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.

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.