Category Archives: hardware

Insert Random N-Gage Gag Here

Despite the spectacular failure of earlier attempts by Finnish communications giant Nokia to crack the notoriously difficult handheld gaming market, and the subsequent ridicule that was heaped upon them because of it, they are nevertheless trying again. Word on the street is, predictably, similar to last time – more ridicule and mild speculation as to their chances of success. However, they’ve got the backing of some major players and could fare considerably better this time around. So what’s different?

Well, for starters the last time they ventured into the market with their original N-Gage device, which was by described by some as resembling a taco, Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance largely dominated the market for handheld gaming and their efforts to break into this highly contested marketplace were further hampered by the terrible design of the device itself. Combine this with a less-than stellar lineup of games, and the result could be compared to the ‘success’ of Microsoft’s attempts to muscle in on Apple’s turf with their Zune media device. However, you don’t become a market leader without learning from past mistakes, and so this time Nokia seem to be in a much stronger position to make their re-launch of the N-Gage gaming platform more profitable. I use the word ‘more’ in the context of ‘it may actually make them some money this time around’ and the word ‘seem’ in the context of ‘the whole venture could still crap out anyway, dooming Nokia to decades of pointed fingers and hysterical laughter’.

With companies like EA, THQ and Capcom all declaring their support for the N-Gage, things are starting to look quite promising for November’s relaunch. However, the real cunning behind the whole operation lies with the decision to implement the N-Gage platform across a range of devices, as detailed in this interview with Jaakko Kaidesoja. Now, when you look at the previous device – aside from very real fears of being petrified by it’s nightmarish ugliness, like a certain Gorgon of legend – it’s easy to grasp why this would be so crucial to the success of the N-Gage platform. It is not only this, however, that makes smartphone compatibility such a shrewd move for Nokia.

Last time I was on the subway, I noticed a large proportion of the other passengers playing games on their cellphones – although this could’ve been an excuse to avoid direct eye contact, according to the unspoken rules of subway etiquette. This observation got me thinking – how many potential gamers are out there, that would never consider buying a device so perceived as ‘childish’ as a Nintendo DS or PSP? Despite the proof to the contrary, gaming is still perceived by many would-be gamers as a childish pastime. However, as evidenced by the growing popularity of mobile gaming, there’s gold in them thar phones, and by offering people a way to play games on devices that they’d like to own anyway, the re-imagined N-Gage platform has all the ingredients for a successful foray into the handheld gaming market.

Despite this, Nokia cannot afford to be complacent – as Peter Molyneux recently stated, limitations of the hardware and actual usability of the devices themselves will still prove a barrier to many gamers. All things considered, perhaps Nokia’s critics would do well to wait until Q2 of 2008 before passing judgment on the N-Gage platform.

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Between a Mac and a Hard Place

Rejoice! Proud Mac owners are one step closer to almost being considered a serious gaming platform. Almost.

As you may have heard, EA recently announced four titles to be released for OS X; namely Battlefield 2142, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Need for Speed: Carbon and Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars. However, confirmed release dates have yet to be announced for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008 and Madden NFL ’08, as Bing Gordon had originally announced at the WWDC in June that the titles would be released simultaneously across all platforms. ‘What?’, I hear you cry? Bing Gordon lied to us? ‘Fraid so, folks – but don’t be too sad.

id Software’s new IP Rage is also slated for simultaneous multi-platform release – does this mean that developers and publishers are taking Macs seriously as a gaming platform? That depends on your preferred machine. And your definition of ‘seriously’. If you’re a Mac enthusiast – or hater, delete as appropriate – you will have seen the new iMac designs as unveiled earlier this month. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have also been keen to see what lies beneath that polished, sexy exterior. And, if you’ve gotten this far, you know it’s not good news.

As any serious Mac gamer knows, there are two (count ’em, two) major disadvantages to Macs as gaming machines. Firstly, there’s the suffocating inability to customize your rig beyond minor alterations such as memory upgrades. Secondly, there’s Apple’s refusal to capitalize on the Mac’s potential as a decent gaming platform, and it’s the latter that gives me such a headache trying to figure out. Macs are predominantly marketed as consumer-level machines. Consumers like to play games – on their computers! Welcome to the world of tomorrow indeed. Not to mention Apple’s increasingly-strong presence in the consumer software market with their iLife suite. We won’t even mention iPods and iTunes.

So why aren’t Macs better gaming machines? The problem lies with Apple’s insistence on maintaining control over their hardware, and the lack of flexibility in what hardware to choose. Whilst the new iMacs look great, the fact that the best graphics card they offer is a measly Radeon HD 2600 Pro which, as pointed out in this article in Wired using these performance analytics lays waste to any potential Apple had to expand their presence in the gaming market.

So, given the recent ‘industry support’ for Macs as a gaming platform, should we get excited? Not yet. And not for some time, if we’re looking at this realistically. As a gamer that prefers OS X, it grieves me that my only option to combine my computing and gaming preferences is to spend $3,000 on a Mac Pro system, and for what? Madden NFL ’08? I’m a big fan of id Software titles (I still find Doom 3 on ‘insane’ difficulty a refreshing challenge – to run on my Mac above 300fps, at least), but will I shell out that much coin for a handful of titles? Answers on a postcard.

I find it staggering that Apple place so much emphasis on the ‘experience’ of using their machines and the value they place on the consumer market, and yet their (potential) validity as gaming machines is consistently overlooked. Never mind the fact that iTunes would make an excellent distribution channel for gaming content a la Steam. I’m off to play Halo. Yes, the first one – at least my Mac can handle it.

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Lightgun Renaissance – The Next Big Thing?

Despite having failed to realize my childhood ambition of becoming a private investigator, my keen deductive abilities have not dulled over the years.  Since it launched, the Nintendo Wii has sold over 10 million units globally.  That’s a lot of units.  Let’s face it – waving things around is quite fun, especially with the range of games available that make full use of said waving.

Combine this with the increasing number of promising first-person shooter titles promised over the coming months, and what conclusions can you reach?  That sooner or later, these two factors will inevitably meet – hopefully with more success than Ubisoft’s Red Steel, the memory of which still hurts like an old scar.  But what then?

It’s no secret that gamers are becoming increasingly fickle, and flex a considerable amount of financial muscle.  It’s also common knowledge that developers are striving to create ever-more engaging and realistic experiences in games, especially within first-person shooters; EA in particular are aggressively pushing the boundaries of realism in their sporting franchises, and surely it won’t be long until we see this in other genres – so where do the developers turn next?

Peripherals.  Ever since Nintendo released Duck Hunt back in 1984, we’ve been forced to endure all manner of ill-conceived and poorly-realized peripherals – but that doesn’t mean that things can’t change.  We can rebuild them.  We have the technology.  We have the capability to make the world’s first gaming peripheral that doesn’t suck.  And it doesn’t have to cost $6 million.

Just like desert skirmishes between insurgents and elite military units, production costs versus quality has always been an issue for gaming peripherals.  However, even this doesn’t have to be a barrier to peripherals adding to the overall experience of first-person shooters.  Imagine playing Rainbow Six: Vegas with a decent automatic rifle peripheral?  Or, perhaps even more enticing, playing Left 4 Dead with a nice, solid shotgun accessory?  Developers could look at paintball guns for comparison, as the weight and overall appearance of the lightgun would be crucial in adding to, and not detracting from, the gaming experience. However, with titles like Time Crisis 4 heading for the PS3, the time is right for a decent lightgun peripheral.

Gamers are increasingly playing shooters with better graphics, more advanced enemy AI and more realistic physics on larger screens – so perhaps re-examining the validity of lightgun peripherals is the next logical step towards the nirvana of FPS experiences.  The path ahead is fraught with danger – previous forays have been less than successful, but imagine if they got it right.   

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New iMac images

Just a quick one – for any Mac enthusiasts that haven’t seen them (and if you haven’t, you can’t call yourself an enthusiast with any conviction, can you?), here are the much-anticipated images of the new iMac and keyboard as revealed to faux gasps of surprise earlier today – personally, I really like the new look and those keyboards certainly look comfortable. Now, all we need is for Apple to design some decent mice – I’ve been gaming with the old single-button mouse that shipped with my machine while I look for a suitable replacement for my old mouse, and it’s been hell.

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