4 Dead 2 $4.99
-Just Cause 2 $3.74
-Deadlight $12.74
-Lucius $21.24
-Killing Floor Complete Pack $9.99
-Guns of Icarus Online $14.99
-Rock of Ages $2.49
-Hitman: Absolution $44.99
-Left 4 Dead $4.99
-Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams $13.49
-Train Simulator 2013 Deluxe $45.99
-Trains vs Zombies 2 $8.99
-Just Cause $2.49

Apple's new iPad, bad blood

By Mike on 10:25 am

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Apple's event yesterday generated excitement as they usually do. Though I sensed it wasn't as much this time around as we've seen in the past. It's been a year since Steve Jobs died and you can already feel the magic starting to disappear. This time around it was a new product announcement that seemed to anger fans more than encourage them to open their wallets. The iPad 4 caps out a growing list of questionable decisions the electronics giant has made in the past few months.

It's been seven months since Apple introduced the iPad 3. We were told it was a revolutionary device with it's revolutionary new retina display and graphics. In reality, it wasn't that special. It also had some major hurdles such as the infamous yellow screens. I still bought one, like many did. I even went for the expensive 64gb model so I could do more photo and video work with it.

I sort of suspected Apple would refresh the iPad at the fall event. Though most of us assumed it would simply remove the dock connector and replace it with lightning. Instead we got a new iPad with a speed bumped processor A6X, said to be twice as fast as the current A5X. Less than a year and the iPad 3 has been rendered obsolete. It's now selling at some stores for less than an iPad 2.

Many people who bought the 3 are justifiably upset. Myself included. It feels like we got conned into a product that Apple pushed out to make quick cash, full well knowing they were going to replace it soon after. If the update cycles are now down to half a year, it's impossible to keep up with. Especially with Apple's notorious reputation of planned obsolescence on the software side.

After the fiasco with maps, the incompatible lightning connector, and the war with Google, Apple has certainly generated a lot of bad blood with their fans. It's time to replace Tim Cook as their CEO and get someone younger in there to take the reins. Trying to copy Jobs' formula isn't working anymore. Until that happens, I can no longer recommend iOS products. Especially after seeing what Jellybean can do, and the potential for Windows RT. Apple is quickly losing their position as the best in the mobile market. It's only a matter of time before their cult status leaves with it, and history repeats itself.

Wii U will be region locked, why?

By Mike on 10:52 am

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Nintendo import fans are once again out of luck. Nintendo has announced that the Wii U will be region locked. This isn't a big revelation for the company. Almost every single console to come out of Big N has been. Dating as far back to the classic toaster NES.

Nintendo is currently the only company that has mandatory region locks on their consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft give the choice to developers. The Playstation family is well known for being friendly to the import community, with few games being locked. Notable exceptions include games by Atlas, a big Japanese developer. In fact, it seems this feature is more favoured in Japan that it is by Western publishers.

It's a well known fact that Japanese gamers and otaku are being gouged on media. Resident Evil 6 for example sells for $20 more in its home country than it does in North America. For the same price in the US, you can buy the Resident Evil Anthology, which contains all six games in the series.

The purpose of region locking is simply to make money. More from Asia-Pacific gamers than we in the west. While one could argue the game costs the same or more due to import duties, publishers get less of that money. It also explains why Nintendo has been so hostile to digital download. All a Japanese gamer would need is a North American gift card to grab the game at a significantly cheaper price.

This is a big letdown for import fans. Many popular games don't get global releases for one reason or another. Xenoblade Chronicles was launched in North America a full two years after it's Japanese debut. It's also unfortunate that Nintendo keeps making this choice instead of embracing globalization. Instead they'd rather keep screwing Japanese gamers with artificially higher prices.




iOS 6 is driving users up the wall

By Mike on 10:16 am

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If you haven't upgraded to iOS 6 yet, you probably shouldn't. It's not often you see a mobile OS generate this much controversy. Needless to say, Apple's breakup with Google hasn't gone as swimmingly as the company expected.

After about a week out in the wild the tech clueless are still wondering where their YouTube went. Meanwhile the tech smart are up in arms over how awful Apple Maps is.

Apple has pulled, what I'll refer to as a Sony. They released an update that removed two important features, and replaced one with an inferior version. While Apple Maps isn't that bad, it's just not very good either. GIS (geographic information system) is difficult to develop. Google has had years to build their maps app. While I don't have statistics, Maps is most likely their number two product in both usage and revenue. As a result, it's very good and constantly kept up to date. It has to be.

Apple on the other hand has inherited old data. It points users to roads that don't exist, or simply lacks ones that do. It misplaces major landmarks, lacks the same level of detail, and has sent some users miles off course. The problem with Apple is they're a hardware design company. Google specializes in search, Apple does not.

The switch does make business sense for Apple. They do not want to give royalties and visibility to a company that produces a competing product. Though offering an inferior one hurts the brand. Especially if it's a feature people rely on for their daily lives. Given the choice, I think even the most ardent of Apple fanboys would still pick Google Maps.

Equally foolish is Google dragging their heels on their own Maps app for iOS. However, you can still use the 3D Google Earth app, or the web version.

Second problem on the list is the removal of YouTube. Granted the original iOS app wasn't that great, and has been neglected for years, it worked. Now it's gone.

As soon as Apple released iOS 6, Google came in with their own app, and it sucks. A whole host of users have lined up to complain about speed issues, lack of AirPlay support, no integrated volume control, and ads galore. Thankfully there are some free alternatives made by third parties. The iPhone is not looking like quite the multimedia powerhouse it used to be.

Looking at the big picture, neither of these issues will be fixed anytime soon. It will take Apple years to play catch-up with Google on maps. Google doesn't seem interested in bringing proper support to iOS either. They never have given it much thought. So looks like you're stuck with iOS 5. At least until some ingenious developer in jailbreak community ports both apps over.


Boy was I wrong on the iPad

By Mike on 10:35 am

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Occasionally I like to look back on some of the old blog posts I've written. I came across my scathing first impressions of the original iPad. Needless to say, I didn't like it. Though in my defense, I wasn't the only one.  I chided it as a giant iPod Touch. After all "nobody in their right mind is going to buy a neutered tablet, and nobody is going to buy a super sized iPhone."

The laundry list of things I wanted in an Apple tablet are laughable. 

Full Mac OS X
When the iPad came out, I hated the fact that it ran iOS. In fairness, iOS 3.2 was not exactly ideal. However, putting a desktop OS onto the iPad would have been an abject failure. Look at what Microsoft attempted to do with Windows 7 tablets. Now they're finally releasing their own tablet OS.

Desktop operating systems are just not designed to be used with a touch screen. Would it have increased the functionality ten fold as I originally claimed? Well, my iPad gets used far more than my laptop does so that argument speaks for itself.

Intel Atom Processor
At the time, the Atom was faster than the A4. It also consumed more power and would have required a bigger battery. My main argument behind it was porting x86 applications over to the tablet space. Which in hindsight was stupid. Ever try running a modern non-linear video editor or Photoshop on an Atom or Brazos? They barely run Windows. x86 applications just aren't tuned for mobile. Aside from that, Atom's built in GPU is useless. It can't handle proper HD video decoding. Nobody would want an iPad that couldn't even do video.

External connectivity
This is one thing I was right on and is still a lingering problem to this day. The iPad does not support external storage. However, a wide range of surprising peripherals have come out. Even ones that turn your iDevice into point of sale units, and medical scanners. That and the camera kit was capable of far more than it was advertised. You could run USB keyboards and external microphones through it, or hack the iPad for external storage.

Flash
Adobe and Apple have yet to reconcile their differences. Almost three years later and there's still no Flash on the iPad. Not that it's a big deal. It's implementation on Android tablets was a disaster. Flash just isn't great at hardware acceleration. Nowhere near as good as HTML5 is. It requires more system resources, so is struggles a lot with HD content. Since then only a few holdout sites are incompatible with the iPad. Guess they didn't get the memo that Flash is dead. Long live HTML5!

Better software
The demanded that the iPad get iChat, iLife, and it's own office suite. They did come. iWork was released at launch, chat apps came shortly there after. In fact everything I wanted is pretty much available on the iPad now. Even a professional grade non-linear video editor, Pinnacle Studio. Photoshop, it's there. As Apple relaxed their submission policy, better and more functional apps came. It's gotten to the point where the iPad can replace a laptop. It even has that iSight camera I wanted, two of them.

The iPad wasn't a solution for a problem that didn't exist. It was a solution for a problem you didn't know you had. Now we all work, read, surf, and play on tablets. So I guess it did revolutionize the way we consume media. So much for a dumb idea.


iOS 6 has been jailbroken already, for iPhone 4

By Mike on 10:31 am

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That didn't take long. iPhone Dev Team has just announced the first official RedSn0w jailbreak for iOS 6. It currently only works with A4 based devices such as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and fourth generation iPod Touches. If you own an iPad 1, you're out of luck since it was left out of this OS upgrade. That's Apple's legendary planned obsolescence for you. It's worth noting that due to a hardware flaw, A4 based devices are fairly easy for hackers to jailbreak.

This is a tethered jailbreak and does not work with newer A5 and A6 based iDevices. So if you own one, you might want to hold off upgrading to iOS 6 for now. Redmond Pie is also advising people who use unlockers to avoid this jailbreak as well, as it will break that function.

Source: iPhone Dev Team and Redmond Pie
Image courtesy of Evaystyle.com

7 reasons why the Vita will be my last Playstation

By Mike on 11:52 pm

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Sony, why have you forsaken me? I was such an adamant defender of your brand. Now like the battered housewife, I have come to realize it is time to leave. Yes, unless they can pull a rabbit out of their hat, the Vita will be my last Playstation system. They've really done it to themselves by failing to keep up with the competition, or just outright disappointing their fans. Here's seven reasons why Sony and I are getting a divorce.

1. Openly embracing the anti-used movement
Whenever you buy a used game, an single tear rolls down Kevin Buttle's face. Sony has chosen to openly adopt a stance against the purchase of used games. They haven't gone as far as to outright ban them. Instead they act like the greedy troll under the bridge, demanding you pay the toll to cross into the land of multiplayer. In fairness, PSN is free to use and you could argue paying full price is like paying to use it.

Sony's real beef is with Gamestop for not profit sharing on used sales. So their automatic response is to begin treating penniless college students like greasy pirates. Talk about robbing Peter because you weren't paid by Paul.

2. Banning the use of third party peripherals
I loved Beatles Rock Band. Even though I was never a huge fan of rhythm games, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It's the Beatles for god's sake. How could you not love it? That is until my fun stopped, when Sony decided my guitar was not officially sanctioned by their powers that be.

The Guitar Hero/Rock Band official guitars were too expensive at the time. Bought a used official one and it didn't work so I returned it and got the Nyko Frontman. It worked great and it was cheap. What more could a guy want? I spent hours jamming with John, Paul, George, and Ringo on that thing. Then a firmware update ended my fun. Secretly tucked away in the code, like an evil little gremlin, was something that killed my Frontman. Sorry, Sony said, you have to buy the official guitar to keep rocking. So ended my tour as the fifth Beatle.

3. Firmware updates that do nothing
Sony releases a lot of firmware updates. That's cool, everyone does. You should see how many updates my Linux box wants me to download. Hence my quest to find an ISP that offers unlimited bandwidth, that's not operated out of a boiler room. The problem is that each time they release an update, you can't go online until you download it. Then you find out you wasted precious bandwidth because update does nothing at all. It just gives so vague promise of improving stability. That's all well and good but why do you have to kill my online features for that?

4. Firmware updates that break your system
Also known as removing features you paid for. Awhile back, somebody figured out how to exploit the Other OS feature to create a rudimentary jailbreak for the PS3. It didn't do anything besides allow the system to run simple home brews. However, Sony freaked and decided to remove Other OS. While not many put Linux on it, Sony had advertised it as a selling point, only to take it away.

Another classic case is the perpetual fear that Sony's latest firmware will murder your system. When Sony promised in-game XMB in Firmware 2.4, gamers jumped for joy. They could now check their shiny new trophies without quitting the game. They gleefully loaded the new firmware, booted up their PS3, and nothing. Dead as a door nail. Nice job lads.

5. Sony loves messing around with hardware...
The Playstation 3 went through a lot of incarnations. Fat, Fat with software PS2, Fat with no PS2, Slim, and a rumoured even slimmer. The original PS3 was a beast of a system, a gamer's dream. Robust media capability, full Playstation 2 comparability, the works. Over the years it's been slowly whittled down. You lost your PS2, your SACD, Other OS, flash reader, two of your USB ports, but hey, at least you got HDMI bitstreaming. Sure the originals were expensive but an awful lot was sacrificed to get the price down. A lot of what made the PS3 such a great system. Now it's just another sheep in the crowd.

Sony did the same with the PSP, releasing three full redesigned. Then they said "to hell with it" and made the worst handheld disaster since the Virtual Boy: the infamous PSP Go. A download-only system that was awkward to use and incompatible with UMD discs. Most PSP games weren't even available for download at the time. It was a big flop for the company.

You'd think they'd learn but Sony threw us another curve ball with the Vita. You thought expensive, proprietary memory cards died with the PS2? Think again. The Vita's cards cost double what comparable MicroSD cards cost, and offered lackluster performance. With no internal memory, these pricey addons were mandatory. One step forward with the PS3's standard hard drives, two steps back with the Vita.

6. ...but ignores the software.
Piracy didn't kill the PSP. Crappy games killed the PSP. Now the same thing is happening to the Vita. According to my own unscientific studies, there's a direct correlation between how bad your game is and how little people are willing to pay good money for it. The PSP was a system with high hopes. Stellar hardware and great launch titles. Then the games dried up quicker than a Nevada rain storm. The ones that did get released were generic and laughable in quality.

The Vita, a stunning piece of hardware started with good games. Then they dried up, to be replaced with laughably bad ones too. Except this time, it's gotten worse. Resistance is an important first party franchise for Sony. So you'd think they'd put some effort into the Vita game. Well, not exactly. Resistance: Burning Skies received a pitiful 60% aggregated review score on Metacritic. Out of 455 reviews of Sony published games, it ranks in the bottom 50. It's also the lowest rated title from a major Sony franchise on any PlayStation system, and ranks 12th on the Vita. That's frankly embarrassing.

The PS3 almost suffered the same fate until a pair of small, art house games called Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid 4 got the ball rolling.

7. You can fry a mean egg on it
Sony and their fanboys love to gloat over how reliable the PS3 is over the Xbox 360. Ha, you got the red ring of death, what a n00b. At least that's what they used to say before the fat PS3s started biting the dust en mass. They suffer from the exact same problem as Microsoft's console. They just take a lot longer to cook themselves to death. In this case it's bad airflow as opposed to a wimpy fan. There's no greater heart break than seeing that yellow light flash and hearing that dreaded triple beep. That's karma for you. Shouldn't have made fun of your friend's 360.

So you begrudgingly sent it back to Sony, paid somewhere in the ballpark of $150 like I did, and got it back. Six months later and it was toast again. So much for the professional repair job. Another $300 spent to buy a new PS3 Slim that had all those great features removed. Ever want to know how your dog felt after getting neutered? Become a Playstation fan.


Twitter app update and a legitimate use for Installous

By Mike on 11:19 am

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Twitter released a god awful update to their iPad app today. Some brilliant engineer decided that it was wise to dump all its tablet friendly features. Why not make it exactly like the iPhone app but add a nice 3D cube effect? Oh, and it's useless for people like me who have multiple accounts. The handy tool bar at the side, that lets you quickly navigate, is now gone. It's replaced instead with the same "switch accounts" menu in the iPhone version.

So what do you do when an app maker releases a bad update. If you're like me, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have a bad habit of not backing up my iPad. I have committed tech's greatest sin, I know. Thanks to iCloud, it's not something I have to consider. All my important information is stored there. Apps? They hog a lot of space on my laptop. If they're large in size and I don't use them that often, they get stored on there. The others don't. So I have no way of reverting back to the old, functional Twitter app I loved so dearly.

What sort of devilry is this?
Installous to the rescue. The infamous repository for pirating iOS apps. Welcome to the seedy underbelly of jailbreaking. If you're not a pirate, it's good for two things. Apps that have been pulled from the official store can usually be found there. It also tends to carry multiple versions of popular apps. Don't like Twitter 5.0? You can still get Twitter 4.0 and get your beloved tool bar back. It's still visiting the grey market, and still questionably legal, but it gives you at least one way around a bad app update.

To use Installous, you must jailbreak and add the app via Cydia. You can Google Installous to find the repository address. Since the app is mostly used for black market purposes, I will not share those links here.

Images courtesy of DomainGang and Twitter

Ubisoft allegedly pulling the old bait and switch

By Mike on 11:54 am

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As if Ubisoft couldn't hold any more contempt for the PC gaming community. Yet they still continue to surprise me with their antagonistic behaviour.

Their latest stunt comes from Lean L, a poster on Anandtech Forums. He alleges to have purchased a copy of Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut from Ubisoft's online store. The game was being advertised on the store and through Slickdeals as being free. Lean L jumped on the deal, installed it, and started playing. After he completed a few missions, he received this lovely message from Ubisoft.

"WE'RE SORRY! It turns out we made a pricing mistake with the Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut Edition. Unfortunately, this means we will have to revoke your game serial key within the next 48 hours. As a token of our apology, we would like to offer you a 50% off coupon good for your next purchase* on the UBIShop."

This seems like a classic bait and switch to me. Wikipedia defines it as baiting a customer with a product of significantly low price, later claiming it's unavailable, then directing them to more expensive items. It's widely considered to be a form of fraud and an unethical business practice.

This story is just one tale from a random person on the Internet. I'd be interested to know if more people were affected by this, and how Ubisoft plans to respond if these allegations are true.

If anything, it highlights the problem with modern DRM. The game was legally purchased. Even if it was a pricing error, the store should just live with it as a cost of doing business. However, DRM provides a path to revoke your ownership of things you legally own. This is why it's not just pirates who should worry about  intrusive copy-protection.

If you do find yourself in this situation, unfortunately, there's not much you can do. If you live in the UK, it is a criminal matter. In most jurisdictions, it's a civil one. All one can do is file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and stir the pot online. Hopefully Ubisoft does the right thing and gives Lean L his game back.

Source: Anandtech Forums
Image courtesy of Gaming for God

As a side note, sorry about my lack of articles lately. I've been very busy with work. We've just launched a new website and app, which I'll talk a bit about when it comes out of public beta.

Editorial: Green Apple a rotten one

By Mike on 3:15 pm

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Apple's products are no longer environmentally friendly. The company has withdrawn it's computer systems from EPEAT, a US government tool for measuring the greenness of products. As such, government departments will no longer be able to purchase Mac products.The fallout from this deal is expected to grow. Educational institutions fall under this law as well. This is the culmination of what many Apple fans have been saying for years. Despite claims to the contrary, Apple's products are not environmentally friendly. 


What triggered this withdrawal was the release of the Retina MacBook Pro. When iFixit analyzed the computer, came to an interesting conclusion. It couldn't be repaired at all. Not by the user, not by authorized repair shops. This was the most sealed system Apple has ever produced. The batteries were stuck to the case with super glue. They tried removing it but found they couldn't do so safely. Further tampering risked puncturing the battery, which could start a fire. Meaning that if the battery went, you were left with a $2100 paperweight.

The batteries on the Retina MBP are superglued to the chassis. Source: iFixit.com
This is what got EPEAT's panties in a bunch. They require electronics to be easy to disassemble for recycling. The lithium battery and aluminum chassis cannot be recycled together. Since they cannot come apart, they can't be recycled at all. This leaves the Retina MBP as the first disposable computer. Designed to sit in a landfill rather than be repaired, upgraded, or recycled. 



E-Waste landfill. Is this the final destination for Retina MBPs? Source: Greenpeace


It's the culmination of a long trend for Apple. Their systems have always been difficult to get into. This marks a new low in  poor design for a company that prides itself on environmental responsibility. This is made more ironic by Al "Inconvenient Truth" Gore being on their board of directors. Not only that, but China, the country that produces the MacBooks, hardly has a stellar environmental record. 

At least Apple has chosen to somewhat lessen the greenwashing on their products. However, the fact that users cannot upgrade or repair their systems is a troublesome trend. The last thing we need is more electronics cluttering up landfills.


Nintendo announces 3DS XL

By Mike on 11:11 am

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If you thought the 3DS wasn't big enough, oh boy, you're in for a treat. Nintendo has announced it will be launching an XL version this summer. Blind grandmas rejoice!

The system has been fattened up to match the size of the older DS XL. It has a 4.88'' top screen and a 4.18'' bottom screen. Nintendo says this offers 90% more viewing area that the original 3DS. Due to it's fatter form factor, it also features improved battery life. According to Nintendo, you can expect up to 6 hours of gameplay, compared to 5 hours on the original.

The XL will retail in Japan starting July 28th for ¥18,900. It will arrive in North America on August 19th for $200, to coincide with the launch of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Initially, it will be available in black, red, and blue.

Courtesy of Kotaku
A couple of curious things have cropped up in the announcement. First of all, the Japanese model will not be shipping with a charger. That will be sold separately. It's mind blowing cheap not to include such a basic accessory. Especially for a device that doesn't take standard AAs. Nintendo sure is adamant about not selling their stuff at a loss. Fortunately the North American model will include one, which makes even less sense. Why include one and not the other?

The second thing I noticed was a lack of a second analogue stick on the XL. I know we've had this discussion before with the PSP. The difference is, Nintendo makes a peripheral that adds a second stick. It would seem logical that the next version would include one built in. Furthermore, the current Circle Pad Pro is incompatible with the XL due to its sheer size. Any game that uses it will lose that feature. It's similar to how Nintendo killed off a bunch of accessories by removing the GBA port on the DS XL.

The timing of the device is also a bit odd. Nintendo did not announce it at E3. Some pundits are arguing that the 3DS is tanking in sales. This doesn't seem to be the case. It has shipped over 17 million units since launch. There's not a whole lot that makes sense about this announcement. The XL already feels half arsed even before it's come out.

Source: Kotaku

Okami HD coming out this fall

By Mike on 10:43 pm

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I'm a huge fan of Okami. It's a masterpiece. One of the few in its genre that can touch the Legend of Zelda.

Which brings me to a fantastic piece of news from Capcom today. It is being remastered in 1080p for the PS3.

Back when Sony re-released God of War, I said that Okami deserved the same treatment. This will definitely put a lot of similes on fans' faces.

Aside from HD graphics, it will also support the Playstation Move. For those who didn't like how motion control worked on the Wii, you'll still be able to the regular controller. Presumably, the game's beautiful soundtrack will also get updated to full surround sound as well. It will launch sometime this fall on PSN for $20. That's a steal for one of the greatest games ever made.


Source: Joystiq
Title image copyright Capcom


The iPad 3 Mega Review takes a bite out of Mike's time

By Mike on 10:57 am

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My saga with the new iPad has been an epic, yellow tinted one. Apple calling it revolutionary is certainly a stretch. It's the Apple equivalent of taking something that exists, and shoving a clock in it. Though sometimes minor improvements can round out a product.

It's funny how Apple's fans expect new and radical products every year. That has never been a part of the company's development cycle. They only completely refresh their stuff every couple of years. What gets released in between is an incremental update. That's what the iPad 3 is. It looks and feels identical to the iPad 2. What has changed is the inclusion of a new full HD display and a faster graphics chip.

The iPad 3 in all its glory


Retina Display: I am Furious Yellow

The new retina display is what everyone came here to see. Apple has doubled the resolution up from the old XGA format (1024x768) to beefy QXGA (2048x1536). So yes, when they say it has a million more pixels than HD, it's true. Because the screen is small, it has a high pixel density; 264 per inch compared to 132 in previous models. The difference is very noticeable. My old iPad has clearly visible pixelation and a screen door effect compared to the new screen. It's not something you notice until you place the two side by side.

The higher resolution makes text look a lot smoother, and thus easier on the eyes. Apps made for the retina display look fantastic, and full HD video almost isn't HD enough. This is what Apple fans have been clamoring for for a long time. At least since the first 1080p Android tabs came out.

I really do love the high resolution. I do not love the screen. Colour rendition on it is worse than previous iPads. Apple sources displays from two companies: Samsung and LG. The Samsung displays have a noticeable yellow tinge to them. I had to return my first iPad 3 because it had a faint yellow blotch off to one corner. When reading text on a white background, in other words all websites, it was distracting. So I brought it back and got another one. Same yellowing though fainter than previous, and even across the whole screen. I can live with that. However, it's not ideal. Especially when spending upwards of $700 on a device like I did. Since it cannot display true white, it's no good for serious photographers. LG displays reportedly don't have this problem. It's a QC issue that neither Apple nor Samsung have addressed. In fact, yellow displays have been a problem for many years. It goes back as far as the original Macbooks if I recall.

iPad 3 top, iPad 1 bottom. Notice the yellowing on the lower right
Whether or not the yellowing if a deal breaker really depends on how bad it is, and what you're doing. If it's blotchy, return it. If you do colour sensitive work, seek out Android alternatives or buy a laptop instead. Reportedly the yellow does go down as the chemicals in the display cure. This is true, but not completely.


The Guts, The Graphics, and the Ram

Apple finally did it. They finally put a full gigabyte of memory into an iPad. Hallelujah!  It really took too long to get to this point. Android tablets had it a full year before Apple did. Sure, iOS does manage memory far better than Google's robotic OS does. Still, you can't pull extra space out your backside. Finally we can open more than two browser tabs without it crashing, or constantly refreshing pages. Of course this memory is shared with the graphics chip. As far as I can tell, the iPad uses roughly 256mb for the OS and graphics.

To match the higher resolution display, graphics have been upped significantly. Double the resolution, double the GPU cores. It sports PowerVR's SGX543MP4 quad core graphics chip. The same one Sony uses for the PS Vita. This puts the iPad, at least technically, on par with the competition as a gaming device. Anybody who has played the NOVA or Infinity Blade series knows just how good games can look on this thing. Plus it can render them in glorious full HD. According to benchmarks, it blows nVidia's Tegra 3 out of the water when it comes to 3D. Very impressive considering nVidia is primarily a graphics company. How embarrassing for them.

Despite the boost in graphics, the CPU itself remains identical to the iPad 2. The same dual core, 1ghz A5. Apple calls it the A5X. The "X" basically means it's the one with the better GPU. Apps that don't rely on graphics will run the same on the iPad 3 as they did on the iPad 2. This doesn't feel like much of a real world upgrade. That Tegra 3 that was slower at graphics? It's quad core and performs quite a bit better at everyday tasks. Especially at CPU intensive jobs like photo and video editing. Two things Apple is really pushing with on iOS.

Unfortunately, Apple has traded off general performance to make the iPad into a game console. As far as I know, it lacks OpenCL/GPGPU support, so that graphics chip isn't really useful outside gaming and watching HD movies. Most users won't notice but power users will. Personally, I would have preferred a quad core CPU. Though that's likely when Apple releases the iPad 4, which will be a full refresh year if trends continue.

For storage, the iPad 3 comes in the same 16/32/64GB flavours as previous models. It still doesn't allow for expandable storage. I've pretty much given up hope that it ever will, at least not officially. So I opted for the biggest and thus most expensive model. I use it like a laptop anyway.$720 for 64gb is a lot, especially at a $200 premium over the base model. The most expensive standalone 64GB laptop SSD I could find was $130, and even that is too much. It's not an apples to apples comparison but still telling. Apple has a huge markup on these devices.

When it comes to storage, Apple should eliminate the 16GB model entirely. It's too small these days, especially with HD video recording now standard. Even 64GB can be constraining if you're a photo or video editor. I would love to see a 128GB model next year. Storage woes of course can be eliminated with a jailbreak and the purchase of the camera kit. Apps like iFile, available on Cydia, allow for external SD card storage.



Take my full HD photograph

I've never really got the concept of using tablets as a camera. It's like whipping out your old time Brownie or Super 8 to take a snapshot. They're just too big and clunky for that purpose. That hasn't stopped Apple from putting a 5 megapixel camera in it, that can also take 1080p video. It's the same one the iPhone 4S has. Does it take good photos? Well, that depends. It takes pictures as good s as the iPhone does. Video seems grainy though, even in full light. It's like someone forgot to turn the gain off.

The iPhone 4S
iPad 3

One curious thing I just noticed it the iPad doesn't have a flash. The iPhone does. It's not a good one but it does have it. Seems like an odd design choice. I can't even use my iPad as a $720 flash light.


New apps a ... few?

I'm not going to review iOS 5 here. This is just about the iPad 3, not the OS that was already widely available. New apps for it? There are none. It has the same default apps as the iPad 2 does. Apps have received small enhancements to work with the retina display, or take advantage improved camera and the beefier GPU. iOS 6 is around the corner and promises a lot of new stuff. For now, it's more of the same.

Odds and Sods: battery life and networking.

The new GPU consumes a lot more power. The iPad 3 runs noticeably hotter when you push it. Thus it requires a more juice to run it. The 42.5Wh battery is almost double the size of the iPad 2's 25Wh pack. Since the graphics chip is so hungry, it only gets the same 10hr battery life. I dream of an all-day tablet. One that could happily take me through an entire plane ride to Hong Kong and still have enough left to find a good restaurant and locate my hotel. That's still a long way off. With current tech, it just requires too many tradeoffs. The iPad 3 is already slightly larger than the iPad 2 as a result of it's larger battery. Apple wants to keep them thin and light, and the original iPad is a brick by comparison. Still, 10hrs is enough for most people, as long as you cool it on the games. In that case, the iPad gets the same battery life as the Vita does.

Thin, especially compared to the iPhone 3G
As for connectivity, we've seen a few notable changes. The iPad 3 has been upgraded to 4G LTE networking, provided you get the cellular model. That privilege comes with a price. It's a $130 premium over the WiFi models. Don't forget that you must buy a monthly data plan with it as well. Costs add up.

I suspect most people will opt for the WiFi model. You get the same 802.11n connection as previous iPads. Performance is nothing to write home about. WiFi on mobile devices always seems slower than it is on laptops and desktops. There is a reason for it that has to do with power limits, or something like that. New is Bluetooth 4.0 support. What does that do? Not much really. It features a new low energy mode, presumably for low bandwidth devices like keyboards and mice. Nothing really uses it right now.

Last and least, the iPad 3 has the same dock connector that every iDevice has. That's good since it's compatible with the same things. Rumour has it that Apple plans on ditching it for a new proprietary port. Guess you'll have to rebuy your dock, camera kit, and every other accessory once the iPad 4 rolls around. They must have wanted to pull a Sony. Seriously, just stick USB or Thunderbolt on it and be done with it.

Conclusion

The iPad 3 is a good inclusion to the iPad line. It's a solid piece of hardware, as one would expect from Apple. The Retina is gorgeous and it does more of the same, faster. However, it does have some notable flaws. It's still overpriced compared to feature rich Android alternatives. The yellowish screen and lack of external storage also grind my gears.

If you don't have an iPad, this is the only one to get. If you already have a previous model, should you upgrade? For owners of the original iPad, like myself, this upgrade is a no brainer. The first model runs like a molasses brick. The full gigabyte of memory is enough reason alone; because using 256mb is just painful. For iPad 2 users, consider this the iPad 2S. It's a little faster and looks a little better, but not really enough to justify plopping down five fat bills.


Score: 8 out of 10

What Works:
-Retina display makes text and video look gorgeous
-Faster GPU finally brings us near-console quality games
-Snappy at everyday tasks make this a must own for iPad 1 owners
-Beefier battery yet still thin and light, gives you 10hrs use
-High build quality
-LTE 4G cellular connectivity

What doesn't work:
-Yellowish tinge on models with Samsung manufactured displays
-Lack of external storage, internal getting too small
-Average battery life despite double sized battery
-Nothing new on the software front
-Camera quality just average, video camera grainy
-Still overpriced compared to Android models
-Would have preferred a quad core CPU

Title image courtesy of Tablet News

Expensive cables are a scam

By Mike on 10:37 pm

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I've talked about expensive cables before. It's something I keep needing to address. There's no way to sugar coat the truth here. They're a scam, plain and simple.

We've all been there before. You just bought a new HDTV and the salesman shows you a wall of $100+ HDMI cables. He claims they'll give you the best picture and sound on your new investment. There is a very small grain of truth to this. Better quality cables do produce better quality signals. These cables have a lower electrical resistance, which means signals pass through easier. However, this only comes into play for very long runs; 50 feet or more. It doesn't apply for the short runs in most home theatres. The $5 cable will look and sound as good as the $100 cable, guaranteed. Digital signals either work or they don't. There's no middle ground.

The same applies for analogue signals. There is a middle ground as the signal can deteriorate over the run. However, cheaper cables generally provide an identical audible signals as more expensive ones. Once again, higher end cables only make sense for very long runs. Far longer than what most home listeners would require. One particular company is selling a 1.5m run of 3.5mm male to male cables for $1,200. You can purchase 1000 foot spools of professional grade AV cable for this much. The same TV stations use for uncompressed HD camera streams. You're wasting your money on a brag item that's going to make no noticeable difference over the $5 radio shack cable. Please, just stop the madness.

Image courtesy of desmoblog.com

Sonic 4: Episode II Demo Review

By Mike on 1:18 pm

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Sonic the Hedgehog is a sore spot for many gamers. Year after year, Sega has released poorly executed and non-sense games featuring the blue blur. Then in 2011, Generations came out. Surprisingly enough, it was the best 2D and 3D Sonic game to come out in over a decade. Sonic 4: Episode II is an offshoot project, and it sure does feel like it. There's just something not quite right about it.

Sonic 4: Episode I was a poorly executed game. Sega set out to revive Genesis classics to appease long time fans. Then they threw away everything that made them classics. The game was short, the levels were annoying, and the physics were broken. It boggles my mind how you could screw the formula up so badly. Run fast, go faster in a ball by gaining additional momentum. That was the whole point of Sonic. Sega wanted it to be a tech demo for the Genesis. A mascot who could roll into a ball to go faster was the chief design element of the character. Yet for some reason, Sonic would slow down in Episode I.

Thankfully, Episode II has fixed the woefully broken physics system. Though the demo's presentation is a little worrying. We get a taste of White Park Zone, an ice level. By taste, I mean you only get to play half of an act before getting booted out. The level design is standard fare and reminds me a bit of Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3. Though not quite as well laid out. I'm not a fan of the art style Sega has been using for Sonic 4. Generations nailed what a 2D modern Sonic game should look like. They're more organic and have more depth. The classic art style was great on the Genesis but woefully dated today.

Episode II gives us more of the same. Not a good thing. Courtesy SonicNewsNetwork

The music is pretty flat as well. Let's compare White Park Zone's music to Ice Cap Zone from Sonic 3. Unfair? You bet it is. MJ can't write tunes for every game, well... not now anyways. Music has been the one thing that all Sonic games seem to be good at. Sonic 4 seems like a weak effort at best.

The only really notable gameplay change, besides physics, is the inclusion of Tails. He can fly and swim, which have returned from Sonic 3. He can also tag team with Sonic into big ball to smash objects, such as snow walls in White Park. It's neat to see Tails return but I don't think it adds much to the experience.

Reviwers that have played the full game have panned it as being mediocre. I review demos because I can't afford to buy everything that comes along. Sonic 4: Episode II doesn't seem all that bad. It's decent enough game no hiccups. However, it still falls short in a way that's difficult to describe. Sonic Generations is the perfect Sonic game for the modern era. Sonic 4 just doesn't come close.

Score: 6 out of 10

What works:
-Fixed physics closer to original Sonic games

What Doesn't
-Lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.
-Bland music and dated art style
-Fails to live up to the high point set by Sonic Generations

Jack Tramiel and the quest for the golden sword

By Mike on 7:39 pm

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A video gaming legend has passed away this week. Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore and former CEO of Atari, has died at age 83. The man was famous for bringing the world the legendary Commodore 64, one of the firstr gaming PCs available to the average consumer. However, elite gamers may know him for an entirely different legend. One involving a quest for a golden sword. A SwordQuest if you will.

In the early 80s, Atari was the king of video games. Prior to Major League Gaming, they held their own pro level contests to find the best of the best. Perhaps the most famous was SwordQuest. The contest began in 1982 with a series of four games planned for it. Gamers who joined the Atari fan club received a t-shirt and would receive each game as soon as it launched. The games also shipped with their own DC comic book tie-in.

SwordQuest as a rudimentary precursor to Zelda type adventure games
The four games were based on the ancient elements of the cosmos: Earthworld, Fireworld, Waterword, and Airworld. The structure of the games were based on ancient symbols; the zodiac, tree of life, chakra, and I Ching respectively. It being on the Atari 2600, a lot was left to the player's imagination. That's what made games a lot more magical back then.

Gameplay was basically the same for all four One had to navigate rooms, collect items, and find clue words. These clues were hidden in the companion comic. They would then have to be arranged in the correct sentence. Those who got it would compete at a finals event at Atari HQ. The champions were given custom cartridges and had 90 minutes to find as many clues as possible. The winner would receive a fabulous prize.

A clue in Earthworld directs the gamer to page 16, panel 4 of the comic. The clue is "SPIRE".
In today's game contests, you might win a grand, or a free collector's edition. Atari was serious back then. No plastic trinkets or trips to Hawaii. SwordQuest winners would receive authentic jewel encrusted swag, valued at $25,000 each.

The prizes, clockwise from top left: Talisman of Penultimate Truth, Sword of Ultimate Sorcery, Chalice of Light, Crown of Life, Philosopher's Stone
The winner of Earthworld received a solid gold talisman studded with diamonds, a white gold sword, and the twelve birth stones. Steven Bell took home the prize. Unfortunately, it was forever lost when Bell melted it down and solid it to a coin dealer. Only the sword pin remains.

The winner of Fireworld received a platinum chalice with gold base. It was adorned with citrines, diamonds, green jade, pearls, rubies, and sapphires. Michael Rideout won the chalice and still owns it to this day.

Winners of Waterworld were suppose to receive a gold crown, also adorned with rare gems. Then the video game crash of 1983 hit. Production of SwordQuest games stopped. Two semi-final winners of the Waterworld contest received $15,000 each. The finals for the crown were never held.

After that, Atari stopped the contest. Had it continued, winners of Airworld would have been given a white jade "Philosopher's Stone". It was to come in a jewel encrusted, solid gold box.

Both the crown and the stone did exist. They were on display at the previous three competitions. However, neither captured gamers' imaginations quite like the grand price: the titular sword.

When the four contests were over, the previous grand champions would have a chance compete for the ultimate prize. The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery featured a solid silver blade and solid gold hilt. The hilt was also covered with rare gems. This ultimate prize was valued at $50,000, or over $100,000 today.

A rare photo of the legendary lost sword. It was rumourned to be owned by former Atari CEO Jack Tramiel.
When Atari filed for bankruptcy during the crash, the three remaining prizes disappeared. Then Jack Tramiel bought the company and restructured it. The whereabouts of the sword, crown, and stone have remained unknown up to this day. However, rumours persisted that Jack Tramiel was in possession of at least one, if not all these missing prizes.

Some people claim to have seen the sword  hanging in Tramiel's house. However, none of these reports have been confirmed. Tramiel repeatedly denied he was in possession of the items.

So gaming's greatest mystery persists. Now that Tramiel has passed on, we may finally find out if he did indeed hold on to these legendary relics of games past. That is if his estate chooses to share that information. Until then, the quest continues. 

If you want to know more about this contest, check out Cinemassacre's Angry Video Game Nerd special on SwordQuest.

Sonic 2 HD gets Alpha, leaves Sonic fans salivating

By Mike on 8:15 pm

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The year was 1993. It was an innocent time. The Blue Jays had won the world series, you could still buy yogurt in the large tubs, and Mike got his first console for Christmas. Thus began the passion for gaming. One sparked by a blue hedgehog and a system called Genesis. When us old school Sonic fans demanded a game that recreated the experience of the original trilogy, someone listened.

The folks at Sonic 2 HD embarked on an ambitious project. Recreate Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in its entirety, with high definition graphics. It's not an upscale either. While the core of the game remains the same, the music and artwork have been completely overhauled. The end result is better than what Sega themselves accomplished with their lackluster attempt at Sonic 4.


After months of anticipation, the team finally released a demo of the game this week. Though it's an alpha build, it's as close to perfection as a Sonic fan can get. So what's the downside? It's not licensed or endorsed by Sega. The company is within its rights to have the project stopped. As a fan, I hope they won't do that. With any luck, Sega may publish this fan labour of love. Until then, if it ever happens, hit up the link for screenshots and to try the alpha for yourself.

Sonic 2 HD Alpha PC Windows Download

Could the next Playstation be the Orbis?

By Mike on 11:33 am

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Playstation 4 rumours are abound. It's no surprise considering E3 is only a couple of months away. Nintendo is already debuting the first console of the eighth generation. Many gamers are curious about what Sony and Microsoft have up their sleeves. Today's hot and fresh PS4 rumour is brought to us by Kotaku. The gaming website cites developer insiders, and makes some bold predictions about the system; now called the Playstation Orbis.



Sony likes Latin names and odd numbers

The new Playstation will be called the Orbis. At least that's what it's codename is. However, Kotaku points out that Orbis Vita translates to "circle of life". That actually makes a lot of sense from a marketing standpoint. Whatever form the Orbis takes, it will be closely linked to Sony's portable platform.

The system is also allegedly due out in time for the 2013 holiday season.

An unlikely PS4 concept design. Geekology.com


A Switch to PC-based hardware

The Cell processor was a bold choice for Sony. While extremely fast for the time, it was a nightmare to program. Rather than using specialized hardware, the Orbis will take a note from the original Xbox. It will feature a 64-bit AMD processor and an AMD "Southern Islands" graphics chip. According to the unnamed developers, the system will be capable of 4K resolutions; four times that of the current 1080p HD standard.

Given this information, we can make some educated guesses about what exactly this will entail. AMD is scheduled to bring out the successor to their current line of FX processors, code-named Steamroller, in 2013. The company is focusing on integrating graphics and processor into the same chip. This would greatly simplify construction of the system and reduce build costs.

AMD's current line of "Bulldozer" chips use the HD 6000 series GPU, one generation behind their stand-alone cards. Therefore, it's likely Steamroller chips will feature HD 7000 series graphics. With Microsoft allegedly opting for a mid-range GPU, Sony might do the same.

The PS Orbis might use AMD's FX line of chips, or a similar single chip "Accelerated Processing Unit"


Due to the switch to PC-based hardware, the Orbis will allegedly be unable to play Playstation 3 games. There are apparently no plans to bring backwards compatibility to the system. This would address one of the problems with the original PS3, where backwards compatibility hardware drove up the price.


Bluray and Download side by side

The Orbis will be a download based console. All games will be available from the Playstation Store. However, it will still use physical Bluray discs. This is similar to the route that Sony took with the Vita.

One curious little tidbit of information concerns used and rented games. Kotaku alleges the system will feature a new "digital rights management" scheme to tie Bluray discs to a user's PSN account. Gamers purchasing used or rented games will only have access to limited demo versions of the game. They will need to pay a fee to unlock the full game. Apparently this will use an always-on DRM system, similar to what Ubisoft has attempted with PC games. Something that has been very unpopular with gamers.

I can see this being controversial. Publishers and retailers have been at war with each other over used games for the last couple of years. Publishers claim that used games are equivalent to piracy as they do not receive profits from their sale. Locking out used games from systems would greatly improve relations with game makers, but risks alienating gamers caught in the middle. Sony has already been aggressive with online passes to appease big game companies. However, I cannot see them locking out used games. Especially if their competitors don't follow the same route. In my opinion, publishers would be better served making profit sharing deals with major game retailers, but that's another article for another day.


Keep in mind that none of these rumours have been confirmed by Sony, so take them with a grain of salt. We will update you with more details about the Orbis as they come out.

Source: Kotaku
AMD FX Image: ComputerActive

Six Vita games, Six capsule reviews

By Mike on 4:02 pm

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Yes, I have a Playstation Vita in my hands. I will be doing a full review of it soon. I just haven't decided how I want to go about it. Of course the hardware means little without the games. Here's six capsule reviews of the ones I've tried out so far.




Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

Canadian indie developer DrinkBox released an adorable PS3 game about a little blob from space with a huge apatite. Its sequel is by far the best launch title on the Vita. You play as a mutated blob who escapes from a university science lab. You roll around, sucking up objects to grow bigger and eventually conquer the galaxy.

It's a quirky tribute to 1950s B-Movies and modern online-culture. Beyond that, it's a solid physics based puzzle-platformer. The difficulty ramps up nicely as you go from the lab, to the moon, to rampaging through Canada's largest city. There's plenty of traps along the way from lasers, spikes, and angry army men that will blast you to oblivion. My favourite parts are the rocket blob segments, which really show off the game's fantastic physics engine. Bonus levels do an excellent job showing off the Vita's motion controls as you tilt the system to move Mutant Blob around the playing field.

Mutant Blobs Attack oozes charm and is definitely the best game to appear on the Vita so far. My only problem is the game was too short. Sure, there's 30 some odd levels, but even that didn't feel like enough. When you finish a game wanting more, that's definitely not a bad thing. I hope DrinkBox will keep expanding this quirky franchise. DLC ahoy.

Score: 9.5 out of 10

Wipeout 2048

Wiprout is the definitive anti-gravity racer, and with good reason. There have been plenty of imitators but nobody has reached the nirvana between fast racing and solid combat.

Wipeouts Pulse and Pure defined the racing genre on the PSP. Wipeout 2048 on the PSVita is just like those games, and every other recent Wipeout game. The combat is the same, the racing types & classes are the same, the racing teams are the same, the vehicles aren't that much different. That's not to say it's a bad game. It just feels like SEC Liverpool has turned the series into an incremental release with a fresh coat of paint every couple of years.

That said, Wipeout 2048 is the best racer the Vita has right now. It's also the best anti-gravity racer since WipEout HD launched on the PS3 four years ago. Wipeout's relentless difficulty returns with a mix of racing styles. It also does a good job as a tech demo for the system. Even during the fastest Zone races, the Vita doesn't even hiccough. The colours and eye-popping visuals the series is know for look their best on the Vita's gorgeous OLED screen.

My biggest beef about this game is the price. At $40, it's double the price of other Wipeout games. Yet the content is virtually the same. The game also loses points for the inclusion of the much maligned online pass.

Score: 7 out of 10


Lumines: Electronic Symphony (Demo tested)

Lumines is a Tetris clone. That's really all you need to know about this game. Your goal is to create 4x4 blocks of the same colour. It's a lot like Tetris, Mean Bean Machine, Columns, and every other block puzzler. Simple games can make or break a system, and Lumines is one of Sony's few portable exclusive series.

Lumines is more known for its robust art style than gameplay. It's a gorgeous game with a fantastic soundtrack. There are supposedly some RPG mechanics involved but they're not included in the short demo version. It's definitely a treat for puzzle game fans.

Like Wipeout, I think the game is a bit overpriced. $40 is a bit much to ask for a Tetris clone. Especially when there are far cheaper alternative on competing platforms.

Score: 8 out of 10


Rayman: Origins (Demo Tested)

Rayman is one of Ubisoft's oldest franchises. As you know, Ubi is probably MMNTech's most hated developer. Even I must admit that Rayman Origins is a solid gem.

As the name suggests, Origins takes us back to the original 2D format of the PS1 original. Rayman's friends have been captured by the undead for disturbing the peace. It's up to our arm and legless hero to save them. What follows is some of the best platforming I've seen in a long time. Fantastic physics, good special moves. This game is just pure fun, and a rare right move for Ubisoft.

Rayman looks as good on the Vita as it does on other platforms. Eyepopping colour and fantastic hand drawn graphics. This is the best platfomer I've seen in a long time. As good, if not better, than the 3DS's Super Mario 3D Land. It recreates the fun and creativity of the classic games it's trying to revive. Rayman Origins is definitely worth its $40 entry fee.

Score: 9 out of 10

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Demo Tested)

Golden Abyss has served as the introduction to the Vita for many, if not most. One of the PS3's most successful franchises scales down quite well.

The demo features a platforming and shooting level. First of all, the game looks fantastic. It really shows off what the Vita is capable of, and that's console level gameplay. Visuals are as close as you can get to firing up Uncharted on your PS3. That said, I found the demo a little underwhelming. Platforming is solid but shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Distant targets appear very small on the screen. It's harder to line up a good shot than it is on the PS3 versions. I also found the touch screen mechanics to be more a gimmick than anything else.

If you're a fan of Nathan Drake's adventures, this one is definitely worth picking up. However, new inductees into the Uncharted series would be best playing the console versions before jumping into this one.

Score: 7.5 out of 10



Super Stardust Delta

Super Stardust Delta shows why dual analogues on a portable are so important. This arcade classic has been perfectly ported to the Vita.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it's like Asteroids on 'roids. You navigate your little ship around a spherical playing surface, blowing up asteroids and alien ships bombarding the planet below. There's a mix of different weapons, including fire beam, ice guns, and devastating bombs.

Out of all the Vita games that attempt to emulate what the PS3 can do, this one comes the closest. Indeed, it exceeds Super Stardust HD. Difficulty is better balanced for beginner players. Aside from the usual arcade and planet modes, there are also some new game modes that take advantage of the touchscreen and motion controls. I find the motion controls a little sloppy compared to the sharp stick controls. To extend the game, a content pack adds four new endurance modes.

Super Stardust Delta is the best time waster on the Vita so far. The only reason it didn't get a higher score is because of the day one DLC. It's a crass move by game publishers. The base game is $9.99 and the four new modes are an additional $5 on top. I went all out and payed for the full game plus additional content. However, I don't think it adds that much. It's $5 well saved if you skip it.

Score: 8 out of 10


Analyzing the SteamBox

By Mike on 3:50 pm

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There might be a Steam console coming to a TV near you. That's the rumour percolating this week. Sources say Valve has developed a mini computer, with the purpose of creating a stand alone console that can play PC games. Should such a thing exist? Blasphemy, so say PC gamers who have heard it all before.

Valve certainly wouldn't be the first company to do this. Phantom Entertainment attempted it as far back as 2003. The hardware looked promising, as well as the allure of a truly open platform. Then a lawsuit and fraud investigation later, and The Phantom disappeared entirely.

Valve has also come up with a system that has promising hardware. It's claimed to feature an i7 processor, 8gb of RAM, and an nVidia graphics chip. All built with off-the-shelf components. Valve  has considerable gamer & publisher support, and an existing distribution model. If we compare past systems, a Steam box would be like the original Xbox. A big company takes a risky move to create a console out of PC hardware.

A standardized system would have huge benefits for software developers. However, such a system wouldn't necessarily benefit gamers. After all, standardized hardware already exists. They're called the Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. Many, if not most PC titles launching today are ports of console games. Few exclusives exist beyond MMOs and real-time strategy, and that's only because they're impractical on consoles.

The Steam box is a novel concept but it fails to take into consideration one important factor. PC gamers don't game just for the sake of gaming. Much of the hobby comes from building and customizing hardware, or tweaking and modding the games themselves. Especially outdoing those doing the same. As a PC gamer myself, I feel a Steam box isn't going to appeal to this community.

As for console gamers, the market is already saturated. There isn't room for more than three systems. There never has been. It's especially true if the system can't offer up any clear advantage over the others. Both Nintendo and Sony survive through well established franchises and unique exclusives. Nintendo furthermore has its gimmicks. Microsoft has their superior online play. Steam would add a direct download, discless alternative. But is that enough?

Valve should not be producing another stand alone console. The world doesn't need it. If they want in on the hardware business, custom PCs are a more viable choice. Especially if they partner with nVidia, as has been suggested. Similar to what AMD has done with their Vision platform. If they can use their leverage to produce a Windows PC focused on gaming, with prices comparable to consoles, then they may be on to something.