Author - Jerry Paxton

Tritton AX Pro Precision Gaming Headset Review

Tritton has a fairly large line of gaming audio products. Their headsets in the past have generally been focused on one type of input. For instance, the Tritton AX PC is geared towards PC and Mac usage while the AX 360 is, as you can probably imagine, geared for use on the Microsoft Xbox 360 console. This AX Pro, however, is a new breed capable of utilizing multiple types of inputs while also including Dolby Digital and Dolby Prologic decoding for a true 5.1 channel experience.

The Tritton AX Pro comes out of the box in a very daunting fashion. Aside from pulling out a ton of accessory components which ship with it, the actual headset itself is large and covered in a sleek silver plastic shell. Its ear cups are gigantic, allowing them to cover your entire ear for maximum comfort. In the box, Tritton even sends along a set of feux-leather pads so that you can find the best fit and feel for your head.

This is really something to take note of, because if you look at most any other headset review I have done, you will notice I say it is ‘too tight’ or that the unit doesn’t fit around my ‘gigantic noggin’, or something to that effect. These Tritton’s fit extremely well, and kudos must be given to them for taking into account the large-headed. The AX Pro feels very sturdy, and the quality in which they were made is immediately apparent to the wearer. They come equipped with a detachable boom microphone which worked splendidly during Skype calls, and also was heard loud and clear during Xbox 360 gameplay.

The package contents:

Setting the headset up is a fairly confusing experience for the uninitiated. Tritton provides a large, fold-out poster detailing the setup procedure for each type of input, but nevertheless it is still somewhat confusing until you have done it a few times. The AX Pro comes with two power adapters, one for the Dolby decoder box and the other for the headset unit itself. Usually, the headset will plug into one of the two (yes you can connect an additional AX Pro headset) headset ports on the Dolby decoder box, and from the box to your input source. Technically, you don’t need to connect the decoder box for PC usage unless you want to make use of the optical or USB connections, or, the Dolby decoding coolness. You could use the PC adapter cable and plug it directly into the multiple speaker outputs of your sound card. However, I must say that the sound from the optical connection on the sound card is exceptional and what you should opt to use as much as possible. The problem with all this cabling going back and forth is that the area all of it will sit in gets a bit messy. Even with the initial confusion and mess however, the effort is worth it when you finally get the headset up and running. We would like to see a wireless version of the AX Pro (and rumor has it that CES might see the reveal of this – stay tuned).

We tested the headset out on a friend’s Xbox 360 (see here as to why) and played some HD-DVDs. The sound is just amazing and really replicates the theater experience, but better, because you don’t have to keep yelling ‘Shut up!’ at the annoying teens talking behind you. We took the AX Pro to our PC and, after plugging in the fiber optic cable (and enabling it as an output on our Sound Blaster X-Fi) were off and running in Fallout 3. The ambient noises of the D.C. Wastelands filled my ears from seemingly all directions. The channel positioning is just a hoot and it was never an issue to track which direction a molerat was coming from so I could introduce him to my ‘Shishkebab’. All of this is thanks to the four drivers in each ear cup which are assigned to a different channel. There is even a 40mm driver in each ear cup assigned to be the sub-woofer. While the bass response in the headset is not what you could get out of a bigger home theater system (obviously), I have to say it is very nice and firing my ‘Eugene’ mini-gun at some feral mutants made me crack a geek smile the length of the mighty Mississippi River! Turning the volume up and down on the headset is done via an attached control pad with color-coded levels of intensity on a per-channel basis which allows for a high-level of volume customization.

Official Specs:

Overall, the Tritton AX Pro Precision Gaming Headset performs like a champion worth twice its retail price of $179. If you are looking for a true 5.1 channel headset for use in most (if not all) of your devices you need look no further. Whether it is gaming or HD-DVD (we are what the kids call ‘old-school’) watching, the AX Pro will deliver every time.

Tritton’s Official Site

The GamingShogun 2008 PC Gaming Xmas Wish List


2008 has seen some really incredible titles released for the personal computer. I would say that this has been one of the best years for PC gamers in quite some time actually. It seems that while developers know that console games have the most market saturation, the PC gaming market is far from dead. If you are someone who is looking for that perfect PC game or peripheral to buy a loved one or even put on your own Xmas list this year, look no further as we have compiled our top choices by genre/type. Enjoy!

SHOOTERS
Left 4 Dead by Valve Software – Valve really has a winner on their hands in Left 4 Dead. In plainest terms, it is a cooperative, first-person shooter set in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. These aren’t Romero zombies we are talking about here – these are Dawn of the Dead re-make zombies and the come at you in very large numbers. Left 4 Dead isn’t just about zombies though. In fact, because of the threat you and your three survivor buddies face, the game emphasizes teamwork above all else. One day, I would love to see company ‘retreats’ where their team-building exercises consist of Left 4 Dead rounds (I wanna work there!). Coupled with the fact that it is available via Valve’s Steam service, allowing it a built-in community, means you will not have to wait long to get game going. Aim for the head!

Runners-Up: Crysis: Warhead, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Call of Duty: World at War.

SINGLE-PLAYER RPGs
Fallout 3 by Bethesda Softworks
– If you never got the chance to experience the original Fallout or its first sequel, you are really missing out as they are truly some of the best RPGs ever made. Thankfully, this tradition has been carried on by Bethsoft even when taking the game into the first-person from the previous title’s overhead, isometric view. In Fallout 3 you will wander around a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. in a quest to find your father, who mysteriously disappeared from the vault you have been living in since you were born. It features an incredibly immersive world replete with tongue-in-cheek humor and 1950’s retro styling. The game will take you many hours to get through, and even then you will not be able to experience everything, forcing you to play through it again and again.

Runners-Up:
Dead Space, Mass Effect, Far Cry 2.

Hit the full list up After the Jump!
MMORPGs
EVE Online by CCP – The MMO with one of the toughest learning curves on the market is still one of the most fun, featuring a living, breathing economic model on a galactic scale. Upgrade components of your starship, take on missions, join up with player-run galactic corporations and more. The depth of this game is so staggering it can turn a new gamer away within the first forty-five minutes of play. Our advice: Stick with it and find a helpful player-run corporation, you will thank us. Oh, also watch for scammers as CCP takes a Laissez-faire approach to their in-game economy.

Runners-Up: World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

SIMULATORS
Spore:
This species simulation had some serious hype surrounding it and, while unfortunate that it did not live up to all of it, what we did receive was a very creative life sim that allows you to take your small, multi-cellular beasties all the way from algae eating to space colonization. Suffering from a fair mid-point, the game’s first and last stages are more than worth the play-through. Plus, this is one of those family-friendly games that makes a great gift for the little ones you do not wish to see blowing away wastelanders with their Fat Man!

Runners-Up:
T-34 vs Tiger.

STRATEGY
Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 by EA Montreal
– While not the most advanced game when it comes to gameplay innovations or visuals, it is easily one of the most well-balanced RTS titles we have played in quite some time. This can lead to some very fun and highly-pitched battles between you and your friends (or enemies) in multi-player games. The single player campaign also stars the likes of Tim Curry, so get out there and defend Mother Russia for Dr. Frankenfurter!

Runners-Up: Combat Mission Shock Force: Marines, King’s Bounty: The Legend, Sins of a Solar Empire.

SPORTS
Out of the Park Baseball 9 by Out of the Park Developments
– Unfortunately, aside from a racer or two, the PC market has not been very lucrative for sports gamers this year. Even though Out of the Park Baseball 9 is a baseball management game, it still tops our list as, well, nothing else was very notable. It features some of the most in-depth sports management ever seen in a PC game. Manage your players and team in both offline as well as online seasons against other players. Sorry sports fans, your future looks to be console-bound.

Runners-Up: Pro Evolution Soccer 2008, Need for Speed: Undercover (Even though it is not a sports game by concept, it does deal with street racing and that is as close as we could find to a runner-up).


GAMING MICE


Microsoft Sidewinder X5 Gaming Mouse: Microsoft released a bare bones version of their feature-packed Sidewinder gaming mouse this year dubbed the X5. While cutting-down on the extras, it still features extremely responsive handling as well as a unique design that feels far more comfortable than it looks at a discounted price point.

Runners-Up: Wolfing Trooper MVP, Cyber-Snipa Stinger.

GAMING KEYBOARDS

Saitek Cyborg Keyboard: Saitek’s Cyborg is a large and very capable keyboard that, while looking like something out of a Tie Fighter’s cockpit, is sure to help your gaming performance. It features a multi-color, multi-region back lighting system as well as a touch-sensitive control panel and twelve macro keys. The keyboard is no slouch on construction either, featuring a very fine key-action and gold-plated USB connectors.

Runners-Up: SteelSeries 7G, Microsoft Sidewinder X6.


HEADSETS

Creative’s HS-1200 Digital Wireless Headset: When we first looked at Creative’s wireless gaming headset we were skeptical at best. Usually, wireless headsets that cost less than a couple hundred dollars are lackluster. What we found, however, was that the HS-1200s featured incredible sound quality and a generally comfortable fit that made gaming (or just listening to music while relaxing) a joy. Plus, the boom microphone’s muting system makes it very easy to tell when your broadcasting, minimizing the risk of accidental outbursts to your friends playing with you.

Runners-Up: SteelSeries 5H V2 USB, Creative’s HS-1000 Gaming Headset.

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:

Sacred 2 Fallen Angel Review

Sacred 2 Fallen Angel is one of those games which makes for a very tough review. On one hand, it does a ton of things well and, on the other, has a ton of stuff to be improved on. We shall explain…

At the start of the game, you must select from quite a few options, each of which will tweak the gameplay experience somewhat. For openers, you have to select one out of six different characters to play as. Each of these characters is a different class and, as such, will directly affect your play style. For instance, the cyborg Temple Guardian character focuses on ranged combat with an energy weapon but also has a bladed weapon for close-quarters combat while the Shadow Warrior is strictly a melee-combat class. The cool thing about these characters is that they are well-developed and different enough to make you curious as to how each plays. Each character has a unique voice and personality of their own to boot, from the Temple Guardian who makes cracks at the expense of the game itself to the Shadow Warrior who’s gravelly, dry delivery of one-liners while he dispatches enemies reminds me of a campy Schwarzenegger flick (in a good way). You can select between a ‘good’ and ‘evil’ campaign mode (of the six characters, only three can partake in either one) as well as select a God to worship, each of which shall imbue your character with a special godly ability. For instance, worship the evil god Ker and you will be able to summon a nasty Sakkara demon to help you battle the forces of good, although the god’s hold on the demon doesn’t last long and then you will have to face off with it yourself.

After selecting a character you are treated to the opening cutscene explaining about the T-energy which emanates from within the planet and is the source of conflict in its inhabitants (people fighting for fuel? no way!). This pre-rendered, expository cutscene will give way to an in-game cutscene which introduces your character. After some introductory quests in the gameworld you are let loose to go about your business. Now, we have to say that the world of Acaria is gigantic and will surely provide you with hours of exploration. The environments are generally pleasing to look at with all manner of flora and fauna going about their lives.

As far as gameplay mechanics go, there really isn’t anything unique here. If you have played the aforementioned Diablo II or Titan Quest, you will be able to jump right into Sacred 2. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as the formula lends itself nicely to these hack-and-slash games and if it ain’t broke, why fix it! Sacred 2 does offer a couple of nice additions such as a button which will auto-loot everything within a pre-determined radius from your character, and the previously mentioned unique ‘god ability’. Characters will gain experience and levels and as they do you will be able to customize them further with unique skills and abilities.

Unfortunately, the narrative of the main quest just gets really lost in the game world and you will find yourself mainly spending your time hunting creatures and performing mundane quests all in the name of getting better gear and leveling your character. If this is not your cup of tea, you may wish to avoid this one. However, if you are a fan of multi-player gaming and love doing those things with your buddies you are in luck as Ascaron has included some great multi-player modes. There are PvP as well as PvE modes, and players can jump in and out of each others games. Spending a couple of hours with your mates killing mobs is a lot of fun and we have to give kudos to Ascaron for their attention to the game’s multi-player features.

While the game looks very nice, it is definitely suffering from some optimization issues. Our test rigs can run Far Cry 2 as well as Crysis (the original) at extremely high detail settings and get 50 to 60 frames per second. In Sacred 2, we are definitely seeing some slowdown. It is not unplayable by any means, but we are hesitant to see how it would run on a lower-end system without turning the detail way down. In addition, there were several times we would crash out of our single and multi-player games for some unknown reason. Then there is the game’s camera, which allows you to zoom in and out and rotate around your character. The problem is that the trees and other structures do not fade or become transparent when looking through them so it is easy to lose your character and select enemies if they are behind or under them.

Sound design is excellent in the game, with realistic ambient noises which really help sell the game world. Unfortunately, the voice acting in the game is often down right wooden. Now, the version we played was localized for the US, so we do not know if the original German actors were more natural-sounding.

Thankfully, none of this will really matter should you choose to play Sacred 2 Fallen Angel in a casual manner with your mates in multi-player. To us, that is where the game really stands out and is a lot of fun. It provides just enough narrative to keep things interesting and plenty of loot for your party to obtain. Unfortunately, the single-player mode can become very monotonous as you do not have the companionship of your mates to help you see past the game’s shortcomings. In addition, we hope Ascaron will continue releasing patches (as they have been) in order to fix the game’s instability and performance issues as the title definitely has a good deal of potential.

iStarUSA xAge-N99SAU HDD Docking Bay Review

When we heard about this new HDD docking station from iStarUSA, we knew we had to try it out. Unfortunately, we have a ton of drives all over the place and their solution, especially since they billed it as hot-swap capable, sounded too good to be true. Thankfully, we have since then discovered that the xAge-N99SAU docking station is a welcome addition to our desktop despite a few limiting factors.

The xAge-N99SAU features an all-black plastic design with a slightly dull sheen. It has simple lines that are more than aesthetically-pleasing enough to fit in with most desktops. The biggest improvement over its slightly older brother, the N99US, is the addition of an eSATA connection. The front and sides of the docking station are clean, with no controls to speak of. There is an LED power indicator on the front, but its cool blue light is rather stylish. The ports and controls run down the back of the docking station. There you will find the AC power port, power button, and eSATA/USB ports.

iStarUSA’s xAge-N99SAU does have one drawback that is quickly apparent
when setting it up and that is the power cable is very short. This causes problems while trying to figure out where to set the unit up with relation not only to the eSATA/USB ports but also the power outlet.

There is no software to install in order to use the docking station, simply plug your 2.5” or 3.5” eSATA drive into the docking station and go. Since the unit uses an eSATA interface (even with the USB aspect), it is hot-swappable meaning that you can change out drives on the fly. This capability, coupled with its 150MB/s transfer speed while in the eSATA port, make it an excellent piece of equipment for testing, full drive usage, or even making quick backups of data on multiple disks.

Official iStarUSA xAge-N99SAU Product Page

Saitek Proflight Headset Review

Having been a longtime fan of flight simulators in general and especially great peripherals to go with them (I still remember my original CH Products flight yoke fondly), I could not pass up taking a look at Saitek’s new Proflight Headset.

On a looks basis alone you would think you were sitting in a 737 getting ready to take off. They have been designed with that style of headset in mind and feature a (mostly) metal construction with screws, knobs, and cables. The shiny black metal contrasting with the chrome parts just look incredible and very realistic.

The headset’s construction is top-notch and as it turns out is relatively heavy for a headset. This, however, adds to the realistic feel it provides. The boom microphone features multiple axis of movement for comfort and the best sound receiving possible, while on the left ear cup you will find a large rotary knob which controls the volume. The Proflight Headset cables to the standard 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks for compatibility. There is no special software required here, just plug in and fly.

Something that was of the utmost concern to me was the sound quality the headset would provide. Often times companies will skimp on the functional to go with the flashy. Not so in this case as the Proflight Headset offers great sound quality. Don’t quote me on this, but it would not surprise me (based on sound quality) if they were using drivers from their Cyborg-line of headset. In any event, you will not be disappointed, although with their bulk they are far more suited to flying around the world as opposed to easy listening.

Undoubtedly, the biggest issue I encountered was the squeeze felt on my large noggin. I have a big head and the Proflight Headset felt very tight on it, the huge ear cushions squeezing my ears like a python. They are meant to be snug, mind you, but beware ye of large headed-ness! I felt a wave of disappointed come over me along with a headache, that is, until I applied gentle pressure to the headband thereby adjusting its curve. After that, it was nothing but smooth sailing for my ears, which now felt just the right amount of pressure, the large ear cups providing the noise-canceling effect they were designed to do.

Like the rest of the Proflight line, these are not cheap, retailing for $99 dollars in most outlets. However, if you want to top off your flight sim experience with an extra dose of realism, as well as good sound quality, these bad boys are for you. Saitek’s Proflight Headset gets two thumbs up from us! That is, if we were to rate products with that scale of measurement.

Product Page

Antec Skeleton PC Case Review

Open-air cases are the latest thing in PC gaming enclosures. For years, many gamers chose to run their PCs with the side doors open and large external floor fans pointed at the components. While this solution provided good airflow, the components are still all mashed into a vertical ATX PC case. Plus, you would have to worry about keeping enough space around the case to place the floor fan.

Antec has attempted to fix these frustrating issues with their first open-air case, the Skeleton. Looking like some sort of futuristic reactor more than PC case, the Skeleton features room for four internal drive bays as well as four additional drives along its side. The motherboard is seated horizontally on the upper-tier motherboard rack, which slides out the back of the unit like your friendly neighborhood server slides out of a rack mount, making reaching around different places of the motherboard easy. There is an issue with fan overhead however, and we found that tall aftermarket CPU coolers will not make the clearance given by the large 250mm unit. What this means is that you will have to use a shorter third-party cooler or the stock unit.

The room is not nearly as plentiful in the below-mobo area where the PSU and internal drives are located, with snaking cabling about becoming a real pain at times. In addition, the way the PSU faces to one side takes away from valuable cable length when pulling cables to the opposite end of the case. These bottom-tier space issues aside, the ease of getting to your mobo components makes it well worth the trouble to be found underneath. Need to add a video card? Simply slide the component tray out the back of the unit and slap it in there, all easy like!

The Skeleton comes equipped with two fan units. The most prominent being the 250mm Tri-Cool fan at the top of the unit. It draws cool air in and pushes it down onto the components below. Also included is a smaller 92mm fan which attaches to the front of the internal 3.5′ drive bay, providing hard drive cooling. It is important to keep the air moving underneath the motherboard as it acts as a barrier from the forced air coming from the 250mm fan above. By circulating the air underneath, this problem is alleviated.

Installing everything was actually fairly difficult. Not because the process itself is overly hard, but deprogramming myself after years of vertical ATX case installing took some time. To make matters worse, Antec’s in-box documentation is not very good, and they refer you to the much more well-written online PDF. In the online document (available here) you will find color photos of the setup in action which are very helpful.

If you are like me, you have a ton of hard drives in your current PC case. With the Skeleton only supporting four internal drives (two 3.5” and two 5.25”) you may feel like you have run out of room. Do not fear, as the case allows you to mount up to four 3.5” drive bays on the outside of the frame using special mounts provided in the packaging. This solution, while a bit unconventional, does the trick nicely and keeps those drives easy to access.

Unfortunately, testing the Skeleton against the old-school open ATX case and floor fan would not be very scientific as reproducing the results would be highly dependent on fan model, age, etc. So, we turned to aluminum case maker Lian Li’s PC-X2000. This tall (and expensive) metal monstrosity is renown for its thin profile and cooling. Lets see how they stack up.

Temperature Rating (Lian Li PC-X2000 / Antec Skeleton)
Case Ambient @ Idle: 28C / 24C
Case Ambient @ Load: 30C / 24C
GPU @ Idle: 38C / 34C
GPU @ Load: 53C / 44C

As you can see, the Antec Skeleton consistently provides lower temperatures than the Lian Li thanks to it being more exposed to a cooler source of air. Cool air just spends less time turning hot and lingering around the Skeleton due to its open design.

Overall, we did like the component cooling given by the Skeleton’s unique design as well as the easy access to mobo components when you slide the tray out. While not perfect, the Skeleton is a good purchase for gamers and PC tweakers out there. Just watch out for that overhead height limit with regards to the CPU cooler.

GamingShogun Sits Down with Blizzard Lead Game Designer Tom Chilton

At the recent launch of Wrath of the Lich King in Anaheim, CA the other evening, we were given the chance to interview Lead Game Designer Tom Chilton. Tom works with all sorts of game-specifics such as balancing, items, the mail system, and a ton more. Let’s just say he is a very busy guy and we would like to thank him for taking the time to meet with us at such a frenetic event.

GS: How would you describe your experience in developing Wrath over the last couple years?

TC: Well, it started before Burning Crusade shipped actually, we first started our ‘concepting’ and, I remember thinking at the time ‘Oh God, we’re already starting on another expansion when we’re still trying to get this one finished.’ At the same time, it was real exciting to work on because right from the start that there was something special about Lich King. The way the story plays out…the way the features came together, all the new zones, and the Death Knight. I think there was alot of excitement in that we felt this could be even better than Burning Crusade. Overall: Fun, exciting!

See the full interview after the break!
GS: How did the Blizzard infrastructure hold up in the transition to Lich King? Were there any major upgrades that needed to be done?

TC: Well, we did a lot of work on our tools, internally, so that designers would have more power over how to create quests and do new things. For example, our vehicle technology where we knew that we wanted vehicles not only as a feature in pvp but also pve and we also wanted to expand that and use it to do all kinds of new quests that we were never able to do before. One of the things that we have always had in our minds is that while there has to be some ‘kill ten of this’ and ‘collect 5 of that’ kind of quests, we don’t want that to feel like that’s all there is. We really want to make sure that Lich King feels like more than that and so we wanted to make sure there were several new types of quests that we never had gotten to do before.

GS: You have a lot of history in game development. Are there any other genre of games you would like to work on in the future?

TC: For the most part I am focused on WoW. I mean we have other projects in development like Diablo III and an unannounced project that I contribute to, so its really fun to mix it up a bit and put in time on those games also. My biggest passion is with role-playing games but in the past I have been an avid RTS gamer and shooter gamer. I really like games in all forms but for now I can see myself working on WoW and RPGs in the general sense for a while.

GS: And whats the name of the unannounced project (I had to try)?

TC: [laughs] The unannounced project.

GS: When you first began working on World of Warcraft, did you have a sense that it would become as popular as it has?

TC: No, to be honest, I really didn’t. I felt like this was going to be the best MMO out there and I kind of figured that we would do well. I would never have guessed a million players, let alone the 11 million players we have now. Its pretty mind blowing.

GS:  What is the current status of in-game player housing?

TC: You know, its a feature we have talked about adding for years before WoW even came out and its always been something where we feel like there are clearly a lot of other games that have done it, but we don’t feel like any of them have done it to the quality we would want to do it…We would want it to feel that it was really well-built into the game but, unfortunately, that means it is a huge task and its something that we really haven’t been able to get to at this point.

GS: How did the concept of in-game motorcycle mounts come about?

TC: [laughs] Well, let’s see. The mechanohog is something that one of our concept guys just kind of drew up and we thought it would be awesome…Its just one of those things where we had to do it. It appeals to our sense of humor and we have done mechanostryders for the Gnomes and we look at things like that which are kind of quirky and off to the side and not exactly what you would expect our of a medieval fantasy universe and try to make sure we find a way to make it looks like it still fits…

GS: Many Paladin-players are upset about the recent nerfing of their protection abilities in order to ‘fix’ the over-powered retribution ones. Do you have anything you would like to tell them?

TC: Well, we definitely still feel like the Paladins are very competitive tanks. We have been really pressed with Lich King to make sure that all of the tanking classes remain viable in all their different specs. Its definitely something that is very important to us to make sure that every tank out there feels like they can generate enough threat, keep the agro, deal respectable damage, that they have the mitigation they need to take on high-end bosses, and we still feel like Paladins are fitting that. Anytime we start to hear that kind of feedback we start to do our own investigations to find out if what they are saying is true or is it some misconception of where they use to be when they were over-powered, that kind of thing. So, we definitely will be doing our own investigations on that and if it proves to be true we will make changes.

GS: Are there any plans to upgrade the visuals of the various Druid forms in the game?

TC: We actually have plans to upgrade the forms, its actually something we talked about back at the Worldwide Invitational. Unfortunately, it didn’t get in at the launch of Lich King but we do have artists which are actively working on it…One thing that we were always leary on in the past and actually caused us to delay on it longer than we would have is that we don’t generally have good experience with changing the way something looks out from under a player. So, we have to be very careful in going down that road and, in this case, what we are looking into doing is providing options for how to look rather than kind of forcing a new model on them…Believe it or not, there are plenty of Druids our there who are perfectly happy with the way they look and we don’t want to upset all of them in the process…

We would like to thank Tom Chilton again as well as the rest of the Blizzard staff on-hand at the launch event who made this interview possible.

SteelSeries 7G Keyboard Review

SteelSeries has long been known as a developer of high-end gaming peripherals and their ‘7G’ gaming keyboards keeps to this tradition well. It is the most solid and well-made keyboard I have ever had the pleasure of using.

Looks/Design:
The 7G features a flat black-metal (for the most part) construction which, at first look, is actually a bit underwhelming. It comes in two pieces, the keyboard itself and a metal wrist rest unit that attaches to it. You will not find any lights or LCD screens or any other bells and whistles on this unit.

What you will find, however, is a very effective braided cable system which almost entirely eliminates any ‘tangling effect’ as well as the possibly of fraying normal plastic insulation. This feature alone should be standard on all new gaming keyboards or mice out there as I cannot tell you how many times I have had a cable start to pull out of a device because the plastic connection got worn down. No such possibility here, thanks to some ingenious thinking.

One special feature that SteelSeries would have been smart to add is some sort of lighting system. Unlike the LCD screens and the other ‘bells and whistles’ found on gaming keyboards these days, lighting is definitely the most useful, especially when gaming in a dimly-lit tournament environment. The keyboard features a USB pass-through cable, so why not draw power from it for on board lighting?

The included wrist rest is quite large and does a good job of keeping your hands at a comfortable angle. However, it is an all-metal design and can chafe if used for long periods of time. While SteelSeries has told us this design decision was made for durability purposes (gel rests can puncture and decay), and this makes sense, we recommend you put a soft barrier between the rest’s metal and your wrists for your own comfort.

The 7G’s key layout is fairly standard, save for the Windows key being replaced by a key with the SteelSeries logo on it. Once held down, it enables the ‘secondary media feature’ on keys F1-F6. So, you want to mute your PC’s volume, just hold down the SteelSeries key followed by F1 – simple! SteelSeries has also chosen to use an L-shaped enter key, which we find comfortable and familiar. The only real issue we have with the key layout is the small backspace key. It takes some getting used to if you have been using wider variants on other keyboards for a while.

Then we looked at the 7G’s output cables. SteelSeries has attached a gold-plated USB cable (for the on board pass-through ports), speaker and headset cables, and a PS/2 connector! That’s right: PS/2! Why would such a premium keyboard use an ‘old’ technology like PS/2? Well, we asked. Our answer was fielded by Kim Rom, VP of Marketing at SteelSeries. Kim told us that the reason for the PS/2 connector (a USB adapter is included, by the way) is two fold: First, when gamers take their 7G’s to various tournaments, many tournament machines can have no available USB ports to plug their keyboards into. Second: The PS/2 interface (while actually has more dedicated access to the motherboard. This can be seen pretty much anytime your USB ports ‘freeze up’. While the PC processes what is going on, if you had a PS/2 keyboard installed it would still be able to pass on your key presses. Also, this allows the 7G to be used during your PC’s booting period where a USB keyboard might not have been detected yet. We would like to thank Mr. Rom for his helpful answers.

Usage/Features: Using the 7G is a very pleasant experience, with the keys providing a smooth glide. They call them gold plated with ‘no-click’, however we found them to be extremely loud, so this is not the keyboard to use if you are trying to type in secret. Aside from the noise, the keys have a great action. They feel very solid, and you can feel friction in the glide which makes for an experience we liken to ‘squeezing’ the trigger of a semi-automatic pistol as opposed to ‘snapping’ it back. If all this sounds very ethereal and new age, you will just have to try one of these keyboards yourself, as the typing experience is quite unique among all the keyboards I have tried. This translates extremely well to gaming, with the only problem being that I miss having the macro features other keyboards provide. With the PS/2 anti-ghosting feature, I never ran into a keystroke overload even once. Also, the heavy weight of the unit keeps it staying put during intense gaming sessions. I just hate it when I end up pushing my keyboard about the desk while in a flurry of typing.

Conclusion: If you are looking for the best ‘functional’ gaming keyboard possible, the SteelSeries 7G gaming keyboard is exceptional and well-worth its $150 dollar price point in that it very well could be the last keyboard you need to buy until the apocalypse, maybe. Even then, the thing might just hold-up fine. Unfortunately, nuclear testing was not part of our review regiment. Also, we cannot say what the value of the beast will be in bottle caps. Sorry, we have been playing Fallout 3 too much. The biggest complaint we can find about this keyboard is the lack of back-lighting. If you can get over not having the ‘bells and whistles’ and are able to afford it, the 7G is easily the keyboard for you.

GamingShogun Reviews Fallout 3

‘War. War never changes’. It is with these words that began one of the greatest role-playing games ever made (of course I mean Fallout). The RPG and its sequel are renown for their tongue-in-cheek humor, stylistic design, and isometric gameplay. When we heard Bethsoft was taking the reigns on Fallout 3, and that it would be a first-person game, forums around the ‘net lit up with flame wars on the subject. Die-hards of the series naturally had a worry that by bringing the series into the first-person, Bethsoft would be taking away an aspect which made the previous games undeniably ‘Fallout’. We are pleased to say, however, that this worry has proven itself false. This is a Fallout game.

Fallout 3 takes place along the East Coast, in and around Washington D.C., well, what’s left of the city anyway. It is 2177, two hundred years after the atomic exchange which effectively ended the world, and the capital is now known as the ‘DC wasteland’. You play as a vault dweller who has left the safe confines of Vault 101 for the first time. ‘Vaults’, for those of you who don’t know, are big underground communities built before the 1977 atomic war by a company called Vault-Tec.

One unforeseen effect that Fallout 3 had on me while I played it was an overwhelming sense of despair and aimlessness. I had not thought of the increased immersion that the first-person view would bring, and as I wander through the ruins of the nation’s capital I actually feel sad. Sad that we humans had to do this to ourselves. Our greatest monuments in ruins, our people now scavenging about like beasts. Making it worse is that I stumble upon Pennsylvania avenue and see the ruins of a very familiar White House. It actually reminds me alot of the Gears of War ‘Mad World’ trailer as Marcus wanders through the ruins of his world. I would say that Gary Jules’ ‘Mad World’ might almost be too much to bare while walking around DC in its ruined state.

Thankfully, if you can get past the sense of sadness for the human race as a whole, you will find a gigantic amount of things to do and see. Quests can be found in abundance and it is very doubtful you will finish everything in one play through. In fact, your character’s level is capped at 20, making it very likely you will play the game over again at least a few times, trying different character builds. Bethsoft has stated numerous times that they wanted to increase the re-playability of the game immensely and they have succeeded in this feat. Of course, the low level cap is also probably some foreshadowing that forthcoming DLC will raise it somewhat for added quests, etc.

Graphically, the game is beautiful, and the wasteland really feels alive and bleak. Dust devils swirl about the barren landscape as do wild beasts, most with some mutation such as the Radscorpions, which have grown to huge sizes and are hungry for human flesh. Characters are modeled wonderfully (especially the Ghouls) and animations are mostly fluid although I have noticed some spotty issues with characters moving between uneven planes.

Adding to this immersion is the sound design, which is simply spot-on. The constant howling of the wind as it sweeps across the wasteland is haunting as is the eerie silence. Sure, you hear the rare bird or cricket but for the most part the world is very sparse on the animal life. This eerie silence makes things all the scarier when you suddenly hear rustling about, causing you to immediately spin around in different directions, attempting to locate the source. Failure to locate the approaching creature could mean death or sever injury to your person. If your perception is high enough, you are able to detect creatures early on your HUD, which helps out quite a bit.

Combat is handled either by standard FPS controls or via the Vault-Assisted Targeting System (or V.A.T.S.). This system was put into place mainly for RPG fans, as it is a tactical way to approach the otherwise FPS-style combat. When entering V.A.T.S., you will get a reading on your current target and be able to click on various parts of said target (arms, legs, antennae…) to queue up attacks. When you are ready, simple click accept and the fun begins. The results of your stacked actions are shown in a cinematic, bullet-time, method with various camera angles and the like. The V.A.T.S. combat system can lead to some VERY cool-looking combat. For instance, using my Chinese pistol (which makes me feel a bit like Han Solo) I initiated combat with a raider. I queue up V.A.T.S. and assign two shots to the body, one to the left leg, and the last to the head and then click accept. The following ‘cut-scene’ (and I use the term loosely as it is all done in-game) blew me away and was completely unexpected. My two shots to the body blew the raider back a bit, obviously wounding him deeply. He turned around and began to run in an attempt to escape my wrath but he was not fast enough. My shot to his leg crippled him, sending him to the ground in a heap. My last shot finished him off with spectacular gore and violence. This kind of scenario does not happen all the time. However, it happens enough to make you want to continue using V.A.T.S. whenever possible. Using this mode drains you of action points (or ‘AP’) which must be recharged in real-time mode. This is just another example of the great lengths Bethsoft took in making Fallout 3 accessible to new gamers as well as fans of the original RPGs.

Character creation is done in an equally unique way, and will be familiar even to fans of their early Daggerfall RPG (one classic game). You start as a baby (literally) and progress via a few jumps to your adulthood. However, at age sixteen, you must take the GOAT exam. This test determines your aptitude as well as your future job inside Vault 101. It is made up of a series of questions each giving a situation. Your answer is how you say you would deal with such situation. For example, one question would be something like, ‘How would you deal with a co-worker who confesses he stole an expensive item from the boss?’. You could reply with either ‘A – Beat him up, take the item for yourself’ or ‘B – Sneak into his room at night at steal the item’. Each of these point your character more towards a skill-set you prefer. A would point you more towards being a melee-based character and B would point you towards being stealthy and thief-like. Thankfully, you have the choice of manually assigning your tag skills after the test, but it is cool to see what it thinks you are based on your answers.

Bethsoft has kept the SPECIAL (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck) system of character attributes, as they have also kept the Perk system of special characteristics. For instance, if you select the ‘Bloody Mess’ perk upon leveling up, you will notice that enemies tends to die in the most gruesome manner whenever you attack them. This is a fan favorite and is a welcome homage to the original games.

A new feature in Fallout 3 that we have not seen before in the series is the ability to own your own home. In certain areas and by accomplishing certain tasks, it is possible to own your own residence. This provides you with a free place to rest and heal up as well as the ability to customize it with house-specific items like jukeboxes, first-aid stations, and more.

Overall, this is a very worthy game of the Fallout title. Bethsoft has created what is probably their best product since Daggerfall, and that is saying a lot considering the gems they have produced in between the two titles. Fallout 3 will provide you with hours upon hours of entertainment as well as bring back fond memories of playing the first two games (look for homages to them throughout the game).