Unlike some video games that are out there it’s available on multiple platforms; Xbox, Playstation, and on the computer, so that everyone that wants to play the game can without having to have the right console.
The game’s main character is one of the user’s choosing, and there is a different introductory origin story for each choice that forms the basis that the rest of the game is built on.
This isn’t to say that the story line is different depending on what choices you make, because over all you go through the same storylines no matter how you interact.
The difference is how you get the tasks done; you may be able to diplomatically diffuse a situation, or you may talk your way into a fight you didn’t have to have. The right discussions with the right characters can lead to rewarding side quests.
Some courses of action will annoy your group, because each character has their own set of morals, and may disapprove of your decision to help, or not help, a certain NPC.
You can affect how the characters feel about you to the point of forming a romantic relationship with them on one extreme, to having them abandon the party on the other. Each character that can join your party has their own unique traits, and the more they like you the more likely they are to impart that knowledge to you.
The plot is the typical one for most RPGs; the world is in grave danger and only you can help save it. Each character has a rich history and a full set of character traits and personality. Morrigan is a mage that lived in the backcountry with her mother learning the art of magic in a way not taught by the Mage Circle of Ferelden. Alistair is a Templar turned Gray Warden who had an interesting childhood.
These two are particularly interesting, because Templars are sworn to hunt down Mages that don’t conform to the Mage Circle standards, but they’re both in your party for a higher purpose. This is another area that the depth of the game comes in, because as you’re walking around town, these two will sometimes start bickering with each other.
There is witty banter, non sequiturs, and comic relief all interspersed in a long and intricately developed game. If you like RPGs even a little bit, this one is a can’t miss.
The actual gameplay is good too. The combat is of a real-time style, but does allow you to pause and control your party’s actions. You can set up tactics so that your teammates will heal when they need to, or pick off a weak enemy, or use a debuff on a strong one. Movement is easy, switching between characters is a snap, and the camera control is excellent.
The best part of the game is that you can pretty much set your own pace. You can speed through things, minimize boring storyline and get to the action. You can also delve into the deep storylines, plots, and history laid out at every turn. You can interact with your party to learn more about them, unlock different abilities, or blow them off and learn nothing about them except how they can help you annihilate the enemy. The game is a long one, but when it’s over you wish there was more. Luckily all signs point to a sequel.
It seems every family has at least one person in charge of taking family snapshots. After looking over dozens of catalogs and even more web sites, I have compiled a list of great gifts for that camera buff.
Giottos Rocket Air Blower. (About $12) Every camera bag should have one of these indispensible gadgets. The Rocket Air Blower shoots a powerful stream of air that will clean lenses and filters. It’s design prevents dust from being blown into the object being cleaned and it does a remarkable job in cleaning the surfaces of filters or lenses.
Bower Wrist Strap (About $6) Small camera or large camera, a wrist strap is cheap insurance preventing a camera from slipping out of your hand and hitting the hard floor. The Bower wrist strap is comfortable to use all day and is large enough to hold a DSLR safely. This is not the tiny wrist strap that comes with some cameras. This one is padded and thick to it won’t cut into your wrist or slip off your hand. Even with my big hands, this wrist strap worked extremely well.
Joby Gorillapod (About $45) Every shot can be made better with the use of a camera support. Unfortunately there isn’t always enough space to set up a full tripod. The GorillaPod uses a series of interlocking plastic joints to lock it’s three legs around almost any object. Trees, fence posts, even a kitchen chair. The Gorillapod is small enough to take with you almost anywhere and is surprisingly strong.
Samsung 8-inch Digital Photo Frame (About $80) Every camera buff wants a way to display their photos and digital photo frames are perfect. Housing the images on an SD card, updating the images is easy and is limited by only the size of the SD card. What makes this Samsing frame a little different is that it is the ony one I’ve found where you can schedule a time when it’s on and off so it isn’t using electricity while you aren’t at work or asleep. This particular frame can also be used as a second PC monitor.
Casio Exilim EX-FS10 (About $175) This 9 megapixel pocket-sized camera works remarkably well. With a bright 2.7 inch LCD display and ISO settings from 50-1600, this camera is capable of many great photographs. In burst mode, it can take up to 30 photos per second, which is impressive for such a small camera. The camera’s video capabilities also set it apart from its peers. Not only will it shoot 848×480 resolution video, but it can shoot it in super slow motion which can be very fun for shutterbugs of all experience levels.
Kodak Zi8 HD Pocket Video Camera (About $180) If you are looking for a sub $200 video camera that shoots HD and fits in your pocket, then this is your camera! Video can be 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second and can upload to YouTube quickly and easily via the USB cable. For the price and the video quality, it will be difficult to find a better video camera out there.
All in all, the variety of photo-centric gadgets keeps increasing and the features continue to keep us shutterbugs happy year after year!
Linux has been a thing of pride amongst all geeks. Linux is the buzzword amongst noon-geeks as well; they refer to it as some Martian mojo. Though today, Linux has come a long way from being all fast text being typed into boring terminals and long frightening messages scrolling up and down user screens.
Linux is no more all about the command line. GUI in Linux was popularized by the release of Red Hat Linux 9. From then Linux has improved both, in its features as well as its GUI. Today, Linux has a GUI comparable to any Windows that will be released in the next five years. The plasma effect of KDE desktop and the Compiz effects have proven time and again that GUI is not all about Windows.
Linux has a plethora of desktop environments, distribution types and specialized distributions to choose from unlike Windows versions of Home Basic version, Home Premium version, Ultimate version, Professional version, Corporate Version and all that confusion.
The distributions in Linux are all managed and released by individual groups of developers. Unlike the Suse, Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux we know of, Linux actually comes in many different flavors and distros with different features and capabilities each. Many of them are built for specialized operation like scientific research, network testing system stability and performance testing etc.
Here are three of the lesser known but widely used Linux distributions. These distributions are specialized for particular tasks only though, general users can always give it a try and the best thing, these professional operating systems, are all free and open source.
Scientific Linux, is a Red Hat based Linux distro and is developed by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and CERN in collaboration with many other laboratories across the world. The primary objective of the Linux distro is to prevent duplication of development of the same features by labs around the world and provide a standardized OS for various research and experimental works. It is basically Red Hat Enterprise Linux, recompiled from the source. This ensures a full compatibility with all software from Enterprise. Also, this Linux forms a base for the addition of additional specific packages for a particular lab. Also, each lab is allowed to create its own distribution with all its scripts and custom software, and redistribute it. The OS is available for all users as it is Open Source and you can try it out too if you are curious about what all the CERN uses.
The environment used is Gnome and there is extreme support for programming in Java.
Visit the Scientific Linux homepage here.
BackTrack is the Linux of choice when it comes to networks security and exploit testing. BackTrack contains a powerful 300 application base, packaged into one distro to make it the #1 Linux distro amongst networking professionals. BackTrack was awarded the #1 Security Live Distribution by inseccure.org in 2006. It was formed as a merger of two popular distributions, WHAX and Auditor Security Collection. The BackTrack distribution is based on Slackware Linux and just like any other Linux has a live CD too.
One of the featured applications in BackTrack is Metasploit, which is tightly integrated into the distro. Also, the applications in BackTrack are categorized and structured for ease of access. Any new feature is made available immediately, through updates. This makes BackTrack the perfect Linux for both budding hackers and security professionals dealing in Computer Forensics. BackTrack is used in many institutions providing specialization in network security.
The desktop environment available in BackTrack is KDE.
Visit the BackTrack homepage here.
ArcheOS is an acronym for Archaeological Operating System. This Linux distro is based on Kubuntu 8.10, although a new version is under development which will be based on Debian Squeeze. The distro is available as a live DVD like any other Linux and the Kubuntu base means full compatibility with the Ubuntu repositories. This gives it the ability to add more software packages. The distro features many specialized softwares like AutoQ3D for CAD, QGIS and GRASS for GIS (Geographical Information Systems), GPSDrive for GPS, Blender for 3D graphics, Gimp for fast image editing and other basic application like Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice etc.
The ArcheOS distro features a KDE desktop environment.
Visit the ArcheOS homepage here.
An important feature of Linux, Live CD, which allows us to try a distribution before installing it, is present in all the three distributions. Linux has finally captured more than 1% of desktops worldwide. More and more people are using Linux every day. Clearly Linux is not all about web-servers and any general PC user can always try out one of these distributions.
Live Sync: https://sync.live.com/clientdownload.aspx?ibm=10
Live Sync is a wonderful tool if you need to share files with someone or if you want a hands off backup of important files. Live Sync allows you to synchronize foldersbetween two computers (Windows XP and later and Mac OSX up to 10.5). The computers can be on a local network or just connected to the internet. This is a great way to share photos with relatives or files with other people. I personally use it to synchronize a folder full of Keepers on my desktop with a folder on my backup server so if my computer ever crashed after I added the document but before the nightly backup could run, I still wouldn’t lose the files.
Security essentials: http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/
Microsoft has realized the necessity of antivirus software on windows PCs and has stepped up with the free Security Essentials. Security Essentials provides protection against viruses, spyware, rootkits and Trojans. This is a huge step in the right direction by providing this service free of charge. Keep in mind, that like all anti-viruses, they are typically only effective in telling you AFTER you’ve been infected, so practice safe surfing habits like not downloading from questionable sites, don’t open e-mail attachments, and make sure you are running as a limited user on your computer and not running as administrator.
Microsoft has a history of releasing non-supported PowerTools and Power Toys that their developers create because there is a need. These are not publicized formally nor are they supported by Microsoft, but there are some gems.
Color Control Panel Applet: Being an amateur photographer, being able to control how the computer displays colors and be able to control it from the screen all the way to the printer is very important. This powertoy does just that in one centralized area.
SyncToy: If you have multiple copies of files or need a simple way to compare files, Sync Toy was built to help copy, move and synchronize various files like photos, docuemtns, etc.
RAW Image Thumbnailer Viewer: As a photographer, I like to shoot my DSLR to capture RAW images. The issue with RAW images is that many softwares can’t display the RAW files natively. This is where the RAW Image Thumbnailer Viewer comes in. it allows you to see thumbnails, previews, EXIF data and even print RAW images you may not otherwise be able to see.
Alt-Tab Replacement: If you multitask and have many files open at once, you may use the Alt-Tab key combination to cycle through the open windows. The Alt-Tab Replacement PowerToy beefs up this ability and included page previews and the application icon.
Tweak UI: By far, my favorite of the PowerToys. TweakUI has been around for years allowing people to manipulate the user interface of Windows to better suit your needs. Tweak UI is a must have for me when I set up a new computer.
Image Resizer: Why open up Photoshop or some other powerful image editing tool if all you need is to resize the image to e0mail or post somewhere? With a right-click, you can resize one or many images.
Webcam Timershot: This PowerToy allows you to set up a time lapse photo using your webcam. Maybe you want to capture traffic or the weather moving in. The Timershot tool is a simple way to take snapshots at specified intervals.
Windows Home Server—what is it?
I have a small network at home with 8 computers attached to each other. I had various shared external harddrives across the network, but finding things became cumbersome and unwieldy. I wanted something like a server that I have used for many years at my place of employment, but I didn’t want a full server. I wanted something that was easy to set up and manage and provide a central location for videos, music, and other files. My search began and I quickly found Windows Home Server. HP quickly began selling their MediaSmart server for far more than I wanted to spend; I purchased a copy of Windows Home Server and used one of the PCs I already owned to set it up. The minimum specs for WHS are 1GHz Pentium III CPU, 512MB of RAM, 80GB of hard drive space, DVD-ROM drive, and a wired Ethernet adapter. No problem. In fact the most difficult part of the entire setup was buying the software. WHS is not offered in retail stores. Thankfully you should be able to find a copy on Amazon, NewEgg.com or TigerDirect for around $120. What you will get is the server install disk which is installed on your server. You will also get a disk with the connector software on it. This is installed on the other PCs on your network so that they can be automatically backed up to the server. Lastly, you will receive a recovery disk that you can boot into to recover the backed up data from the server.
Installation of the server software and connector is pretty straightforward. Once you install he connector software, you can then modify the user privileges in case you don’t want your teenage son to have access to the software directory where you keep all the installers for a few hundred necessary applications. Plus you can then manage the individual PC backups and see what has been successfully backed up and what hasn’t. You can even kick off the backup from the server console.
Sharing audio and video from the WHS server is pretty trivial. Once you have all the media on the server, it can be accessed by anyone with access on the network.
One of the nice features WHS provides is the ability to add multiple hard drives, either internal or external, into a storage pool. So now my collection of 100GB, 250GB, 500GB and 1 TB drives can be placed into a giant storage pool on the server and utilized as multiple terabytes of storage. This was a nice addition to the features since now I can increase the storage size by just plugging in a new hard drive and selecting to add it to the storage pool from the server console.
Lastly, the server software allows me to connect to my home network from any internet connection. I can access my data, configure my server or even stream media like music or video. Very handy for those long nights in hotels after conferences or training sessions. Just log in and stream some music or a movie. Very handy.
All in all, WHS has impressed me and is now a required part of my home network infrastructure. I imagine this might work equally well in a small business environment where the employees need access to a central bank of files and be able to automate the scheduled backups. Microsoft has done an excellent job scaling down a full server into something fit for a home or small office environment!
Some of you may be familiar with Penny Arcade, and online comic based on the adventures of Gabe and Tycho, two gamer dudes who pretty much do nothing more than glorified gamer things. This is my third year in a row, and I found that PAX had a lot to offer this year.
Here are some of the highlights.
Blizzard Entertainment has their Starcraft and World of Warcraft booths up. No surprise there. Their new version of Diablo is drawing quite a crowd, which is also not a surprise.
Nexon has three really cool games displayed that are all free to download: Dragon Nest, D ungeon Fighter, and an FPS game called Combat Arms.
Speaking of completely free, I also got a chance to try out Faunasphere, a browser based game where characters make pets called Faunas and put them in a Faunasphere. It’s a lot like other browser-based pet games out there, but not as cutsey-wutsey as Facebook’s Pet Society.
The Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA) has a booth that is all draped off with elegant translucent curtains and elaborate dƒÂ©cor. It almost makes me want to join them, especially for $20.00 a month. It is good for almost $300 worth of savings on video games, as well as a chance to hang around and eat snack food.
CDV has their DS games which include I Love (with a heart) Geeks and My Little Baby. It also has PC games Divinity II and Serious Sam HD.
Turbine games is proud to be displaying D&D Online. I believe I covered much of this in a previous article.
2K Games has some sort of display that has this odd room that everyone is searching through. BioShock II and a new game called Borderlands is the big draw, though.
PAX often has a lot of energy drinks that are free to try. One of them is called Healing Potion from Mana. It comes in a fancy bottle like the one from Shrek 2, but it takes awful, like cough syrup. I feel less than healed. Another is some new non-carbonated ones from the Jones soda company. The Jones’ drinks are an improvement, but nothing that I would buy. Omni Consumer has a product called Tru Blood, which is supposed to be a fruit drink that looks like blood. I believe there is some vampire show in which characters drink this stuff, and this is actually what the actors drink. Who would have thought that Tru Blood would taste so delicious?
Nintendo has all the bells and whistles in effect, with the highlight being the displays of the new version of Super Mario Brothers for the Wii.
Disney Interactive has Split Second, which looks like a run-of-the-mill racing game. Not really what I would expect from the Mouse House. Pretty soon they’ll have Marvel-related games, thanks to that acquisition thing.
Sony’s PS3 display prominently features God of War, Ratchet and Clank: Future, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and an Eyepet, which uses augmented reality to make a virtual pet come to life.
EA’s booth makes you wonder what they don’t have. Some of the newest are The Saboteur, Army of Two, Dead Space Extraction, two Need for Speed games (Shift and Nitro), and a new Nerf game. Not to mention the Dante’s Inferno game that allows you to enter hell.
NC Soft has not one, not two, but three booths based on their successful franchises like City of Heroes, Aion, and Guild Wars 2. They also have some time to devote to Star Trek Online and Champions Online.
Bethesda is devoting much of their time sharing about Brink, a very Splinter Cell-ish looking game. Other games include Wet and Rogue Warrior.
FunCom has their barbarian fantasy MMO Age of Conan display set up. They also have another MMO game going on called The Secret World which takes place in modern times involving a global conspiracy.
As for iHarmonix, two words: Rock Band. Beatles Rock Band was on display prominently, and it looks very good. Fans could rock along with the Fab Four for one of the first times. Also on deck was Lego Rock Band, which uses bricks for the little bars that scroll upward.
Capcom had some interesting offerings with Lost Planet 2 (or Lost Planet Squared, depending if you read the 2 as an exponent or an actual number 2), Spyborgs, and Dark Void. The real draw was the new Resident Evil game.
Runic/Perfect World had an interesting downloadable game known as Torchlight which looked quite interesting. It involves you going into a dungeon and kicking butt, sort of like Gauntlet back in the day.
Phantom EFX had one of the most creative games that I have seen in a while with Darkest of Days, a first-person shooter that involves time travel.
THQ had this odd promotion for their DarkRiders game that consisted of a horse known as Ruin that was a mechanical bull that attendees could ride. Quite a draw for that, and you had to sign a waiver to ride it.
Stardock was up to their old tricks with Sins of a Solar Empire, and some new tricks with Elemental and Impulse.
CCP had their usual EVE Online fare displayed, not much new there.
WB games had Scribblenauts, which is easily one of the most original games that I have seen in a while. In the game you play a character that has to gather up stars in this virtual world. To succeed in your goal, you write you want. For example, if you want a ladder, just write ladder and one will appear. I am told it can do almost all nouns.
Flying Labs, makers of the Pirates of the Burning Sea MMO, were there in full pirate garb, using cannons to fire T-shirts into the crowd. Nothing new there.
Alienware this odd set up for that made you feel like you were in a UFO. They even had a bunch of booth people that were dressed like the Men in Black.
Ubisoft had their new Splinter Cell prominently on display, but I liked the Wii game known simply as Just Dance where you just dance. All the player needs to do is dance like the guy on the screen.
Nvidia and Zalman showed off their 3D emulators. There was a booth where attendees could see a preview of the new Avatar game (based off the upcoming James Cameron movie) that showed off its 3D as well. Yeah, I think 3D is just getting bigger.
So, if you have never been to a video game conference, this is what you have missed.
There is a growing trend in gaming often called free to play which is fantastic news for credit crunch stricken gamers everywhere. Talk about microtransactions, optional subscriptions and advertising has been constant in the games industry over the last few years. The aim is to find a new model for profitability and attract large audiences for games, especially MMO games which need a huge player base. With the recent news that the games industry is not recession proof after all, game sales were down 29% in July compared with last year, a new model to draw gamers in might just be the way forward.
In the Asian market the free to play model has been going strong for many years. Gamers are used to installing the complete version of a game for absolutely nothing and are often willing to pay very small amounts for additional in game content. The majority of these microtransactions offer gamers outfits and customization options for their characters. They are often purely cosmetic and offer no advantage in game terms over players who are not spending any cash. Some games have gone a step further and they offer items for sale which enhance the player’s power. Booster items, which allow them to progress more quickly, are also fairly common. The idea is to let players build up experience at an accelerated rate so they can level up faster.
This model has proven to be very successful in markets such as South Korea and Japan but debate has raged on about whether it will catch on here in the west. The vast majority of gamers who play these free to play titles will never make a purchase but a very active minority will spend freely. There is also a belief that the low individual cost of items encourages people to spend when they wouldn’t be prepared to pay a substantial monthly subscription fee.
The argument and theory can now finally be laid to rest because several big developers and publishers have embraced the idea and released titles with this alternative business model. The early signs appear positive but the results are far from in and at this stage the big publishers are leaping in to make sure they don’t miss the boat. Let’s take a look at some of the big free to play releases.
This South Korean smash hit was one of the first free to play games to be released in North America and Europe. Brought to you by a company called Nexon the game has a microtransaction model and is available to play in multiple countries around the world. It was successfully released in the US in 2007 and they estimate from a user base of around 6 million people they have brought in revenue equivalent to 120,000 subscribers paying monthly on the old business model. This was enough to encourage many companies to adopt a similar model.
This MMORPG from Sony is aimed at the whole family and it offers good, clean fun with optional combat and a focus on social interaction. There are mini-games and plenty of quests to undertake and the game allows players to share images and videos. There is also a trading card game tie-in. In order to turn a profit Sony offer optional membership which allows extra characters and access to members only quests, jobs and items. There is also a microtransactions system in the game so players can buy optional in game items. It is currently available on PC and there are plans to release a PlayStation 3 version in the near future. The game has almost 5 million registered users.
This game borrows ideas such as a persistent character from MMO games but it proves that the free to play model can be extended beyond the MMOG genre. Battlefield Heroes is actually a multiplayer first and third-person shooter with a cartoon art style and typical FPS mechanics. The majority of games are on servers with 16 or 32 players and it is intended to be a casual and accessible game. It is installed and accessed via your web browser and it is completely free to play but does include some microtransaction options.
Battlefield Heroes was released by Electronic Arts and forms part of their Play 4 Free brand. They have also released BattleForge which is a card based RTS game based on microtransactions and they have announced Need for Speed: World Online which will be a free massively multiplayer online racing game.
Dungeons and Dragons Online
This MMORPG is based on the famous table top gaming series and it was originally released with a traditional monthly subscription model. It is now set to be offered as a completely free to play game with optional microtransactions. In the FAQ on their website developer, Turbine, has billed it as the only free to play premium MMO game but in actual fact this is a misconception that has prevented many gamers from trying free to play games. The idea that because a game is free it will be sub standard is dated and the majority of new releases in this category are every bit as detailed and impressive as traditional subscription based or retail games.
We can expect to see many more free to play games in the coming months and the trend looks set to spread from the MMOG genre. This can only be good news for hard up gamers but it is still early days. While this new model has generated a great deal of excitement it won’t be signalling an end to traditional retail and subscription models but if it does start to generate big cash you can expect everyone to jump aboard.
With the Monkey Island series now revived in the latest release from Telltale games, entitled Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, it might finally be time to announce that adventure gaming is back from the dead.
For any of you who didn’t experience the heyday of adventure gaming, The Secret of Monkey Island, released by Lucas Arts way back in the halcyon days of 1990, is considered by many to be one of the undisputable classics of the adventure gaming genre. Written in large part by Tim Schafer, the creator behind the upcoming BrƒÂ¼tal Legend, The Secret of Monkey Island had a fantastic story, hilarious and memorable characters, unique and satisfying puzzles, and some of the funniest dialogue ever featured in a video game. So it probably isn’t surprising that Monkey Island and its sequel amassed loads of critical acclaim and a pack of loving fans, who to this day nostalgically remember it as one of the best games of the early nineties.
Monkey Island wasn’t the only classic adventure game though. Indiana Jones, Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Star Trek, King’s Quest, Quest for Glory, and many others were some of the most popular games of their time. But since those ancient, long-passed days of our youth, the adventure gaming genre has all but disappeared. What was once the most popular genre of PC gaming literally stopped existing, quickly and sharply losing popularity as the processing power of PCs and consoles ushered in an era of first person shooters and online gaming. It was a sad and puzzling development for fans of games like Monkey Island; adventure games brought great story telling, challenging puzzles and most importantly, an overall experience that was memorable in a way that no other gaming genre could provide.
As such, the fall of the adventure genre has long been a sore spot for its fans, and its long absence has been a puzzle that many couldn’t solve (pun totally intended). But recently Telltale Games, the company behind the comeback of another classic Lucasarts title in Sam & Max as well as the Strongbad and Wallace & Gromit games, has been slowly and lovingly restoring the once extinct genre. Their latest project, Tales of Monkey Island, is finally bringing back the classic Monkey Island franchise.
Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal brings back the ghost pirate LeChuck and the bumbling, well-intentioned wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood, along with all the ridiculous and fun stories that go along with them. I don’t want to give away very much of the story, since one of the best parts of adventure gaming is experiencing all the crazy puzzles and developments on your own, but much like the very faithful Wallace & Gromit series, Tales of Monkey Island captures all the character and style of the original Monkey Island, with recognizable voices, a bizarre and silly pirate story, and of course the humour that fans have come to know the game for.
The game has transitioned into a 3D affair, which might irk some die hard fans, but none of the charm of the original 2D version has been lost. The review copy we received had a few expected bugs in it, but these have no doubt been ironed out by today’s release, as Telltale hasn’t been known to let buggy products out the gate in the past.
Basically, Telltale has proven a few times already how proficient they are at bringing classic adventure gaming into the modern gaming world, and Tales of Monkey Island is no exception. So, if you’re a fan of the original, or you’re just hankering for some puzzle solving, story telling fun, then Tales of Monkey Island is an easy choice. The game is great and it is worth your time.
So that’s over with. Now on to the big question: does the revival of Monkey Island signal a comeback of the adventure game genre?
The easy, completely uninformative answer is that it’s hard to say. There are so many genres and so many game companies in the enormous modern game industry that it’s almost impossible to tell if Telltale’s updates of adventure gaming classics are making a significant impact on the gaming industry. Back in the nineties the market simply wasn’t as big, so it was easy to tell what types of games were most popular. In today’s industry there is such a massive selection of games that even good games tend to get lost in the crowd sometimes, never getting the recognition they deserve.
But there is another way to look at it. Telltale games has released four episodic series of adventure games to date and don’t seem to be losing any steam yet. If anything, Telltale’s adventure gaming focussed line of games is picking up momentum, making higher profile games for more systems, like XBox Live, then ever before. If this was an experiment to gauge the popularity and potential of an adventure gaming revival, then so far the signs are good. Telltale has seen enough success from their efforts that they’ve been able to continue releasing games with progressively higher profiles, finally reaching the coveted Monkey Island license.
Add to that the fact that the current infrastructure of the gaming industry is actually quite friendly to the adventure gaming genre. In an earlier article we discussed XBox Live arcade games to look out for, and noted that many of them are smaller-budget, experimental games that simply wouldn’t be possible at a large gaming studio. With avenues like XBox Live and profitable Internet distribution now available, companies no longer have to make every game an enourmous, corporate affair.
Around the time of adventure gaming’s demise these options simply weren’t available. PC gaming had grown to the point where bigger budget games were becoming the standard, and technology was advancing to the point where a simple 2D game wasn’t as attractive as it once was, but opportunities for more modest productions simply weren’t available yet. Adventure games were stuck in an unenviable position: with their once almost universal popularity giving way to PC gaming blockbusters like Quake and Duke Nukem, adventure games lost the drawing power necessary to justify the budget and team sizes that were becoming the standard, yet no alternative was available. Eventually, adventure gaming just went away.
But nowadays smaller companies can afford to develop games that aren’t necessarilly going to be the next GTA. In other words, small games can be designed by small teams without a Hollywood-sized budget and still be profitable, because the developers can get the game straight to the audience at a reasonable price compared to some of gaming’s behemoth titles. Of course, this means that modern adventure gaming is, for now, inherently a more low key phenomenon than it was in its golden age. These games aren’t being released with the budget, marketing and hype that blockbuster titles have behind them, and their popularity will be reflective of that.
But of course, this smaller, indie platform that adventure games are taking advantage of is a lot more than the nothing that existed a few years ago, and adventure gaming’s popularity only seems to be growing, even if a redux of Monkey Island doesn’t immediately usher in a new era of adventure gaming dominance. The games are lovingly crafted by fans of the genre for fans of the genre, and enough of them are buying through avenues that a few years ago didn’t exist that the future is looking strong.
Who knows, if Telltale’s games keep growing in popularity then some time in the future we may even see a big name developer try to get in on the action and take on the adventure game genre once again. For now, the technological advancements that once spelled the end of adventure gaming are now giving it a second chance. It’s safe to say that adventure gaming has found its way back into the industry’s heart, even if it is only a small piece of that heart.
So is adventure gaming still dead? If it is, it’s been looking awfully lively lately for a dead man.
It would appear that our televisions have gone from analog to digital stations just fine. Okay, just fine is a little too broad of a generalization; after all, there was a record number of calls (317,000) to the FCC last Friday on this subject.
However, the FCC was prepared, and they had 4,000 operators on hand to answer what they knew was going to be a rush of calls. Many of these calls were handled by re-scanning the converter boxes. The www.dtv.gov website had a record number of hits.
Of course, there were some who failed to get a signal on the day of transition. If you were one of them, all I can say is: you were warned. I mean, I saw one of those emergency messages every day for the past year telling me to switch, or else. If you were still going off analog signals before the switch, and didn’t listen to the myriad warnings, then you deserve whatever fate you made for yourself, really.
Fortunately, I have cable, so I was covered. However, I am now questioning cable. You see, I have discovered that about 80 percent of my television watching is now done online. The other 20 percent is just channel surfing, when I am too tired to focus on anything in particular.
I think a lot of viewers have the same viewing habits as I do. After all, why should I watch television based on some sort of schedule that I don’t want to follow? Instead, I want to watch the programs that I want to watch when I want to watch them. Not only that, I don’t want to go through all the trouble of setting a VCR, or even learn how to set a DVR.
No, I want to go online, and find the shows that I want to watch. In fact, that is how I have watched all kind of shows that I normally would have missed for the past year. I have discovered a whole crop of shows that I never would have even tried if not for watching television online.
I still can’t believe that major networks still have not picked up on the fact that more people are watching online than scheduled television broadcasts. Isn’t the problem with the writers, back when that strike thing was going on?
This new viewer mentality is probably why Syabas has created the Popcorn C-200, an Internet settop box that streams digital content from the Internet or its internal hard drive to the television set and stereo. The C-200 is supposed to be the new version of Popcorn Hour A-110, and is capable of accepting video content from sites like YouTube, Vuze, Revision 3, CNET TV, Veoh, Blip.tv, NBC, CBS, CNN, and BBC. It is also possible to accept image content from Flickr, Pikeo, and Picasa.
The Popcorn C-200 is not the first device that allows you to watch ditigal video content, and it will not be the last. Something tells me that as the prices of cable and internet rise, people may have to choose one or the other.
So perhaps we are looking at an age where the next television transition will not be to digital, but to the Internet. So, unless you have a high-speed Internet connection, you might not be able to get TV. Of course, that would assume that all major networks as well as the cable networks, all go completely online.
A couple of decades back, Brett Borders had visionary aspirations. Instead of aimlessly wondering the halls of his high school, he took to the underground to search out threads of conversations that were beginning to surface in this new arena called the Internet. A unique but somewhat logical beginning for a fellow who would later go on to bill his blog the “Social Media Rockstar,” Brett was in search of digital networking way before its time.
In a recent interview I conducted with him, he sums it up as, “an extremely limited (environment)… the only social networking options were Prodigy/Compuserve, a handful of local Bulletin Boards and the the same 35 active users.” Along with a small group of hacker friends, he learned how to call overseas and obtain Internet access by sneaking through local university and business systems.
He would then hack into telephone systems that would allow access by dialing out without being traced. According to Brett, it “really wasn’t that devious,” as his group was the same kind of crowd that today “you would find on FriendFeed or Digg.” When the first public internet service became available in his area in 1994, he immediately quit hacking as he “finally had unlimited, bulletproof access to the ‘Net,’” where he found it “far more interesting to connect versus crack.” However he looks back on these early days fondly as it motivated him to become a resourceful out-of-the-box thinker who could forge a path into the future without the need of a guidebook.
Brett studied Sociology in college where he was able to reflect on some of the anthropological underpinnings of online social demographics. Metaphorically similar to a Margaret Mead uncovering tribes in Samoa or New Guinea, Brett observed and researched the collective consciousness of various online tribes. He proposed that “online social interaction mirrors real life (with parallels to) castes, circles, cliques and socio-economic groups.” And as a social marketer, he now feels that to communicate to each group and target them properly, one needs to analyze their social structures and online habitats.
When asked why institutions of higher learning haven’t embraced social media as an academic discipline, he feels that “universities are kind of reactionary in that they (will only) offer programs and classes after a job market emerges.” Since social media jobs are presently just beginning to take on a prominent role in corporations and organizations, it will take a while for universities to catch up.
Today Brett Borders is an independent “Web Traffic Developer.” Even though Borders’ blog is titled “Social Media Rockstar” he doesn’t view himself as rock star, nor Internet Famous. Similar to Liz Strauss titling her blog, “Successful Blog” and Hugh Hefner labeling his pop culture mag “Playboy,” his blog title is more about the content versus a moniker for himself as the originator.
According to Brett, ” I think with the exception of a small handful of established, elite social media people, pretty much everyone out there is ‘faking it till they make it.’ I wake up, explore, learn, make mistakes, improve and re-define myself on a daily basis. I try to be confident, but also completely honest about what I know about and what I don’t – and careful not to mislead or make false promises to people.”
However, Brett is also cognizant that online detractors can be more powerful than your actual followers. Non-fans (what Brett terms “your shadow”) are usually much more diligent about blocking the spread of your message than the average acquaintance is dedicated in spreading it for you. Here’s a visual interpretation of Brett’s perspective on this topic.
To become Internet Famous, according to Brett is to be an initiator, not a follower. For example, when social media first came on to the scene, those that became the most successful in blogging and developing apps were those that pushed the envelope, by using new tools and searching out new terrain to maneuver. Brett feels the ones that faltered in this regard were the less aggressive breed who settled for “aggregating or recycling” the work accomplished by the front runners.
Brett refers to some of these social media followers as “online snake oil salesmen” who are motivated by money. These are the folks that aren’t “at all shy about claiming they know stuff that they don’t or making promises they can’t deliver. There’s a boom of interest in social media and SEO – and there are only a few barriers to entry (all you need is a website and business card), so some less-than-scrupulous types of people are trying to cash in on it.”
“The truth is that you have to give something (time, energy, attention or $$$) before you can really expect to get anything in return,” notes Brett. Something he calls “Digital Karma,” where those that are serious about online marketing and invest their time strategically and ask for recommendations are the ones to reap the benefits. “Those who are looking for ‘quick fixes’ and too-good-to-be-true promises can easily get burned or disappointed.”
Narcissism is sometimes an unattractive by-product of Internet Fame “There’s something very hypnotic about watching someone with an over-blown self image get all excited about themselves (which is why sites like TweetingTooHard.com are funny),” notes Brett. “There’s also “bad boy” and “bad girl” rockstar types in social media who are outspoken, hostile and inevitably create drama wherever they go. Many people unconsciously placate them (to avoid getting on their “bad list”) and follow them to see what kind of exciting trouble they’re gonna stir up next.”
In retrospect having lived through the Web 2.0 explosion, Brett reflects that “today social media is definitely over-hyped. “Yes, it is very powerful. Yes, it changes they way business is done. Yes, it empowers people to make choices they never had before – and it changes the world in some ways. But people are still people – and we like to waste a lot of time and use social media to mindlessly distract and entertain ourselves.”
He also believes that social media marketing is not a great fit for many types of products and services. He affirms that companies could “definitely get more ROI with traditional advertising or other online marketing methods like SEO or PPC.”
Currently Brett is working for an automotive publisher that focuses on hybrid and electric car technology. He’s building buzz and connections around content that raise people’s awareness of next generation transportation options. In the past he’s worked for international e-commerce companies, product manufacturers, and local tech start-ups in Boulder, Colorado.
In closing, I think Brett Borders’ Internet fame came about as result of his invested time and energy in this field and that his advice is based on years of trial and error. While he feels that a lot of folks are just not cut out for this business (“it’s demanding, time-intensive, volatile, and requires much more creativity than people are able to give to it”), I think Brett Border is one of those experts that has sized up the social media landscape realistically and knows how to make it do his bidding.
If you’re looking for a social media coach to help you wade through those Web 2.0 waters, I would suggest you contact Brett Borders for the job. He may be just that Social Media Rockstar his blog refers to.
For other stories on the Internet Famous, check out my previous interviews with Nick Thune, Marina Orlova, Julia Allison and Alejandro Reyes… and stay tuned for more stories of the the Internet Famous in the weeks to come.