Author - Jerry Paxton

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.

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

E3 2009 – Both Media and Public Days

**UPDATE: The ESA has made their official statement regarding the changes to E3 2009 here.

File this under the ‘almost confirmed’ department, but several sources (including one I cannot name within the ESA organization) are hinting around at a possible news release tomorrow from the ESA in which they will detail E3 2009 being both open to the public on certain days as well as media-only for a bit too. This would provide the best of both worlds for both our peoples (media and public). I am sure we can find a way to coexist… Say, June 2nd through the 4th for us media folk and the 5th though 6th for you guys? Maybe?

Actually, this is sounding really familiar. Could it be because I gave this exact solution to E3’s woes in my blog here over a month ago. If this rumor should prove true, I would expect my paycheck in the mail ASAP.

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.?

GamingShogun Reviews Dead Space

Every so often, there comes a game which I like to save for myself. A game that I do not give to one of my esteemed colleagues to review. Electronic Arts’ Dead Space is one such title. I had a vague idea of what to expect from seeing it played briefly at this year’s E3 Media and Business Summit. At least, I thought I did. I guess seeing it played in a brightly lit convention room flooded with fellow gamers is a lot different than sitting down in a darkened room to play it by myself.

Fighting off the feeling that I had become a shut-in, I turned the lights off and started up Dead Space. So far so good, the intro UI is not scary. It is creepy but I am handling it. The score is eerie from the get go – brilliantly composed. So, into the introductory scene I go. It starts off with wonder and good excitement. After all, you are experiencing the majesty of space and mankind’s achievements therein. Then, it all goes wrong, and from that point forward you are in for one hell of a ride.

You play as Isaac Clarke, an engineer who is sent as part of a small repair team to find the ‘planet cracker’ ISG Ishimura and fix whatever is wrong with her. What you find is that the ship has been taken over by strange lifeforms called ‘necromorphs’. Whatever this life form is, it seems to utilize the biological matter available to it in its pursuits. In this case, the Ishimura’s crew. The design of the necromorphs is perfect. They look to be inspired by Rob Bottin’s and Lance Anderson’s work in John Carpenter’s 1982 film, The Thing. This fact alone did not bode well for me, as growing up The Thing was the only movie to ever really scare me. The idea of something using your own body for its grotesque purposes just creeped me out, and still does. Killing these abominations is a matter of tactics, just not spraying and praying. You have to dismember them first by blowing off their limbs/tentacles. This will usually kill the creature. If you try shooting it in the torso or head on the other hand, you will usually just piss it off. Trust me, don’t piss them off if you can help it.

The dark corridors and gruesome details adorning the Ishimura’s innards just wreak horrific atmosphere and you will often find yourself creeping around corners at a snail’s pace, gripped with anticipation of certain death.

Thankfully, Isaac wears a protective suit which helps him take more punishment that a normal person could. This suit can be upgraded by the use of ‘store’ terminals placed around the ship. Additionally, your weapons and armor can be upgraded at workbenches by using special ‘power nodes’ found scattered about.

Even with all this upgrading, you will usually feel very weak in relation to your enemies. Problem with Mr. Isaac Clarke is that he is an engineer, not a space marine. Your weaponry will consist mostly of unusual tools such as a plasma cutter. You will get a couple more standard military weapons, but ammo is nice and sparse in the game leaving you constantly hungry for more. You will also get some other engineering hardware which allows you to move things from far away, a sort of engineering telekinesis. Issac also gets to play with a stasis tool which slows down whatever object he hits with it. This can range from a fast-moving obstacle to a fast-moving tentacled infant-monster (creepy). This, coupled with your finite inventory space can lead to much pondering over what to keep with you and what to leave behind.

Dead Space has a very eerie score which procedurally changes depending on what you do in the game. The composer of the base chords and melodies, Jason Graves, does to your ears what the art direction does to your eyes.

I must admit, I could only take playing in the pitch-black for so long. I think I lasted about a half hour before the intensity just got too much and I had to light the place up with warm and friendly photons. The problem with this logic is that while lighting up my living room makes me feel better here in the real world, poor Isaac has no such luck. Even lit areas could become death traps in an instant.

There are several other cool gameplay gimmicks in the game, even having to do with zero gravity, however I will not spoil anything more for you. Dead Space is one of those games which you just have to experience for yourself. If I can tell you one thing in this review, it is that if you usually enjoy shooters, creepy survival-horror titles, or sci-fi horror in general you will love Dead Space and should buy it right now. Go and support quality productions like this. There are far too few of them to let this one pass you by. And for goodness’ sake, try playing in the dark to start with just to get the full effect. Good luck…

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 Casino Millionaire’s Club Review

One of the things which has plagued Phantom EFX titles for some time now is their lack of 3d graphics. It seemed as though any time one would sit down to play one of their Reel Deal titles, they would expect the game to be fun, but not very attractive. In a world where online casino gaming rages on with very crisp graphics, companies have to pull out as many of the stops as possible to keep up without totally blowing their budgets.

Reel Deal Millionaire’s Club manages to walk this line of graphics and budget nicely, as it is the first time I can remember a Phantom EFX game with 3d elements to it. All of the cards are 3d as is your character’s avatar. Yes, you heard me: in this Phantom EFX title, you will actually create a full-bodied, 3d avatar for your player. After creation, the avatar will sit in your ‘place’ at the table game and react to the game’s outcomes in an often humorous manner. I chuckled after losing a big bet in blackjack at seeing my avatar slap his forehead in disbelief. It was as though his small, pixelated mind had bonded with my own. While the 3d characters are not exactly the most attractive Johns and Janes this side of the Mississippi, they are modeled nicely enough, especially when viewed in their ‘shrunken’ state at the bottom of your screen.

Now, when one looks at the box for Millionaire’s Club, you may think you will be walking around a 3d casino. However, I assure you that, while in game, the 3d environments seen on the box are only presented as 2d images in the background of the UI. This is a shame as Phantom has taken a good step into modern game graphics with this title and it would have been nice to see them push the envelope a bit more.

The real beauty of these avatars is when they are used in Reel Deal Live! play, which is a free online Phantom EFX community that their titles interface with, allowing players to play together in their favorite table games. There is no actual money being won and lost at this friendly community, but you could actually win Phantom EFX prizes which is a nice thing to look forward to after slaving away at a virtual craps table all day.

Not to spend too much time discussing the graphical overhaul of the game, Phantom EFX has added eleven new slot machines to the game which are not found on any of their other titles. As usual, their video machine UI’s are crisp and vibrant. However, I did experience an odd bug in which the machines were completely silent while the MP3 player was active. Turning the player off unmuted the machines. I expect this and other bugs to be fixed in subsequent patches as is often the case.

While not perfect, the Millionaire’s Club edition of Phantom EFX’s Reel Deal Casino franchise is a good ‘next step’ for the venerable series. A long-awaited jump into 3d graphics which will, hopefully, only spur them to move even more forward with their next round of titles. Plus, it is light on the old pocketbook. Costing $19.99, you get a whole lot of gambling bang for you buck!

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.

2008 BlizzCon – Diablo III Gameplay Impressions

Drainpip and GamingShogun were treated with a sneak peak of Diablo III. As we sat down, the simple class selectrion screen showed us our fate. Of course we selected the Witch Doctor and Wizard which are the new classes released so far. The town we started in was ruined and overrun with undead. As a Witch Doctor, Drainpip wasn’t greeted with a friendly smile. I suppose I would too if someone came up to me with a bone through their nose.

I can say this: Diablo is back. The single dungeon demo we experienced put us right back into our memory as if we had never left the world we spent so much time in almost 10 years ago. We both joined up the game and were instantly in playing side by side in a beautiful, destructable, dark world. I suppose this is the dark, evil place all those people with too much time on their hands wanted because we thought it was quite drab and dank… which it was – so kudos to the art department… (cont.)

Our first encounters were a little sloppy, but once we got the hang of it, it was just like getting on a bike. Soon, we were killing machines with spells of graphical goodness destroying zombies and skeletons alike. The dungeon we were running was the final resting place of a skeletal king who tried foiling our every move as we moved toward his throne. Although the destructable environment was a little bit too easily destroyed, it sure was fun taking that place down to kibble.

As we traversed the place, we leveled up several times. There seems to be a plethora of skills to choose from and upgrade – we both felt the skill bar at the bottom was a welcome feature. The rest of the UI was a little bit ‘muddled’ and hopefully the already polished game gets a bit more shine in that department before release.

The Witch Doctor was a blast to play. To start he can summon two zombie dogs which are brutes and can definitely take a beating. You can ‘buff’ them with fire or disease so their enemies take more damage. The Witch Doctor himself likes to let the dogs work and stand back lobbing a catalogue of area of effect, damage over time spells on the unsuspecting undead. Anything from a tower of spiders, to a flaming skull destroy your enemy quickly and efficiently.

The Wizard was a great long range direct damage dealer. While the dogs were doing their thing and the spiders and disease slowly crumbled the undead, the Wizard’s spells simply decimated the remaining remains. I can imagine the Witch Doctor could play through the game without an issue by himself (although, what fun is that?). The Wizard would be a cautious solo artist, taking care to watch mana at all times because when it runs out, you’ll die quicker than a ninety year old smoker.

Loot was fantastic and the graphics from the environment to the spells were crisp and vibrant. The Wizard’s spells especially popped out, lighting up the screen. Diablo is back my friends, Diablo is most definitely back.