Hooray! Overpriced DLC goes on sale…

Need for Speed World is part of EA’s mission to try and conquer Free-to-Play gaming. It’s a part of the video game market which can be very profitable for a publisher even though a good chunk of it is, as its title suggests, free to play. The best way of clawing back development and maintenance costs; vanity items. Like pieces of armor, weaponry or in Need for Speed World‘s case, a ridiculously expensive virtual car. Released last Wednesday for the year plus PC racer, the Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition will set you back $100 unless of course you grab it now because the kind old folks at EA are selling it for just $75 (via Gamespot). Baffling when you think Free-to-Play items are also know as micro-transactions. There’s nothing micro about that price.

The Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition is said to be the first premium elite car which would mean that more offensively priced DLC will be coming to the 5 million users of NfSW. Of course no one is forcing players to buy the cars but it certainly adds to EA’s reputation of being rapacious.  Just the other week they announced a subscription-based version of Tetris. Never mind that Tetris can be found on every platform known to man, in the iOS version you can now sign up to paying $3 a month or $30 a year for exclusive discounts, challenges and a booster to speed up level progression. Because levelling up is what Tetris is all about…

Stories like these are the kind of thing usually saved for April Fool’s day when companies can announced insane ideas and promotions with consumers chuckling at the stupidity and forgetting it the very next day. But this time the stories are true and it’s EA who look like the fools to me.

Epoch-olypse

I have often expressed my disinterest in Smartphone and tablet games that try and replicate traditional buttons virtually. Very few have worked and even less have had any kind of lasting appeal for me. Simple finger swipes and taps are what work best and with the App Store crammed with awkward on-screen controllers, it’s always nice when a game comes along that promises something different. Uppercut Games are doing just that with their upcoming shooter, Epoch, which will be available from November 10th.

Epoch has been developed on the ever popular Unreal Engine and if one mechanic is synonymous with that engine it’s a cover system and Epoch is all about taking cover and taking out enemies when it’s tactical to do so. The post-apocalyptic setting may not be the most original and the Gears style combat is often mimicked but from what I’ve seen of Epoch, the fun comes from the aerobatic manoeuvres of the robot you control as it works its way through various arenas battling the hordes of approaching enemies (check out the pre-launch trailer here). I do like a good horde mode in any game so one that is boasting the ability to do this on the go with simple and intuitive controls has got me interested. The story? the press release states Epoch definitely has one but “Uncovering the mystery is part of the fun, so the best way to find out more is to play the game.” Uppercut Games aren’t discussing whether Epoch is to have in-app purchases or multiplayer but the fact they’re not giving an outright ‘no’ would suggest that both will be coming at some point.

Nintendo, meet Gameloft

When the 3DS came out just a few months ago, it was a fairly unique bit of kit. It was the first mass market stereoscopic 3D device and the first handheld to adopt said technology. But with each day, new tech ages faster than a teen on a sun bed and within a short period of time, more portable devices in the form of mobile phones are getting the 3D treatment. LG’s Optimus 3D is shipping soon to encroach on Nintendo’s territory and what does every handheld have nowadays? A Gameloft game. Six of their existing titles like NOVA have already made the transition to 3D and according to Yahoo (via My Nintendo News), 17 more are coming soon. Like NOVA, the idea is to for the games to be full experiences but another similarity is that they’re likely to be heavily inspired by other people’s IPs.

Should Nintendo be worried? The rampant success of the DS market was somewhat interrupted by mobiles over a relatively short period but an even shorter amount of time has passed before the market for stereoscopic handhelds is splitting consumers’ choice. I guess it will all come down to the games. Unless we see something like the next Xperia Play equipped with a 3D screen, traditional genres will always suffer the limitations of being on a controller-less platform with the 3DS being better suited to the Zelda and Mario experiences. But when attitudes are continuously changing towards the types of games people want to play on the go, the desire for bite-sized gaming may outweigh the want for fuller titles and the often feared end of dedicated handhelds may arrive quicker than first thought.

But there’s still a decent bit of time before that and Nintendo have previously said how they’re currently researching the possibility of merging their handhelds with a phone and partnering up with mobile companies. So while smartphones are slowly eating away at Nintendo’s audience, we could see a future where Nintendo release a device that claws back some of those who are comfortable with mobile games and a system that comes free on a contract.

PlayStation phone lacks PlayStation

Sony’s Xperia Play jumped right into the mobile space not long ago and was ready to take on any phone that stood in its way. Initial reports were that the system was a tad buggy to begin with but like everything, time is a healer and in this case, patches can sort out all manner of issues. One thing they can do is actually get you to buy games for it, PS1 games to be specific. After all, that was a heavily marketed feature of the Xperia Play and a reason why it comes with a slide-out controller. Not so for consumers who bought the Android enabled phone. After a month of being on sale, the PlayStation Classics selection of games have barely hit the 2,000 mark. Combined.

The five games in question are Cool Borders 2, Desruction Derby, Jumping Flash, MediEvil and Syphon Filter have been collectively downloaded between 850 and 2,600 times. That, by any standards, isn’t good. To be fair, the Xperia Play isn’t yet available in all regions but it is one sale here in the UK, a particularly Sony favouring country. Though the device is still very much in its infancy and the games on offer have probably already been played a number of times. Neither of them are particularly big titles either so with that being said, it’s not really that surprising the figures are so low.

Are Sony bothered? Not right now Dominic Neil-Dwyer, Head of Market Development at Sony Ericsson, told PlayStation Lifestyle. The issue is more to do with public awareness of the content than the content itself: “I think there’s also an awareness thing for people that are getting their hands on the device and where they are choosing to purchase games. There’s only a few, at the minute, PlayStation One titles there, and there’s more coming on a regular basis, and there’s the whole PlayStation as a content provider exclusive to the device, the story about that, that will emerge and people will see. So, there’s no concerns, it’s a revolutionary device, it’s shaking up the market, we’re very pleased with it. In terms of getting the PlayStation Certified program out, generally, we’re very happy. I think we’ll make a full assessment of if it has achieved our expectations fully, further down the line, so we’re very happy.” He also said that there’s still a lot more incoming but Sony are keeping their cards close to their chests right now, releasing information as they go.

One ruddy great thorn in the side of the PlayStation Classics’ selling power are the number of PS1 emulators in the Android Store. People can very easily pick up an Xperia Play then download one of those bad boys then play as many PS1 games as they please without having to wait for Sony to release or indeed pay for them. One has already been forcefully removed from the marketplace and I’d imagine Sony has their targets set on the others too.

Review: DAGi Capacitive Stylus (iPad)

Steve Jobs once said that if you need to use a stylus on one of their iDevices, Apple had failed. However that hasn’t stopped consumers from wanting to use something other than their fingers and equally had little effect on the companies who make them. Considering the amount of drawing applications and the potential for the iPad to become a serious artistic tool, finding a good stylus among the many iPad accessories is essential. Most are fat with a rubber tip and resemble a swollen pencil but DAGi have made a thinner alternative that also offers a remarkable amount of precision.

Using the stylus for drawing works surprisingly well because of the clever design. DAGi replaces a rubber tip with a clear plastic disc that has a red dot in the centre. When held correctly, the red dot is the exact spot of contact between stylus and screen. It’s almost as if you’re painting with a laser sight. It must be said though because of the shape of the tip, there is a certain sweet spot for using the stylus. Drawing still feels natural and you won’t be holding the touchscreen pen at any obscure angles but it’s worth mentioning if you’re fussy about such things.

The Apps I used as a test for the pen were Brushes, Adobe Ideas and Facebook. The first two were to see how semi-professional art applications work with the stylus and they do so very well. If you’re going for detail and don’t want to keep zooming in to 400% or more, having fundamentally a red dot to follow makes everything a lot easier. As for Facebook, that was used to see how well the stylus handles as a navigational tool for people with portly digits. Again, it came up trumps, scrolling through screens and entering text wasn’t a problem at all.

Despite Jobs’ condemnation of iPad styluses, the DAGi Capacitive Stylus is a great accessory for anyone who wishes to sketch or draw precisely. I would argue that using one doesn’t mean Apple has failed but rather that DAGi have succeeded.

Sony join the tablet fight

The idea of a tablet was once no more than a sci-fi dream however now it’s one of the hottest pieces of electronics with Apple leading the pack through their iPad range. Since the explosion in popularity of the original iPad, every Tom, Dick and Acer are building their very own tablets and this Autumn will see Sony join the party. Announced yesterday (via Telegraph) in a press conference, the company revealed the S1 and S2, two touch-only devices with two apparently different purposes.

The S1 is your standard iPad contender boasting a nine inch screen and Android’s Honeycomb operating system. Its design is meant to invoke the feeling of holding a magazine, tapering at one end but thick at the other. The S2 on the other hand is more of a portable web browsing device with a clamshell style which opens up to reveal not one but two 5.5 inch 1024×480 screens. Both are naturally WiFi, 3G and 4G enabled and both will come with the PlayStation Certified label meaning they’ll be able to play PS1 games and whatever else Sony approves for its mobile devices.

I get the S1, it’s Sony’s tablet which can stand up to the competition but the S2 puzzles me and I wonder if Sony are getting a little confused too. We already have a mini tablet to to speak, capable of playing PlayStation Certified games. The Xperia Play or PlayStation Phone as it’s been dubbed. A big factor of that is the physical buttons which Sony have marketed as being ‘needed’ for mobile gaming. So why now are we to received a dual-screened device whose games will be controlled just like any other touchscreen platform? To me, the S2 and Xperia Play will be fighting against each other in some ways with one boasting real buttons for real controls and the other following along with the Smartphone crowd. Maybe that’s it, maybe the Xperia Play will be the chosen platform for gamers who scoff at iPhone and Android gaming and the S2 is there for those who prefer something more casual. It does look a bit like a mock-up for a DS 2 before the 3DS was announced.

With these two systems, Sony doesn’t want to beat Apple but instead sit firmly in second place by 2012. Or at least that was their outlook last year so their aspirations may have changed since then. It’s a very tough market to jump into and Sony are renowned for making bits of hardware so the brand could be what drives sale of the S1 and S2 when they’re released in Autumn. Whether I fully understand the purpose of both tablets is irrelevant because tablets are big business now and there almost feels as if companies don’t necessarily need a reason to release one other than to be one of the choices for consumers. And like the Xperia Play, I’m really quite intrigued to see where Sony takes these tablet.

Your definitive way to play

In an effort to boost their status within the gaming community, Apple have hired two key members from Nintendo and Activision to help promote the iOS as the definitive gaming platform. Robert Saunders, who is currently working for Nintendo UK, is leaving to join Apple at the end of April for a PR position specifically created to focus on Apps while Activision’s PR director Nick Grange will look after iPad hardware (via Appleinsider).

The creation of both positions and head-hunting of two traditional video game veterans shows Apple’s dedication to iOS and the devices it’s found on. But they’re going to have a hard time convincing the sternest of critics that iPads and iPhones have become the definitive way to play games. It’s true, iOS games are vast in quantity with more and more people using them for entertainment purposes however that doesn’t necessarily make them replacements for console and PCs just yet. If such a claim is to be based on the sheer number of players, Facebook would surely be on top with Farmville and Cityville leading the way. Regardless of semantics, we still have a clear divide between the casual and hardcore audiences because of the kinds of experiences that appeal to each demographic. An overwhelming majority of iOS games are of a shorter bite-sized nature and even the grander ones work better when split up this way. Controls have become a big issue too with mechanics and gameplay being scaled down to make up for a lack of precision.

I’m not against this type of game, far from it if you see some of the games covered in my review section but everything has its place within the industry. In a report from the end of last year, Smartphone gaming has risen 43.8 percent whereas those found on DS and PSP fell 13 percent. Great news for Apple and Android for that matter but being mobile phones, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into hands than it is for systems that predominately focus on video games. They are a threat, no doubt about it just as is the iPad with a recent survey showing 84 percent of owners using the tablet for gaming. Whether or not those games are comparable to ones found on traditional platforms is still to be understood but the potential market is growing seemingly everyday. I’m yet to be convinced that the iOS can be considered definitive but I’m keen to see how Saunders and Grange try and prove that it is. Who knows, they may just win me over forcing me to eat my words good and proper. To be honest I’d rather that and have more quality gaming experiences than the alternative.