Author - MondoPest

Demon’s Souls Trailer Shows off Gameplay and Atmosphere


Don’t get me wrong, the third-person fantasy RPG has been done before, but Demon’s Soul look sufficiently atmospheric enough to be entertaining. Under development by From Software and being published by SCE Japan, Demon’s Souls is setting up for a Japanese release on the PS3 this year. There is no word yet on a North American or European release but, as with all things, patience is a virtue.

Defense Grid: The Awakening Review

Hidden Path Entertainment has released their highly-anticipated tower defense game, Defense Grid: The Awakening. For those of you unfamiliar with tower defense titles, they generally put you in charge of placing defenses along a predefined route on which enemy ‘creeps’ will attempt to pass by in an effort to attack your home base. These started quite a while ago but in recent years have become extremely popular as casual web titles. Defense Grid raises the bar, however.

While keeping the same tried-and-true tower defense gameplay, it boasts vibrant and well-detailed 3d graphics, which is something that cannot be said about most other TD games. In addition, it features an evolving storyline over its campaign which adds a much-needed narrative to what is going on. Finished, a level can be played from other modes such as sandbox-games, etc which allows for quite a bit of replayability as you try out different tower combinations.

Speaking of towers. In Defense Grid, you will find a vast assortment of tower-type, from basic machine gun turrets all the way to unguided artillery pieces. Each can be upgraded and look sufficiently different in each level of capability as well which is a nice touch. Effects are well done with vivid explosions and other weapon effects. All of these options in terms of which towers to place where creates a big dilemma for the budding player: what to put where? Certain towers play better off one another, such as starting off with a slowing ‘temporal tower’ followed by some area-effect ‘inferno’ fire towers. By learning what each tower does and planning accordingly, your wins will be far more elegant and brilliant to watch unfold.

Creeps are of the anime ‘mecha’ variety and, while not as well-detailed as the environments or turrets, do their jobs nicely. There are light, medium, and heavy creeps to deal with. Some even have shields which are harder to break through. Then there are the air units, which do not always travel on the same path as their terra firma-rooted brethren. All of this makes for a brilliant display of action on the screen as you are not always watching the same creep go by a thousand times in a row.

Available off the Steam digital distribution service for $19.99 (with a current 2008 Holiday sale for $14.99), it would be a shame to pass up this engaging and addictive game. Defense Grid: The Awakening is truly the best tower defense game to date and I hope Hidden Path has plans to go further in the genre as they truly have a knack for it and we just can’t wait to see what they have in store for a sequel.

Official Site

Bigfoot Networks Killer M1 NIC Review

Bigfoot Networks has always held a certain place of mystery in my brain. I never truly thought that their line of ‘Killer’ NICs would be capable of living up to the hype surrounding them. In an age where just about everything has a ‘*PU’ of its own (CPU, GPU, SPU…) now we have to worry about an ‘NPU’ (Network Processing Unit). ‘Just perfect’, I thought. Finally, I got the chance to play with their flagship NIC, the ‘M1’, and have been thoroughly and excitedly wrong about my previous misgivings. This review should shed a bit more light on my change of heart.

Tech Specs:

Design:
The M1 is almost identical to its ‘little’ brother, the K1, with the biggest exception being the M1’s very cool K-shaped heatsink. The thing looks like some sort of ninja weapon. Thankfully, the heatsink is fully-secured to the board so those of you with an inkling to throw it at deserving individuals will be denied from doing so. On the back of the Killer M1, you will find the standard LAN port as well as a USB port. Yup, you heard right, there is a USB port on the NIC. Why? Well one of the coolest features of the Killer M1 is its use of FNA applications.

FNA Applications:
FNA stands for ‘Flexible Network Architecture’ and represents a novel idea in network interface cards. Essentially, the Killer M1 is a small Linux-driven computer inside your computer. This small computer acts as a gateway from your PC to the network sure but with ‘FNApps’, as they are called, you can put this small computer to work handling various tasks without taxing your system’s standard hardware. Unfortunately, there are not too many FNApps out yet, but we hope this will change. Thankfully, what FNApps do exist are pretty cool. For instance, the FNA Torrent application allows you to download torrent streams onto a USB drive (attached to the port on the NIC). FNA Voice is a hardware-accelerated voice streaming program and FNA Firewall is, well, a firewall app. Using the Killer M1 as a firewall is an extremely smart idea as it can detect and deny attacks before they reach your PC’s bus.

Installation:
Physically installing the Killer M1 is simple, being really no different than any other PC card. Simply insert it in a PCI slot and boot up your PC. Install the software and you will be good to go. It is that easy and we must applaud Bigfoot Networks for such a simple, yet functional set of configuration programs. Handling the FNApps is equally simple, and adds a ton of value to this card, especially for those of your who like to use torrent programs while gaming. The following is a screen capture from the main Killer Configuration app. As you can see, it is a strictly no-frills piece of software that does not confuse or barrage you with needless information. This is indicative of all the FNApps’ software as well. They have really kept things simple and efficient for the best user experience possible.

Technology:
The Killer M1 NIC takes control of the Windows network stack and increases the speed at which the NIC looks at incoming UDP (User Datagram Protocol) packets which, incidentally, is what most high-performance online games use. This is opposed to TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) packets which require acknowledgement packets to be sent back to the sender and a lot more overhead in general. In that respect, using the Killer M1 won’t make too much of a difference when sending and receiving TCP packets, as the algoritm for doing so is set in stone. With UDP applications and games you will definitely notice an improvement as the NIC offloads this processing from your PC’s CPU to its own 400mhz processor. This amount of processing power on the card is what enables it to not only mind your network, but also run its FNApps.

Performance:
Bigfoot Networks touts that the Killer M1 will not only improve network ping, but should also increase my graphical frames per second as it takes on the responsibilities of the Windows network stack, freeing up the CPU to focus on the game at hand. They tout that in Age of Conan, tests have shown frames per second values to increase by up to 20fps. Also regarding Age of Conan, they claim ping improvements of up to 20ms. We thought we would focus our tests on this MMO from Funcom. Our test rig runs an AMD 6000+ 3.0Ghz Dual Core CPU with an Nvidia GTX 280 video card (stock clocking). Also on the test machine is 4GB of DDR2 800 RAM.

Our first run of the MMO without the Killer NIC installed (using the onboard Gigabit NIC) gave us an FPS rating of 38 and an average ping of 162ms. We then moved over to the Killer NIC instead of the onboard network adapter. This yielded us a frames per second rating of 45 and an average ping of 149ms. This represents an increase of 7 FPS and a decrease in ping of 13ms. Not an altogether stellar increase in visual performance but a respectable decrease in ping, especially in the fairly busy game-city of Tarantia.

Our our second run of the game, we moved over to an emptier zone on our server – the Lacheish Plains. This time, we rated values of 44 FPS and 159ms using the onboard NIC. With the Killer NIC, we received ratings of 57fps and 144ms. This is an increase of 13 FPS and a decrease of 15ms, a much better result

These two tests constitute an average ping decrease of 14ms and an average increase of 10 FPS in performance. To us, this test represents a success on the part of the Killer M1 NIC to provide a benefit to game performance, both on the graphical and network levels.

Conclusion:
Bigfoot Networks’ Killer M1 network interface card provides a noticeable improvement in game performance, both from the standpoint of visual frames per second as well as lower amount of network ping. This fact, coupled with the promise and convenience of FNA applications and the added security of the NIC acting as a firewall makes it the perfect fit for that dedicated-gaming PC. Its price tag is hefty at $249 in most retail outlets, but if you can afford it we highly recommend it. We found it on sale at several web-based outlets for $209, so look sharp!

The Agency Free to Play by Way of In-Game Advertising


In an interview with Kikzo.com Sony Online Entertainment’s Kevin O’Hara calls their upcoming MMO, The Agency, the company’s ‘…online persistent shooter’ and also says that the game will not adopt a standard $15 dollar a month subscription fee. Instead, he explains, they are looking at in-game advertising ala Free Realms, SOE’s upcoming casual MMOG, which solely uses in-game ads. The Agency is set for release sometime in 2009.

Via Kikizo

We got the chance to interview SOE’s Matt Wilson on the Agency at this year’s E3 Media and Business Summit. Here is the interview:

GMC X7 X-Station PC Case Review

GMC, a Korean company, has been making its mark on the North American PC case market for a short time now. They usually offer cases with plenty of cool features and eye-popping designs. Their first gamer-specific enclosure, the X7 ‘X-Station’ is no different.

It seems as though everyone and their brother is making gaming PC cases these days. These folks put out all manner of crazy designs in an attempt to bait the perspective buyer into purchasing them. Problem is that most of these gaudy cases are nothing more than flash, with poor cooling and no useful features to speak of. Thankfully, the X7 is not one of them.

The X7 is designed with militaristic-looking black lines which lend themselves well to the gamer-centric motif. It actually reminds me of something you would see in Batman’s ‘Tumbler Batmobile’. The bezel features a couple of cool orange power lights as well as four USB 2.0 ports, power button, and reset button. We would like to have seen an eSATA and/or FireWire port on the front, but we digress. The X-7 also features a backlit LCD display which shows the case temperature and fan speed.

Speaking of fans, the case features three of them: One 120mm fan in the aft, an 80mm fan in the fore, and an 80mm fan in the side panel. The side panel doesn’t feature a window, but instead a cool protruding, vented area with a button to change fan speeds. These provide decent airflow, but if you are overclocking I would recommend modding out the side fan with a 120mm unit using an adapter. Inside the case, there is just enough room to accommodate a gtx 280 video card, making cabling somewhat of a challenge. This is not out of the ordinary though, as most cases have issues in this department.

The case has bays for four 5.25” drives, three of which are protected by an easy-open drive cover in the bezel. Instead of removing your case’s plastic drive bay cover and potentially losing it (I do this a lot), these swing open to the side, staying attached to the case. Once installed, the cover swings back into place, covering your drive with its cool Batmobile-esque design. The top-most drive bay does not feature one of these covers, but instead has been designed to house a CD/DVD-ROM drive. This particular bay has rounded corners and allows for easy access to your drive. The easy-access covers are removable, however, should you have a second disc media drive to install. The case allows for up to four 3.5” drives to be installed, right behind the 80mm forward area fan to promote hard disk cooling.

Overall, the X7 ‘X-Station’ is a fine mid-level gaming enclosure that balances form and function. While its fan system may not be the most optimal for overclocking your gear, its cool extra features make up for that in spades.

Tomb Raider: Underworld Demo Up on LIVE

The demo for Tomb Raider: Underworld is now up on Xbox LIVE, weighing in at 1.3 GB. For you PC gamers, don’t fret, the word is that a demo for Windows PCs will be released on October 31st, so keep a lookout. Tomb Raider: Underworld is set to hit retail shelves on November 18th.

Major Nelson’s Blog

THQ Sues Activision Over Baja 1000 Box Art

The legal guys at THQ are going to war with Activision over the box art on their upcoming SCORE International Baja 1000: The Official Game. They consider it to be too close to the box art on their Baja: Edge of Control and could feasibly confuse gamers, resulting in a loss of sales.

Via PatentArcade

Interview on the Pro-Flight Series with Richard Neville of Saitek


We got the chance to interview Saitek Category Manager, Richard Neville, on their line of Pro Flight products. In case you have not heard of these premium flight-sim peripherals, you may want to check out their selection at the official site. We would like to thank Richard Neville as well as Alex Verrey for their assistance in making this interview possible. Check out bigger images of the above products after the break!

Q) So to start, could you tell us how many people you have working on designing the Pro-Flight peripherals???

A) It varies depending on the product! Usually each product is worked on by one of our product designers with occasional design review meetings where everyone else (well… me) gets to influence things.??.. (cont.)

Q) What kind of a design process is used in developing new Pro-Flight peripherals? How much are real pilots used in this process?

??A) Product ideas come from a combination of researching the market and actually talking to simulation fans – most of our customers need no urging to suggest product ideas and features! We also have contacts with a number of actual pilots who we consult with to further ensure we’re keeping on the right track with everything from features to getting the right ‘feel’ for a controller’s movement.

??Q) What are the biggest challenges faced in developing the Pro-Flight line of peripherals?

??A) Probably the biggest challenge is trying to please as many people as we can. Flight Simulation might be a niche market within the wider context of PC gaming, but as you know within that niche you have a number of different sub-categories of aircraft. Just within civil aviation alone you’ve got to try and account for anything from props to ‘heavy iron’ and all the different variants within each of those. That and trying to squeeze as much into a product as we can so the sim fans feel like they’re getting value for their money.??

Q) The X-52 Pro is a nice improvement over the standard model but why create the incremental ‘Pro’ and not move to the next iteration of the HOTAS series altogether???

A) It was purely a reaction to our customers’ feedback. They loved the X52 but wanted even better build quality and more from it – the MFD is a perfect example; people wanted to display information from their sims on the MFD, so we implemented that feature with the Flight Simulator X Radio Stack display. We also included an SDK so that some of those bedroom coders out there would be able to create plug-ins for their own games; it wasn’t long before there were plug-ins available on our forum for Flight Simulator 9, IL-2 and even X3: The Threat??, but don’t think that we’re not looking into how we can further the HOTAS market – there’s already been some feedback from our customers about where we can go next and we have been listening.

Q) How would you describe the flight simulation market currently???

A) It’s in a tiny bit of a lull at the moment, but that’s mostly because it’s compared to the boom of two years ago with the release of Flight Simulator X. It never truly goes away though – there’s always new people discovering flight simulation for the first time or existing simmers looking to upgrade their hardware, and finally being able to run the newer simulators. It should start picking up again next year thanks to the Black Shark add-on for LOMAC and Oleg Maddox’s Storm of War, to name just two. Even the less strictly simulation-based games like Tom Clancy’s: HAWX should serve to interest more people in the genre. Then of course looking further ahead you’ve got Microsoft’s next version of Flight Simulator which is somewhere over that horizon…??

Q) How is development coming on the Saitek Pro-flight Instrument Panel???

A) It’s good thanks. It’s definitely proven to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done but it’s coming along nicely and we should be getting it out there pretty soon.??

Q) Will the instrument panel have an open-source API???

A) As with the X52 Pro we will be shipping it with an SDK that will enable end users with programming experience to create interactions with other sims (or, indeed, any application that they care to).??

Q) What titles will support the panel at launch???

A) It’s supporting Flight Simulator X out of the box and we’re hoping we’ll get support for other titles from the community, as we did with the X52 Pro. Flight Simulator X is the main focus partly because of the amount of the market who use it but also because of the excellent SimConnect part of the sim, which gives easy access to the data we need to hook into to make a product like this work.??

Q) If you can, tell us about the type and capabilities of the screen being used on the panel.??

A) It’s a QVGA TFT screen that can display 256,000 colours and it looks superb!???

Q) Can you guys drop us any hints on the next Pro-Flight peripherals being developed?

??A) Not yet! But be assured that we are continuing to work on a number of projects.??

Q) And last, is there anything you would like our readers to know about that we have not covered here???

A) Sure – just to remind people about the two new Pro Flight products we’ve got coming this year: the Pro Flight Switch Panel and the Pro Flight Headset. There’s some info out there already but look out for the press releases closer to the products shipping this Fall. Also, if you’ve got a suggestion for a product that you’d like to see then we’re always happy to have your feedback. Use our forum at http://www.saitekforum.com and let us know what you think.?

Mount and Blade Review

Usually, we are nothing but excited with sandbox games. The freedom one derives from exploration can be quite liberating. In an RPG it is also equally nice to have some sort of overall quest which ties the whole thing together. TaleWorlds has decided to just keep with the sandbox part of that equation, ditching an overall quest and thrusting gamers into the unknown.

Mount & Blase features a very fluidic and fun combat system. Every weapon acts as you would expect and, while macro-attributes such as damage and speed are effected by your skills, you will actually have to do the majority of the grunt work in combat. You control every swing, movement, and parry of your character. Combat plays out like a tactical event, picking and choosing your moments of attack carefully while also timing your blocks and parries. Even combat on horseback is handled great. While in some ways, using a mount is helpful, it is also more challenging to time your sword swings and archery shots.

Also cool is the large-scale combat you can find yourself in. By recruiting troops from towns and the like, you increase the numbers in your personal army. At one point, I took part in a battle with easily twenty members per side. The battlefield strategy employed in these large skirmishes is vital as one false swing or direction can mean the turn of the tide. Commanding troops is done easily by shouting commands at them. They are fairly basic commands but mirror what a human being would be able to shout while riding into battle. This adds an additional element of realism to the combat, as knights in the middle ages did not have GPS or other high-tech gadgets with which to organize themselves.

Mount & Blade shines like a bright beacon for smaller developers everywhere when looking at the combat system. Unfortunately, where it loses a bit of its luster is in the open-world created by TaleWords. As mentioned before, you are dropped into the kingdom of Calradia which has been broken apart by multiple factions. What you do in this world is entirely your business. You can choose to become a warrior, mercenary, trader, or whatever else you can come up with. While there are quests given by individuals in towns and whatnot, they are not required and will serve only to further your character’s development. This lack of overall story often times leaves the player asking themselves, ‘What now?’

The character development is fairly complex, TaleWorlds taking a queue from Daggerfall in asking you a series of questions to determining your base character. From there, you allocate some skillpoints are off you go. Along the way you level up your character, increasing your skill points and personal wealth.

There are a multitude of armors and weapons to use in the game as well as a good trade system for those aspiring merchants out there. The enemy AI runs from fencepost to challenging, with enemies performing acts of self-preservation as well as selecting their own weapons on the fly and parrying as necessary.

Graphically, the game looks okay. Some scenery comes off as lush and pretty, but the game’s shaders and textures are just not up to modern standards that you will find in other RPGs. In my playthroughs of this game, however, the combat made up for the lackluster graphics. In fact, I wish there was a way to just play various battles out, skipping the rest of the stuff in the game, but I digress…

Overall, we must applaud TaleWorlds for the game’s awesome combat system but must caution gamers that the rest of the game is not nearly as exciting. Not saying that at $29.99 it is not worth picking up, but don’t expect it to be the next Oblivion (although we like M&B’s combat system way better than that mainstream title). Also. the mod community is currently working on enhancing the game as well, so I would not be surprised to see a lot more from Mount & Blade in the future.

Phantom EFX Reel Deal Card Games 09 Review

Phantom EFX has a new edition of their popular Reel Deal Card Games series out. This one, dubbed the ’09 edition, contains over 80 card games for you to experience. While most of the Reel Deal series has something to do with casino gaming and is marketed as such, Card Games ’09 is geared to the average card player. By card player, I do not mean poker necessarily, although that is included within this game too. I mean the player of games such as solitaire or bridge. Even without it being casino-focused, the games featured in this product all have a gambling component. Nothing ventured as the old saying goes! If you are familiar with Phantom EFX’s previous games you should have no problem adjusting to this one. Their UI’s are consistently friendly and show a good degree of forethought.

Some of the games that have been featured in this release are Hearts, Bridge, and Rummy 500. Phantom EFX has gone with a more whimsical cast of characters in this game, and their mood-effecting animations are very humorous. Characters interact well together, even knowing each other’s names.

The online community in which Reel Deal Card Games ’09 interfaces with is by far one of the game’s greatest strengths, as the computer AI can be spotty and it is much more fun to get your friends together for a card game in any case.

By far, the biggest complaint I have about the game is what seems to plague every Phantom EFX game: the resolution. Their titles always seem to run in a smaller resolution, causing everything to look strange on my 1920×1200 display. Also, the title uses the standard Phantom EFX two-dimensional visual style. I hope that Phantom EFX will attempt to make a three-dimensional game at some point (we hear that their Millionaire’s Club may be what we are looking for).

At its $19.99 price point, I would recommend Reel Deal Card Games ’09 to anyone looking for a solid recreation of the games featured within. All of the games can be played in quick sessions or long marathons and should suit most any player.