Author Archive | Jared Newman

Playstation Vita Review: A Killer Gaming Handheld From a Bygone Era

Next to the phones and tablets on my desk, Sony’s Playstation Vita looks like it doesn’t belong. It’s twice as thick as the latest smartphones, and twice as heavy. Its exterior is a hodgepodge of materials, gray and black, matte and glossy. Protrusions and intrusions abound, from buttons and triggers to jacks and slots. If there was a memo decreeing that all portable electronics be reduced to slabs, Sony’s ignoring it.

The Vita’s design turns out to be a good metaphor for the gaming handheld itself. It’s a device that makes some small concessions to the rise of phones and tablets as portable entertainment–things like the touch screen and motion controls, the bare-bones web browser and the obligatory Twitter, Flickr and Netflix apps–but then it ignores them in favor of playing kick-ass, modern video games. Not Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, or Sudoku, but Uncharted, Rayman, and Marvel vs. Capcom. Almost everything else seems like an afterthought.

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It’s Come to This: Used Game Buyers Denied Questline in Kingdoms of Amalur

Back when Electronic Arts started charging used game buyers $10 extra to play its sports games online, I figured that was just the beginning. Sure enough, over time the “Online Pass” concept has spread to multiplayer gaming in general, and to several other publishers.

Now, EA is taking the idea one step further with the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, an upcoming RPG that’s getting a lot of hype. People who buy the game new will get a voucher to download seven additional single-player quests for free. Folks who buy a used copy will have to pay extra for those quests.

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How One Little Android Update Caused a Big Headache

My Samsung Galaxy S II had been great to me. It’s a thin, light phone with a gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus display and a dual-core processor that handles Android with ease. When people asked me if I’d ever return to an iPhone–my previous handset was an iPhone 3GS–my answer was a cheery “nope!”

That was until last week, when AT&T delivered an Android 2.3.6 update to the Galaxy S II that destroyed its battery life. Before the update, the phone could easily last through a day of moderate use. After the update, the phone would lose about 8 percent of its battery per hour in standby. Even if I rarely touched the phone during the day, it was dead by bedtime.

I’m telling this story not just to rant–although I’m grateful for that opportunity–but to point out a risk that Android users face: An update that’s supposed to deliver nothing but good things could carry unforeseen consequences. Another example of this popped up this week, with users of Asus’ Transformer Prime reporting lock-ups and graphical glitches after updating to Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

I wasn’t alone in my battery drain problem. Similar complaints have appeared in forums on AT&T’s website, XDA-Developers forums and Android Central (where some T-Mobile users are reporting the same issue), but other users said they weren’t having any issues. This is both the best and worst kind of Android bug, because it’s less likely to merit immediate attention from the phone maker and wireless carriers when it doesn’t affect everyone.

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Nintendo Will Finally Embrace Online Play With Nintendo Network

Nine years after Microsoft launched Xbox Live, and five years after Sony launched the Playstation Network, Nintendo announced that it’s building its own online service, called the Nintendo Network.

As Mashable reports, the Nintendo Network will offer the requisite connected console fare, including user accounts, online multiplayer, downloadable add-ons and eventually full game downloads.

Although Nintendo’s Wii and 3DS can already connect to the Internet for downloadable games, online play and a couple of streaming video apps, the company’s online services are limited compared to what Microsoft and Sony offer. Nintendo doesn’t currently sell add-ons for existing games, offer system-wide voice support or even allow players to choose an online nickname that other players can easily look up.

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Netflix: Without Qwikster, No Game Rentals

When Netflix backtracked on its plans to spin off DVD rentals into a separate company called Qwikster, the company didn’t say whether it would still add video game rentals to its mail-order service, as announced along with the spin-off.

Now, it’s official: Netflix will not rent video games, or at least it has “no plans” to do so, CEO Reed Hastings said in an earnings call. He did not elaborate.

Netflix had planned to rent video games as an optional upgrade for movie renters. The news excited me because both GameFly and Blockbuster have trouble sending out the newest games in a timely manner. I was hoping that Netflix, with its huge DVD operation, would be able to do a better job with new releases, or at least pressure its competitors to do so.

But without a spin-off, it’s no surprise that Netflix doesn’t want to make the investment. That money is better spent on acquiring more streaming content–the inevitable future of media consumption–instead of trying to rent more discs.


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Everyone Rips Off Everyone, Or: NimbleBit vs. Zynga

In yet another example of one game developer ripping off another, Zynga’s been taking some heat for its launch of Dream Heights in the Canadian iOS App Store. The game reportedly plays a lot like NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower, in which you erect a skyscraper floor-by-floor while managing the tenants and businesses within. The major difference appears to be cosmetic, with Zynga using its usual cartoon style instead of retro graphics.

NimbleBit’s Ian Marsh responded by posting an open letter, calling out the similarities between Tiny Tower and Dream Heights. “Good luck with your game,” the letter reads, “we are looking forward to inspiring you with our future games!”

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7 Things I Learned From Building My First Desktop PC

My mission to buy a desktop PC started out simple: I wanted a powerful work computer with support for three monitors. Getting a PC within my budget seemed reasonable.

But then, temptation set in. With a slightly better processor and graphics card, this desktop could play the latest video games. And with a solid state drive instead of hard disk storage, everyday work performance would be breezier. Of course, boosting those specs at any configure-your-own PC site made the final price skyrocket. After days of searching for a powerhouse PC under $1,000, I admitted the truth to myself: If I wanted it, I’d have to build it.

Today, I write to you from my homemade, high-powered rig, built last Thursday. It has a 3.3 GHz Intel Core i5 2500K processor, an AMD Radeon 6870 graphics card, 8 GB of RAM, a 120GB solid state drive and a basic DVD burner. The total cost, after taxes and rebates, was about $920. (I got parts from MicroCenter, an electronics retailer, which meant paying sales taxes but getting everything immediately.)

Building my first desktop PC wasn’t just a means to an end, it was also a learning experience. If you’ve ever thought of building your own PC, here are some things to consider.

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Microsoft May Ditch Xbox Live Points, For Real This Time

Inside Mobile Apps is reporting as rumor what Xbox 360 users have wanted for years: the death of Microsoft Points.

Kathleen De Vere’s “source with knowledge of the company’s decision” says Microsoft will phase out its points system by the end of the year, and that the change will affect the Xbox 360, Windows Phones and the Zune Marketplace. Mobile developers are reportedly being warned to plan their downloadable content and in-app purchases around the change in policy. Microsoft, not surprisingly, would not comment.

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Razer’s Project Fiona: A Tablet From Portable Gaming’s Alternate Future

Unless your head’s in the sand, you know where portable video games are headed: Cheaper to develop, less expensive to sell, easier to pick up and less time consuming to play. Smartphones and tablets are slowly pushing the established games industry in that direction.

Razer is proudly not participating in that version of the future with Project Fiona, a concept Windows-based tablet that plays high-end PC games. The tablet has controller handles on either side of the 10.1-inch display, each with their own thumbsticks, buttons and triggers. Inside, there’s enough processing power to run games like Warhammer 40000: Space Marine and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on high settings.

When Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan was telling me all this a couple weeks before the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I didn’t entirely believe the company could pull it off. But then I played with Project Fiona myself at Razer’s booth. I don’t know how the company did it–and I dare not fathom at what cost–but the concept actually works.

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Playstation Vita 3G Data Plans: Same Old, Same Old

Sony announced the Playstation Vita with AT&T 3G more than seven months ago, but never bothered to explain how the data plans would work. Now, it’s official: the Vita will come with the same data plans you already get with smartphones.

That means 3G for the Playstation Vita will cost $15 per month for 250 MB, or $25 per month for 2 GB, in addition to the $300 price of the 3G Vita itself. (A Wi-Fi only model will cost $250.) Both data plans will include unlimited access to AT&T’s Wi-Fi hotspots, of which there are 29,000 around the United States. The Vita launches on February 22 in the United States.

I’m disappointed that AT&T and Sony stuck with conventional data plans for the PS Vita. This would have been a great opportunity for AT&T to launch a shared pool of data among multiple devices–something wireless carriers have talked about doing for some time. I can’t imagine a lot of people will want to pay a recurring data charge just for a gaming device, especially when you get the same result by using a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot feature, which would also allow for faster 4G data and connectivity with other devices.

Sony and AT&T are hoping to lure people into paying for data plans by offering exclusive in-game content when players check in at certain geographic locations. We may be able to judge the 3G Vita’s success based on whether game makers continue to produce these kinds of exclusives long after launch.


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