Tag Archives: games

PS4 vs. Xbox One: The console wars take a new turn

Consoles

Depending on how you look at it, the game console wars just took another turn with the launch of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One consoles.  What is even more amazing is the close and fierce competition between these two consoles in price, design, specs, and game varieties.

How do these two consoles stack up against one another?

The PS4

Playstation has always been primarily a gaming device and the PS4 stays true to the cause. The console and controller have been completely redesigned. A new controller, the Dualshock 4, comes with improved ergonomics with slightly indented trigger buttons while the analog sticks have a slightly elevated rim to keep a player’s thumb from sliding off.

PS4

Other improvements to the controller include a touchpad and a light bar. The touchpad dominates much of the middle space but is fairly responsive to touch especially for in-game navigation. A Playstation camera, sold separately, allows the console to detect the movement and depth of field in front of it via the light bar.

The PS4 comes with an additional app, the Playstation App, on both iOS and Android, which lets you carry your game beyond the big screen, on the go. You can purchase and download games for the PS4 on the move and even play from where you left off right within the app.

Some of the games you can start playing immediately you purchase the console include Killzone Shadow Fall and Call of Duty: Ghosts. The console debuts at $400.

The Xbox One

Xbox One comes in a completely new design in comparison to the previous Xbox 360. Xbox exclusives like Halo may not be motivation enough for you to purchase the console, but the added features like voice command support and motion control to the system via the Kinect will definitely make you want to reconsider your options despite the $500 price tag.

XBox One

What really sells it for Xbox One though is the fact that you can use it for more than just playing games. The machine comes with a cable port for watching your TV. What is even more interesting is the fact you don’t need to switch between the game and the TV. Simply tell ‘the One’ what you wanna watch. For instance, you can say, “Xbox, Watch ABC” and it will switch.

Other services you can access include Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, Xbox Movies. You also no longer need to fire up services like Skype and Internet Explorer separately. These have been integrated with the One and you can pull them up onto the big screen just as fast.

The Xbox One also comes with the SmartGlass app for Android, iOS, and Windows.

Bottom Line

The question of which is better, the One or the PS4, is hard to answer when you have two big players with two big consoles. Never before has gaming had two such stand-out consoles to choose from. The Playstation 4 has the best bits gleaned from three generations of systems while the Xbox One offers much broader experiences.

New Super Luigi U is Nintendo’s first true DLC

Nintendo has always been slightly behind the pack in terms of online offerings. While downloadable content (DLC) for existing games is something very familiar to users of Xboxes, PS3s and even iPhones, Nintendo’s forays into DLC have been cautious and, at times, rather shambolic.

Yes, there were new “coin rush” packs for New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS last year, but these added very little to the game. Then came the Wii U implementation of Zen Pinball 2. This was endlessly delayed, and when it finally arrived the process for buying and downloading tables was unbelievably convoluted, resulting in justifiably critical review scores.

Now, in what Nintendo has coined “the year of Luigi,” arrives New Super Luigi U, Nintendo’s first substantial DLC offering. Essentially a “bolt on” for the New Super Mario Bros U launch title, the DLC consists of 80+ new levels, which are played as Luigi and “remixed” from the original game elements. The game, however, takes place on an identical world map.

New Super Luigi U
New Super Luigi U

Initial skepticism is justifiable here. If you’re playing on the same world map, then just how new is New Super Luigi U? Well, the good news is that all the levels are brand new. Yes, they reuse the music and graphical elements from the original game, but there’s no doubt you’re playing on completely new levels – but more of that later.

The Installation

Unfortunately, Nintendo still haven’t quite got the hang of making the installation of online content feel like anything other than a chore. Up until the Wii U, one of the benefits of choosing a Nintendo gaming platform was speed. Nintendo was always a case of cartridge / disk in – switch on – start playing.

Now, with HD graphics, correspondingly large data files and system updates, the Nintendo experience is all much more PS3-esque, and that’s not a good thing.

To get going with the New Super Luigi U DLC, the process was something like this:

Switched on, visited eShop, failed to find DLC, found a notification telling me to update New Super Mario Bros U, started the game, waited for the update to download, waited for download to install, restarted the game, tapped the icon to download the DLC, got sent back to the eStore, paid for the DLC, waited for the DLC to download, restarted game again, waited for DLC to install, finally found ourselves able to play.

Why, Nintendo, could I not have just visited the eStore, purchased the DLC, and been sent away to wait for half an hour while the console dealt with all the other stuff?

The Game

After a frustrating download experience, it was pleasing to find the game exceeded expectations. New Super Luigi U is a hardcore platforming experience; something akin to a long lost cousin of the fiendishly difficult “Lost Levels” from 1986.

Every level is short, and comes with a time limit. In addition, Luigi’s slower, floaty motion makes him harder to control. Note that this isn’t a criticism of the controls at all, it’s just that Luigi controls very differently to the Mario we are all so used to. As such, it’s essential to adapt one’s playing style to a character that can float and jump higher, but also seems badly in need of some brakes!

The end result is frantic and frustrating; you probably won’t expect to fall to your death within seconds of starting the first level, but you probably will! Yet, in that classic Nintendo way, you’ll never feel it’s unfair. This is exactly the kind of punishing platforming that veteran Nintendo fans have been looking for, but it’s fair to say that the level of challenge may be a little high for those relatively new to the 2D Mushroom Kingdom.

Conclusion

As Nintendo’s first foray into full-blown DLC, New Super Luigi U is a great effort. The level designs have clearly been crafted lovingly to create a serious challenge that frustrates but makes you smile at the same time. If you need something to tide you over until Nintendo catch up with their frustratingly slow Wii U release schedule, this is just what you need.

Just be aware of the need for patience while you download and install. While Nintendo still lead the way in level design and inimitable quirkiness, they still have serious catching up to do with their online ease-of-use. If you think it will annoy you too much, you may be best to wait until the green-packaged retail release of the game arrives later this year.

Teaching kids how to code with programming games

computer codeIt comes as no surprise that computer coding is a viable life skill. Computer programs, video games, and virtually everything else runs off the stuff, and knowing how to write said instructions can turn into a lucrative career. The problem, however, is that there just aren’t enough coders to keep up with the booming rate of technology. At least that’s what the development companies are telling us. While there’s a huge demand for their products, there aren’t enough workers who can create them.

While, for the time being, software developers are working overtime, the companies have come up with a virtually fool-proof plan for the future: teaching code to kids.

Through apps, games, and other fun-related activities, kids old enough to hold a tablet are learning coding basics. By tackling this subject early on, there’s a better chance future generations will produce more coders. And, even if a majority doesn’t turn into software-writing pros, they’ll still hold the basic knowledge of binary and other computer controlling lingo.

The Lack of Learning Curve

But just how hard is it to learn these skills? For those of us with a basic understanding of HTML, it’s hard to tell if code is similar to learning-another-language hard, or reorganizing-mumbo-jumbo hard. Presumably, however, it’s several steps above the former. Not only does coding require the knowledge of computer language, one also has to know how to combine and adjust codes to achieve specific outcomes. While, when learning another language, various sayings can achieve the same meaning, the same is not true for computers.

It’s also likely true as to why there’s such a shortage of programmers in the status quo. If it were easy, everyone would do it. However, software company execs say with the release of these games, kids (or adults) are able to have fun while learning basic commands and combinations.

Some top-ranked programming games include:

Whether you’ve got a child at home or you’d like to try out these brain-teasing apps yourself, coding games are a great way to learn a new skill … and while having fun in the process.

Head to the iOS or Android app store to check out more programming games today.

Game review: Jamestown, an arcade shooter for the modern age

The recent explosion of indie game development has produced a ton of amazing games and has revived several older game styles like the side-scrolling platformer (VVVVV and Braid being good examples). Unfortunately, those of us who were fans of arcade shooters like R-Type and Raiden have been left mostly in the cold.

Jamestown:Legend of the Lost Colony, an arcade-style shooter from Final Form Games, aims to correct that oversight.

Gameplay

Jamestown is a vertical scrolling shoot’ em up (“schmup”, if you’re fancy) which, according to Final Form’s website, is set on “17th-century British Colonial Mars”. The setting and narrative don’t make any sense, but they work as an excellent spoof on the horribly translated and often bizarre Japanese games in the genre.

Gameplay is simple: You are put in control of a ship. The ship has guns. There are enemy ships. They also have guns. Shoot the enemy. Don’t get shot.

Each level consists of waves of enemy ships followed up by a level boss. There are only a handful of levels available, but multiple difficulty settings, bonus challenges, and ship selections add variety to the game.

The brevity of a single play-through may not make much sense to someone new to the genre, but this is a game that’s meant to be re-played ad infinitum, building twitch skills and becoming in-humanly masterful at avoiding enemy fire.

Shoot the ships. No, not your ships, their ships. Image Credit: Final Form Games
Shoot the ships. No, not your ships, their ships. Image Credit: Final Form Games

The artwork, soundtrack, and gameplay are all excellent and fit together well. Pacing is perfect and it’s obvious a lot of work went into timing and designing each level.

Availability & pricing

Jamestown is available for PC & Mac via Steam, D2D, and GamersGate for $9.99.

Final Thoughts

The one piece that doesn’t quite work is the co-op mode. Huddling around a keyboard with three of your best bros, while true to the game’s arcade roots, just doesn’t sound like much fun (all of those bros take up quite a bit more space than they once did.). Even playing with two players on the same keyboard was a bit cramped.

An online co-op mode would take this game from “very good” to “almost perfect”. It’s possible that the high-speed, low-latency nature of the game may make this challenging from a technical perspective, but it would be an excellent addition.

Game review: Letterpress is an addictive word game crippled by Game Center glitches

The rise of touch-based gaming has brought on a lot of interesting takes on old games as well as completely new gaming ideas, but browsing through Apple’s App Store for word games, there are really only four options: Scrabble, crossword puzzles, hangman, and the various clones of each. Even the popular Words With Friends is just a better implementation of Scrabble than the official Scrabble app.

It’s not a category where you’ll find much innovation other than developers pushing the limit on how many descriptors they can cram into the name of their game or social network sharing buttons they can wedge into the game interface.

Honestly, who isn’t excited about “Angry Chicken Halloween Edition Phrase Friend Sharing Fun Time HD Free” that shares every word you play with all your buddies on Friendster?

For those of us who’ve been disappointed by the sorry state of iOS word games, there’s a new game to get excited about. Letterpress by atebits, is an addictive word game that brings freshness to the category by focusing on simplicity and pushing strategy to the forefront.

A minimalist game
Image Credit: atebits

Gameplay

For Letterpress, atebits went back to the basics and built a stripped-down game that’s similar to Scrabble in concept, but plays much differently in practice.

Players are presented with a 5-by-5 tiled game board from which they must assemble words in order to take control of tiles. Points are awarded for each claimed tile, but unlike Scrabble, tiles can be stolen, subtracting from the opposing player’s score. You can protect tiles you’ve claimed by also capturing the surrounding tiles. The opposing player can still use your protected tiles during their turn, but those tiles don’t award them any points and aren’t shifted to their control.

This back-and-forth, tile stealing dynamic adds a layer of strategy to the game that levels the playing field between players with differing levels of vocabulary and helps prevent the one-sided play that sometimes occurs in Scrabble. If you’re someone who normally doesn’t fair well at word games, it’s entirely possible to win Letterpress with strategy alone.

So Ugly.
So Ugly. ™

Matchmaking for Letterpress is done via Apple’s Game Center, and so far this has been the source of most complaints about the game in App Store reviews. During peak playing times, submitting a turn or trying to start a new game will often result in a time-out error. This issue seems to have lessened somewhat since the game’s release but still occurs often.

The glitches aren’t enough to completely spoil the fun of the game, but it is annoying to sometimes have to wait until the morning after you submitted a turn to know if it actually made it through Apple’s servers.

Another personal quibble, although minor, is the game’s icon, which is perhaps the ugliest app icon ever created and seems out-of-place given the rest of the game’s clean visual style.

Availability & pricing

Letterpress is available on iOS devices running version 5.0 or newer. The game is free but requires a $0.99 upgrade if you want to have more than two games going at once or additional color themes.

Final thoughts

When Apple launched Game Center in the fall of 2010 the consumer response was fairly lackluster. The app had an ugly, skeuomorphic design that mimicked a felt card table – something many iOS users have never even seen. There wasn’t an easy way to get your Facebook or Twitter contacts into the app and once you actually had some contacts loaded, there really wasn’t much else you could do.

Needless to say, developers haven’t exactly flocked to Game Center, opting to build their own matchmaking services or leveraging third-party options like OpenFeint. Choosing to tightly integrate Letterpress with Game Center was a risk for atebits that will hopefully be rewarded as Apple builds up the underlying infrastructure for Game Center to handle the popularity of the game.

Game review: Super Hexagon requires your full attention and brain capacity

Many of the best video games are immersive. They pull us in, disconnect our brains from the real world, and let us pretend, at least for a while, that we are wizards, superheroes, or Italian plumbers.

Some game-makers achieve this effect by using fancy graphics or creating expansive, complex environments. Others, like Terry Cavanagh (who also created the excellent VVVVVV), skip all the fluff and just go straight to work rewiring your brain.

Cavanagh’s new game, Super Hexagon, forcefully pulls you from the real world by requiring your full attention and brain capacity.

Super Hexagon

Gameplay

The premise of Super Hexagon is simple; so simple, in fact, that it’s difficult to categorize. Cavanagh has labeled it as an action game, but that doesn’t really seem to fit. It’s more of a twitch-maze-dungeon-runner.

Your mission is to avoid the walls of a moving, hexagon-shaped maze. Success is measured by how long you survive. Sounds simple, right? Just watch the game trailer:

When you first start playing, it seems impossible. My first attempt lasted only 2.26 seconds. The next several attempts weren’t much better. After days of playing, I’m finally up to 25 seconds on Hard mode, the lowest difficulty level.

Acknowledging that the game isn’t easy seems to be Cavanagh extending an olive branch to gamer egos. Easy, Medium, and Hard modes have been replaced with Hard, Harder, & Hardest (Hexagon, Hexagoner, & Hexagonest respectively). Three increased difficulty modes are available via unlocks.

There is a balance to the difficulty. Super Hexagon is tuned to allow for small improvements that help you feel that you are getting better versus just bashing your head against a wall. I also found that the less I thought about my moves and tried to anticipate incoming walls, the better I performed.

This is where the immersion part comes in. While playing around the 10 second mark, I usually start to feel a sort of twich-zen clear out my mind. It’s a really odd feeling that reminds me a lot of my days playing Quake 3 Team Arena, when I’d hit “the zone” that unlocked seemingly inhuman speed and accuracy by filtering out everything but the dot of my scope and players’ heads.

An excellent chiptune soundtrack helps round out the immersive effect and matches the game perfectly.

Availability & pricing

Super Hexagon is available on iOS devices for $2.99 through the App Store. PC and Mac versions are in the works with a possible Android port.

Final thoughts

“In my day, video games were hard. They required skill. They required chutzpah. They required finely-tuned reflexes and hand-eye coordination. You kids, with your plants and your zombies and your fancy hats – you don’t know games. You’re too soft.”

– Me, as I hit “Try Again” for the thousandth time.

Ask the readers: What are your favorite Android apps and games?

Android AppsWe’re back again with another request in the same vein as our previous Ask The Readers where all of you shared your favorite iOS apps and games with us. But we don’t want to stop there — not with so many Android users unrepresented.

So it is only natural to revisit our app list and include Techerator’s favorite applications and games from Google’s mobile platform.

Rather than basing our choices solely on the input gathered from the Techerator staff, we decided to do a little crowd sourcing and see what all of you come up with.

If you’re so inclined, let us know what you’d place on your list of favorite Android apps and games by commenting below.

Here’s a quick recap.

  1. Leave a comment with your top Android apps and/or games.
  2. We’ll gather the results and turn them into a finished list.

Thanks for your help!

Draw Something, the fastest-growing social game ever

Since its release in February, Draw Something has been nothing but a social-gaming sensation. In the first five weeks of availability, the game saw over 20 million downloads and currently has well over 35 million downloads. To give you an idea of just how many downloads that is, Instagram has around 27 million users and Foursquare has just over 15 million (which took three years to get). Over one billion pictures have been drawn on Draw Something with 3,000 drawings being uploaded every second. The game is so popular that it beat Words With Friends to become the most popular Facebook game.

If you don’t know what Draw Something is, it’s a two-player-only game where you…yes…draw something and your opponent tries to guess what you drew and vice versa. It’s sort of an interesting twist on Pictionary. You can also earn coins and such, and there’s different settings that you can change and cool statistics that you can look at. It’s the type of game where you have to play it yourself to truly understand it.

Developer OMGPOP surprisingly hasn’t spent a dime on marketing the game since it’s launch on February 1st. The free, ad-supported game is apparently generating revenue of six figures every day. It’s so popular and is generating so much revenue that Zynga, developer of many popular Facebook games including FarmVille, decided to scoop up the game, as well as the entire OMGPOP developing studio last week for a cool $180 million. Twas a smart move on Zynga’s part if I do say so myself. Look for them to be milking the social drawing game for all it’s worth and then some.

The story of Draw Something and developer OMGPOP is quite a remarkable one, going from an almost-broke start-up to an overnight millionaire of sorts. It just goes to show you what the internet and its users are capable of.

Words with Friends is Mobile Gaming Perfection

Saturday night. Relaxing at a friend’s house. Dinner is over, and we are all sitting around the dining table. The room is strangely quiet. Everyone at the table has a look of intense concentration, and the only sounds are the occasional shrills and pings produced by our various laptops and smartphones.

No, this isn’t a strange vision of a scary post-social-skills future. It was just last week – on the Saturday we all finally discovered the phenomenon that is Words With Friends.

Words With Friends is an online word game from Zynga, available for iOS, Android and Facebook. It’s basically Scrabble, albeit with the bonus squares slightly rearranged. It’s been around a while, but seems to be experiencing a surge in popularity.

For anyone who has lived in a cave since 1938 when Scrabble was invented, the game takes place on a 15 x 15 square board. Each player is given seven letters, which they must place on the board to create a word. Each letter is allocated a certain number of points – a single point for “easy” letters such as “A” and “E,” and up to 10 points for the tricky ones like “Z” and “Q.”

Words With Friends on Facebook
Words With Friends on Facebook

Extra points are given if words are played over special squares such as “double word score” or “triple letter score.” Players take it in turns to lay words on the board until the entire pool of letters is used up, and the player with the highest score wins the game.

Words With Friends is exactly the same…but online. Players invite friends, usually via Facebook, and can play multiple games at the same time. Within an hour of discovering the game, we found that many of our friends were already playing, and each of us soon had five or six games on the go at once.

There are no time limits. For those that only log on occasionally, a game of Words With Friends can be something akin to postal chess, with only a few moves happening each day. For people who spend their lives glued to their iPhones and Facebook pages, playing Words With Friends can be both an enjoyable quick-fire challenge and something akin to a fun full-time job!

The beauty of Words With Friends is that it really is the perfect mobile game. The iPod and Android apps can consume long train journeys with ease, but also provide perfect gaming fodder for two-minute waits in supermarket queues.

Words with Friends App
Words with Friends App

The game is supported by advertising. In the case of the Facebook game, this involves looking at an ad for 5 seconds in between moves – this can quickly become tiresome. On the iOS app, the ads appear but can be skipped instantly. For those that want to play a lot (probably anyone with a few Facebook friends willing to get involved) the ads can be disabled for a small fee with the purchase of the full game.

Most people playing in our group have paid the money – which goes to prove that this freemium payment model works for compelling games. Who can begrudge a few dollars for something that provides hours of enjoyment at home, on the train, and even queuing at the airport.

The best thing of all about Words With Friends is that it isn’t simply mindless entertainment. If something’s going to keep you glued to your iPhone screen, isn’t it best that it’s something that focuses the mind and increases the vocabulary?

This point seems to be the key to the game’s popularity. All it really consists of is Scrabble, turn based online gaming (that must have been pretty easy to put together), and a bit of brain training. Yet somehow it ends up being far more than the sum of its parts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I somehow need to get more than forty points with four As, two Hs and a Q.

Giveaway: Win 1 free month of PlayStation Plus

After I was banned from the PlayStation Network and forced to create a new account, Sony made it clear that they still appreciate me as a customer. What does that mean for you? It means I have two one-month trials of PlayStation Plus to give away.

I’ve covered PlayStation Plus before, and while I’m not wild about it myself, everything tastes better when it’s free. PlayStation Plus offers free games and nice discounts on a ton of content – it’s like free money in your pocket.

Before you enter, there are a few of stipulations:

  • The PlayStation Plus code must be redeemed by March 31st, 2012. If you spend too long waiting for the right discounts and free content to start your trial, you may be out of luck.
  • You are required to have a valid credit card linked to your PSN account to use the free trial.
  • If you don’t cancel your free month at least a day prior to the end of the trial, Sony will automatically bill you $17.99 and convert your membership to a 3-month plan.
  • Once your month is up, your free games will no longer be playable until you sign up again. Any discounted content you purchase (read: with REAL money) is yours to keep forever.

To grab one of these free codes, please leave a comment on this article about your favorite downloadable PSN game, and why it’s your favorite, by 12:00 PM CST on December 22.

Two lucky winners will be picked at random and will receive their code via email or direct message. Be sure to post with a valid account so we can get your code to you. If you post as a “Guest” we have no way of reaching you.