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Josh Smith

Josh has been interested in video gaming and technology since the early 80’s. Growing up in Maine has proven difficult, but he’s found ways to gain access to hardware and software not typically seen in rural parts of the country. Now living near the coast, Josh is happily married with two young children and is teaching them the ways of the Force. Unfortunately, it’s the Dark Side.

Video game capture card finals – Which one will make the grade?

With eSports undergoing the sonic boom of recent and the constant attention given to gaming videos on channels like Youtube, Twitch, and Ustream, it’s no wonder that certain companies have emerged with hardware and software designed to help turn you into an internet sensation. Sadly, not all capture cards are created equally. There are many factors that go into their design and, subsequently, many factors that are then noticed by those purchasing them. With that in mind, how do you know what’s best for you? If you’re only dabbling in gameplay recordings, why spend hundreds of dollars? You may not even enjoy doing it and then you’ve wasted time and money.

Fear not aspiring Gods of Gaming, because College News has taken a look at three very different pieces of hardware that all do the same thing: they make you an internet sensation. They have the potential to, that is. For every successful live-streamer or Youtuber, there are 1,000 floundering and wondering why they aren’t popular. There are a number of factors, of course, but step one is always your capture card. You need high quality, noticeable footage in order to develop a following. With my Xbox 360 in tow, I looked at the Roxio Gamecapture HD Pro, the Hauppauge HD PVR2 Gaming Edition Plus and the Elgato Game Capture HD to determine which is ideal for you.

Roxio GameCapture HD

Size: B+ = About 6.0”x1.0”x3.0”

Cost: B = $119.99

Setup: A = With both HDMI and component support, the Game Capture HD Pro is ready for action after installation of the included software, a common routine. After software installation and connecting the card to from console to television & PC, users are ready for the Roxio experience.

What’s in the Box: C = In addition to the capture card itself, users will find a USB cable and software DVD. The lack of any connector cable, component or HDMI, is frustrating and creates unnecessary frustration for users. While cables no longer cost an unreasonable amount of money, particularly at sites like NewEgg or Monoprice, it’s frustrating knowing that you’ll have to make another purchase or another stop when you opt to use Roxio as your capture card of choice.

Software: B = The Roxio Game Capture Software includes both capture and editing software, making it versatile and useful to anybody looking to put a unique spin on game videos. The biggest benefit to the software is the simplicity inherent in learning and using it. With tools like Sony Vegas Pro or Adobe After Effects, it can seem daunting when you want to start with your own videos. Thankfully Roxio has created entry level software to ease users into it; that said, Roxio users will not be on the level of those who have learned professional grade software like the titles previously listed. The Roxio software is for beginners and most people watching your videos will probably be able tell.

Ease of Use: A = Install, setup, use. It’s hard to get much simpler than that. The included software adds a nice touch to a package that is otherwise devoid of important necessities. And, on the topic of software, even that’s easy to use, combining streaming, recording, and editing into a streamlined process designed specifically for newcomers.

Overall Grade: B
 

Hauppauge HD PVR2 Gaming Edition Plus

Size: C+ = About 6.0”x1.5”x6.0”

Cost: B- = $149.00

Setup: B =  The Hauppauge is perhaps the most unique capture card of the three showcased here. Far larger and less discreet than the Roxio & Elgato, this hunk of hardware requires its own DC-in power connection rather than relying on a USB connection to operate. As expected, the HD PVR 2 GE Plus uses HDMI and Component, but also features an audio port for optical-in.

What’s in the Box: A+ = Hauppauge has decided to give users everything they need in one box rather than pack in the bare minimum. Obviously the capture card and aforementioned DC power cable are included, but beyond that are an HDMI cable and component attachment that connects via proprietary attachment. Perhaps most impressive is a Playstation 3 component cable that is included primarily because of Sony’s HDCP, something they use to block recording/streaming via HDMI connections.

Software: B+ = The included StreamEez software makes recording and live-streaming incredibly simple. With Microsoft going the way of Twitch and Sony leaning on Ustream, it’s nice to see Hauppauge seemingly “shaking hands” with both services, particularly because nobody quite knows if one service or another will be more popular. In years past, the Hauppauge lacked the ability to simply and easily stream to services, instead relying on third parties to handle the brunt of it and rendering the Hauppauge hardware as more hindrance than help. For simple recording, Arcsoft’s ShowBiz software handles that task and does it well. For recording in 1080p though, expect to get your frame rate capped at 30fps rather than the ideal 60fps. For professionals, this might be the difference between “purchase” or “pass”.

Ease of Use: B = Having the ability to simply push a button and be live streaming to the world is invaluable, but being forced to use two different pieces of software for your different tasks is obtrusive. The variety of options and extra cables included help justify purchasing the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition Plus, but one of the more difficult tasks, especially when compared to the other two capture cards here, is finding a place on your entertainment center where it fits comfortably.

Overall Grade: B+

Elgato Game Capture HD

Size: A+ = About 4.25”x1.0”x3.0”

Cost: C = $179.95

Setup: A = No software disk is included, which cuts down on packaging, but to install the required software you’ll have to visit the Elgato homepage and download the installation file. Once you’ve taken care of the software side, the hardware setup is no more difficult or easier than the others. Connect the HDMI or component cables, tether it to your PC, and voila: you’re an immediate internet sensation with millions of people on Youtube staring in awe at your gaming prowess.

What’s in the Box: A- = While there are cables you may find yourself needing if you get deep into recording and decide to expand your library and audience, most of what you’ll need to start with is packed with the Elgato Game Capture, which is covert itself. An HDMI and USB cable are included, as is a PS3 component cable. For the PS3 cable to be useful, Elgato stuffed in a component adaptor, however for those who wish to use component exclusively (which, strangely, some do) you will need your own component cable.

Software: A+ = Despite having to download the software from the site, which can be more of a hassle than one would prefer, the options allowed for livestreaming and game capture are brilliantly simple. By putting all options on one screen, users can capture video for editing or live stream on a whim, seamlessly alternating between the two if that’s your silly desire. Your channel credentials are entered easily,your access to them is painless, and you can be active within minutes.

Ease of Use: B+ = There isn’t a piece of hardware more user-friendly in any of the capture cards listed here; it’s really that simple. When bringing up the Elgato streaming software, you’re greeted with options to input channel logins for Youtube or Twitch, then given additional options for setting up search tags, video titles, game identification, and other important information that your viewers will want to know. Finally, the technical options are also very simple, allowing for volume and microphone adjustments on the fly and recording with or without a delay.

Overall Grade: A+

With pros & cons to each capture card, it’s ultimately up to the user (that’s you) to determine what the best fit would be. Each card captures footage in remarkable 720p HD quality, but there are some limitations when looking to maximize your footage at full 1080p video. There are benefits to both amateurs and novices with each of these cards, though the more money you’re willing to spend, the better options you have. With each card, the software is impressive and gets the job done, but even with the simplistic, “pick up and go” options that an inherent in each, users will find third party software to be ideal for editing videos and adding voiceovers. Still, the world of live-streaming has seen enormous growth in these last few years and for anyone who is looking to becoming a part of that community, any of these capture cards would be worth the investment.

"Kinzie Twerks at the End" – Saints Row IV Review

The appeal of the Saints Row franchise has always been that it contains an air of unbelievability, a certain ridiculousness that players enjoy when tooling around the city of Steelport, the Saints’ hometown. In Saints Row IV, developer Volition takes the insanity to new levels by introducing a storyline that borders on the edge of incredulousness. Using a storyline approach familiar to those who have seen The Matrix film franchise, the craziness — and the game is full of it — is easily rationalized by simply creating an imaginary world in which players can enter and exit as they please. Within this pixelated world, a digital representation of the real Steelport, the Saints are each trapped within their own version of it and forced to relive a faux-life over and over again. It’s only with a little bit of luck and a little bit of Kinzie, your trusty homie, that you’re able to break free and embark on a mission to restore the Saints and save the world.

Your story begins as the Zin, an alien race intent on enslaving or destroying all of humanity, invade your home and begin taking hostages. It’s probably prudent to mention that your home is the White House and you play as the President of the United States. You could say things have been going very well for the Saints since the end of the previous game. The leader of the Zin, named Zinyak (nobody burned any brain cells coming up with that name, did they?), faces off with you in a mano-a-mano fight before you’re defeated, as expected, and thrust into the digital world previously described. Being in this fake-Steelport is pretty miserable, unless of course you’re teamed up with a systems engineer capable of hacking the code and turning you into a superhero, which at that point makes it pretty damned entertaining.

Locomotive powers, like super speed and super jump, render the vehicles of Saints Row IV completely useless, a disappointing fact considering in the previous title the driving was magnificently done and often referred to for setting the bar in free-roam titles. Thankfully, the speed and jump abilities you have are simple to execute and, as you enhance them, become far more fun to use than almost any vehicle available. Littered throughout the world are over 1,200 collectibles that act as a sort of currency for your special abilities. Your super speed gets super speedier or grants the ability to run up the side of buildings ala The Flash, as well as implementing other important abilities that ensure your path isn’t obstructed by oncoming vehicles or people. You’ll gain the ability to jump higher and farther as well, but most importantly is perhaps using the ability to enter a glide-state that is close to flying, complete with its own power-ups. Working in tandem, players can sprint at amazing speeds, jump hundreds of feet in the air, and then glide to nearly any point they need to. Seriously, with those powers, why put vehicles in the game at all?

Your powers don’t stop at movement, either. Combat abilities are heavily relied on because they’re just so damned powerful. Blasting ice or fire from your fingertips can devastate throngs of enemies with a simple press of a button. Stomping on the ground can create a shockwave, toss enemies into the air, or even shrink them, giving you a chance to step on and smush the poor bastards. Most satisfying though is ‘Death from Above.’ By jumping into the air you can select a spot on the ground to slam into, destroying anybody in your vicinity. By upgrading that, you can even cause a nuclear-type blast that has the ability to level anybody on a city block.

Thankfully, unlike how Volition has rendered vehicles useless, your firearms aren’t cast away in favor of your new combat powers. Sure, you normal arsenal of SMG, pistol, rifle, and shotgun return, but the introduction of special weapons is simply silly — in a great way. Having a weapon that can fire a mini-blackhole that sucks up everything in it’s vicinity is useful, as is the rifle that immediately calls a tractor beam to abduct enemies alien-style. Perhaps the most entertaining though is the highly publicized Dubstep Gun. As this turntable-looking weapon shoots music from it’s muzzle, the “wub wubs” that have become the calling card of dubstep damage and even blow up your enemies. Other special weapons are also available, but perhaps none as impressive as those mentioned here.

In a game like Saints Row IV the story isn’t what draws you in, but without a linear narrative, the game is just an open world combat-fest. While that may sound interesting, to prevent players from going on tedious missions of grabbing collectibles Volition has introduced two layers of narrative for players to enjoy. The story itself sees you attempting to break each of your Saints homies out of their own little digital hell, with Kinzie helping you hack in and access their pixelated prisons. As you venture in you experience gameplay elements entirely unique to each world, including a side-scrolling, 8-bit style, beat-em-up level that is just a touch too long for its own good. The second outlet for players comes in the form of minigames. Ranging from racing to battles to skill-based activities, you may remember what was available to players in Saints Row the Third. Thankfully, Volition didn’t simply import those same activities, instead creating new options that focus on the new powers at your control.

The game isn’t without its problems though, particularly on Xbox 360. While those in the PC world have no fear, on Xbox 360 players may encounter crippling drops in framerate, sometimes lasting for 10 or more seconds, which mostly occur during movement — gliding or running — and surprisingly not during combat with dozens of enemies on the screen. Additionally you’ll find that at random points throughout the game, mostly occurring if players access their in-game menu immediately after finishing a mission, the game will freeze and require a complete reset of your console. While publisher Deep Silver has acknowledged this issue and expects to have a patch available by day one, experiencing these issues was frustrating and disappointing.

Despite the problems, Saints Row IV is a whole lot of game; with a large variety of gameplay options, new powers unseen in even the better superhero games of today, and a free-roam world rife with things to do, players who enjoy the game as a whole shouldn’t worry about falling into a checklist of “open map, find collectible, grab, repeat.” The aliens provide ample challenge, but more importantly are varied enough so that the combat doesn’t feel repetitive. The world is enormous, the story takes you in and out of the digital version of Steelport, and the overall comedy that we’ve come to expect is apparent from scene 1 to scene 1,000. If you’ve got 20 hours to spare and enjoy toilet humor – literally – Saints Row IV is for you.

Besides, when you finally finish the game, Kinzie twerks.

Overall Score 8 out of 10

Twerking score 9 out of 10

The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot – A Preview of the next big Free to Play RPG?

The isometric dungeon-crawling RPG is one that’s wildly popular, though the Diablo and Torchlight series are probably the most popular right now. Competing against titles like that can be daunting, particularly with how rabidly loyal gamers are to their particular franchises, which is why when a new dungeon-crawler is released, it needs to have a hook to make it different than what we’ve seen time and time again. With The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, the hook is brilliantly simple: dungeon design. What may seem like an easy way to keep players captivated actually works as a counterpoint to what most of us have come to know as “basic gameplay”. In what can be described as a “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment,” Ubisoft has taken two genres, both of which have a solid following, and merged them into a symbiotic playstyle that compliments the other perfectly.

The basic gameplay, that which will appeal to the isometric, dungeon-crawling, RPG fan, sees you playing as a ranger, warrior or, should you pony up some dough, wizard in an attempt to dash from room to room destroying minions, dodging traps, and collecting booty along the way. Booty being defined as loot, new weapons and armor that you can use to upgrade your character as his level increases. The need to define that is apparent because the writing of the game has a humorous tone overall. Your character, regardless of who you choose, has an aura of comedy about him that is enhanced by the story and dialogue the character takes part in. As you spew one-liners, you’ll make your way from castle to castle in an attempt to reach the end within the time limit. Should you succeed you’ll be met with treasure and riches which are added to your own treasury. Fail and your only rewards is the experience you had earned along the way.

There is method to character leveling as well, you’re not simply leveling up in an attempt to battle harder monsters and wear cooler armor — although that’s been the staple of this particular genre for over a decade. Instead, your level and even treasure you collect is used to equip your own castle against invaders, looting under the guise of another player. Yes, just as you ransack castles with the hopes of walking away with pockets filled, others within the universe of The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot have ambitions of doing that to your abode. You’re not without your own set of tricks though. By leveling and using gold obtained through raids you’ve held, you can upgrade your castle and equip it with all the tools needed to create the ultimate defense. Traps, minions, and other goodies await any who dare step foot across your drawbridge. Not lowering it would be the easy way to avoid danger, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, you’re tasked with building rooms, installing additions, and creating the most dangerous path for others to jaunt through. You’re of course rewarded each time an enemy is vanquished, so there’s benefit to making castles difficult.

The inherent problem that TMQFEL has is the balance of players versus particular creatures. Because you can rank your creatures up, although you are limited on what you can place based on your own level, you’ll find that most players will drop a large number of low-level monsters, a couple of high level “big guys” and just enough healers in an area that players are forced to flee or will have to master the art of kiting. Once you decide that you want to kill everything in the dungeon, you’re wasting valuable time and often that leads to failed runs and frustrated players.

As a free-to-play game, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot hits a lot of spots that players will enjoy: dungeon crawling, RPG, character building, world management, and FREE! The game is still in its “beta” period, meaning changes are coming often as they game hurles closer to the launch date. If Ubisoft can find a genuine balance of difficulty and fun, you’ll be hearing lots more about the game for years to come.

Magic the Gathering 2014 – Core Set Preview

You’ve heard of the difficulties surrounding an annual release of a digital trading card game, developers faced with implementing unique storylines, game modes, and other features that need to keep players captivated year after year in order to justify a purchase. But what if you can’t implement additional features? What if there is no narrative and no hook to draw players in beyond the gameplay itself? Well, then you have the Magic the Gathering core game, celebrating its 20th anniversary on August 5, 2013. It relies on the gameplay we’ve mastered and loved, yet we still return year after year to purchase booster packs, attend Friday Night Magic, and enter tournaments. Once an activity relegated to the “geek and nerd” clique, Magic the Gathering has broken those barriers and, as those bearing the moniker of geek or nerd begin to rewrite the definition, has become a hobby of people who bear no title.

To battle the tyrant of tediousness, the development team at Wizards of the Coast is forced to implement changes to each set upon release. One way to ensure that fans return to purchase booster packs is the tournament rules that are handed down which can sometimes take a card from powerful — and on the auction block, it may be expensive — to completely illegal and nearly worthless. Also with the release of the M14 set, players are seeing the return of ‘Sliver’ cards, a creature type that’s been absent for some time. Playing off of each other, Sliver decks have the ability to be quite powerful but also run the risk of being misplayed or too weak if you’re inexperienced or are lacking a particular card to tie the entire army together.

There have been many rule changes implemented this year as well, which helps keep the game feeling “fresh” and allows players to get a taste of different mechanics year after year. Obviously, the rules are meticulously combed over when any changes are made and, much to Wizards of the Coast’s credit, fan feedback is considered.

Finally, and perhaps most impressive is that there is one thing that hasn’t changed for the Magic the Gathering 2014 core set: the artwork. Whether you’re a fan of the game or not, the artwork that graces each card is magnificent. For fans of the fantasy genre, seeing a towering giant peering down on a mountain landscape is breathtaking. An undead zombie, claws stretching from his fingers, is quite unnerving, but beautiful nonetheless. The talent behind the artwork is unmeasurable. It’s been a wonderful constant, these last 20 years; while veterans slap instant spells on the table and enchantments are used to win games, for two decades Magic the Gathering has remained beautiful.

Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation – A mobile battery lifesaver

There’s a sudden interest in mobile batteries due to the constant need for power. Running your smartphone or tablet to death can lead to some frustrating interactions. “Why didn’t you call me back?,” she asks, “I got out of work early and wanted to spend some time with you.” Instead she went to the movies, alone, met the man of her dreams, and lived happily ever after. All because your phone died and you missed the call. Mophie doesn’t want that to happen to you and is going to great lengths to ensure that you always have enough juice left to receive those important calls and texts. Their Juice Pack Powerstation is a mobile battery in every sense of the word. By leaning on a unique, minimalist design and combining that with a modest amount of extra power at a reasonable price, Mophie may be just what you need in those emergency situations.

The Juice Pack Powerstation measures at about 4” x 2 1/4” x 1/2”, making it just a bit thicker than an iPhone, but noticeably shorter. This is important because nobody wants to carry an emergency backup power source that’s larger than the phone they want to power. Too big and it may become uncomfortable to tote around. Thankfully that’s not the case here, as it fits nicely into a pocket, back or front, as it weighs in under a pound. It’s available in black or white and features four face lights, used as a meter to determine how much power is left in the battery itself. The inputs have been idiot-proofed, with only USB — for charging the Juice Pack itself — and micro-USB — for charging whatever it is that needs charging. Of course, by using micro-USB as the “out” port, you won’t be able to charges your favorite iDevice, whether it’s iPod or iPhone, without an adaptor.

Because of the size of the battery, charging tablets on the Juice Pack is not ideal. With 4,000 mAh packed inside this packet of power, you can certainly charge most tablets to a level of usability. Most phones clock in between 1,800-2,500 mAh though, giving you the opportunity for nearly two full recharges one just one Mophie Juice Pack charge. With a high-capacity output of 2.1 amps, your phone is able to be charged faster than if it was plugged in at home. The biggest drawback, and truly only conjured because of in-home hardware limitations, is that the Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation takes a long time to charge back up for use.

The simple design, both externally and within, allow for the Juice Pack to be handy, useful, but not noticeable. It fits in your purse, your messenger back, or you can carry is loose in your pocket and not worry about it being any larger than most smartphones. Due to the Li-ion battery engineering, you can go days and weeks without recharging it if you find yourself without its need, as the internal hardware implements a very small discharge rate. The price, $79.95, is certainly justified for anybody who finds themselves traveling. Whether you’re hiking through a forest or dashing through an airport, the Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation will meet and exceed your expectations.

Boom Movement's Urchin Bluetooth Speaker let's you take your music anywhere

You carry your phone with you wherever you go, but there’s one truth that you have to face sooner or later: the speaker on your phone sucks. It’s terrible. Phone calls are distorted and listening to music on it makes Nirvana sound like Rebecca Black. It’s bad. Thankfully the Boom Urchin is remedying the problem by delivering a quality, mobile, water resistant Bluetooth speaker designed to take the audio from your phone and blast it through their device. Your phone does so many things, calls, texts, pictures, web-surfing, games, and hundreds of other options, so when you’re in the mood to listen to your favorite artist, you should be using something that’s dedicated to delivering sound, not worrying about push notifications and Twitter updates. That’s where the Boom Urchin comes in.

Available in blue, black, or red, the Urchin is encased in a (removeable) rubber shell, used to prevent dirt, dust, and even water from getting inside and damaging the equipment. Because of the versatility of the speaker, there are also a range of options for placement. First, a carabineer clip is included to hang it from a backpack, belt loop, or anything else as you remain mobile. For those looking to turn their shower into a rock stage, the suction cup attachment allows you to easily place the speaker in listening distance, and finally the adhesive pad can be attached to nearly any surface that you would want to place the speaker on. The face buttons, also rubber, feature your basic power, Bluetooth sync, and volume buttons, but also include a handy “next” button that allows you to skip songs and works with apps like Pandora and Slacker Radio.

Speaking on the things that matter most, battery life and the sound quality itself, the Urchin is a surprising piece of hardware. The battery, charged via micro-USB is advertised to run for about eight-to-ten hours, though in testing during normal situations, six to seven hours was ideal before degradation in sound due to distance from the source was noticed. The audio itself remains clear throughout use and, when turned to max volume, pumps out an amazing 110db, which is akin to a power saw at 3’ away from your ear (don’t test that, just trust me). As mentioned, at maximum volume you’ll notice the battery losing power faster, but with the volume at a reasonable level the Urchin should provide you with enough battery to maintain your sound favorably.

With additional benefits like shock resistance, for those unexpected drops, and the ability to act as a speakerphone, there are little drawbacks to owning the Urchin. It retails at $149.99, which can be a little pricey, but for those who are looking for benefit of taking music on the go (or in the shower) without having to suffer with small, distorted speakers, the Urchin may be for you. Coming in multiple colors, the only drawback is that the speaker’s shape makes it difficult to pack into a bag, backpack, or purse comfortably, as it takes up more space than is ideal. Overall though, the speaker is worth the investment, particularly if you’re into hiking and camping.

Red Bull & Full Sail University team up to host eSports Starcraft II Tournament

This weekend, July 26-28, eight professional StarCraft II players will make their way to Orlando, FL, at Full Sail University in an attempt to stake their claim as the Red Bull Training Grounds Champion. Eight of the best professional players will compete in a series of matches over three days, with the championship being held on Sunday, July 28th. Competing for cash prizes each match, the eight players are placed into two groups for the first two days of the tournament, each competing within their respective group in a round-robin competition. On Sunday, the final day of the tournament, the top two players from each group will square off to determine who owns the right to the title of “Champion”.

It’s important not to get confused at the players competing in this year’s tournament because it’s not for the faint of heart. The eight, all professional eSports players and experts from the StarCraft II community, will enter the competition with one goal in mind: winning. And because each competitor is capable of just that feat, Red Bull & Full Sail University want to make sure you’re able to see every gut-wrenching, match-turning decision, so a full live stream event kicks off on Friday, July 26th to provide access to the events for those who are not able to attend on the Full Sail University campus. Each live stream will run from 2pm until approximately 8pm (EST), depending on match lengths, and the groups are arranged as such:

Group A
Jens “Snute” Aasgaard
Ryan “State” Visbeck
Chris “HuK” Loranger
Chris “Illusion” Lee

Group B
Dario “TLO” Wunsch
Hyun Ryoo “SeleCT” Kyung
Jae Duk “NesTea” Lim
Dennis “Succeed” Schmuck

Learn more about each individual player at the Red Bull Training Grounds page.

Live commentary will be provided both during the matches and via expert analysis after each event, provided by Sean ‘Day[9]’ Plott, Marcus ‘djWHEAT’ Graham, and Ben ‘MrBitter’ Nichol, so fear not if you’re not an expert on StarCraft II, as these veterans will explain the strategies executed in each of the matches.

To watch live coverage of the event, tune into www.RedBull.com/eSports at 2p.m.(EST) today.

Battle Dragons – Free to Play on Android Platforms

Being dubbed as a “persistent combat strategy” game, Battle Dragons is fun meld of resource management, tower defense, and combat — both PvP and campaign. Players are expected to modify their location in an attempt to ward off potential threats from other players. In order to accomplish that, you’re expected to set off on daring adventures, plundering enemy encampments owned by both AI and other players. To prevent this from happening to your own headquarters, particularly in the beginning when all defenses are meager, players rely on the protection of ‘Guardians’, a sort of omnipresence used to ward away those preying on weaker players. Attack someone yourself though, and all bets are off.

Available for free on Google Play for Android devices, Battle Dragons relies on the “time versus money” aspect of gaming, requiring tasks to be waited out or for players to use ‘orbs’ to speed up the process. Run out of orbs and your only option is to buy more or simply wait for the timer on the task queued up. Of particular note is the fact that Battle Dragons has been optimized for use on the new Google Nexus 7, announced yesterday. Taking advantage of the wider color options, stereo sound, and hi-def screen, “Battle Dragons was designed from the ground up as an interactive toy box,” Gary Gattis, CEO, Spacetime Games said. “Combining the power of the Nexus 7 2 device with Battle Dragons allows us to deliver fabulous graphics and extraordinary sound for mobile gaming.”

For players looking for a casual game with hardcore elements, Battle Dragons seems to scratch the itch of either. The free-to-play model has had remarkable success and, by using popular gameplay elements on the most popular mobile OS, developer Spacetime Games has struck the chord that many popular titles of similar design have: easy to play, difficult to master. The only question that remains is do you have the patience?

For more information, visit www.battledragons.com/

Anno-Online – A free-to-play, city management game with style

As gaming propels forward with advancements to story, visuals, audio, and online play, the emergence and reliance on high-speed internet has birthed another genre with immeasurable potential: browser gaming. Granted, with the sudden interest in browser-based games and social media, Facebook has created a community of wall-posting annoyances. However there are games out there shunning those nuisance-updates in favor of straightforward gameplay, a modest learning curve and a surprisingly active in-game community. One of those games, Anno-Online, is building on the familiar Anno property and delivering a Victorianesque city management simulation with interesting gameplay elements. By learning your city, including the upgrades available and when to implement them, you’ll help morph it from a small burgh to a thriving capital. The most noticeable downfall is the constant battle between time and real money, a typical struggle inherent to this games on this medium.

The game is a blend of strategy and patience with a touch of OCD as every part of the city, from design of the roads to layout of the buildings, is your responsibility. It’s not as simple as laying down roads and placing buildings though, as your citizens have certain requirements. To match those requirements, the businesses you use to pacify your citizens also have requirements and, to make things more interesting, you need to build up your own stable of resources in order to place buildings and meet all of those requirements. Yes, it’s a lot of requirements and you’re held accountable for all of them. Drop down a neighborhood that’s not in the vicinity of a market and people won’t move in. No religion? Same result. And as you start to determine which buildings are needed to meet specific needs, you also learn that those buildings have a maximum radius of effect, meaning a marketplace — even a large one — will not meet the requirements of your people; at least, not if you want your city to grow.

Growth is the objective of the game, in fact. As you routinely plop down houses and amenities for the residents to enjoy, options become available to increase the effectiveness or vacancy of the buildings you have. Additionally, new buildings will become available, unlocking options within the game to maintain a feeling of accomplishment which lead to the ultimate prize: new lands. As you grow your community and develop new technologies, you’ll find that building ships and employing explorers will reap rewards. As new lands are discovered, players can unlock them using rubies, the currency within the game. Rubies are acquired by completing certain tasks and missions — some random, some scripted — within the game. They could be as menial as delivering some milk or wool to a merchant or as important as obtaining 1500 Vassals, something completed by upgrading the residential dwellings.

Players who are patient can move through the required tasks at a reasonable rate, but for those impatient gamers among us rubies can be purchased for actual money and are then used to speed up processes, buy goods and money, or unlock new lands (assuming you meet requirements). Therefore, it’s suffice to say that Anno-Online requires a level of patience that some players simply will not dedicate. Additionally, while the layout and time-versus-money angle is familiar to us all through Facebook games, the community within Anno-Online is vehement that it is not a Facebook game, nor should it be compared as such. They’re passionate and informed, using calculators and city planning strategies to maximize their time spend in game, but are surprisingly willing to help. Forming a friendship or a guild will allow you to visit other player’s cities to see their layout, a point of pride for most players who dedicate their time to the game.

Anno-Online requires a particular learning curve as you begin to unravel the intricacies within and despite a superficial tutorial, players may find themselves getting frustrated at not knowing exactly how to move from point A to point B. The knowledge that the game is free-to-play, includes a community of surprisingly helpful individuals and a help-related chat system will alleviate some of the frustration, but players should certainly expect to take their time when establishing their city. It’s fun, interesting, carries on a franchise known for this genre and it’s free. In fact, there’s really very little reason not to play Anno-Online.

Find out more and play for yourself at Anno-Online.com

Bloody Headshot V7 Gaming Mouse Review

When is added technology too much?

For average PC users a keyboard and mouse are simple tools, used to write emails, click web links, or any of the hundreds of other daily tasks that help the office or the classroom run smoothly. It’s those other users that A4Tech is focusing on with the Headshot V7 gaming mouse, implementing features that will take your gaming to a plateau that you’ve never experienced. With three internal cores, its own memory, special design located at nearly every turn, and software designed to give users an experience that exceeds anything used before it, the biggest question that you’ll find will test your morales: is using this mouse cheating?

Before we address what is arguably the most volatile topic in gaming, the design and features of the mouse are certainly worth discussing. First, beyond the typical left/right buttons and illuminated scroll wheel, the Headshot V7 features two programmable button where your thumb would normally rest, allowing easy access. The benefit to that is, of course, it gives users option from within their favorite game. Those who spend hours within shooters will find grenade options far easier to access at the thumb than a key on the keyboard. That’s due to players typically using their left hand for movements and additional functions, while their right hand is for aiming/shooting. By adding additional buttons to the mouse, players can keep their left hand focused on movement — something that can be the difference between extending a killstreak and waiting for a respawn timer to tick down.

Another interesting design decision is something that you’d typically not even notice. With metal feet instead of plastic, the claim is that the mouse will remain smooth across your gaming surface far longer than a typical mouse. This is because on most other mice the feet are plastic and will wear out after 3 kilometers of use, where the Headshot V7 will last 180 kilometers. These are claims made by A4Tech themselves, but they seem plausible.

The software, available through the Bloody site or via included disk, is interesting in that it offers features that undoubtedly give players a benefit over their competition. The three buttons, 1, N, and 3, allow for alternate firing modes, each recognizable by the glowing light that surrounds the scroll wheel. The ‘1 button’ is the default, setting you to normal firing modes with no added perks. The ‘N button’ changes that slightly, providing auto-cycling shots and “recoil suppression”, allowing for reduced bullet spread and more accurate aiming. Finally, the ‘3 button’ is a three-round burst with recoil suppression, turning your semi-automatic rifles and pistols into deadly burst weapons.

It’s the recoil suppression, among other additions that are cause of concern. The Bloody Headshot V7 teamed up with the Core 3 Software (an additional $20.00 purchase) allows for less bullet drifting when firing and  provides an option for a real-time trajectory adjustment along with macro creation and sharing. This allows creation of communities of players who can modify and share their best setups, ideal for specific weapon modification and custom macros that significantly increase the user’s survivability. The danger is that larger budget games like Call of Duty and Battlefield have systems in place to watch for potential cheating in this exact way. If you don’t maximize and implement all of the options though, you should be fine and can make use of the benefits without risk of being banned.

The overall feel of the mouse is one drawback, especially considering the massive amounts of tech, both hardware and software, that works in tandem with the mouse. The mouse, while not feeling particularly cheap or fragile, is extremely light, offering little bulk in the palm of your hand. For those who play shooters, precision is key and while you’d think that a lighter mouse would be better for that, having something with some heft and a high dots per inch (DPI) is typically considered more comfortable, particularly if the weight is something that can be adjusted.

Overall A4tech delivers a solid piece of equipment with the Bloody Headshot V7 mouse, allowing such high rate of modification that some may frown upon its use. It feels a bit light, but not more-so than a typical consumer-grade mouse. The technology implemented clearly moves this above your basic mouse and provides options that will show an immediate difference in your gaming experience. Even in genres other than shooters you’ll notice a difference, though hardly enough to be considered an advantage, it’s more a benefit. When coupled with Core 3, the V7 becomes a tool not to be trifled with and, should you not want to spend the additional money on the software, still provides enough benefit to justify the extremely reasonable $40.00 cost.