Author - Jerry Paxton

Torque X 2 Engine Released

GarageGames has released Torque X 2.0, the latest update to its Torque X game engine which is now compatible with Microsoft’s XNA 2.0 standards.

Official Release:
GarageGames, the leading technology provider for independent game developers, has announced the release of Torque X 2.0. This release updates the Torque X engine for compatibility with Microsoft’s XNA 2.0 Framework and improves the engine’s performance in 3D environments.

Originally launched in the summer of 2007, Torque X has gone from a 2D-only engine to a full-featured 3D game engine. It now provides chunked LOD terrain with clip map texturing, DTS Mesh Support, XNA Model Support, Torque’s custom material system, post processing, a 3D particle system, rigid body physics and collision, and built in components.

‘It’s amazing to see how far XNA development has come in such a short time. When we partnered with Microsoft to develop Torque X in 2006, the game development community was still pretty skeptical of managed code,’ said Brett Seyler, GarageGames VP of Business Development. ‘Last year’s Dream Build Play winners looked awesome and now with true, full-featured game engines to speed and ease development even further, I expect we’ll see Torque X and XNA game development really thrive in 2008.’

According to GarageGames, Torque X also supports the 2D drag and drop game creation features of Torque Game Builder. Torque X allows developers a chance to deploy and test their game on retail Xbox 360 units through Microsoft Creator’s Club.

Razer Lycosa Gaming Keyboard Review

I love gaming keyboards. Who would have though that keyboards would have become the industry they did? Before PC gaming became popular, they didn’t matter all that much and the design lacked innovation. Now, however, with gamers seeking every edge possible, companies have responded by creating keyboards specifically for their needs.

The Lycosa is Razer’s latest gaming keyboard following their Tarantula model. If the Tarantula were a Semi-Truck, the Lycosa would be a Corvette. Lycosa features a very low profile in comparison to most gaming keyboards. The outer casing is the same heavy black plastic (with a slick finish) as the Tarantula, although the attached wrist rest is a dull black. Unfortunately, the slick black plastic is prone to getting smudged with fingerprints but looks great when all polished up. Its keys are all rubberized. Yes, every single one and I didn’t think that would be all too important to me until I used them. The rubberized surface not only helps with grip but also comfort as the rubber helps absorb the shock on your fingers that is caused by typing. Razer has included a microphone and headset pass-through to the back of the keyboard as the did with the Tarantula. In addition, they have added one USB port pass-through as well. As an aside, the Tarantula had two USB ports on it.

Lycosa features a cool ‘TouchPanel’ media control area. It is a flat area with no raised buttons visible, and yet it can detect the slightest touch on its stenciled icons. This looks similar to the technology used in the Razer Mako 2.1 Desktop Audio System’s control pad.

Unlike the Tarantula, Lycosa is fully backlit, although the brightness of the backlighting could be a bit more intense and the stencils in the keys (which allow light through) could be a bit bigger. In the dark they seem a bit ‘muddled’ to get the maximum effect from. The light button in the TouchPanel has three settings. The first is off while the second setting lights up the WASD keys. The third lights up the whole keyboard. We did like the idea of the second setting, but in actual usage we found we just left it at the third setting mostly, so I don’t know how much use you will actually get out of that.

There are no specialized macro keys on the Lycosa like there are on the Tarantula, but via the ‘Lycosa Configurator’ software, any key on the Lycosa can have a macro assigned to it. This is extremely convenient as those dedicated macro keys on alot of gaming keyboards take a bit of getting use to. These keys are exactly where you expect them to be. The Lycosa can have up to 10 different profiles which can be switched between on the fly as well, which gives the keyboard a huge degree of key function flexibility.

Razer has engineered the Lycosa with its 1000Hz Ultra-polling technology which means there when a key is pressed, it takes just 1ms to reach the computer. Also, Razer has graced the Lycosa with the same ‘Anti-Ghosting’ feature as the Tarantula meaning the gamer can hold down up to 10 keys at a time without any interference between the keypress signals going to the computer. This essentially eliminates that awful ‘Sticky Keys’ window from popping up in Windows.

Using the Lycosa, we found the feeling of its key presses to be light, almost like a laptop keyboard but with a bit more ‘oomph’ (yes, that is the technical term). They produce a very nice tapping noise and, again, the rubberized keys feel very nice. We have used this model for everything from first-person shooters to real-time strategy games and, of course, general desktop app usage such as Microsoft Word. We haven’t found an application for which we did NOT like the Lycosa in.

Conclusion: Razer’s Lycosa is an incredible gaming keyboard with great looks, feel, and handling that is sure to give you the extra edge you need while in a tournament or just writing a report for school. It is well worth its $79 dollar price point.

*Note: Comparison image of Lycosa and Tarantula from ExtremeTech

Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System Review

I will start by saying that I am a pretty huge flight sim enthusiast. I started a long while ago with the not-so-simlike F-19 Stealth Fighter title from Microprose. I moved on to bigger and more simlike games such as F-14 Fleet Defender, Falcon 3.0, and so on… During this time I moved from a 2-button CH Products flight stick to the more advanced controllers. It has been a joy over the years to see how the joystick has evolved into much more realistic peripherals for us ‘simmers’ to enjoy.

Recently, I was able to try out Saitek’s latest flight stick and throttle, the X52 Pro Flight Control System. Unlike their Pro Flight Yoke System, this controller is geared towards military simulations. The first thing that struck me were the cosmetic changes over the standard X52. Saitek has done alot in the way of making it more aesthetically pleasing. While the original X52 looked very futuristic with alot of silver coloring, the X52 Pro goes for a more realistic all-black design with military-style hats and metal toggle switches. In addition, the number of LEDs on the Pro unit have increased as well as the colors they can display. The original X52 could only display blue whereas the new unit can product red, green, and blue. and the first time you plug the system in you will definitely crack a smile at its cool-factor.

The X52 Pro Flight Stick:
The flight stick portion of the HOTAS system has been improved in several ways. In addition to the aesthetic changes previously mentioned, Saitek has doubled the number of magnetic sensors in the base unit to increase position sensitivity. They have added an extra spring to the base of the stick to increase the ‘return-to-center’ force of the stick the further it is moved. The stick still retains its ability to rotate (in case you are not fortunate enough to have rudder pedals) as well as its dual-action trigger and 5-position adjustable handle. I know it has been mentioned before, but one very cool lighting effect is when opening the ‘pickle button’ safety catch, that buttons light turns from green to a red – further indicating you are about to launch a deadly weapon. Not only does this look cool, but it also adds to the overall flight sim experience. It helps increase the immersion-factor, if you will.

The X52 Throttle Quadrant:
The throttle of the HOTAS system has not only undergone its aesthetic changes but also a big upgrade to its MFD system. One of the things that set the throttle of the X52 Pro and its predecessor apart from the rest of the HOTAS crowd was its LCD multi-function display(MFD) built right into the base of the unit. The new MFD can be modified to display in-game data via the SDK. While the SDK does have a learning curve, it would be well worth using as the MFD could display valuable information regarding your sim such as flight information, ammo status, distance to waypoints, etc. There is also an established mod community which has already created many MFD mods for various sims. The MFD also features two new rotary controls that can be used to interact with the display. The TQS (Throttle Quadrant System) also has much more pronounced throttle detentes as well as led lights that go from green to red when the afterburner-area is reached along the throttle base.

How does it play?
Normally, I use a more standard flight yoke inside Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. However, for the purpose of this review I decided to go ahead anyway. After mapping the X52 Pro controls how I prefer, I began a series of small VFR (visual flight rules) flights around the Southern California area. The X52 Pro performed beautifully and without any concern. There were plenty of controls to make the flight fairly hands-free. After messing around in my Mooney for a while I decided it was time to get serious and started up Ubisoft’s Lock-On: Modern Air Combat. Again, color me impressed, as the X52 Pro Flight Control System performed wonderfully with whatever mission, campaign, or airframe I threw at it.

Conclusion:
The Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System is, hands-down, one of the best flight control systems on the market today with a huge array of controls to configure, excellent design and styling, and an active mod community. If you can float the $199.95 dollar price point I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone serious about flight/air-combat simulations.

Saitek Cyborg Rumble Gamepad Review

Design / Construction: We should start this by saying that the Cyborg Rumble gamepad is big. Like, the original Xbox controller big. Now, for myself this is not an issue – larger controllers fit better in my hands. However, the size could discourage folks with smaller hands. Thankfully, along with being large, the Cyborg Rumble is also very sturdy. With a hard plastic outer shell, the gamepad can take some serious abuse and keep on ‘ticking’.

The pad’s controls can be laid out like both the Xbox 360’s as well as Playstation 3’s gamepads. How is this you ask? Well, Saitek has created a rather ingenious feature in the Cyborg Rumble called the ‘Cyborg Module’. This module contains the left thumbstick and D-pad, and can be removed and rotated about to the gamer’s preferred controller style. Physically, the Cyborg Rumble contains the same number and type of control buttons, sticks, and triggers as the Xbox 360 gamepad does.

The attached USB chord coming off the pad is six feet long. Gamers would be better served by Saitek making the chord a bit longer as the stock six feet did not afford quite enough room to relax back from the PC keyboard/case if you wanted.

Installation / Usage: Technically, you don’t need to install any software with the Cyborg Rumble pad. You can literally plug it into a USB port and start gaming right away. However, if you wish, you may install the Saitek macro software in order to set the Cyborg Rumble’s buttons to specific macros. The macro software included is Saitek’s multi-device macro software that they include with most of their peripherals.

In place of where the Xbox button would be on Microsoft’s gamepad, Saitek has what they call, they ‘FPS Button’. By activating this control, the gamepad assigns default FPS control keys to the buttons/axis on the pad. This is useful when a game you are trying to play does not have native support for gamepads. Though not 100% spot-on, it is usually close enough to play. If you seek totally ‘correct’ control assignment, use Saitek’s macro software.

Another great feature of the Cyborg Rumble is its ‘precision key’. This key can be assigned to any button on the pad and will decrease the sensitivity of any desired axis to enhance the accuracy of small-movements. Basically, if you need to snipe your opponent through a rifle scope, you activate this control to give enhanced accuracy.

The Cyborg Rumble can also be set via the game controller driver panel to ‘X-Mode’, which forces it to emulate (and I use the term loosely) an official Microsoft Xbox 360 PC Gamepad. This is useful for all those ‘Games for Windows’ titles which natively support Microsoft’s PC gamepad.

Saitek also equipped the Cyborg Rumble with Immersion’s vibration technology which is very effective in creating that force feedback sensation gamers crave so. When calibrating the controller in the ‘game controllers’ windows, each button press activates a different test vibration feedback effect. From the vibration of firing a minigun to simulating the rumbling of an engine, this gamepad can do it! Unfortunately, and in no part the fault of Saitek, not too many Windows games support rumble technology at this point. Hopefully that will change as the console generation melds a bit more with the PC crowd.

Conclusion: For a very reasonable $34.95 dollars on the official Saitek website, the Cyborg Rumble gamepad is a really nice PC game controller and will go far in getting that ‘console feeling’ on your desktop machine.

Wonderland Online Alpha Test Looking for Guilds

Wonderland Online is a free to play MMO, having its Alpha Test at the end of the month (March). They are looking for guild to apply and be apart of this test. More info follows.

Official Release:
The Wonderland Online (http://wl.igg.com) Alpha Test will be held at the end of March. This test will be focused on finding and fixing as many bugs as possible. Therefore, IGG will only send out a limited amount of test accounts. IGG would sincerely appreciate any help from game guilds who want to join the test.

Game guilds are alliances of people with similar hardcore gaming habits who often play games together. Players who have a guild and a group of members can sign up for the Alpha Test.

Sign up time:
Mar 18th to Mar 25th
How to sign up:
Send an email to edwin@igg.com
Or post in the Wonderland Forum Guild Zone:
http://wl.igg.com/forum/viewthread.php?tid=782

The email should include the following information:
A: Guild name
B: Number of guild members
C: Guild website
D: Number of Guild members participating in the test
E: Contact email

Arthur C. Clarke Dead at 90

Arthur C. Clarke, inventor, writer, futurist, and all-around brilliant man died today at home in Sri Lanka after complaining of ‘Breathing problems’, according to an AP news release. Clarke was 90 years old.

In honor of this great thinker, I found his 90th birthday reflections and wanted to share them with you. They were recorded in December of 2007.

Lighthouse Interactive Website Relaunched

Game publisher Lighthouse Interactive has relaunched their website today with enhanced features and information as well as a news section.

Official Release:
Leading worldwide Publisher Lighthouse Interactive today announced the launch of their totally revamped website, www.lighthouse-interactive.com. The new Lighthouse HQ features the latest game trailers, screenshots, contests and company information. The news section covers all interesting information concerning Lighthouse games and corporate activities. Furthermore there is a game support section where the latest patches and updates can be downloaded and the forums for the latest gossip and inside-info.

Cyber Snipa Stinger Gaming Mouse Review

The Stinger represents Cyber Snipa’s latest gaming mouse and it is a gigantic leap forward from their previous entries into that crowded market.

Features (from company page):

  • 7,080 frames per second(FPS)
  • Up to 3200 DPI laser engine
  • Tracking speed of 45 inches per second(IPS)
  • 9 buttons including 6 macro programmable
  • Up to 1000Hz(1ms) adjustable report rate
  • 8kb of onboard memory
  • 16 bit ultra wide data path
  • 7 removable weights(20g each)
  • 4 super size easy glide feet

Design/Construction:
The Stinger features a slick-plastic body, save for a swatch of rubberized plastic from the primary and secondary buttons, all the way down to the palm-rest area of the device. In addition, on each side of the Stinger are rubber pads to increase grip.

The shape of the mouse seems fairly standard until you hold onto it. Thats when you realize just how much your thumb and pinky fingers ‘sink in’ towards the center of the Stinger. It has unusually deep depressions where those fingers rest but is a good-looking design overall.

Cyber Snipa’s trademark ‘Bullseye’ is lit up on the palm rest area and the scroll wheel alternates between 4 colors to denote the current performance setting and the macro profile button alternates between three pulsating lights to denote the current macro mode.

Besides the primary and secondary mouse buttons, the scroll wheel depresses as a third button and also clicks left and right giving the option for two additional controls than normal. On the left side of the unit, there are two additional buttons that can be configured as macros using the included software.

The mouse chord is of a very ‘loose’ nature and feels extremely flexible (almost more of a rope) but strong at the same time. At the chord’s end exists a gold-plated USB connector for increased connectivity.

Included are seven 20g weights that can be placed in the Stinger’s underbelly. These weight docks are placed in a ‘revolver-style’ formation, allowing the gamer to fully customize the weight not only of the unit as a whole, but individual sides of the mouse too. When fully loaded with the included weights, the Stinger felt even more controllable in my hand, the weight giving a counter-balance to the forces I exerted upon it. The option of having an extra 140g of weight to place in the mouse should appeal to those who need a heavy mouse.

Cyber Snipa also includes an additional set of mouse foot pads, so the user can select which ‘glide-level’ they like more.

Performance:
The Stinger features a 3200dpi laser sensor and 1ms reporting rate, which provided ample sensitivity during gaming sessions. In addition, the shape of the mouse with its deeper side-depressions actually lends itself to excellent control. It felt more like part of my hand instead of just another peripheral I was using. Even after using the mouse for several hours, I did not have any hand or wrist discomfort to speak of. The Stinger’s sensor is one of the best of the laser-variety bunch I have ever used, providing excellent sensitivity while not being ‘jumpy’, which is a problem in some high-dpi laser-driven mice out there. When coupled with a bit of weighting down, the mouse is extremely precise.

However, I do have an issue with regards to the dpi and macro switching. The Stinger has four presets, each with a different dpi rating as well as reporting rate. To switch between them, you have to press a button underneath the scroll wheel. However, because the user’s hand is set so far forward in comparison to this button, it is difficult to reach and required me to slightly lessen my grip on the mouse to click it. The same can be said for the macro profile button, which is actually more of an issue as it is set underneath the dpi-switching button, making it even harder to reach.

The macro software is functional (but could be a bit more user-friendly), allowing the user to set the two macro buttons on the left side of the Stinger to whatever control combos desired. In fact, there are three different profiles available for those two buttons, making the unit actually have 6 macro controls. Of course, getting to the other 4 settings for the two buttons requires pressing the macro profile button.

Conclusion:
Cyber Snipa has unleashed an incredible performer in the moderately-priced gaming mouse field. Not only is the sensor very good, but the Stinger has so much customization available that gamers of all kinds will find it useful. Much like their Warboard gaming keyboard, the Stinger simply performs like you would expect a much more expensive unit to.

Microprose – Resurrected and Dead All at the Same Time

Way back when, youngsters, there existed a company that put out some of the best video games in history. Titles such as F-117 Stealth Fighter, F-15 Strike Eagle III, F-14 Fleet Defender, and Master of Orion II just to name a few. This company was started by Sid Meier and Bill Stealey who called it…. Microprose. And, after serious financial trouble and a six year hiatus in the great beyond, some investors and ‘industry veterans’ have resurrected the software company….Or have they?

After browsing the new corporate website, it seems to me that they just bought the name to slap onto some hardware they produce (or perhaps just license from manufacturers – that is not clear). They mention the games of the past every so often, but never state they will make games again. The ‘new’ Microprose is all about hardware and cabling, NOT software development.

From the company site:
‘In 2007, the Microprose brand was acquired from Atari Interactive, Inc. (formerly known as Hasbro Interactive, Inc.). It is being restructured and relaunched by a team of veterans of the video game industry as a Video Game accessories and Consumer Electronics products firm. The new Microprose stays true to the brand, focusing on high quality products delivering to the user the ultimate experience in the interactive entertainment universe.’

And just what is the ‘ultimate experience in the interactive entertainment universe’? The answer: Digital TV Receivers. Yup, thats right, those and HDMI 3-port switchers. In what is almost a slap in the face nod to gamers, they will also make a very crude-looking gamepad/joystick (looking like a relic from 1985) which will surely have gamers lined up around the block. All of these products branded with the once proud Microprose logo.

They claim that the new company ‘stays true to the brand..’, which is true I guess, my father told me that they once had a Microprose stereo system. It was cherry. They only thing that is staying true to the brand is their use of the original logo and they added some text to it as well. Maybe that ‘brand truthfulness’ will really drive the point home, Microprose: We are the same…but totally different – hey, look at our logo!

I seriously wish them success, but I also wish they did not have to tarnish the name of one of the greatest game developers in history to get it. So I ask you, gamers who remember the Microprose that was: Is it really back?

The ‘new’ Microprose site.

Image gallery of Microprose hardware after the break.

*The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the GamingShogun.com and its owners.

The Experiment Review

The Adventure Company’s, The Experiment, places the gamer in the role of an amnesiac in an abandoned research vessel’s security control room. On the monitors in front of you, there is a woman lying in a cot hooked up to an iv. Suddenly, she wakes up and starts exploring her small room. After noticing the security camera (through which you are looking) as being active, a symbiotic relationship is borne as she enlists your help in escaping the research vessel. Your interface is in the guise of a surprisingly realistic application program with login boxes, buttons, and icons. You can pull up area maps of your partner’s location as well as log into the computer mainframe to get personnel files – barring you have the right username and password. The game can be exceptionally challenging at times, so beware, you may be frustrated at several points. This is definitely a ‘real’ adventure gamer’s game.

From the area map you can select up to three security cameras to look through at one time. Cameras are able to be panned, zoomed, and even have alternate vision modes such as night vision and thermal settings. You can drag and resize the security camera windows to your liking which also adds to the ‘application’ aspect of your interface. From the area map, you can also activate and deactivate objects such as lights, computers, and more. This has multiple purposes, the first of which is to turn the object on for it to function, of course. The second reason brings us to what must have been one of the major hurdles for the developers in The Experiment: How to control the female character on the monitors?

Controlling the good doctor (she was a researcher on board) is done by making a light source or other device activate. Once activated, the doctor will walk over to that object. If it is a usable device, she will do so. She will also ask you questions from time to time which require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. When that is necessary, you actually have to make a security camera nod ‘yes’ or ‘no’. As ingenious as this control scheme is in making you feel like you are actually using a security system and communicating with this woman, it is not without fault. The good doctor sometimes has issue responding to object activations if she is already moving to a target. Also, I have seen her not move to an activated object at all for some reason even while doing nothing.

Voice acting in the game is not all that great and sometimes just comes off as plain bad. However, musically, the game is excellent. The composer, who’s name I do not have at the moment, did an excellent job constructing an eerie atmospheric score. Graphically, the game is fine. It wont be breaking any new ground but it is pretty enough for what it has to be. What is even more important are the camera views. These security cameras are not supposed to be state-of-the art devices anymore. Some will be out of focus, others with random artifacts (some wont even be able to move anymore). These filters really add to the game visually and trick you into not thinking about the graphics not being the ‘latest and greatest’.

Conclusion:
Overall, I found The Experiment to be a very rewarding and challenging adventure/puzzle game which manages to create a hodgepodge of voyeurism, lateral thinking, and atmosphere that will surely give you the willies if played by yourself in a dark room.