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Under the Hood of SimCity (VIDEO)

Future Mayors of SimCity will of course know that the game is set to return in 2013, and Maxis are clearly excited by the opportunity to recreate it for an entirely new generation of gamers.

They plan to show us the cutting edge aspects that will make this the deepest, richest and most accessible simulation in the franchise to-date in the coming months, beginning with a look at their “super power”: GlassBox.

GlassBox is the simulation engine that powers the world of SimCity, and this look under the hood is intended to demonstrate the integrity of the simulation.

In developing SimCity, Maxis’ philosophy is What You See Is What You Sim; every aspect of the game is an agent that reports back to the underlying simulation. Thanks to GlassBox the world comes to life around you in a meaningful way.

More videos will be released soon – stay tuned!

Wii Sing with Atomic Karma

Back in November we were invited to the launch of the We Sing Rock launch event in London’s Leicester Square. With X Factor loser Kitty turning up to provide an excellent professional demonstration, the highlight of the evening was naturally seeing a lot of people having a go at some of the greatest British rock songs…

As it turned out, however, your editor also had the opportunity to sing… although not the track he would have wanted:

Yep, that’s me singing The Animal’s “House of the Rising Sun” at the recent launch of Nordic Games’ We Sing UK Hits and We Sing Rock, both for Nintendo Wii.

As you will see from the clips, while there wasn’t the opportunity to try the game properly (the live group was a little too loud!) everyone had a great time and you could do far worse than get yourself a copy of one of the great games from the We Sing series!

Everything I Know About Religion, I Learned From Videogames

The moral framework of the Ultima series was the first real understanding I had that there are rules in place in the real world.  I could choose to follow those just as I had the pseudo-Buddhist rules in my quest to become an “Avatar”.

At their most basic moral frameworks are the foundations of religion.  Forget the deities and heroes; religion acts as a control mechanism in an increasingly chaotic world.  As I write this people are being shot at, beaten, kidnapped and abused, all around the world.  Not just in warzones initiated by our governments but in the lands of those we call our neighbours.

Hell, it’s even in our backyards.

With things so desperate on the socio- and geo-political fronts, it could be said that it’s a bit late to introduce a real-time strategy game concerning the battle between good and evil in a contemporary setting that is heavily based on the events described in the Tribulation (Book of Revelation).  Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series of books has been a worldwide success and has spawned the LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces real-time strategy game.

You may well wonder “does the world need a Christian RTS”?  Surely gamers want sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, car theft, killing sprees, re-enactments of key victories of World War 2 or the opportunity to (virtually) dress in spandex and display a range of super powers? You might be right, but you would also be a little slow on the update – LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces has been around for a few years now. It was launched in 2006 to a curious audience but it seemed that despite going gold, few hung around. By 2008 1 million copies were given away free

The answer is of course that following the GTA “Hot Coffee” scandal, the moral crusaders have had a strongly-focussed eye on video games.   It was once thought that LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces would be accepted into the homes of video gaming Christians across the world and feature what the creators consider to be “positive game content”. Sadly for the developers, things didn’t quite work out this way.

To be fair the developers can’t be blamed too much. They avoided creating a game of mawkish reverence, the aim being to defeat the forces of the antichrist, the wonderfully named Nicolae Carpathian.  With this, the makers hope to finally engage with the generation of disenfranchised youths currently buying games and introduce a concept of morality.  The problem is that the young men and women of today’s society already have a set of morals; they’re just different to the longer-established ones the majority of us adhere to.  There is an issue of choice here, a basic freedom; the Romans had a moral code quite alien to our own – who is to say we are right? We’re certainly not that much more civilized.

It seems that freedom of choice is not an issue when religious groups demand that games are taken off shelves, copies burned, and so forth for representing a mirror image of the world in which we live – as all good art should.  With the control mechanisms of church failing, there is a feeling that we live in desperate times, and that a connection needs to be made between God (the “rules”) and fans of GTA and 25 to Life (the “lost sheep”).

Video gamers are at the hands of self-appointed moral guardians who assume to think and make choices for the rest of society.  The suggestion that balanced individuals would murder prostitutes in real life following a similar event in a video game is absurd. Just as there have been no cases of young men wandering the countryside healing people without a bye-or-leave.

So why did LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces fail? Was it too close to the truth?

For some, it seems that not only do we live in a world of rape, war, greed, deceit and spandex, we also inhabit a world of fear, a world wondering whether it is dancing to the tune of a self-fulfilling prophesy, a world where one minute video games are idle distractions not worthy of serious attention and the next they are the spawn of the devil.

Or was it just crap?

Greatest Half Life 2 Fan Movies

We could be waiting for Half Life 3 longer than we waited for Duke Nukem Forever, but you can guarantee it won’t suck as much. But in the meantime, let’s dream about how a Hollywood style visit to City 17 might look with these great – nay, amazing – fan produced movie shorts.

HALF-LIFE – Singularity Collapse

The one that inspired this article. Beautiful effects and acting, astonishing set dressing and a great location.

Half-Life 2 – Fan Movie Teaser I’m the Freeman

Marco Spitoni works at WETA (the company who produce props, visual effects and other hardware for Lord of the Rings) and made this awesome teaser trailer for a Half-Life movie that no one’s ever gonna see completed… probably.

Escape from City 17

Possibly the most awesome combine(ation) of CGI, Machinima and live action anywhere, this movie and it’s sequel are fricking brilliant. Set during the City 17 uprising in Half Life 2, the films tell of the connection that grows between two people during the battle. Both parts are made in a gritty guerrilla style that really works in the context. Budget is low ($250 on each) with previously owned/donated software, time, and an HVX200 camera used.

Both parts star Julia Tourianski and Derek Chan with producers David and Ian Purchase.

Follow Freeman

Produced by Machinima.com, you won’t find the Free Man within but it’s a great way to get your Half Life fix.

Half Life TV Series. Episode 1 The Beginning

Fascinating but slightly inaccurate in places, the creators promised to create more episodes if the original reached 10000 YouTube likes. It did, and we await the results.

Did we miss any great Half Life 2 fan movies? Let us know!

HP: Flailing Giant Rising?

Hewlett Packard - better off without WebOS?

Providing servers and infrastructure for 1000s of businesses worldwide, HP has become a giant in IT provisioning, supplying hardware and consultants worldwide to companies and public service organizations that wished to profit from the digital revolution.

Yet in just a short space of time they’ve gone from industry giants to a major disaster area, contributing to the slow-down in PC sales and somehow failing to capitalise on their webOS platform and HP TouchPad tablet as a realistic, corporate-based alternative to the iPad.

How has it all gone so wrong?

This week figures of PC sales over the past 12 months reveal that overall the industry is slowing. This is in contrast to earlier figures that demonstrate that the PC hardware market is burgeoning. Both of these things are happening against the backdrop of tough times, so why the difference?

At this stage it isn’t clear, although it is most likely to be related to the fact that if sales are down, consumers are upgrading hardware components rather than entire systems. But what has this got to do with HP?

Astonishingly, their Q4 PC hardware sales are down around 25%. This cannot due to market forces or the threat of recession – more likely it is related to HP’s inability to forge a consistent path through the current economic climate. Twisting and turning on policy and direction for the company, customers have gone elsewhere, put off by the possibility of being unable to acquire long-term technical support and the actuality of a poor pricing strategy.

In amongst all of the pointless changes at the top, however, one good thing has come of their problems – the announcement that WebOS will be made (largely) open source. This could be a major move for both the company and the OS; the relationship always looked like the IT equivalent of Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes, a celebrity marriage that on paper appeared to work but somehow doesn’t look quite right. After all, HP had the chance to use WebOS as a corporate tablet platform, essentially preventing corporate take-up of the iPad.

Given their dominance in the enterprise marketplace, it seems incredulous that they messed that up.

Ultimately, the mobile and tablet operating system with a UI that makes Android look like a cheap iOS knock-off is severely under-appreciated by money men, and needs the strength of hobbyists to build it into a viable alternative to Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

Let’s just hope that as an open source platform it can finally stay safe from corporate mismanagement.

Are You INTO Windows Phone?

Windows Phone - effortlessly connecting you to your friends
If you’ve so far missed the boat on Windows Phone, now is the time to get on board with the fastest growing mobile phone platform around. Nokia has done great work over the past few weeks in promoting its first two phones to feature Microsoft’s new mobile OS, and the Nokia Lumia 710 and 800 devices are featuring in some great advertising campaigns on TV and in print in the UK and Europe.

It’s also good to see Microsoft pushing some quality apps for the platform, and INTO certainly seems like one to install as soon as you get your new Windows Phone (whether a Nokia, HTC, Samsung or LG).

With Blur bassist Alex James as its creative director, INTO offers a way to get more from the things that you are interested in via your Windows Phone.

 

Following the launch of INTO, exclusive content from key names such as James and special offers from fashion specialist Coggles will be available. This app offers an exciting new dimension to Windows Phone, one that isn’t prominent on either of the competitor platforms. Launching INTO now, following the launch of the super-cool Lumia 800 is a master-stroke – it won’t be long before everyone is using this app!

As you can see, it also offers a way of sharing offers with friends and family, making this an app that no Windows Phone owner should be without. Like the platform, INTO puts the user first, placing them at the centre of the phone experience. A quick example – you can snap a photo and upload to Facebook in under 5 seconds. That’s not just fast, it saves you from messing around on your phone longer than necessary.

You can find out more about Windows Phone and the INTO app via the facebook.com/windowsphoneuk page, where you can look out for opportunities to win an Arctic adventure for two in Finland, two Lumia 800 handsets and tickets to the INTO insider social event with Alex James and Sophie Ellis-Bextor or Monday December 5th!

VW’s Flux Capacitor

The time travelling VW Golf GTi Edition 35

It isn’t every day that a car manufacturer as iconic as Volkswagen gets the chance to celebrate a long-running line with such style, but that is exactly what happened recently at the 35th anniversary of the Golf GTI.

The celebratory VW Golf GTi Edition 35 model was paraded before an admiring collection of enthusiasts, journalists and industry bigwigs when events took a fascinating turn…

We wouldn’t like to speculate exactly where they got to, only that Volkswagen seems ot have created a flux capacitor with an extremely low threshold for time travel (44 mph?).

To find out just where the brave designer and test driver ended up, head to facebook.com/VolkswagenUK.

In a Global Slowdown, Are MMOs the First to Go?

Lego Universe MMO set to close

If you’re feeling the squeeze, what do you do to make ends meet?

Some of us stick a jumper on and light a few candles to keep the soaring fuel costs down; others stop going out to pubs and clubs. Soup can be a great comfort too, but what about electronic entertainment like games? Where do these fit in to the austerity belt-tightening?

According to LEGO Universe, quite high. The online brick building game is set to close its moulded doors on January 31st offering gamers their last month of play for free.

Describing it as a “very difficult decision to make” it would seem that market forces have played their part, with the game unable “to attract the number of members needed to keep the game open.”

Praising the “amazing community” is all very well, but what of the prices? EVE Online costs just under 15 Euros per month – around £12 – and that’s a hardcore gaming title for adults. Meanwhile LEGO Universe was priced at a comparatively obscene £9.99 per month.

So with prices much higher than many young LEGO fans might have on a monthly basis – coupled with the need to play regularly when homework might be a priority, it certainly seems that attracting the the right number of members was a problem. But this isn’t a problem with the game or the community, but with the business model. It is a shame that the fans have to miss out simply because someone paid to know better made an error of judgement.

It’s a shame that LEGO Universe isn’t able to take a leaf out of Star Wars’ book, and reformat the game or release a new version. Star Wars Galaxies opened in 2003 to a big fanfare that was soon dampened by various in game problems and the rush for every newbie to be a Jedi. Noticing some imbalances in the game the developers made some changes, but a few more rebalances later the community was abandoning in droves following an unnecessary reset of the game world.

The best thing about Star Wars Galaxies is that it now exists as a model of how not to run an MMO based on a major franchise; its December 2011 closure date is one week before the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, so clearly lessons have certainly been learned by Lucasarts.

Sadly, the problems aren’t limited to LEGO Universe. It seems that the world’s biggest fantasy MMORPG, World of Warcraft, has encountered a recent slump in subscriber numbers. While this should come as no surprise given the number of free-to-play alternatives such as Warhammer, Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars and DC Universe Online, what is most interesting is that the downturn in subscribers is mainly in Asia and China, the game’s traditional safe-haven.

Could it be then, that despite the need for austerity and belt tightening in the Euro Zone, gaming remains a priority for home entertainment? It certainly looks that way – global sales of games consoles and popular titles have increased over the past 12 months, continuing a trend that has been running for several years now.

While these figures don’t include the PC gaming industry, rumours of its death have been repeated so often that they simply cannot be believed, especially with current hardware allowing computers to out-perform Xbox 360.

While World of Warcraft will of course survive, the same can’t be said for LEGO Universe, which is a great shame as it offered an online gaming environment that was unique.

Finding the Best Cheap Games

Some of the first things that can be hit in an economic squeeze are nights out to the cinema, gigs or to restaurants – which can leave you in a bit of a fix for something to do on an evening or weekend.

Obviously buying a DVD and ordering a pizza is a top option, as is switching on your PC or games console and enjoying some top video gaming action.

But if you can afford new games then you can afford to hit the town, right?

Wrong!

There so many ways in which you can find great gaming titles at discount prices, both online and offline, and this is a great way to save money while maximizing entertainment.

Amazon

Probably the most obvious place to check for games, you can get great deals on both new and used titles if you know exactly where to look. Whether or not these titles are what you’re looking for or not is another matter entirely, of course, but at least you have the option of buying from third party private sellers, where the prices will be much lower than buying games new. You’ve got an Amazon account, right? No?! Then head over to www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk to sign up today!

Steam

If you’re a PC or Mac user and don’t already have a Steam account, then you should head over to www.steampowered.com right now and sign up. Using this direct download service and community allows you to find and purchase games from big-name publishers and excellent indie titles, and these can have some very low prices if you happen to purchase during one of the service’s many offer periods. You’ll be notified of these via the email address you use to sign up.

Direct2Download

Like Steam, Direct2Download offers a wide selection of games for PC and Mac that can be purchased and downloaded via the web rather than bought on disc from Amazon or a similar service. Also like Steam, Direct2Download features special offers from time to time. Find out more at www.direct2drive.com.

Offline Sales

Your final option will be to head to your local video game store, which might be a big chain or a private business, and see what they have on offer.

One of the recent trends in video game stores is that they all seem to offer a swaps and sales model, whereby anyone can take their old games and sell them for credits for a new title. This makes getting your hands on the latest games very easy, especially if you have enough older titles! Games brought in as swapped are then resold, usually at a lower price.

With so many ways to get hold of cheap games, staying in is bound to be the new going out…

Windows Phone Mango Device Roundup

The Nokia 710

Windows Phone is Microsoft’s latest stab at the mobile phone market, and after years of trying it seems that they have finally got it right, offering a wealth of features and integration with popular services (both in-house and external) backed up with a functional and increasingly growing app store.

While the original 2010 release of the platform was missing a few vital features, the 2011 Mango update is the Real Deal, a super-functional operating system that relies on the fast and responsive Metro user interface that we’ll soon be seeing as the star attraction of Windows 8.

Microsoft’s original partners were HTC, Samsung, LG and Dell, and each of these electronics giants released a fair selection of devices that were easy to use and reasonably successful for a brand new mobile platform, if a little similar to other handsets that had already been released (such as the HTC HD7’s similarity to the HTC HD2).

In 2011, however, a new range of devices are available. These second generation Windows Phones come courtesy of HTC, Lenovo, Acer, ZTE and of course Nokia, and join the first generation devices which are all capable of running the new Mango release.

HTC

With five original devices such as the HTC HD7, Mozart, Surround, Trophy and HTC 7 Pro, HTC are expected to deliver improved handsets in the shape of the aptly named HTC Titan and the smaller HTC Radar. Both equipped with front facing cameras (presumably to support an impending Skype app) these devices look set to attract the HTC adherents to the second wave of handsets.

Samsung

Offering the Samsung Focus S – a cousin of the Galaxy S Android device – and the Omnia W, these two devices will again include the front facing camera along with 1.4 GHz processors. One of the beauties of the Mango upgrade is that it unlocks a lot of the potential from the first generation devices, which is why many owners of these original handsets might not be interested in the second gen phones. However Samsung have an edge over HTC by offering exclusive devices – the Samsung Focus S is only available via AT&T in the USA, while the Omnia W is also known as the Focus Flash; both names recall previous Windows Phones from Samsung.

Nokia

The legendary Finnish mobile phone manufacturer has had a torrid time in the past 5 years, since around the time of the launch of the iPhone (although its problems are more deep-root than that) but they’re hoping to turn things around with the launch of the Nokia Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 devices.

While the 710 is positioned as a mid-range Windows Phone handset, it is the Lumia where most of the attention is focussed, offering as it does a clear alternative to the much-vaunted but ultimately unsuccessful N9, and features a 12 MP Carl Zeiss lens.

Curiously, however, both Nokia phones are missing the front facing camera, despite having Windows Phone 7.5 Mango pre-installed.

Notable Mentions…

It isn’t just these big names that are bringing second generation Windows Phone handsets to the masses. Names that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Microsoft such as Lenovo, Acer, ZTE and Fujitsu are all expected to release devices with Mango pre-loaded, although their availability outside of Asia will depend on various factors.

We reckon spotting an Acer device will be easier than getting hold of a ZTE handset outside of China, for instance.