Tag Archives: prices

Best Games of 2009

A look back at some of the best games of 2009

2009 was a great year in gaming. Titles such as Assassin’s Creed, Wolfenstein and Fallout 3 are quite simply some of the best games ever developed. Period.

So if you’re still struggling to keep up with the new 2010 game releases, then why not catch up by playing the following, highly recommended 2009 releases (which are also a lot cheaper now than when they were first released):

Best Games: Fallout 3

Fallout 3 boxBased on the idea of a post-apocalyptic world in the near future, Fallout 3 is without a doubt the best game I have ever played to date. The game not only has a riveting storyline and an amazing graphics engine, but also has the most sublime explosions you will see in any game. Being able to create custom-made weapons from Wasteland junk and choose from a library of unique perks whenever your character levels up, are just a few pleasures that make this game a must-have.

Best Games: Wolfenstein

Wolfenstein boxYou are super-spy BJ Blaskowitz and your job is to singly-handedly put a stop to those naughty Nazis and end WWII. The earlier versions of Wolfenstein still fill me with nostalgia and give me a tingly feeling in my fingertips. The latest Wolfenstein is a treat to the eyes and is one of the most intense war games in my collection. The game has a real solid feel and explosive effects, and being able to move in and out of the veil is certainly a unique gaming element. There is a great selection of upgradable weapons and is awesome if you’re a fan of the rifle. Capping Nazis has never been this fun!

Best Games: Call of Duty 5 – World at War

Call of Duty 5 World at War boxGranted that this game was released at the end of 2008, it is certainly in the same league as 2009 war games. It is fast-paced and intense, and in my opinion the best Call of Duty title released. This is one of those titles that gamers can play time and time again whenever the urge to kill kicks in. My only gripe is that Captain Price is off the scene (I understand that he was busy auditioning for a place in Modern Warfare 2). Nonetheless, the American and Russian campaigns are a blast.

Best Games: Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5 boxI was never a fan of the third-person Resident Evil games until I played this one. The Direct X 10 version of the game is both spectacular and intense. Even on normal difficulty, Resident Evil 5 is a desperate challenge to find ammo and cap zombies. Having a hot sidekick follow you around is a very welcomed element and she is far more than just a well-rendered face. Resident Evil 5 is also by far one of the longest games I’ve ever played (perhaps too long), but no doubt it will keep you entertained for months. Keep clean underwear nearby.

Best Games: Assassin’s Creed

Assassins Creed boxBeing a huge fan of Assassin’s Creed, I bought the second installment this year and was rather disappointed. Although ’Screed 2 is far better looking than its predecessor and offers a few more gaming elements, it still does not match up to the story and immersiveness of the first game in my opinion. Nonetheless the Renaissance environment in which you play is rather appealing. The controls for ‘Screed are by far the easiest to learn and nothing beats leaping off a clock tower into a bundle of hay. Bundles of fun!

All of the games above are available at Take 2 for reasonable prices. If the prices have not yet come down, it may be a good idea to simply add them to your wish list. Take 2 will then notify you when the prices drop.

Happy gaming!

Related Post: Fallout 3 Tweaks & Tips


The Apple of my iPad

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APPLE IPAD: Hands-on, touch technology at its best

DIGITAL entertainment technology has a nasty habit of being released onto the market too soon — usually before it can be fully tested, optimised, fine-tuned and sold at a fair price. The Apple iPad, on the other hand, couldn’t have come soon enough, and is the perfect balance between a smartphone — such as the iPhone — and a netbook or MacBook. It is also one gadget being marketed at a very reasonable price.

Apple iPad iBook storeWe South Africans, however, may have to wait a little longer to get our eager hands on iPads and experience them for ourselves. Nonetheless, several bloggers and tech experts have been raving about the iPad since it’s unveiling on January 28; but not all of it has been positive.

Techsperts are arguing that the biggest downfall of the iPad is that it is trying to be the best at everything and failing to be the best at anything. It’s great if you already own a laptop and an iPhone, they say, but perhaps not so great as a stand-alone device.

I would argue differently, and propose that the iPad is perfect for people who own neither an iPhone nor a netbook — or any Apple product for that matter. For starters, you would only be paying for one gadget (it is the cheapest of the three), which is able to do what the netbook and iPhone can … even if not as well.

What is an Apple iPad?
The iPad is a tablet computer. It is a flat, magazine-sized device with a multi-touch screen that allows users to surf the web, watch video content, send emails and read online media and ebooks (electronic books), among other things.

The real technology lies in the high-resolution, multi-touch screen, which is essentially what the iPad is. It requires no input devices such as a keyboard and mouse; everything is performed with the touch or sweep of a finger. A virtual on-screen keyboard appears when wanting to type something such as an email.

The iPad really resembles a large iPhone, but does not have built-in phone capabilities. However, the iPad is not marketed as a phone and it is still possible to web chat and communicate using social media websites and services.

Size and specs
The iPad is two centimetres thin and weighs just 0,7 kg. It features an accelerometre, compass, speaker, microphone, headphone jack, dock connector, 802.11n WiFi networking, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, 16/32/64GB of storage, and Apple’s brand new, super-fast A4 1GHz processor.

That’s one tight package with a lot of talent. Some iPad models will also feature 3G connectivity to cellphone networks. Battery life is said to be 10 hours during active use and one month during standby.

What does the iPad do?
Apple CEO Steve Jobs punted the iPad’s capabilities as an electronic reader of books, newspapers and magazines. In this way, it operates in a similar manner to the Amazon Kindle; one is able to browse and download ebooks onto the device to be read on the screen. This saw the birth of the iBooks application, which users can use to find, purchase, and download e-books from the iBook Store using their iPads.

Users can also download podcasts and vidcasts or buy music, TV shows, movies and applications from the built-in iTunes Store and App Store. All applications that currently work on the iPhone will run in an iPhone-sized window or in a maximized view on the iPad. Apple’s latest iPad model — the SDK — will allow developers to further customise applications for the larger screen size.

iPad Apps
The iPad comes with several built-in applications, such as Safari, Mail, iCal, Address Book, Google Maps, YouTube, Photos, and Music (to name a few). All these applications (which already existed in the iPhone) have been redesigned and optimised for the large multi-touch iPad screen. Data can also be synchronised with a Mac or PC via USB cable.

iPad features and shortfalls
Jobs showed off various features of the iPad during the unveiling ceremony, which include browsing the web, checking email, working with spreadsheets and charts, playing videogames, listening to music and watching video. That’s a lot to ask for in just one device, yet it still lacks a couple of important capabilities.

Apple iPad - NY TimesSome critics predicted the iPad would become the best-selling electronics device of 2010, while others pointed to its shortfalls, complaining that it has no built-in camera, cannot multi-task, can’t be used as a phone and doesn’t support Adobe Flash.

The lack of Flash support is possibly the major shortfall, as many websites today incorporate Flash for rich media content. Several news websites make use of Flash video and banners, which simply cannot be viewed or accessed using an iPad.

iPad Pros
The iPhone has been hailed as a revolutionary device. Since its release, a huge library of thousands of applications has been developed and made available to iPhone users – for nominal fees, of course.

It is not incorrect to say that the iPhone acted as a sort of testing ground for new applications, as it was the only device that could make first and proper use of them. It is also not incorrect to state that many of the applications were borderline useless and often left iPhone users who had purchased the applications feeling a little ripped off.

The iPad, on the other hand, had the advantage of determining which iPhone applications were most successful and popular, and the best ones have been incorporated, with considerable upgrades to them.

What I would argue is the strongest selling point of the iPad from a consumer perspective is that it is simple and easy to use. Microsoft Surface showed how quickly all types of people can get to grips with hi-end technology by using natural hand gestures to operate it.

The iPad has no right or wrong way of being held — whatever is on the screen will rotate and orientate itself to how you hold it. Clicking on links, playing video content, resizing and zooming in on images, using Google Maps, playing games … is all done intuitively, using your fingers. It is hands-on technology at its best.

iPad Cons

“The iPad isn’t the transformational device so many Apple enthusiasts were hoping for. It won’t turn all the content industries upside down, it won’t be your primary computing device and it’s not even a bigger, better iPhone.” — Mashable.

Without Flash support the iPad is unfortunately not the best web browser, which is what Apple is claiming it to be. However, it is still highly capable and can do a lot more than just web-browsing. It is not meant to be used as your primary computing device and it will not replace your cellphone.

Battery life, however, may be an issue. There seems to be a major focus on making gadgets as small and lightweight as physically possible these days, which can hamper functionality. The Apple iPad is just two centimetres thick. Battery life is said to be 10 hours. I would much prefer a thicker device with a larger battery if that means I can use it for longer.

Yet the iPad’s ease-of-use appeal and links to Apple’s online music, book and applications stores will make it an entertainment gadget that appeals to a broader group of people than previous attempts to market tablet computers.

iPad Prices & Release Dates
Apple has said that the basic iPad would be available worldwide in late March at a starting price of $499 (roughly R4 000). A 32GB version will cost $599 and a 64GB version will cost $699.

All iPads can access the Internet using WiFi, but Apple will also be selling versions of the iPad that connect to high-speed 3G wireless networks. These will cost an additional $130 (roughly R1 000). It is important to note that the 3G versions will also require an Internet data plan.

If sales speak any truth
Steve Jobs said that due to iPods, iPhones, and MacBooks, Apple is the largest mobile devices business in the world today – generating more revenue than Sony, Samsung & Nokia. Add the iPad to that list and Apple seems unstoppable.

PS: I’m hoping to get my paws on an Apple iPad when they are released and write a proper, full review. Until then, watch this space …

Related post: Microsoft Surface – touch technology

Player Versus Player Digital Arena

NEW Gaming experience opens at Liberty Midlands Mall

AN exciting new entertainment venue opens in Pietermaritzburg’s Liberty Midlands Mall this weekend. PVP Digital Arena (short for Player Versus Player) will allow gamers to at last take advantage of some built-in features of the Xbox 360 that they have been denied up until now.

Previously Xbox owners have only been able to take advantage of around 30% of the capabilities of the Xbox, says Brendon Holder, who together with Paul Gilliver is responsible for dreaming up the idea for this ground-breaking store.

PvP Digital ArenaPVP is, apparently, the first of its kind in the country and the only electronic game specialist store in Pietermaritzburg. The store also retails a range of the best and latest games for Xbox, Playstation, PC and Nintendo consoles and Holder and Gilliver are available to give expert advice.

PVP will give gamers access to 20 networked  Xbox 360s connected to high definition LCD monitors, to play the latest games that include first person shooters such as Halo: Orbital Drop Shock Troopers and Call of Duty; third person shooters like Gears of War 2; real time strategy games such as Halo Wars; car racing and rally games that include Dirt 2, and car simulators like Forza 3; as well as a variety of “beat-em-up” games, and sports games like Fifa 10, rugby and golf.  

The real X-factor with PVP, however, is the fact that players can play against other players in the same room, giving the already convincingly rendered games, enhanced reality. Slow internet speeds in South Africa have meant that unlike other places in the world, live multiplayer gaming has not been a real option for gamers in SA. This has meant that possibly the most exciting aspect of electronic multiplayer games has yet to be experienced by locals.

“Playing Call of Duty is so much more real when you and your squad are in the same room, discussing strategy, while your opponents are on the other side of the room planning how to ambush you. The line between real and virtual is blurred.” – Holder

To further enhance the experience, PVP will hold competitions, elite tournaments for pro gamers, and in-store events, including the possibility of “moments of madness” where they will randomly give away PVP-branded gear and other prizes to players.

The eagerly anticipated store has already created a stir on PVP’s facebook page (PVP Digital Arena) and Liberty Midlands Mall centre manager Cassie Fourie says that there has been a lot of interest shown.

“Customers have been asking when PVP is opening and are extremely excited”, she said, “We welcome this new addition to the mall, which caters to the entertainment element.”

The best news though is that to get in on the action, it will cost players less than a ride in one of those peddle boats at the seaside, with prices starting at a mere R20 per 30 minutes.

Costs to play at PVP Digital Arena
      – R20 per 30 minutes
      – R35 per one hour
      – R60 per two hours

Events planned
After-hour “lock ins” will be organised for groups of 16 or more on request.
 Competitions for rankings, with prizes, to be held every month.
Elite tournaments for pro gamers to be held at PVP.
Various events to be held weekly, including “moments of madness”

Other goods on offer
PVP is also a retailer of the best electronic console games for Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Wii and PC. Buyers can try games before they buy and get expert advice on game choices. There will be a game swopping facility available too.

Membership options are planned for the future, with loyalty cards that earn members points that can be redeemed for playing time, games or PVP merchandise.

 Twenty networked Xbox 360s linked to HDMI.
23” LCD monitors, with headphones and comfortable tub chairs.
PVP will keep their equipment current and in future will even change to another console platform if a better one is released.

PVP Digital Arena is at Shop 93A at Pietermaritzburg’s Liberty Midlands Mall. Don’t miss their grand opening at 9am this Saturday, October 24. Get there early to claim your place. For inquiries call PVP at 033 342 6420 or email Brendon Holder: brendon@pvp-arena.co.za

The 20th big Splash!

Preparations for the 20th Splashy Fen Music Festival taking place this year are already well underway and festival-goers making the annual pilgrimage to Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal can expect a special celebration to mark this major milestone in the festival’s history.

Over the years, Splashy Fen has evolved from a small gathering of hippies in the mountains into one of South Africa’s premier festivals, widely recognised for its contribution to promoting local music by providing a platform for close to 1 500 artists and has even helped kick-start many successful music careers.

Happening over the Easter weekend from 9-13 April, Splashy Fen 2009 will once again offer a diverse four-day programme of top and up-and-coming live acts, including featured performances by a number of Splashy legends.

A limited number of discounted tickets are now on sale at selected Game stores for R400. If you miss out on this promotional offer, then tickets are also available at Computicket (R450) and at the festival gate (R500). Children under 12 pay R50 – tickets at the gate only. The price includes camping for the entire long weekend.

If you haven’t been to a Splashy yet it really is a great experience. If you have, the organisers are looking for stories, photographs and video footage from Splashy Fen’s early years, and would also like to hear from any Splashy veterans who’ve been to all (or many) of the previous festivals.

All contributions are welcome and can be emailed to splashyfen@gmail.com. Here are some of my videos from last year’s festival (produced for the Natal Witness). Enjoy!

Splashy Fen – The Ultimate Outdoor Experience

Splashy Fen 2008 Highlights

Splashy Fen 2008 – The Music

Splashy Fen 2008 – The Performers

Splashy Fen – In the Beginning…

Click here to see videos from the 20th Splashy Fen!

For more information, visit www.splashyfen.co.za or contact Pedro Carlo 
on 082 892 6176.

Robo pets

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ROBOT PETS: Meet Aibo the robot dog, Nabaztag the robot bunny, Paro the fluffy robot seal, and Pleo the robot dinosaur

I’VE been thinking of getting a puppy; one that’s potty-trained. Or perhaps a streetwise cat that can take care of itself. The thought that I could never find the time to raise a pup made me consider robot pets. Several of these can learn skills and tricks, recognise faces, voices, and colour; but they won’t pee on your carpet. These are my top four:

AIBOWhen electronic communication giant, Sony launched the Artificial Intelligence roBOt dog (AIBO) in 1999, the pooch was regarded as a breakthrough in the robot entertainment market. Since then, AIBO (meaning “love” or “attachment” in Japanese) has sold over 130 000 units worldwide. AIBO is the first generation of artificial intelligence pets designed to learn and adapt to its environment.

These automatons can communicate over wireless networks and even photograph things they ‘see’ and post these to their personal (owner’s) websites. He will wag his tail when patted on the head, and, if you’re lucky, he’ll produce an affectionate high-pitched squeal. The robo-pup can respond to voice commands, pick up his AIBOne, and play with his balls just like a real dog.

However, Sony has discontinued production of AIBO since 2006 following profit erosion from Apple iPods, and technical support for existing AIBO’s ends in 2013. They were pricey anyway – at a local retail price of about R15 000.

Meet Nabaztag – a 23 cm tall WiFi-enabled electronic bunny. Nabaztag (meaning “rabbit” in Armenian) is considered as a ‘smart object’ and can connect to the Internet (to download weather forecasts, report traffic jams, read its owner’s email etc) and is also fully customizable and programmable.

Nabaztag can also send and receive MP3s and messages and read the latter out loud in up to 16 different languages. He can also use his digital voice box (or indicative lights) to deliver weather forecasts, stock market reports, news headlines, e-mail alerts, RSS-Feeds, MP3-Streams, and he can be your alarm clock.

Some Nabaztag owners have joined social networks to share photos and videos on websites like Flickr and YouTube. Users can also create and share podcasts (or rather ‘Nabcasts’) and add to the growing collection online.

The latest version Nabaztag has a microphone that allows for voice activation of some of its services. A final added feature is a built-in RFID reader to detect special-purpose RFID tags and the ability to identify objects. Nabaztag can even use these RFID tags to read special edition versions of French children’s books.

Paro has got to be the cutest and most lifelike of all the artificial pets. While the others resemble animals in suits of armor, Paro the baby harp seal is specifically designed to be cute and cuddly, and make people feel comforted.

He is what is known as a Mental Commitment Robot – developed to interact with human beings and make them feel emotional attachment. These robots are specifically aimed to trigger subjective evaluations and have shown to have positive psychological, physiological (such as improvement in vital signs), and social effects among inpatients and caregivers young and old.

Paro has five kinds of sensors, which are a little different from the familiar five senses belonging to the living. He uses tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment.

The light sensor allows Paro to recognize light and dark. He feels being stroked and beaten by tactile sensor, or being held by the posture sensor. Paro can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor.

Like AIBO the wonder-dog, Paro can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers, and to respond to its new name. If he is beaten for bad behaviour for example, the action is recorded to memory and the robot seal will perform less of the deviant behaviour in the future.

pleoPleo is a ‘designer species’ type of pet robot that begins life as a newly-hatched baby Camarasaurus. Like the others robo-pets, he is said to incorporate all the basic traits of autonomous life and is specifically engineered and enhanced to mimic life and relate to his owner on a personal level.

Pleo was engineered by a group of robotics specialists, animators, technologists, scientists, biologists, and programmers who noted the biological and neurological systems of the Camarasaurus, and “re-interpreted” those elements through hardware and software. The design combines sensory, articulation, and neuronetics to create a lifelike appearance with organic movement and adaptable behaviors.

The dinosaur is equipped with senses for sight, sound, and touch, and learns and reacts to sensory stimuli as it explores its environment. Interaction with the environment has subtle effects on its behavior, and every Pleo eventually exhibits a unique personality.

Two or more Pleos can recognise one another, and marketers claim that they can even transmit colds to each other. However, unlike real organic pets, Pleo wont ever die on you or run away. So long as technical support is available, he and his different species of robot friends – AIBO, Nabaztag and Paro, will live forever.

It is difficult to say how the general public will respond to the rising popularity of artificial pets such as these. A few years ago, Tamagotchi had children and adults obsessed with caring for pixelated, black and white digital dogs or dinosaurs. Some owners really believed that these had real, humanlike personalities and were inconsolable when their virtual pets’ lives ended tragically.

Dr Hannah Slay, owner of a pet AIBO, doesn’t see anything particularly wrong with owners becoming emotionally attached to robotic pets. She feels that they could have real benefits for the sick and the lonely. A study by Cambridge University suggests that real pets can reduce stress, encourage exercise, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and stave off loneliness.

“If AIBO can do that then I don’t see anything unethical about it”
 – Dr Hannah Slay

Rhodes University philosophy lecturer, Francis Williamson remains skeptical about humans building relationships with artificially intelligent pets. He suggests that products like AIBO merely provide the appearance of a relationship rather than an actual one.

“Any good consequences of such an invention are based on an illusion” – philosopher Francis Williamson

In other words, people are being duped.

I personally don’t see anything wrong with people becoming emotionally attached to robot pets, although I would never want to own one. Even if a cuddly Paro looked happy to see me, the fact that it wouldn’t be sincere about it would put me off. But if they can dupe others and make them happy as a result then that’s dandy.

Human beings have been conditioned by the media to perceive personality and consciousness in things that don’t actually have them. Think about all the people that believe their teddy bears, cars and household plants have personalities. Although robot pets are very far from being self-aware and conscious, at least they are more fun and lively than a mute, plastic pooch.

I leave you with one of my favourite quotes by sir Stephen Fry:

“If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t there
more happy people in the world?”

Interesting Links:
Top-selling robot pets
What’s the point of robot pets?
Bye Bye Rover – AIBO article and video